According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for
this world to recreate, reclaim, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of
explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. - anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. - anon
... Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument.
There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is
irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a
power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table
to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace,
reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants
us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. - anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals
and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Imcompatibility of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act with the U.S. Constitution


March 8, 2013
 
Why Bill Clinton Signed the Defense of Marriage Act
 
 

Bill Clinton shakes hands with members of gay-rights groups after a speech in 1992. Douglas C. Pizac/AP.

It is extremely rare for former Presidents to admit mistakes made in office, and rarer still for one to disavow a major piece of legislation. That’s partly why Bill Clinton’s op-ed in the Washington Post calling the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act—a law that he signed—“incompatible with our Constitution,” and asking the Supreme Court to overturn it, is so important.
 
The essay, a Clinton associate told me, was Clinton’s own idea; he wrote it out himself in longhand on a legal pad. As his former White House adviser on gay-rights, I was not surprised by the message. But Clinton’s willingness, just twenty days before two gay-rights cases go to the Supreme Court, to publicly call DOMA discriminatory is a big step, even if his comments stopped short of the full apology some have asked for.
 
But the op-ed leaves a political mystery intact. Clinton, though clearly unhappy with the law today, does not really explain why he signed it, other than to say “it was a very different time.” Perhaps that is explanation enough. Still, how was it that Bill Clinton, the first President to champion gay rights, put his name on one of the most discriminatory anti-gay statutes in American history?
 
The simple answer is that he got boxed in by his political opponents, and that his campaign positions on gay rights ran ahead of public opinion. But there was another important factor: a failure to imagine how quickly gay rights would evolve, and how difficult it would be to undo the damage that DOMA did.
 
When Bill Clinton first ran for President over twenty years ago, he was the first candidate for national office to seek and receive support from an organized gay political community, which was itself new to Presidential politics. In 1992, after twelve years of Republican control of the White House, the federal government had neglected funding the battle against the quickly burgeoning AIDS epidemic. Clinton was sympathetic; because of his interest in civil rights generally, and long friendships with gay and AIDS activists, he was then one of the national politicians most conversant on gay-equality issues.
 
During that campaign, in May of 1992, as governor of Arkansas, Clinton spoke at the first large-scale Presidential campaign event for gay and lesbian supporters, in West Hollywood, California. He gave an emotional speech largely focussed on the AIDS crisis, in which he spoke of the moral costs to the country of ignoring those suffering from the disease. Gay men with AIDS had been dying at a stunningly rapid rate. Their families, friends, and caretakers had, in many cases, shunned them, and so had national leaders. In contrast, Clinton said, “I want to give you my thanks for that struggle…,” and concluded, “I have a vision and you’re a part of it. I believe we’re all a part of the same community and we’d better start behaving as if we are.”
 
Clinton won the enthusiastic support of gays and lesbians in the 1992 election. For the first time, contributions from gay Americans factored significantly in campaign fundraising. Gays and lesbians finally had a President who included them rhetorically in the national policy debate.
 
But soon after Clinton took office, in 1993, it was apparent that his tenure was off to a rocky beginning. The early days of the Administration were marred by opposition within the military and the Democratic Party itself to Clinton’s idea of gays and lesbians serving openly in the uniformed armed forces. The White House was unprepared to shepherd a major social-policy change through Congress. The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, Sam Nunn, a Democrat from Georgia, led opposition to Clinton’s gay-rights policy, working behind the scenes with General Colin Powell, who was a Bush-holdover as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The so-called Don’t Ask Don’t Tell compromise was born: gays and lesbians would be allowed to serve so long as they kept their sexual orientation secret. Gay-rights advocates were outraged that Clinton had agreed to a bad compromise, but at this point, in the spring of 1993, it was clear that the President was going to lose this battle. (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, in fact, turned out to be a policy and personnel disaster.)
 
After what was regarded as a fiasco on gays in the military, the Administration entered a phase of deep reluctance to tackle substantive gay-rights issues on the national stage. Although Clinton made a number of first-ever, high-profile appointments of gay leaders to his team (I was one of the minor ones), any kind of gay-rights policy agenda seemed stalled as a result of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell hangover.
 
As Republicans prepared for the 1996 Presidential election, they came up with what they thought was an extremely clever strategy. A gay-rights lawsuit in Hawaii was gaining press coverage as an initial series of preliminary court rulings suggested that gay marriage might be legally conceivable there. Clinton was on the record opposing marriage equality. But Republicans in Congress believed that he would still veto legislation banning federal recognition of otherwise valid same-sex marriages, giving them a campaign issue: the defense of marriage.
 
What Republicans had not counted on, though, was just how adverse the Administration had become, especially in an election year, to getting ahead of public opinion on gay rights after having had to backtrack on open military service.
 
On May 23, 1996, as DOMA began its rapid journey through Congress, the New York Times reported:
George Stephanopoulos, a senior Presidential adviser who has overseen the issue, said: “It’s wrong for people to use this issue to demonize gays and lesbians and it’s pretty clear that that was the intent in trying to create a buzz on this issue. But the fact remains that if the legislation is in accord with the President’s stated position, he would have no choice but to sign it.

That was a bit of a bombshell, but it laid an intentional marker. The columnist Frank Rich, then writing for the Times, wrote that, “The bill also forces Mr. Clinton, who says he opposes both same-sex marriage and anti-gay discrimination, into a corner…. He’s presumably praying it will never reach his desk.”
 
Inside the White House, there was a genuine belief that if the President vetoed the Defense of Marriage Act, his reëlection could be in jeopardy. There was a heated debate about whether this was a realistic assessment, but it became clear that the President’s chief political advisers were not willing to take any chances. Some in the White House pointed out that DOMA, once enacted, would have no immediate practical effect on anyone—there were no state-sanctioned same-sex marriages then for the federal government to ignore. I remember a Presidential adviser saying that he was not about to risk a second term on a veto, however noble, that wouldn’t change a single thing nor make a single person’s life better.
 
What we didn’t fully comprehend was that, sooner than anyone imagined, there would be thousands of families who would be harmed by DOMA—denied federal benefits, recognition, and security, or kept apart by immigration laws.
 
During the campaign season, Clinton would sometimes complain publicly about how the Republicans were using the marriage issue against him. He said, derisively, that it was “hardly a problem that is sweeping the country” and his press secretary called it “gay baiting, pure and simple.” And that September, when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, President Clinton signed it.
 
There are no pictures of this occasion—no pens that were saved. My advice to the people who arranged for these things was to get it done and out of the way as quickly as possible; he signed it late at night one evening after returning from a day-long campaign trip.
 
The Defense of Marriage Act became law, and President Clinton was reëlected, again with overwhelming support from gay Americans. He was enthusiastically endorsed by the nation’s leading gay political group, the Human Rights Campaign, which had urged him to veto the legislation. They had called DOMA“a Bob Dole for President publicity stunt.” (There was a small dustup during the later stages of the campaign when a Clinton-related committee ran a radio ad in the South, heralding the enactment of the legislation. The ad was quickly pulled.)
 
Was it realistic to think that a Presidential veto of DOMA would have put Clinton’s reëlection in jeopardy? At the time I thought not. But in 1996 less than thirty per cent of Americans supported gay marriage, and even eight years after that, in 2004, President George W. Bush used gay marriage extremely effectively as a wedge issue against John Kerry, who at the time only supported civil unions. In fact, many believe that it was the Bush campaign’s very strategic placement of anti-gay-marriage state constitutional ballot initiatives throughout moderate and conservative leaning states (like Ohio) which brought out conservative Bush voters and carried the day for him in that election. Could similar tactics have been used with the same effectiveness in 1996? Obviously, we will never know.
 
Had there been a President Dole, none of the advances President Clinton accomplished in his second term for gay equality would have been possible. Funding for H.I.V. and AIDS would have no doubt been cut. A DOMA veto would likely have been overridden anyway, and so even if President Clinton had been reëlected, we would still have had the Defense of Marriage Act.
 
After his reëlection, President Clinton became considerably bolder on gay-rights issues. He became the first President in history to endorse gay-rights legislation by announcing his support for a new federal hate-crimes statute that included sexual orientation. He supported legislation banning employment discrimination against gays. He continued, and even stepped up, appointments of openly gay Americans to important Administration positions, including the recess appointment of James Hormel as the first openly gay Ambassador. He signed an executive order banning sexual-orientation discrimination in the federal civilian workforce, leading the way for much of corporate America to follow.
 
A decade later, in 2009, when Clinton finally endorsed same-sex marriage, he commented, in an interview with Anderson Cooper, “So I said, you know, I realized that I was over sixty years old, I grew up at a different time, and I was hung up about the word. I had all these gay friends, I had all these gay couple friends, and I was hung up about it. And I decided I was wrong…. I had an untenable position.”
 
What are the lessons of the Defense of Marriage Act? Perhaps the clearest one is that if you compromise on principle, on the assumption that the world will never catch up with your ideals, you will likely come to regret it. Marriage equality was not some completely far-off vision; it was something that could be achieved. Clinton never believed that the federal government had the right to discriminate. The harder question is this: When is winning the most important thing? Would a veto, in retrospect, have been worth the risk?
 
Richard Socarides is an attorney, political strategist, writer, and longtime gay-rights advocate. He served as White House Special Assistant and Senior Adviser during the Clinton Administration.
 
 
 

Who Is the God of the OT? Is the Jesus of the NT that same God?

 

  
I continue to be interested in the topic of whether we have a dipolar God of the bible who is harsh and judgmental in the OT, or loving and forgiving in the NT. Some have answered that this is a problem between cultures and societies - that humanity is progressing steadily forwards in its apprehension and understanding of divine redemption and forgiveness (sic, David Webb's "Redemptive Movement" hermeneutic). While others suggest that it is the biblical authors themselves who allowed their nationalized perspectives to overrule their descriptions of God (re the creation of the composition of the bible during the Jewish second temple period when collating Israel's ancient, oral legacies and stories). Some, like Richard Dawkins, simply give up trying to understand the God of the OT altogether and throw both God, and the bible, out as imperfect representations of the true God of the universe, recreated by zealous, religious bodies of believers. And then there are charges of a less-than-sublime bible that cannot be authoritative nor infallible if it isn't also inerrant and literal. Which subject we have declared null-and-void in previous discussions pertaining to all things salvific and redemptive, as versus literature that is genre-based (poetry, songs, psalms, hymns, etc) and comparatively written to the cultural beliefs of ancient Near-Eastern societies of the day.
 
 
 
 
So that it seems to me that the issue of discovering who the God of the bible is, is one that has been percolating within the ranks-and-files of the church for awhile now. On the one side, we see wild acclamation for the unbelievable and unsupportable in films like History channel's recent depiction of "The Bible" supporting the stoutest of evangelical doctrines delivered in the best of the American imagination. And in years past, we have beheld Discovery channel's many interpretive depictions of the bible and its characters swinging from conservative beliefs to liberal charges of incredibility and inaccuracy. So that battle lines are drawn up between the faithful and the heathen, and no one seems to be able to civilly discuss their charges without delivering one-line zingers from one side to the other in smug propositionalism and fracturous impunity.

However, the better course of action is to attempt to provide civil answers to these topics rather than denigrations about fellow rivals by honestly allowing legitimacy of the problems pertinent in each area while working towards resolution without the necessity of having to form complete answers. That is, to live in the tension and mystery of the bible where-and-when it must reside, while at other times declaring what we think we do know couched within whatever working paradigm we are coming from. And in this case, when looking at the seeming differences between the God of the OT and the God of the NT, asking ourselves just what area does this discussion fall within.... Is it Theology Proper - the study of God Himself? Is it in the field of biblical interpretation and hermeneutics? Is it within our frame of modernism's scientific enlightenment and forced syllogisms? Or is it within postmodernism's frame of tension and narrative? Does it delve from questions of Sovereignty, or the Divine Character of love and holiness - touching then upon the several theosophical areas of Classical Theism, Relational Theism, Process Thought, and Open Theology? Is it one of human subjectivism based upon our closed epistemologies and personal existential needs of the moment?

Accordingly, this broad base of anomalous biblical study is made even broader and more complex so that we find ourselves sucked into the vortex of a black hole of theologic discussion causing us to flail around its turbulent center unable grasp onto anything solid enough without losing hold to drown even deeper within its violent philosopohic whirlpools and eddies. Ultimately to give up and say its too complex, or to determine within ourselves our own subjective declarations and pejorative judgments regardless of fact or reason, creates in essence our own revisionistic fiction and mitigating group beliefs.

However, theologians, historians, sociologists, psychologists, academicians, ethicists, and so on, each are asking, like Eric Siebert himself, who this God of the OT is when we see Him so brightly portrayed again in the NT by its many biblical authors and descriptive stories. And to that extent we need answers, not calls to be more "zealous and faithful" to the Bible. Part of the answer lies in not separating out the Actual God of the bible from the Textual God of the bible, which can be fraught with redactive subjectivity and cultural impingement. But in sublimely discerning that Jesus identified the YHWH (God) of the OT as His God, who was present in Himself fully, who was Himself YHWH, become Incarnate amongst His creation, in the NT.

Thus, we know the God of the OT through Jesus who necessarily redefines Yahweh by His incarnate life and ministry. And apparently this needed to be done because by the time Jesus appears in Jewish history the templed priests and hierarchy were speaking of a God of merciless law judgment rather than of one who ruled by divine love and example. So that when Jesus corrects these representatives of the Old Covenant He is crucified for His heretical teachings and rejected for His example. Leaving with us the gnawing feeling that those who study only the OT cannot know God's true mind and heart without the Christ of the NT. Such is the legalism found within religious man's prideful heart. A legalism no less found in the church today as it was 2000 years ago.

Henceforth, for guide and guidance we must start with a Jesus-centered bible and move both backwards in time, and forwards in mission, with Jesus at the center of all things present, historical, and teleological. For it is in Jesus that we have a fuller understanding of God whose image is all the poorer and murkier without Jesus. In Jesus Yahweh becomes One. Not less. Not two. Not idealized nor idolized. But one in revelation by divine incarnation. It is the grand mystery that Christianity must spin around less we become flung from orbit around the very God we proclaim and vouchsafe.
 



And it is here then that we have a baseline to begin with. A baseline that Siebert mentions many articles earlier as a possible answer to the charges of a dipolar (ethical) God. One which he says that the Jesus of the NT is the exact representation of the YHWH of the OT - an OT God who doesn't simply judge, but loves, and loves intensely. Just as the Jesus of the NT not only loves, but judges intensely (ultimately, Himself, upon the Cross, for our sins). Charges that may transcend mere human editorial in the OT and NT, towards discovering a consistency between the God portrayed in both Testaments, singularly and alone.
 
That said, we might then begin  with Scott McKnight's review of David Lamb's book, "God Behaving Badly," and see if we cannot discover another line of thought alongside the several that Eric Siebert has helpfully proposed. Thus transitioning this discussion from one of biblical interpretation to that of "theology proper" (e.g., "the study of God"). To begin here first before moving forward to all other areas. And more than that, to the study of Jesus, the incarnate Yahweh, come to men.

R.E. Slater
March 9, 2013

 




God has a bad reputation. Many think of God as wrathful and angry, smiting people right and left for no apparent reason. The Old Testament in particular seems at times to portray God as capricious and malevolent, wiping out armies and nations, punishing enemies with extreme prejudice.But wait. The story is more complicated than that. Alongside troubling passages of God's punishment and judgment are pictures of God's love, forgiveness, goodness and slowness to anger. How do we make sense of the seeming contradiction? Can God be trusted or not?
 
David Lamb unpacks the complexity of the Old Testament to explore the character of God. He provides historical and cultural background to shed light on problematic passages and to bring underlying themes to the fore. Without minimizing the sometimes harsh realities of the biblical record, Lamb assembles an overall portrait that gives coherence to our understanding of God in both the Old and New Testaments.
 
- Amazon book description, "God Behaving Badly"
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
Articles by Scot McKnight
May-June, 2011
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Suggested further study
 
How God Became King, by NT Wright

Book Review: How God Became King, by Scot McKnight