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David P. Gushee's blog

9/11 and the paradox of Christian patriotism in America

Responses to 9/11 and its aftermath have deepened the paradox of Christian patriotism, which may be more acute in the United States than anywhere else in the world at this particular moment.

It is indeed a perennial question: how shall Christians arrange their loyalties so that Christ alone is Lord (as we promise when we are baptized) and yet give due regard to subordinate loyalties? In particular, how shall we bring our loyalty to our nation and people into relation with our loyalty to Christ Jesus, whose lordship is over all the earth and every people?

This pivotally important question has been answered in starkly opposing ways during these 10 years.

Encountering the Palestinians and their plight

This is third in a series of columns reflecting on a summertime trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories. Last time I discussed powerful evidence that Israel remains a society traumatized by the epochal evil of the Holocaust. This week I offer impressions of the Palestinian people and their plight.

Oddly enough, my first experience with what it means to be Palestinian was in an Israeli taxi. In a rarity for American tourists, our hosts selected a hotel for us in what is still sometimes called Arab East Jerusalem.

We were within easy walking distance of the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, but my Israeli cab driver had never once been to this part of town. So he got hopelessly lost trying to find a hotel that is five minutes from the walls of the Old City.

Provisional lesson learned: Israelis and Palestinians generally live quite separate lives. Their populations intertwine, but by means both official and unofficial they are kept apart.

The Debt Crisis and Our National Character

As I write, the doomsday clock ticks toward a first-ever U.S. government default on our fiscal obligations. The overused image for trying to manage the willfully unmanageable -- "like herding cats" -- has rarely seemed more appropriate.

It may be that by the time this column sees the light of day some kind of solution will have been cobbled together. Regardless, here are my reflections on the broader implications of the sorry mess we have been witnessing from Washington.

First point: This is a manufactured crisis. In particular, this is a crisis manufactured by Tea Party Republicans. Never before has the previously routine congressional vote to raise the government's debt ceiling, or borrowing authority, been leveraged to create a political crisis. It helps to remember that the real long-term problem of America's recent unwillingness to balance the budget of our federal government is separable from the manufactured short-term crisis of imposing conditions on raising the debt ceiling.

Reflections on the bin Laden killing

For those who projected onto Barack Obama the hope that he would be a transformative figure, a peacemaker/great soul like Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi, the targeted killing of Osama bin Laden ought to put such hopes to rest.

Barack Obama is pursuing a different narrative. First he wanted to be the president of the United States and now he wants to succeed as president of the United States. Presidents of the United States pursue the national interest of the United States and do so in the manner that most citizens of the United States find congenial. That is precisely what President Obama did in this action.

Fiscal responsibility, with moral sanity

Progressive activists, including some of my Christian friends, have staged hunger strikes to dramatize their objections to proposed budget cuts in Congress that would affect the poor. I care deeply about such cuts, but I have not joined the fast.

While I admire the compassion for the poor that motivates these actions, I think this is a time for deliberative decision-making about our nation’s long-term fiscal responsibility and moral sanity rather than a moment for dramatic gestures.

I believe that we have about five years to make the structural decisions that are essential to our nation’s financial health. If we do not make these decisions ourselves, eventually our creditors will force us to make them:

Hearings on Muslims could harm us all

Beginning this week, Rep. Pete King, R-N.Y., will use his role as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee to convene hearings on what his website calls "al-Qaeda's coordinated radicalization and recruitment of people within the American Muslim community." This premise has set off alarm bells, especially in the Muslim community, but also among many others.

As an American, and as a Christian, I dispute the way King has framed these hearings, and I am very concerned about their possible implications. My reasons will be clear shortly. But I do not dismiss the legitimate fears that lie behind widespread public support for such hearings.

We have indeed seen a steady flow of high-profile Islamist terrorist plots and arrests over the past decade. Since 2001, according to a recent study from the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security (Duke University/University of North Carolina/RTI International), 161 American Muslims have been publicly accused of planning or carrying out terror attacks. Eleven succeeded, killing 33 people.

Common sense and common ground

The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, along with a variety of health care services for women. The Virginia General Assembly last week approved legislation that requires abortion clinics to be regulated as hospitals, and providers say the stricter regulations will force many of them out of business. Both measures were pushed by anti-abortion activists. Should personal and religious views be allowed to prevent women from having access to a legal medical procedure?

By David Gushee and Cristina Page

Last week House Republicans voted to ban federal funding to the nation's largest provider of contraceptive services, Planned Parenthood, and to vacate all federal funding of Title X, the nation's contraception program for the poor.

Putting the 'mare' in nightmare for pro-choice advocates, House Republicans then introduced an amendment in favor of funding birth control for wild horses. Of course the irony was not lost on pro-choice supporters, but this time the joke is on pro-life Americans too.

We are two advocates on opposing sides of the abortion conflict who are uniting to oppose and sound the alarm over these irrational acts of Congress. While abstinence is the only foolproof way to prevent pregnancy, contraception is currently the most practical form of preventing unintended pregnancy, and thus to reduce abortions. The research is not ambiguous: Women who are not using contraceptives or use them inconsistently, account for 95 percent of the unintended pregnancies each year; 40 percent of these end in abortion. Indeed, contraception is credited with preventing an estimated 112 million abortions worldwide each year.

Not only is the Republican proposal illogical, but it takes direct aim at our most vulnerable populations, the poor who incidentally are the most likely to seek abortions. Today, women living in poverty are nearly four times more likely to become pregnant unintentionally and three times more likely to have an abortion than women of greater means.

Christianity, Locke and gay marriage

Reading John Locke's Two Treatises of Government this spring has had a huge and still developing impact on my approach to U.S. public policy.

I have always known that the normative posture of the church on an issue like, say, divorce, could not always be advocated as an agenda for public policy. But I have usually accepted this restriction for practical reasons, such as that a law that most Americans do not support will be unenforceable and thus ineffective. But that our dream is the complete in-breaking of the kingdom of God, and that it is appropriate to hope that the state can play some role, however small, in gaining victories for the kingdom, has been at least implicitly present in my thinking.

Locke rejected all such approaches to government and law. The basic structure of Locke's theory is that individuals in the state contract together to give up absolute liberty in return for the security that comes from the establishment of an agreed structure of laws and a government with the coercive power to enforce those laws.

The idea that individuals give up as little of their liberty as is absolutely necessary, and that government has as small a role as is absolutely required to meet the needs of those who created it, imposes a rigid discipline on the purposes of government.

Abortion, American Culture and the Limits of Law

The 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade finds anti-abortion legal efforts in the ascendancy in many states.

As reported in The New York Times on Saturday, the Republican blowout in the November elections has brought anti-abortion governors and legislators to power in large numbers. Legislation under consideration would continue shredding the old Roe trimester model by pushing back the deadline for a legal abortion as early as 20 weeks. And the permission granted by the Supreme Court in recent decades for states to impose their versions of informed consent is now being exploited by proposed legislation that would require women to watch an ultrasound before going ahead with an abortion.

Our legal stalemate about abortion is like a football game, with the two rival teams pushing each other back and forth across the 50-yard line and neither team able to win -- especially if winning is defined by either the total banning of abortion on the one side or its unhindered legalization and funding as a routine health care practice on the other. The pro-life and pro-choice establishments appear committed to the continuation of this game of smash-mouth abortion football until the end of time.
It is quite a spectacle, but the legal struggle is actually a distraction from the unresolved cultural and moral issues that have created it. Three of these may be worth reviewing as we do our annual marches in the street:

Another gun massacre? Let's buy more guns!

We have another gun massacre by another deranged young American man, this one targeting a U.S. congresswoman for assassination and wounding or killing 20 people, including, heartbreakingly, an innocent 9-year-old child.

And so Tucson joins Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, the Pennsylvania Amish schoolchildren, the Long Island Railroad killings, the Wisconsin church shooting and others.

They come upon us one after another. Who can even remember them all? We are shocked. We grieve. We wait for the next one. We change nothing. Nothing!

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