Saturday, December 14, 2013

"Wisconsin leads nation in new jobless claims"

 Democratic Party of Wisconsin

 "Wisconsin leads nation in new jobless claims"

With tens of thousands of Wisconsinites facing the possibility of losing federal unemployment benefits due to obstruction by House Republicans, a new U.S. Department of Labor report shows that Wisconsin leads the nation in new jobless claims.
That's according to The Capital Times, which is reporting that "4,420 people in Wisconsin filed initial unemployment claims during the last week of November. That is more claims than the next two highest states combined: Ohio with 2,597 and Kentucky with 1,538."
"Scott Walker is kicking tens of thousands of Wisconsinites off their healthcare, wreaking havoc on Wisconsin workers with his failed economic policies, and asking folks to skip Christmas presents for the kids and instead send the money to his campaign," Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Friday. "He really is the Governor Grinch who stole Christmas."
Amid reports that thousands of unemployed Wisconsinites could soon lose their federal benefits, new data shows the state leading the nation in initial jobless claims.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported Thursday that 4,420 people in Wisconsin filed initial unemployment claims during the last week of November. That is more claims than the next two highest states combined: Ohio with 2,597 and Kentucky with 1,538.
Several other states reported large decreases in unemployment claims for the week including California: down 19,920; Texas: down 7,284 and Florida: down 5,400. Michigan also reported a dip of 2,567 claims.
Officials with the state Department of Workforce Development explain that Wisconsin historically sees a seasonal increase in unemployment claims around Thanksgiving -- in part because of deer hunting -- but note the number of claims for 2013 is actually down from 2012 by 17.4 percent and the lowest since at least 2009.
Still, the new figures come as Gov. Scott Walker in his weekly radio address is touting the October figures showing the Wisconsin unemployment rate falling to 6.5 percent, a five-year low.
The national rate for November was 7 percent but state by state figures for November won’t be released until next Friday.
Unemployment has become a hot issue of late since the Congressional budget deal announced this week did not extend federal unemployment benefits beyond Dec. 28.
That program gives jobless individuals emergency compensation after they have exhausted their state benefits, which typically last for 26 weeks. The federal program was beefed up in the 2009 economic stimulus bill, extending benefits for up to 73 weeks.
As it stands, an estimated 1.3 million Americans will lose their benefits if nothing changes before the end of December, including about 24,000 people in Wisconsin.
Members of the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate earlier this week sent a letter to the state’s congressional delegation urging action to extend the benefits. The federal budget compromise was led by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis).


Kansas Airport Worker Arrested in Car Bomb Plot

Kansas Airport Worker Arrested in Car Bomb Plot

A Kansas man who prosecutors say sympathized with violent terrorists was arrested Friday as part of an FBI sting after he drove a vehicle loaded with what he thought were explosives to a Wichita airport.
Investigators allege that Terry Lee Loewen planned to attack Wichita's Mid-Continent Regional airport in a plot aimed at supporting al-Qaida.
Loewen, a 58-year-old avionics technician who worked at the airport for Hawker Beechcraft, was arrested before dawn as he tried to drive onto the tarmac. The materials in the car were inert, and no one at the airport was in any immediate danger, authorities said.
Loewen, who lives in Wichita, had been under investigation for about six months after making online statements about wanting to commit "violent jihad" against the United States, U.S. Attorney Barry Grissom said. An undercover FBI agent befriended Loewen, striking up conversations about terrorism and Loewen's admiration for those who plotted against American interests.
Authorities said Loewen spent months studying the layout of the airport, its flight patterns and other details to maximize fatalities and damage in an attack. During that time, he developed a plan with other conspirators to use his employee access card to pull off the attack. The conspirators were actually undercover FBI agents.
Loewen planned to die in the explosion, a fate that he said was inevitable in his quest to become a martyr in a jihad against America, according to court documents.
"Since early summer, he was resolved to take an act of violent jihad against U.S.," Grissom said.
Authorities said they believe Loewen acted alone. No other arrests were expected.
Loewen made an initial court appearance Friday afternoon, answering "yes" in a strong voice to procedural questions. A U.S. magistrate ordered that he remain jailed at least until a hearing next Friday after prosecutors said he was a flight risk and a danger to the community.
His wife and attorney declined comment after the hearing.
His brother-in-law, David Reddig, described Loewen as a "good guy." He said Loewen helped him pay off the debt on his truck and took care of his home and chickens after an eye injury kept him from working.
"He is a hard worker and all that stuff," Reddig said.
But he said Loewen kept details of his life away from his relatives.
The case appears to be similar to a string of investigations conducted by the FBI since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack. The FBI sting operations have prompted controversy over whether the law enforcement tactics involved entrapment of suspects and intruded on civil liberties. One involved an undercover agent who pretended to be a terrorist, provided a teenager with a phony car bomb, then watched him plant it in downtown Chicago.
But the FBI has argued that the stings are a vital law tool for averting potentially deadly terrorist attacks. And juries have returned tough sentences.
In Loewen's case, court documents allege that he talked about downloading documents about jihad, martyrdom and an al-Qaida "manual" during his online conversations.
Investigators said he also frequently expressed admiration for Anwar Al-Awlaki, the American-born al-Qaida leader who was killed in a 2011 drone strike in Yemen. Al-Awlaki emerged as an influential preacher among militants living in the West, with his English language Internet sermons calling for jihad, or holy war, against the U.S.
In August, an undercover agent offered to introduce Loewen to someone who could help him engage in jihad. A few days later, he mentioned providing a "tour" of the airport for one of the undercover agents.
In September, the undercover agent told Loewen he had returned from overseas after meeting with individuals connected with al-Qaida. The agent told him the "brothers" were excited to hear about his access to the airport and asked Loewen if he would be willing to plant some type of device, according to court documents.
"Wow! That's some heavy stuff you just laid down. Am I interested? Yes. I still need time to think about it, but I can't imagine anything short of arrest stopping me," Loewen told the agent, adding that he needed to let Allah guide him.
The documents allege that he also asked for assurances that he wasn't being set up, saying his greatest fear was not completing the operation.
The criminal complaint also details a meeting in November with other undercover agents in which they discussed executing the plan before Christmas in order to cause the greatest damage. He also provided components from his employer that the agents requested for wiring the fake explosive device, according to court documents.
On Wednesday, Loewen met with another undercover agent and helped assemble the false bomb, court documents allege.
Loewen was charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, attempting to damage property and attempting to provide support to terrorist group al-Qaida.
Hawker Beechcraft spokeswoman Nicole Alexander confirmed Friday that Loewen worked at the company's aircraft maintenance facility at the airport.
Loewen's neighbors said several law enforcement agencies converged early Friday morning at the modest brick home where Loewen and his wife live, just a few houses down from a local elementary school. Some neighbors said the couple mostly kept to themselves and didn't participate in neighborhood events.
Janine Hessman, who lives nearby, said she didn't know Loewen well but liked his wife and spoke to her often. But if the allegations are true, she said, "I don't really have any sympathy for him."
Associated Press writers Maria Sudekum and Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., and Pete Yost in Washington contributed to this report.

After revelation that Christie asked Cuomo to back off bridge lane closure inquiry, top aide resigns

After revelation that Christie asked Cuomo to back off bridge lane closure inquiry, top aide resigns

New Democratic video hits Christie on controversy
One day after the Wall Street Journal reported that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had privately asked New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to back off an investigation into Bill Baroni, Christie's top appointee to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Baroni has resigned. Last September, Baroni mysteriously ordered the closure of two of the three lanes from Fort Lee, New Jersey, to the George Washington Bridge. The blockade created enormous traffic jams in Fort Lee and jeopardized public safety by disrupting the ability of first responders to move throughout the city. Three days later, the lanes were reopened, but the question everybody wants answered is this: Why were the lanes closed in the first place?
Baroni claimed the lane closure was part of a "traffic study," but no one believes him because:
Nobody involved with George Washington Bridge’s operations knew anything about Baroni’s phantom "study." That includes Patrick Foye, Baroni’s boss and the Port Authority’s top executive, who was subpoenaed to Trenton on Monday and testified, under oath, that he wasn’t told about the clandestine study, either. When he learned about it from reporters, he demanded the lanes be reopened.
The widely held suspicion is that Baroni and David Wildstein, the PA’s director of interstate capital projects, ordered the traffic squeeze to punish Fort Lee’s Democratic mayor, Mark Sokolich, for refusing to endorse Gov. Chris Christie’s re-election.
Please read below the fold for more on Chris Christie's politics. 9:34 AM PT: And check this out—Christie is trying to say the Baroni resignation had nothing to do with the bridge controversy.
Mr. Christie suggested that Mr. Baroni’s resignation was not connected to the bridge controversy. “Senator Baroni offered his resignation and I accepted it,” he said at a news conference Friday. “But this was nothing I hadn’t planned already.”
Yeah, sure.
It might seem strange for Christie's political team to have been worried about getting endorsements from Democratic mayors, but one of the ways Christie has built a power base in Democratic New Jersey is by wooing Democratic politicians with spending projects. Case in point: Christie won the endorsement of the Harrison, New Jersey's Democratic mayor after promising a $250 million PATH station. (PATH is operated by the Port Authority.)
The question that many on both sides of the Hudson now have is whether Baroni's actions were a nasty sort of payback against Fort Lee's mayor for refusing to play ball. Christie has been unwilling to talk about the issue publicly—except for some awkward jokes—and Baroni has been stonewalled. But the questions haven't gone away and now Hoye, who heads the Port Authority and was appointed by Andrew Cuomo, has been looking for answers.
And apparently Chris Christie didn't like that:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week to complain about a Cuomo appointee's handling of a growing controversy over traffic pattern changes on the George Washington Bridge, a person familiar with the matter said. Mr. Christie, a Republican, complained in a private phone call to Mr. Cuomo, a Democrat, that Patrick Foye, the executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, was pressing too hard to get to the bottom of why the number of toll lanes onto the bridge from Fort Lee, N.J. was cut from three to one in early September, according to this person.
So to recap the admittedly circumstantial evidence here: A Chris Christie appointee orders the blockade of two out of the three lanes of traffic from Fort Lee to the George Washington Bridge with no good explanation. New Jersey Democrats suspect politics motivated the action, but when Christie was asked questions about it, his initial reaction was to refuse to comment, aside from making awkward jokes. When that didn't stop people from trying to help get to the bottom of things, Christie's next move was to go to Andrew Cuomo and ask him to tell him to tell his guy at the Port Authority to back off. Then, when that became public, Christie decided this was no longer a joking matter and accepted the resignation of his lieutenant at the Port Authority. Hmm. I'm not saying there's a fire in Christie's kitchen, but the smoke has to be coming from somewhere, doesn't it?

33 Jaw-Droppingly Stupid Multiple-Choice Questions from the Christian Education Curriculum


33 Jaw-Droppingly Stupid Multiple-Choice Questions from the Christian Education Curriculum

This is what happens when you leave education to people for whom religious conversion is everything and learning is a distant afterthought.
Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) is a fundamentalist curriculum founded in Texas in 1970. It started as a program for private Christian day schools, but it has been hugely successful among conservative home schoolers. Today, ACE  claims it is used in “6,000 schools and thousands of home educators in over 140 countries.” It’s also used in government-funded  voucher programs in several US states.
ACE has always taken its fundamentalism very seriously. In his 1979 book  Rebirth of Our Nation ACE’s founder Donald Howard wrote, “Fundamentalism is intellectually sound. It has always prevailed in periods of great intellectual enlightenment. It is the only sound an logical solution to the existence of the universe… I am a fundamentalist. If I can be any more fundamental than fundamental, that is what I want to be.” Today, ACE views imparting these fundamental beliefs into children as its  primary purpose.
Howard later wrote “We do  not build Christian schools primarily to give a child the best education  nor to teach him how to make a good living. Teaching him  how to live and to love and serve God are our primary tasks.”
He wasn’t kidding. 
I went to an ACE school for almost four years. By the time I left, I was certain that it was against God's will for governments to provide healthcare, evolution was a conspiracy to destroy Christianity, parents were morally required to spank their children, and science could prove that homosexuality was wrong. But worst of all was the feeling uneducated; I still struggle with self-conscious fears about gaps in my learning. ACE workbooks consist of simplistic fill-in-the-blank and multiple choice questions. And these questions are often hilariously, spectacularly bad.

4th grade (9-10 years old)

Science 1045 4th ed tasty milk

Science 1047 fish skin

Science 1047 celsius bible

Science 1045 a brown car

Science 1048 cookies
But no special women, obviously.

They’re particularly strong when it comes to people…
Science 1048 Franceso Redi

Science 1048 Louis Pasteur

Social Studies 1046 4th ed 4

SS 1047 counsel

Social Studies 1045 4th Ed Dry ducks
Two. Dry. Ducks.

Social Studies 1046 4th ed 3

There’s a bloody picture!
Social Studies 1046 donkey supplies

7th grade (12-13 years old) SS 1073 4th ed Journalism

SS 1074 worship leaders

SS 1075 touch lives piano tutor

IMPORTANT: The correct answer, for those puzzled, is piano tutors. It’s not that ACE doesn’t believe that sports coaches or librarians can touch students’ lives. The point is that the exact sentence “Piano tutors can touch the lives of their students” has previously appeared in the PACE, and the student is expected to remember this. Verbatim regurgitation of previously seen material is the entire point of the ACE system.

SS1077 4th ed coast guard

SS 1076 homemaker
ACE never uses female pronouns in PACEs. Everyone is male… until they start talking about homemakers.

SS 1076 doctor

9th grade (14-15 years old)

SS106 Darwin's book
The title is actually  On the Origin of Species…

From a history PACE on the discovery and colonisation of America:
SS 104 Lief Eriksen

SS 103 man or god

SS 99 alphabet FUCK

SS 105 Bloody Mary

SS99 Socrates

SS 107 Jimmy Carter

SS 107 Mohammed Ali

Biology 1107 hitler
Ah, the old  Darwin-caused-Hitler implication again.

12th grade (17-18 years old) English 1135 soliloquy

English 1135 Macbeth
Um, I might have been getting a bit irritated by the time I got to that last one.
I found plenty more 12th grade questions with no plausible distractors, but none of them made me laugh. Stuff like this:
Screen Shot 2013-12-04 at 12.13.00
Mind you, by this point, it’s all starting to seem less funny.

Jonny Scaramanga is a PhD student at the Institute of Education, University of London, researching former students of Accelerated Christian Education. He is also writing a memoir about growing up a fundamentalist. He blogs at

Texas GOP Lt. Gov. candidates agree: More religion needed in science class

Texas GOP Lt. Gov. candidates agree: More religion needed in science class (via Raw Story )
All four candidates for the Republican nomination for Texas lieutenant governor said Thursday they support teaching creationism in public schools. During a debate in Waco hosted by the McClennan County Republican Party and broadcast by KCEN-TV, the…

Previously unknown DNA code could help humanity defy aging and death

Previously unknown DNA code could help humanity defy aging and death (via Raw Story )
Scientists have discovered a second code that’s been hiding within DNA that could change the way genetic instructions are read. A team of University of Washington researchers discovered the secondary code, which was published Friday in Science, and…

Right Wing Preacher Threatens to Shoot Fans of Liberal Website (Video)

Right Wing Preacher Threatens to Shoot Fans of Liberal Website (Video)

Posted by: Bob Cull in TEApublicans in Action
December 12, 2013

Several months ago, Gordon Klingenschmitt, or as he prefers to be called, Dr. Chaps, a former navy chaplain forced to resign in disgrace, declared war on Right Wing Watch.  Although he has lost every battle with them (succeeding in having their Youtube account taken down briefly on several occasions on bogus copyright infringement grounds), he will not concede defeat.

In his latest salvo, he has accused Right Wing Watch of inciting their followers to threaten his life, saying he has obtained a concealed carry permit and that he will second amendment anyone who threatens him or his wife.

After reviewing the comments, it was apparent that none of them constituted an actual threat on Klingenschmitt’s life, but nevertheless it still prompted Dr.Chaps to threaten his own acts of violence:

    “Even though I’m a chaplain, even though I’m a noncombatant, that I’m a 20-year military veteran and I was a nuclear missile officer and I was the captain of my high school rifle team.  So, I did recently go down and I got my concealed carry permit.”

To show his deeply held Christian convictions after making his vow to go all second amendment on those who dislike him he concluded his threat by saying that after he has killed them, “I’ll pray for your soul. I pray that you go to heaven. Right?”

Watch his rant in the video from his “Pray in Jesus Name” show.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner objects to lowering flags for Nelson Mandela

Daniel Bice, the Journal Sentinel's watchdog columnist, holds politicians and the powerful accountable

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner objects to lowering flags for Nelson Mandela

U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner says he was a big fan of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
But Sensenbrenner said he does not think the president should have ordered the lowering of U.S. flags as a tribute to Mandela's legacy.
Speaking to a group of Brookfield Republicans last week, Sensenbrenner said he objected to U.S. officials flying American flags at half-staff as a measure of respect for Mandela.
"Lowering the flag should be for mourning Americans and not for foreign leaders," Sensenbrenner said on Friday to cheers, according to a Brookfield Now report. Brookfield Now is part of Journal Communications, which also publishes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
On Wednesday, Sensenbrenner issued a statement standing by his remarks while trying to shift the focus to Mandela's life and legacy. The former South African leader died last week.
“Nelson Mandela deserves international praise for defeating apartheid, fighting for equality and uniting South Africa," Sensenbrenner said in a statement to No Quarter. "While I think the American flag should only be flown at half-staff for Americans, I join the rest of the world in mourning Nelson Mandela’s death.”
Keith Best, first vice chairman of the Waukesha County GOP, said Wednesday that about 100 people attended the monthly Pints and Politics meeting at the Venice Club in Brookfield.
This was the first time, Best said, that the meeting featured a speaker. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson will speak at next month's meeting.
"This is the first one we've had a formal speaker, and this is the one that generates controversy," Best said. "The congressman was just stating his opinion."
Last week, President Barack Obama, who spoke on Tuesday at the huge Mandela memorial service in Johannesburg, issued an executive proclamation ordering flags to fly at half-staff until Monday "as a mark of respect for the memory" of Mandela.
Gov. Scott Walker also ordered all U.S. and Wisconsin flags be lowered in the state in memory of Mandela, whom the governor described as "an inspiring man, who stood as a distinct symbol of hope in the anti-apartheid movement."
Asked Wednesday to respond to Sensenbrenner's remarks, the first-term Republican governor said only, "I respectfully disagree."
But Sensenbrenner isn't alone in suggesting that Obama was out of line for issuing his proclamation.
A South Carolina sheriff grabbed headlines nationally for refusing to lower the American flag, saying -- like Sensenbrenner -- that this tribute should be reserved for Americans.
"Nelson Mandela did great things for his country and was a brave man but he was not an AMERICAN!!!" Pickens County Sheriff Rick Clark wrote on Facebook.
The Christian Science Monitor reported this week that it is a rare honor for American flags to be flown at half-staff following the death of a foreign dignitary, but Republican and Democratic presidents have issued orders similar to Obama's in the past. The paper wrote:
"President George W. Bush ordered flags to fly at half-staff at the passing of Pope John Paul II in 2005, President Bill Clinton did so for Yitzhak Rabin (1995) and King Hussein of Jordan (1999), and President Ronald Reagan honored Anwar Sadat in 1981, but the historical precedent most often cited is President Lyndon Johnson’s bestowal of the honor in recognition of the passing of Winston Churchill in 1965."
Newspapers wrote front-page stories about Johnson's decision to lower the flags in tribute to Churchill. Johnson described the former British leader as "one of our own."
With his executive order, Obama was exercising a power assigned to the president by federal legislation, the Christian Science Monitor said. Lowering the flags to half-staff is meant to indicate a nation in mourning.
In 2003, Sensenbrenner once pushed a resolution urging Bush to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor bestowed by the U.S. government, to John Paul II. The resolution passed the U.S. House of Representatives but not the Senate.
The U.S. flag flies at half-staff over the White House in Washington last week. Reuters photo

Remembering The Religious Right's Attacks On Nelson Mandela

Remembering The Religious Right's Attacks On Nelson Mandela

Submitted by Brian Tashman

Thursday, 12/5/2013 5:45 pm

The news today of Nelson Mandela’s passing is also time to reflect on the complicated relationship between Mandela and his anti-apartheid African National Congress (ANC) with the US, which did not always support the anti-apartheid struggle. In fact, American conservatives lobbied the federal government in the 1980s to withhold support from the anti-apartheid movement. 

President Reagan added the ANC to the US terrorism watch list, a designation not removed until 2008, and unsuccessfully vetoed sanctions against the apartheid regime. Many Republican lawmakers did break with the Reagan administration’s stance, but “all 21 [Senate] votes to sustain the veto were cast by Republicans.”

Mandela faced criticism from Republican leaders including Dick Cheney, who described Mandela’s ANC as a “terrorist organization,” and Jesse Helms, who “turned his back during Mandela’s visit to the U.S. Capitol.” Even in 1998, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly lumped Mandela together with notorious dictators.

The late Jerry Falwell urged [PDF] his supporters to write their congressmen and senators to tell them to oppose sanctions against the apartheid regime. “The liberal media has for too long suppressed the other side of the story in South Africa,” he said. “It is very important that we stay close enough to South Africa so that it does not fall prey to the clutches of Communism.”

“South Africa is torn by civil unrest, instigated primarily by Communist-sponsored people who are capitalizing on the many legitimate grievances created by apartheid, unemployment and policy confrontations,” Falwell continued.

Finally, we should, if possible, invest in South Africa, because this inevitably improves the standard of living for nonwhites there.

Now is not the time to turn our backs on South Africa. The world has witnessed the Soviets capture nation after nation. They have been particularly aggressive in Africa. South Africa must not be the next victim!
David John Marley notes in Pat Robertson: An American Life that Robertson criticized the ANC because it was “led by communists and was hostile to Israel” and “far too radical an element to ever work with,” while “his campaign literature made similar claims for the need to support the white government.”

The televangelist regularly spoke ill of Mandela’s group and his Christian Broadcasting Network ran segments critical of sanctions against the apartheid government as Congress debated sanctions.
In 1986 The 700 Club did a series of reports on South Africa and the white government’s struggle against the African National Congress. While many socially liberal religious leaders decried the apartheid regime, Robertson openly supported it because he felt that it was a bastion against communism. For Robertson, everything else was secondary to defeating what he saw as the enemies of God. Robertson sent a copy of The 700 Club program to Freedom Council’s Dick Thompson to have it forwarded to Pat Buchanan, who in turn promised to show it to the president. Reagan’s attitude toward South Africa was one of his most controversial foreign policy stands, and Robertson was one of Reagan’s few allies on the policy. 
Sam Kleiner mentions that now-Sen. Jeff Flake, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff were also active in lobbying against the anti-apartheid movement:
Jack Abramoff, now a disgraced former lobbyist convicted of fraud, conspiracy and tax evasion, got much of his start from his work with South Africa. Abramoff visited the country following his term as National Chair of the College Republicans in 1983 and met with pro-apartheid student groups linked to the South Africa’s Bureau of Security Services. In 1986, he opened the International Freedom Foundation. Ostensibly a think tank, it was later revealed as a front group for the South African Army as part of “Operation Babushka” meant to undermine Nelson Mandela’s international approval. The group had over “30 young ideologues in offices on G Street in Washington, Johannesburg, London and Brussels” working on propaganda in support of the South African government.
Like Abramoff, GOP tax guru Grover Norquist became enamored with the conflict in South Africa and went there to extend his support. Norquist ran College Republicans from 1981 to 1983 and went to South Africa in 1985 for a “Youth for Freedom Conference” sponsored by South African businesses. While other college students, such as Barack Obama, had been active in anti-apartheid work, this conference was seeking to bring American and South African conservatives together to end that movement. In his speech there, Norquist said, “The left has no other issue [but apartheid] on campus. Economic issues are losers for them. There are no sexy Soviet colonies anymore.” A few months after the conference, Norquist went to Angola to work with Jonas Savimbi, the rebel leader that Abramoff valorized in his film. Norquist became a ghost-writer for Savimbi’s essay in Policy Review. When he returned to Washington, he was greeted in conservative circles as a “freedom fighter,” and he proudly placed an “I’d rather be killing commies” bumper sticker on his brief case.

A few years later and much further along in the anti-apartheid movement, a young Jeff Flake (now a senator from Arizona) became active in lobbying for South African mining interests in the late 1980s and early ’90s, after returning from his Mormon mission to South Africa. As a graduate student at Brigham Young University, he testified against an anti-apartheid resolution in the Utah State Senate and then became a lobbyist in Washington for Smoak, Shipley and Henry, a lobbying firm specializing in representing the South African mining industry. Flake went on to personally represent the Rossing Uranium plant in Namibia, which had been a major target of anti-apartheid activists for its discriminatory and unsafe practices.

Decades later, these Republican leaders would prefer not to have their adventures in South Africa mentioned. While Abramoff went down in a corruption scandal, Norquist went on to remake himself into a libertarian anti-tax activist, and Flake moved back to Arizona. The anti-communism that motivated the Republican allegiance to South Africa fizzled with the end of the Cold War, but the history of the Republican entanglement with South Africa remains one of the party’s darker episodes.

President Obama can proudly talk about how his first political act was in response to apartheid. While a few Republicans stood against apartheid, much of the Republican Party has nothing to offer about its position at the time but silence. I wouldn’t expect any reflections on apartheid from Abramoff, Flake or Norquist anytime soon.

The Methodists, slavery, and homosexuality: is history repeating itself?

The Methodists, slavery, and homosexuality: is history repeating itself?

I grew up United Methodist. I was baptized and confirmed United Methodist, and remained a Methodist until my early adulthood, when I attended the Disciples of Christ briefly before joining my current denomination (the United Church of Christ).
One of the main reasons I have not considered rejoining the UMC in recent years is because of its stance on GLBT matters: in short, the current (2012) Book of Discipline states that
“the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church” (220).
The denomination extends this doctrine to same-sex marriage, so it was perhaps not surprising last week when a United Methodist minister was convicted and suspended by the church for 30 days and ordered to renounce his support for same-sex marriage.
It’s inevitable that at some point the United Methodist Church will openly affirm gay and lesbian marriages and clergy. Why? Because its own history and methodology (pun intended) point in that direction.
As I’ve written about before, American Protestantism is divided between ecumenical and evangelical camps. The ecumenical denominations are those we now consider “mainline,” and include roughly those denominations that belong to the National Council of Churches. The evangelical groups are those that, in contrast, have received the bulk of the attention (and membership) over the past fifty to sixty years or so. These are the denominations, led by the very large Southern Baptist Convention, that typically disallow women clergy and have been most vocal against homosexuality and abortion, and which defend these positions by appealing to a central, albeit relatively new, doctrine: that of Biblical infallibility.
It’s no coincidence that an approach to the Bible is at the fore of what distinguishes mainline and evangelical Protestantism. It was the embrace of science and scholarly Biblical criticism in the 19th century by the former, and their rejection by the latter, which led to the split that has in many ways defined Christianity in America ever since. Conservative Christians were (and still are) anxious about the revelations that have come from said scholarship: insights into the authorship, sometimes over generations, of specific books of the Bible before thought to have been written by a single, prophetic individual; insights into parts of the Bible that simply weren’t there in their original forms; and of course, the overall humanness that is revealed by studying the Bible critically in the same way we do any other piece of ancient literature.
These differing approaches are often revealed in subtle ways. You might hear a conservative, evangelical pastor refer to the Bible as “written by God,” or in the very least, he (for it’s always a he) will refer to “Matthew” writing the gospel named after him. But mainline ministers will more often refer to “the author” (because he is in fact anonymous) and “the authors of the Bible.” Even though mainline clergy certainly believe, as a whole, that the Bible is inspired, this distinction cannot be exaggerated. For mainline Protestants, the Bible was written by men, which requires us to examine its pages in light of history, contemporary literature, and scholarly criticism.
In this, the United Methodist Church is on pretty much the same page as any other mainline Protestant denomination. On page 82 of the Book of Discipline, the Methodists affirm:
We are aided by scholarly inquiry and personal insight, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we work with each text, we take into account what we have been able to learn about the original context and intention of that text. In this understanding we draw upon the careful historical, literary, and textual studies of recent years, which have enriched our understanding of the Bible.
Like other mainline Protestants, then, the Methodists defer to modern scholarship. And this deferral takes shape most often with respect to historical context: parts of the Bible simply reflect the ancient ideologies of the authors when it was written. In broader scholarship, this has been extended to cases of homosexuality: what precisely Paul or others were envisioning when and if they spoke of homoeroticism is still an open debate, since the nature of sexuality in general in antiquity is still very much an open debate (and in any case will probably never be concluded to coincide perfectly with our own concepts of sexuality).
And while evangelical denominations speciously claim that Scripture prohibits abortion, the Book of Discipline, while reluctant on the issue, nevertheless affirms the legal right of abortion and trusts its members to enter into prayerful consideration when faced with such a decision:
“We call on all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause them to consider abortion. We entrust God to provide guidance, wisdom, and discernment to those facing an unintended pregnancy” (113).
If the UMC can trust its members to act in accordance with their conscience on an issue as explosive as abortion, how can it continue to draw a hard line on homosexuality, an issue whose Biblical proof-texting is at least as questionable?
In fact, the Methodists (and most mainline Protestants) pay little heed to superficial proof-texting. As the Book of Discipline goes on to say:
While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve tradition, experience, and reason. Like Scripture, these may become creative vehicles of the Holy Spirit as they function within the Church. They quicken our faith, open our eyes to the wonder of God’s love, and clarify our understanding.
These four — scripture, tradition, experience, and reason — are the so-called Wesleyan Quadrilateral, named after the denomination’s founder and the cornerstone of its methodology. In short, continued hostility toward homosexuality only meets one criterion of these: namely, tradition. As illustrated before, Methodists defer to mainstream Biblical scholarship, and there is hardly consensus to suggest that the “homosexuality” as understood by the ancients is the same kind of homosexuality with which we are dealing today. Reason also fails to hold up, as all medical, scientific, psychological, and other assorted scholarly professional disciplines agree that same-sex attraction is a perfectly normative expression of human sexuality.
Experience should be increasingly the most obvious persuader: the stance that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” is increasingly out of step with the experiences of millions of people, whose gay friends, neighbors, and family members exhibit Christianity better than many. It is also increasingly out of step with the Methodists’ own clergy, who keep getting prosecuted for officiating same-sex ceremonies, leading thousands of ministers to petition the UMC hierarchy for an end to such trials.
And so, as Paul says to the unnamed interlocutor in Romans 2:1 who applauds or perhaps even utters the infamous condemnations of Romans 1:26-27, the Methodists are “without excuse.” Tradition is all that stands in the way of fully embracing gay and lesbian clergy and weddings, and tradition has been challenged before: women did not gain ordination rights in the Methodist Church until 1956 (and not in the Evangelical United Brethren Church until it merged with the Methodists in 1968). And even after taking a brave stance against slavery at the famous Christmas Conference in 1784, the Book of Discipline apologetically notes that ”regrettably, the church gradually retreated from that courageous stand,” no doubt because so many considered slavery to be an institution sanctioned by the Bible. The church would go on to split over slavery, a north-south division that may well happen again over homosexuality.
If a split comes, let it come. There are times when courage should be shown even in the face of possible membership decline or financial loss (something that has already greeted most mainline denominations that have done the right thing); more and more Methodist clergy are coming around to that historic stand. Here’s praying there are many more willing to join them, so that a future Book of Discipline needn’t offer the same contrition it now feels over slavery.

Don M. BurrowsAbout Don M. Burrows
Don M. Burrows is a former journalist and columnist who is now completing his Ph.D. in classical studies, with a graduate minor in religious studies focusing on early Christian literature. A former Christian fundamentalist, Don is now a member of the United Church of Christ and contends most firmly that the Bible cannot be read or explored without appreciating its ancient, historical context. Don lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two young children. Don blogs at Nota Bene and can also be found on Facebook.

When bad Christians happen to good people

When bad Christians happen to good people

For years before I (suddenly and out of nowhere) became a Christian, my wife Catherine and I used to study and practice Zen. One morning we were walking toward our car after a night spent sitting zazen at a Zen center with a dozen or so other would-be Buddhas. (Zazen is Zen meditation: you sit; you close your eyes; you try to disconnect from your thoughts; you try like crazy not to sneeze, cough or itch; you endeavor not to panic about the fact that after about a half-hour your whole lower body is so asleep you wouldn’t flinch if your thigh suddenly got harpooned.)
As we were approaching our car, we saw that a guy who had just pinned a flyer to our dashboard was now doing the same to the car parked behind ours. He gave us a friendly wave. “I hope you don’t mind me leaving one of these on your car,” he said cheerily.
I unlocked the passenger side door so that Cat could get in. “No problem” I said. But what he apparently somehow heard me say instead was, “Please come over and talk to us.”
“It’s for a nearby church,” he said, coming over to talk to us. He was maybe thirty, fit, and clean-shaven, sporting an orange baseball cap, a winning smile, and a slight gleam in his eye that was somewhere between a little too friendly and crazy. “It’s called Calvary Chapel. Ever heard of it?”
“I haven’t,” I said. I closed Cat inside the car. Tucked under my arm was my zafu, the round pillow Zenners use to sit upon whilst trying to merge with The Great Nothing/Everything. The guy nodded toward it.
“You folks study Buddhism there in the center?”
“We do, yes. Well, sort of. It’s Zen Buddhism. We like it. Been at it for a pretty long time now.”
“Oh, is that right? Do you find it helps you with your life?”
Whoops. Now entering Nutsville. “Actually, yeah. It’s been a really wonderful thing for both of us.”
“But you must know that it can’t give you what the Lord Jesus Christ can. The only way you can ever find what you’re really seeking is to open up your heart to the fact that Jesus Christ is your personal lord and savior.”
The thing about sitting zazen—especially if you’ve just done it for ten hours straight—is that it leaves you feeling like Lake Placid. So, in a voice so calming it would slip a rampaging werewolf into a coma, I said, “That’s great. I mean, I know that for a lot of people Christianity is perfect. We’ve chosen Zen. I’ve got a friend who’s a Hindu. My wife’s dad is Catholic. Everybody has to find their own way, don’t they?”
“But there’s only one true way, friend. And that way is through Jesus Christ.”
I walked around the front of our car to the driver’s side. “Christianity’s a really sound option, for sure,” I said. He stepped toward me.
“It’s more than just an option. It’s the only way. Anyone who doesn’t repent of their sins and declare the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal savior is lost to the flames of eternal hell.”
I felt a tight ball gathering in my stomach. With one hand on my door handle I smiled over the top of the car. “Well, that doesn’t sound like much fun. I hope that doesn’t happen to me!” Ha, ha, ha. Nothing like a little final destiny humor to lighten the mood when you’re being accosted in the street by a Christian zealot in an orange baseball cap.
“Oh, it will. It happens to everyone who chooses any but the one true way.”
And then I made the mistake I often do in life: I started talking too much. “I understand that Christianity works for you. And I think that’s outstanding. Your life must be so rich because of your faith. But must Christianity be the only way? Can’t there be other good ways for people to know and experience what you call God? Does everyone who chooses any other way but Christianity have to be wrong?”
He smiled and shrugged. “Hey, I don’t make the rules. You can fight against it all you want. But the fact is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins. The cost of not accepting him as your savior is the eternal damnation of your soul.”
Through the windshield I saw Cat, quietly gazing straight ahead. I knew she could hear us.
I pulled open my car door. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to hope that you’re mistaken.”
“Oh, I’m not, buddy.” He raised his voice a notch. “But you are. Both you and your wife are condemning yourselves in the eyes of the Lord by engaging in sinful idolatry.”
“All right; I’ll bear that in mind. There aren’t actually any idols in Zen, but I see what you’re saying.” I waved. “Thanks for sharing. Have a good day.”
As I closed my car door the guy moved to the front of our vehicle. He held up his hand like he was halting traffic. “Stop what you’re doing! Let the Lord into your heart! You please the devil with your sinful ways!”
“Jesus,” murmured Catherine.
“I’m gonna guess not,” I said. I started the car. “I’m gonna hope not. I wonder if I’m gonna have to run this fool over?”
“You’re lost!” cried the guy. But he also demonstrated that he hadn’t lost all touch with reality by stepping away from the front of our car.
“Repent!” he fairly yelled from the curb. “Accept the Lord! Turn your back on the devil! Rid yourself of your sin!”
I slowly pulled our car out and headed down the residential street.
“Well,” said Cat, “wasn’t that special?”
“Can you imagine being God, and looking down, and seeing that?” I said. “I wonder what Jesus thinks when he sees stuff like that?”
“‘Maybe I should become a Buddhist’?,” said Cat. “Or maybe, ‘I need to get some new salespeople. People who aren’t totally rude and intrusive? People who don’t think the way to attract people to me is to scream insults at them’?”
“Or maybe he’d just go, “‘That’s it. I give up. Time for the Apocalypse.’”
That the Christian with the flyers and the orange cap meant well isn’t in question. Ultimately, he was just trying to do his proselytizing job. But instead of attracting my wife and me to Christianity, he repelled us away from it, because his evangelizing was grounded in what all such efforts must be, which is a lack of respect. By proving that he had no respect whatsoever for our belief system, he proved that he could have no respect for us personally. And that could only mean that he did not, and would not, love us, since the best that love without respect can be is patronizing. He also eradicated any possibility of his loving us by driving us away from him: it’s not possible to actually and truly love someone with whom you have no relationship at all.
And by manifestly not loving us—by trying as he did to fulfill what Christians after the fact decided to call The Great Commission (“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations . . . “)—our evangelizer broke what Jesus himself emphatically declared the greatest of all commandments: to love your neighbor as you love yourself. (See the Great Commission at Matthew 28:16-20, and the Great Commandment at Mark 12:28-31.)
By trying to sell Jesus that guy violated Jesus.
If you’re a Christian, please never forget that the whole point of being a witness is to answer questions that someone first asks you.