Friday, September 24, 2010

Pledge to America

I increasingly feel like an outsider to both political parties.  I am not a Democrat and don't identify with their most vocal advocates.  But I scarcely identify with the Republicans I see on TV these days either (Bainer and McConnell).  I skimmed the Pledge to America put out by the GOP yesterday.  Here were some of my thoughts on the first 6 pages:

1. "We pledge to honor precepts that have been consistently ignored – particularly the Tenth Amendment, which grants that all powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

I wholeheartedly disagree and so would Abraham Lincoln.  This is backward looking and a clear sign that old South-North issues are at work here.  The Civil War settled this 150 years ago.  The future is global, not tribal. 

This part of the Constitution is a layer from 1791 and goes back to a time when the states were just beginning to meld after having been independent of each other before.  It was transitional legislation that became increasingly moot the longer we existed as one nation and particularly after the Civil War.  To emphasize this amendment is like emphasizing the right of Wesleyans to own a machine that runs on alcohol, insisted by Luther Lee at the founding of the Wesleyan Methodists because he had a patent on such an engine and didn't want the fact that Wesleyans didn't drink have any implications for his patent.

2. "We pledge to honor families, traditional marriage, life, and the private and faith-based organizations that form the core of our American values."

This is Calvinist code for--we insist on making those who aren't Christians conform to our values.  The concrete manifestations of this sentiment are not only unconstitutional, they are not even the way God operates in the world, who currently allows people either to choose or reject Him freely.  It reflects the inability of American Christians to distinguish between America and ancient Israel.  It reflects the ongoing impact of dispensationalism on American fundamentalist culture.  Christians in other parts of the world (and in other times and places) do not think like this.

3. "Washington has not been listening."

The Tea Party didn't win the last election (what, is it 30%).  The party that was elected has tried to carry out the values of those who elected it.  Elections have consequences.  The stalemate in getting anything done, for good or ill, has been caused by an unprecedented filibustering by the Republicans in Congress.  Perhaps it was for the better.  But what has most annoyed Americans about Washington these last two years is not the Health Care Bill but the refusal of the two parties in Washington to work together.  The voice of the people right now is primarily an anti-establishment vote, not a pro-Republican one.

Nevertheless, if Americans elect a new majority in Congress, then the shoe will be on the other foot, and the Democrats will have to decide whether they are going to filibuster too.  The President will have to decide how often to veto.  Elections have consequences.  We'll see whether a Democratic minority will be more noble or cut from the same cloth as the current Republican 40.

4. "We will rein in the red tape factory in Washington, DC by requiring congressional approval of any new federal regulation that may add to our deficit and make it harder to create jobs."

What does this mean?  We're a big country with a lot of people.  The precise mix between regulation and deregulation is an art, not a simplistic thing.  In effect this sentiment puts another layer of red tape on regulation.  Sometimes it could be good, or will it simply make it easier for special interests and big business to muck up restraints that could really help people?  That's really what this is about, right, making it harder for Congress to regulate Wall Street or reform health care?

5. "We will also prevent Washington from forcing responsible taxpayers to subsidize irresponsible behavior by ending bailouts permanently, canceling the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), and reforming Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac."

This one scares me.  Anyone who thinks that the bailouts did not save the world economy is someone I want far away from Washington.  The bailouts were a Bush and Obama--by-partizan--thing and they saved the world.  This is the scary, scary thing about the Tea Party.  They don't understand 21st century math.  Which is better, for example, to have a GM that is still afloat, has paid back its loans, and still has thousands and thousands employed or if it had gone under and all those people were among the unemployed right now, dragging the economy even further down than it is with them employed? 

The question of whether it's fair is irrelevant and those who think it is simply a fairness thing should be far away from power.  It's a world survival thing.  This is very, very, very dangerous thinking and those who think like this are not smart enough at 21st century math to have control over the economy.  I guarantee you that whoever had been in power, including any Tea Party candidate right now, would also have bailed out some of these banks because there's a point at which you realize the world is at stake, and you have to ignore politics and those who don't know the details of what's going on.  I guarantee you, anyone who had been in power two years ago would have taken the advice of their economic advisors and bailed out some of these banks.

It may very well be that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac need reforming.  They probably do.  But make no mistake, it was the unbridled derivative trading of housing debt on Wall Street (=21st century math) that precipitated this economic crisis, not some African-American defaulting on a $20,000 house. 

Those are my opinions.  I am open to being convinced otherwise, but you'll have to be right to do it...


Dan said...

I, too, am disappointed with the "pledge," but the reasons are a bit different.

My opposition to TARP and Obama's relief package do carry a very different view. I don't believe they saved the world. I believe they paid off political favors. That said, those funds are in play and there is no taking them back. I can't argue the horses back into the barn. THAT is what I am disappointed about with the Republicans on that issue. You can't "undo" the money spent.

My biggest disappointment with this "pledge" is it simply repeats the mantra spoken against them... and THEY now repeat it themselves: They are the party of "NO." All this is about is reversing things. There are still no answers here.


Dick Norton said...

Ken, I have so much I would like to say, but only have time right now for one brief comment. Seems to me you're trying to have it both ways with the Constitution! One the one hand, we shouldn't pay any attention to the 10th amendment because it is an anachronism. On the other hand, we shouldn't "honor families, traditional marriage, life, and private and faith-based organizations" because such things are "unconstitutional."

Well, what are we to do? Obey one part of the Constitution but not another part? And who will decide such things? Will we simply ignore the Constitution, and let one man (the president) or a group of men and women (the congress) or a vote of the majority decide in a "might makes right" way? Or, will we abide by these Constitutional rules until they are amended (Constitutionally) by a supermajority of the states? I think the founders were pretty wise in the way they put the Constitution together! There is no other document I know of that so effectively protects the minority.

Oh, by the way, why is it "unconstitutional" to have freedom to pray and exercize our religious beliefs in public places when the Constitution itself says in the first amendment "Congress shall make NO LAW respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof?"

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I tend to agree with you about TARP. Big business, and Wall Street being bailed out, to save us all has something to do with the speculative market and Union Bosses.

Unions are forming a global move on Big Business that demands equal pay, a redistribution of wealth, if you will. Problem is; all countries are not similar in living costs. Should we level the playing ground where we all have the bare minimum? Should we do business when corruption doesn't allow the average person advantage? Won't all our "good intentions" end up like humanitarian aid? and in the pockets of the union bosses or government officials?

What about "Cap and Trade"? Don't you think that demanding our country to limit ourselves and pay big taxes so that the global climate will not be damaged is a little mis-leading, when other countries will not have thos same taxes, nor will they be enforced? Don't other countries have a responsibility toward "the planet" if global warming is such an important issue? And where are the various voices of scientists that don't adhere to "global warming"? Is science being driven by politics?

I believe one is not given an entitlement to a right to property. Property is earned. This is the way it is valued by the individual, not when it is handed out on a silver platter. And our Founding Fathers believed in private property. So, Freddie Mae and Freddie Mac, along with A.C.O.R.N. are institutions that have been corrupted by those in power to launder money into the "proper channels", and ensure that the "politically correct" people get the advantage.

I tend to agree with you about values. Social values will differ from one person to another, and that includes the religious. This is why our Founders didn't want to defend one religious denomination. Today, we have diverse religions, which make the problem more complex, if we do not allow tolerance.

I think the "Pledge to America" is an attempt by the Republicans to address our fisical irresponsibilty. And that can't be done unless we do make changes in what has been.

As to you State and Federal issue, the larger the beauracracy, the harder it is to have accountability. And accountability is what is needed for there not to be a mis-use of funds. If politicians know that they are being watched, and can't hide behind numerous issues and obviscations, then, they might be more careful about their vote. And special interests would cease to have as much power because of the localization of politics.

Ken Schenck said...

Dick, Angie, here is my problem and the problem I think of most Americans. No matter who is in office it seems, the policies will be harmful in one direction or the other. We are forced to pick our poison.

Dick, I am completely in favor of the government impartially funding faith based initiatives and for complete government neutrality in matters of faith, which allows not only for peace-loving Christians but peace-loving Muslims and others to thrive and freely exercise their faiths in public arenas. I disagree with Obama's understanding of the separation of church and state.

I am not discarding the 10th Amendment any more than I am discounting Luther Lee's right to own a patent for a machine that works on alcohol. I'm simply suggesting that the lines of what is what have long since been worked out and the current use being made of this amendment is backward looking, like arguing over how much alcohol Luther can use in his engine or how concentrated it can be. We are one nation under God, not 50 states in a confederation.

My opinions...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I don't understand your distinctives here (and you also have the prerogative not to answer my question)...

But, how can you say that you believe that faith/tolerance go hand in hand with "peace" in regards to Muslim/Christian interaction, while saying that you don't believe in separation of Church and State?

Since Islam/Christianity/Judiasm come from Abrahamic traditions, are you suggesting that their understanding of piety is the right focus for our country's social values? If so, then, how do you account for the social changes that have been accepted by the Church, such as women's rights and/or slavery?

Today, the social issue is "homosexual rights" in regards to marriage. That has split the Church down the middle, some believe that Scripture forbids such (but so did Scripture forbid slavery/women's rights). And other believe that homosexuals should be given the right to a civil union, without the sanction of the Church, while others believe that the Church should embrace those that want to commit their lives to the institution of marriage. So how do you see it?

Ken Schenck said...

As is so often said, I distinguish between the non-establishment of a religion and the way separation of church and state is usually interpreted. The notion of separation is usually taken to mean that the state cannot be involved in anything religious at all. Non-establishment to me means that the state cannot show favoritism to any one religious perspective but must be even-handed in its relationships.

Unknown said...

Hey Ken,
Thanks for your thoughts. This is off the subject, and I would have emailed you but I couldn't find your email on the blog.

Have you posted before on Just War vs. Christian Pacifism? I have lately been drawn to the writings of Stanley Hauwerwas and John Howard Yoder, and I was wondering what your take on Christian non violence was in light of Jesus' words in the NT.

Maybe a post at some point?

Ken Schenck said...

I suppose I should say my email is

I think there might be something from a long time ago here on that, but I'm not very trendy on that issue, I'm afraid. I deeply respect the Yoders and Hauerwases of today, deeply. But my conversational response on this issue is usually, "That's okay, we'll protect you." :-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I agree that not establishing religion is what the First Amendment means, but this is the point. Establishment of a religion would mean legislation, wouldn't it? The State maintains order by such laws and our laws do not allow for Shairia law or the traditions in Islam, such as stoning, or killing those that leave the faith....So, how can we tolerate such in our midst, except at the demise of our citizens liberty, and Western civilization itself, that is.

Unknown said...

I am trying not to be "trendy", but to think through the words of Jesus, especially in the Sermon on the Mount, about love of enemies, resisting evil, and turning the other cheek. It is my estimation that Jesus seemed to lay out a particular ethic here and for some reason we seem to skip over these things as if to say "that couldn't have been meant for us".

It is also interesting to see how the earliest church (before Constantine) followed this ethic. From what I can tell, they were pacifists, refusing to serve in the military of the time, refusing to resist evil with evil, even to martyrdom (witness to following Christ).

BTW, I a appreciate if you for some reason don't want to get into this conversation, or if this is the wrong forum for it. I am a Wesleyan Pastor seeking dialogue on the issue. Thanks for all you do Ken.

Ken Schenck said...

To me this is very simple. Our laws are meant to protect the rights of all Americans under the social contract. When the viewpoints of various religious groups begin to harm others or impinge on the rights of others, then the government's job under our social contract is to protect and/or punish.

Ken Schenck said...

Ben, be glad to do a post sometime. I'm not at all suggesting its a slam dunk. I appreciate the question!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Our country is a Protestant nation, which allows for various opinions/convictions/commitments to a particular way of understanding "faith". Because there are such differences, then we must allow for personal aspects of faith commitment, or non-commitment. Otherwise, we do establish a religion over another person's conscience and we judge that commitment when we do. (Laws are ways of judging).

The Sermon on the Mount has been understood in various ways by various people. Such rendering of literalism ends up being absurd in the real world! Have you sold all you own and give ALL to the poor? Etc. That is fine for those that want that kind of radicalism, but to me it is absurdity, idealism, and "do-gooders" (in their estimation).

Dick Norton said...

You say that you don't discard the 10th amendment, but really you do. The 10th amendment means what it's original authors meant it to mean, not "we have worked out what is what" over the years. That just means that we have ignored the 10th amendment and have substituted laws that are really unconstitutional and just override the clear meaning of the amendment.

My opinion is that the really exciting thing about our "one nation under God" is that we have 50 competing states who can provide freedom for all of us. If I find the income tax in one state burdensome, for instance, I am free to move to another state that has a lower or no income tax. If I own a rental property in one state that passes laws that say I have to rent to, say, an unmarried man and woman, against my personal beliefs, then I can sell my house and move to another state that is more to my liking.

This competition between the states is very healthy and tends to temper the passing of laws because if those laws are too harsh, the people will vote with their feet and leave. Look at what is happening to New York and California, and Illinois. The people and businesses are leaving and moving to Texas and South Carolina and Florida, because it just isn't as burdensome to live there.

The amendment cannot just be ignored in the passing of laws. It must be adhered to. If the people want one nation without a federation of states that are autonomous (except for any powers allowed by the constitution), then they should amend the Constitution; not simply ignore it!

Ken Schenck said...

As far as I can tell, no one really thinks any of the current lawsuits against the government along the lines of Amendment 10 have any likelihood of passing muster. You are taking the same legal side as those who opposed social security, income tax, and Medicare and these things have been in place for over a half a century.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your response, for I do desire dialogue. However, I think you misunderstand me. Maybe it is my fault for commenting on the subject of Just war vs. Christian pacifism.

Let me be more clear. I am not advocating legislating any Christian values for our country, especially Christian Pacifism. I have never been one to believe in legislating morality to begin with. I am seeking to understand the Christian ethic displayed by Jesus. ( BTW, I am not sure I would agree that the USA is a "Protestant Country" as you have put it, but that is another subject.)

As for your comments about the sermon on the mount and "rendering of literalism". It is true that some passages are not to be take literally, but then that does not mean that there is no such thing as clear ethical teaching within the NT. It is a false argument to quote one passage that is not to be taken literally to prove that another is. There are many things Jesus said, especially in the parables, that we are to understand as figurative. However, it seems clear to me that it is not "absurd" to take the sermon on the mount as clear ethical teaching.

My question to you then is, if Jesus didn't mean clearly what he said, what did he mean? You are displaying what has been a regular (and weak in my estimation) argument against taking the sermon on the mount as clear ethical teaching. "He couldn't have really meant that literally, that seems absurd..." so we dismiss it. It does seem absurd to the world to love one's does seem absurd to the world to turn the other cheek...or to give up our rights to our tunics and seems absurd to the world because as Paul said, the Gospel is "foolishness" to those who don't know Jesus. The problem is, that we have allowed our ethic to be formed more by the world than by Jesus.

You can take the teaching of Jesus as just a nice lecture that isn't did you put it...the "real world"...and I say the real world is displayed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who perfectly displayed how true humanity should life, and calls us to follow him, carrying our cross...which by the way...if following Jesus means carrying the cross...that might look absurd to the world as well.

Dick Norton said...

You're better than this, Ken! You seem to be saying "Don't stand for the right thing, because the right thing has little chance of 'passing muster?'" The income tax is legitimate (for good or ill) because the people gave it legitimacy by passing an amendment to the constitution to make it legal. Social security and Medicare do not have that legitimacy. Your freedom and my freedom has been circumscribed by these unfortunate laws. I am proud to stand for the freedom spoken of in the Declaration of Independence and guaranteed by the Constitution. By what authority does the Federal government take what belongs to you, and give it to someone else without your consent? By the might-makes-right authority? By the rule of the majority? By the force of the gun? Please answer this question, for that authority is not in the Constitution. What you and I should agree to is that we need to join with others to work toward the eventual elimination of these govenment ponzi schemes, while guaranteeing to those who are currently depending on them that we will not abandon them.

Ken Schenck said...

It's the very nature of the 18th century social contract that is our Constitution that by agreeing to live together, we surrender our absolute autonomy. "We the people, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty, do ordain and establish this Constitution." The nature of a social contract is that we surrender a modicum of our rights and authority over our own stuff in exchange for things like the common defense and the general welfare. So we just disagree on whether things like universal health care could be something the government administrates for the general welfare. Of course the health care bill that got through is heavily privatized.

Dick Norton said...

Do you draw a line anywhere? Your "modicum" is different from my "modicum." Is there any ultimate authority? Please answer that question. The text of the Constitution is the legitimate authority for me. The preamble is the goal. The text and the amendments are the specifics. How many "blessings of liberty" do we surrender to achieve the "general welfare?" The text of the Constitution tells us. Does the will of the majority legitimately overrule the will of the minority? The Constitution allows the will of the majority to rule ONLY by a very difficult-to-achieve amendment process. So our courts and legislatures must be held to account for the stuff they pass as to how they arrive at their decisions within the bounds of the Constitution.

Ken Schenck said...

You're right of course and I agree with most of what you're saying in principle. I do not have a fully developed philosophy of the relationship between what was going on in the minds of the framers and what they wrote. Nor do I have a well developed sense of the way in which the principles as worded and conceived in the 1700s might appropriately take a slightly different sense or direction 200 years later. Certainly the framers could not have addressed the key issues of our day because they didn't exist. On these issues we have to find our own way in some sort of dialog between the letter of the Constitution but even more importantly its Spirit.

This is why the Dred Scott decision greatly pains me. The framers of the Constitution were not inerrant in any sense of the word and the founding documents have contradictions (all created equal, a slave 3/5 of a person). The Dred Scott decision was appropriate to the letter of the Constitution, but it gravely violated its Spirit. I don't know what I would have decided.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Our country was founded because certain people wanted to separate themselves from the Anglican communion. As with all such religious sects, purity of the faith was at issue. Others came to America for material gain. And, of course, there were also Catholics. So, what I mean by "Protestant" is really diversity in regards to religious identity, with a particular religious understanding not being imposed by the State, and the State not interfering with religious conscience in regard to faith issues...

As for legilating morality, law is morality for a given society. What is considered "right" is what becomes law. Slavery used to be considered "right" and was defended by the Southern states, even after the Civil War. Segregation was a sign of a distinction between the races, especially in the South. This was what brought about the civil rights movement. And these rights were granted because Martin Luther King, Jr. believed that "all men were created equal and were endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights".....appealing to the DOI, as an identifying factor of the American conscience. This is where the liberal "won the case" against segregation.

Who was Jesus talking to in the Sermon on the Mount? Weren't these people mostly from the lower segment of society? Certainly, we wouldn't think that he was speaking to those who had "political power", as the ones who had political power were the ones who crucified him. So, he is telling these people what to do to maintain a peaceful society. He was not presenting a resistance/revolution theory to political oppression. It really goes along with Rom. 13 in its submission to authority, etc. Scripture lends itself not just to slavery, but to social class distinctions. And this is "biblical".

Whenever one submits to authority, one has to ask if that authority has earned the right to be an authority, as I don't believe that "God ordains" all authority. Otherwise, one concurs that the father who rapes his daughter and continues to abuse her in other ways, is still the authority over that daughter in every way. He is, after all to be honored as her father. The bible says so. Would you, as a pastor continue to encourage her that "God" would "work all things together for good", if she continues to "show her love for God through her obedience to her abusive father"????

Or one concurs that those who are tortured are ordained to submit and "love" (action word) to those who torture them. This is literally what "turning the other cheek" would demand. Therefore, we are not to resist at all. But, where are those who are to not let evil prevail? Who are those who fight for liberty and justice for those so abused?

Americans believe that authority is only granted by the consent of the governed, not "God ordained". God is not "sovereign" as in the Greek gods of "fate". Americans stand against what they find disagreeable by rallying Americans to voice their disagreement in their vote. This is what the "Tea Party" is all about.

Are we supposed to voice our opinion in a free society? Are we supposed to help those who suffer abuse? Are we to support the "freedom fighters"? It seems to me that turning the other cheek is a passive response to violence. Is violence to be won through non-resistance? Some believe so, but other would rather depend on national defense, and guard ourselves wisely against those who might not be so trustworthy. Don't you think that our country is big enough to embrace various ways of understand what our political role should be, pasivity, or activism, or something in between? It is after all a free country!

Dick Norton said...

I agree, Ken, that the framers were not infallible, and the Constitution itself is not infallible. I think the framers understood that, too, and thus put in a proviso that the Constitution could be amended. Dred Scott, as ugly as that decision was, provided the catalyst, e.g., for the 13th amendment, which came about just a few years later, thus drawing a favorable conclusion to the dialogue between the "all men are created equal" sentiment of the Declaration and the "rights reserved to the states and to the people" requirement of the Constitution.

No, the Constitution (being created by sinful human beings) is not perfect. But I just passionately believe that it is the very best founding document so far ever devised by man. And we would be wise to accept its authority (as written) over our judicial decisions and and legislation, and not to just ignore it. Men and women with good intentions will come up with legislation which they believe to be in the "spirit" of the Constitution, and those laws will differ greatly. That's why we can only be governed by the text of the Constitution. Perhaps the amendment process is the best available way to put whatever is the "spirit" of the Constitution into words that carry the necessary authority for governance.

Thanks for the time and effort you put into your blogging. I enjoy these conversations.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I want to add that talking of "human rights" has little effect IF there is no good government to appeal to. That is, if there are no civil rights, such as innocence until proof of guilt, trial by jury, representative government, ETC.

Human rights has no meaning without a "Bill of Rights"...