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New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin thinks recent catastrophic weather is a message from God.  During a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally yesterday, the Mayor said, "As we think about rebuilding New Orleans, surely God is mad at America.  He's sending hurricane after hurricane after hurricane.”

Nagin also interpreted God’s purported view of African Americans, noting, "But surely he's upset at black America also. We're not taking care of ourselves. We're not taking care of our women. And we're not taking care of our children."  Mayor Nagin’s comments caused enough reaction that he apologized today.

Earlier this month it was Pat Robertson (re his comments about Ariel Sharon) on the Right, now it’s Ray Nagin on the Left—both seem to believe they know exactly what God is doing and why.

Mayor Nagin has worked hard under extreme pressure.  He’s clearly blessed with certain leadership skills, and I would not question his heart for the people or the city of New Orleans.  But you never know quite what he’s going to say, including borderline race-based commentary accusing the Federal government of ignoring the city simply because many of its residents are Black.  In yesterday’s comments, he also said God wanted New Orleans to be a “chocolate city” once again, reinforcing what some consider a racist view of the city and its future.  Hopefully, he’s discovered that kind of rhetoric doesn’t work very well or attract many followers.

Is God at work in this world?  Of course he is.  Is he sovereign over everything, including good and evil—and for that matter the weather?  Yes he is.  Is God out of touch with what’s happening in America in 2005-2006?  No he is not.  Can we read the Bible and learn something about God’s character, his will, and his pattern of relationships with human beings, nations, and history?  Yes.

Can we, then, experience, read, or watch breaking news and know for certain that God is accomplishing some specific divine intent?  No we cannot.  God does not give us that kind of information.

The doxology of Romans 11:33-34 says it best: “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God.  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counselor?”

Mayor Nagin has every right to his opinion, and I am glad he is seemingly interested in what God is doing.  But I don’t think the Mayor has a hotline to God that allows him to make the claims that he did.  I disagree with the Mayor’s statements, even as I’ll try to understand something of the stress under which he made them.  Still, we generally have the right to expect more from our leaders.  Anyone can make a mistake, but measured, well considered responses ought to characterize the Mayor’s public pronouncements.

God may indeed be displeased with America.  He may be concerned about families without faithful fathers—White or Black.  We should examine what God says about the faiths of nations and families.  But we should avoid speaking ex cathedra, even if we are an over-wrought politician.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Coretta Scott King’s funeral in Atlanta earlier this week became as much a political event as a time for remembering and mourning. Mrs. King was rightly lauded for her consistent support for civil rights for minorities and for her diligence in protecting and advancing the legacy of her slain husband Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She is a lady who will be missed.

But Rev. Joseph Lowery shifted from eulogizing Mrs. King to talking about “weapons of mass destruction,” health insurance, and poverty. Meanwhile, President and Mrs. Bush sat directly behind the speaker. Former President Jimmy Carter said Mrs. King and her late husband had been “violated” by “government wiretapping and government surveillance.” He also took shots at the current administration’s handling of post-Katrina assistance in New Orleans by referring to “the color of the faces in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, those…most devastated by Hurricane Katrina.”

I can forgive Rev. Lowery, because politics in the pulpit is a fairly standard experience in the Black church. But former President Jimmy Carter’s comments were unnecessary, out of place, and beneath the dignity of a former president, particularly in the context of a funeral eulogy. There was so much about Mrs. King’s life and legacy that President Carter could have talked about. To focus on current political divides was a low ball blow.

President Carter’s rhetoric may fit the man, but it does not fit the position he holds in trust for the American people. I don’t begrudge him his views or even his right to express them. I simply think he could have gone about sharing them in a more dignified manner. In the end, his attack on the current administration’s policies in that venue did nothing to advance his point of view.

For President Bush’s part, he was gracious, praised Mrs. King, remained positive in words and in response to his critics, and in general revealed a bit of class. Whatever one’s position on the war, poverty, post-Katrina response, etc., you have to give Mr. Bush credit for the way he handled these cheap shots. He acted like a President when his predecessor did not.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

Dr. Pat Robertson, a once influential evangelical Christian leader, recently added another bizarre comment to a growing list of eccentric views. Following Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke, Robertson wondered on his television program, “The 700 Club,” whether God might be punishing Sharon for “dividing the land” of Israel by giving acreage to Palestinians.

Robertson's comment about God's purported actions was quickly followed by predictable reactions among liberals, outrage from Israel, carefully worded distancing from the White House, and frustration and some condemnation among fellow evangelicals.  Christian leaders' responses are perhaps the most interesting. Dr. Richard Land, president of The Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission said, "I am as shocked by Pat Robertson's arrogance as I am by his insensitivity."

Another once influential fundamentalist Christian leader, Dr. Jerry Falwell, attracted similar negative reactions from the Christian community when shortly after 9-11 he wondered if the nation’s worst terrorist attack was God’s judgment for America’s acceptance of feminists and gays. Os Guinness, a well-known and well-regarded Christian scholar and writer, said, " I know hundreds of people who are just terminally frustrated with the idiotic public statements of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and the idea that these people represent us. They don't."

An unsuccessful 1988 Republican Party presidential candidate, Pat Robertson has made a career of provocative, foot-in-mouth comments. Robertson joined Falwell in making similar post-9-11 comments about God’s judgment upon America. In 2005, Robertson suggested the United States should assassinate leftist Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. After Hurricane Katrina slammed the city of New Orleans Robertson wondered aloud whether this judgment might have resulted from America’s high abortion rate. Following the fall 2005 election ouster of the Dover, Pennsylvania school board members who had mandated Intelligent Design for the local curriculum, Robertson concluded the people of Dover had better hope they never experienced a natural disaster, because they had rejected God and he was not going to hear their prayers in their time of need.

Is Pat Robertson courageous, crazy, or just a harmless preacher past his prime—one with a “pulpit” reaching about 850,000 people each broadcast? Is Robertson a prophet or a poster boy for evangelical quacks? Are Robertson’s views representative of evangelicals—as media still seem to think and as liberals fervently hope—or is he becoming an isolated, “Far Right” voice crying in a wilderness where fewer and fewer people are listening?

Pat Robertson is a fellow believer in Jesus Christ. He’s a Christian who will be with me in heaven some day. So I honor his faith. I also respect his leadership over many years, including his legacy as founder of Regent University, founder of the Christian Coalition, and successful business entrepreneur of many different for-profit and non-profit television broadcasting channels and programming. I admire his courage in speaking his mind, and I admire what I consider his and Jerry Falwell’s positive contribution in awakening and energizing a generation of conservative American Christians to their social and political responsibilities, opportunities, and influence. I also appreciate Robertson’s work ethic, committed to his worldview and his sense of calling or mission in life.

I believe many of Robertson’s critics would be my critics or the critics of any conservative, Bible-believing Christian, simply because the critics do not accept, indeed find intolerable, the moral values of our Christian faith. They gleefully attack Robertson-the-man or Robertson-the-personality in order to discredit conservative Christian views of human life and other biomedical ethics issues, human sexuality, public prayer and other church and state debates, and more. In other words, Robertson attracts lightning not only for the content of his commentary but simply because he’s chosen to act as a lightning rod. This is a needed perspective, for it should remind other Christians that we share core values and concerns with Robertson even if he may not always represent them in a way we find comfortable.

All this stated, I must agree with a number of Christian leaders who have questioned Robertson’s recent pattern of imprudent, I think biblically unjustifiable, largely judgmental and uncompassionate, and oft-times self-righteous commentary. If Robertson made one gaffe, one statement that did not wring true, I’d simply count him among the rest us. Virtually everyone in public life and on public record—conservative, liberal, Democrat, Republican, Independent, religious or non-religious—has made some kind of ill-advised comment along the way, something for which many of these people later apologized. But Robertson is on a roll.

Robertson’s penchant for controversial pronouncements comes from his theology and his methodology. He truly believes God speaks extra-biblically and directly to him, then he tends to apply this doctrine to specific individuals and events. While I sometimes find myself in agreement with Robertson’s assessment of a contemporary social or political concern, I generally do not agree with his proposed solutions. After 9-11, I wrote my own response to that horrific event and one of my key points was that as we view world events we should take great care in saying, "Lo, God is doing this," or "Lo, God is doing that."  Only God knows his plan (Romans 11:33-34).

I am very uncomfortable with the ease with which Robertson moves from the pages of Scripture to the Republican Party political platform. To listen to Robertson you’d think God was a Republican. He comes off more as a partisan hack than as a prophet. I think this often uncritical partisanship undermines both his faith and his credibility and, consequently, his influence.

Robertson is not the best nor even any longer a leading representative of evangelical Christians. His comments certainly do not reflect my views. He represents only himself—and maybe not even that, for he has apologized, virtually apologized, or “clarified” his views after each of the episodes we’ve noted.

So, I recommend that Pat Robertson focus his time and considerable skills upon faith and family, evangelism, the value of a Christian higher education, or perhaps the role of Christian faith in media rather than politics. He’s run out of fuel for that race.

If he cannot restrain himself politically, and frankly I doubt that he can—because his practice is so rooted in his theology and because it’s too late to change—than he should retire. At age 75, while still a hero of many, he’s no longer the most effective fundraiser for CBN or Regent University, and he’s no longer their future. He could retire as an elder statesman of his work and movement, assisting his son and others as they carry on their own work and calling.

Such recommendations may seem presumptuous. But Robertson has never been bashful about sharing his recommendations, so we’ll consider turnabout fair play.

 

Another version of this blog may be found at: “Robertson Doesn’t Represent Evangelicals,” The Detroit News, (February 4, 2006), p. 6F.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

If you don’t know who you are, all you have to do these days is read the press or listen to the news. I’ve learned that if I believe life begins at conception, than I am an “extremist” whose views represent the “the radical Right.” And if I happen to also believe in capital punishment for murderers, than I’m worse than an “extremist,” I’m an “inconsistent extremist.”

If I question the wisdom of the Iraq War or how it is being prosecuted than I am apparently “unpatriotic.” If I disagree with Jimmy Carter, I am, at least from his point of view, a “fundamentalist” responsible for undermining the separation of church and state. If I believe the best approach to interpreting the law and the Constitution is judicial restraint and I am, therefore, uncomfortable with an activist judiciary, than I am “anti-women.” How did I become anti-women by supporting judicial restraint? Because by definition I am apparently against the “right to privacy” and therefore the now nearly-sacred “woman’s right to choose.”

If I wonder aloud about the rationale or direction of any of President Bush’s decisions, than I am “disloyal.” If I believe the universe was initiated by Intelligent Design and I question the logic of evolutionary theory, than I am a “creationist in sheep’s clothing.” If I support evolution, I’m an “atheist.” If I like faith-based initiatives I am a “religious fanatic.” If I believe women who choose to be full-time homemakers should be respected, than I am at best a “chauvinist” and at worst a “misogynist.” If I believe parents should largely be responsible for their children’s sex education I am a “Puritan.”

If words could kill we’d all be dead—so much for civilization. Loose rhetoric produces more heat than light, is a sign of poor critical thinking, and is an infection to the body politic. Conservative and Liberal, Republican and Democrat, have all been guilty of intellectually vacuous sound-bites. I’m tired of being called names and of calling others names. I yearn for the reasoned discourse of statesmen and stateswomen based upon principle.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2008

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

What Senator John McCain modestly calls being “physically coerced” is more commonly referred to as torture. Whatever the Senator from Arizona calls it, his credibility is unassailable. He survived five years as a prisoner of war in Viet Nam during some of which he was subjected to what his new anti-torture bill in Congress wants to ban—“cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment. McCain’s bill passed the Senate 90-9 and awaits review by the House, but the Bush Administration is opposed to such limits.

Since 9/11 and the War on Terror against Al Qaeda and similar forces, American agents and military personnel, with the blessings of the Bush Administration, have used so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques to garner intelligence from detainees. Enhanced interrogation techniques, sometimes called “torture lite,” involve the use of dogs, public nakedness, prolonged isolation, sensory deprivation, detainee phobias, “waterboarding,” long term hooding, forced lengthy standing, squatting, or other physically stressful positioning—anything short of “organ failure” or death. The worst case scenario to date is what has been called abuses by rogue soldiers at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.

“War is hell,” said General William Tecumseh Sherman in a famous Civil War line that describes all armed conflict. And during the final push ending World War II we discovered just how awful hell can be.

But the American soldier has always been different, so much so that noted historian Stephen E. Ambrose observed that German, Polish, and Russian troops fighting for the Nazi Army would at times eagerly surrender, knowing that Americans would treat them well and thus their chances of surviving the war were greatly increased.

The record of the American soldier is the G.I. with candy, the citizen soldier that just wanted to get the job done as soon as possible and go home. He or she hated war and might learn in combat to hate the enemy’s tactics but generally did not hate the people. Americans didn’t want territory; they wanted justice.

McCain wants to preserve this record. He doesn’t want troops from this nation to act like the enemy. He believes the U.S. military and intelligence agencies need rules, limits beyond which an officer cannot go in an attempt to extract information from a helpless prisoner. He believes mistreatment of enemy prisoners will ultimately place American prisoners of war at greater risk because the enemy will retaliate in kind. McCain argues that torture techniques really don’t provide that much actionable intelligence anyway. The point is, Americans have been and should continue to be different.

America should listen to John McCain. America needs to take the long view. It stands for values too precious to be muddied or lost in the storms of current conflict, however severe the test may be. Respect for life, individual dignity, and the inestimable value of the human being are Christian values that have, thankfully, become American values. Torture terribly sullies this picture.

Torture is an affront not only to human sensibility but to our very souls. The Word of God clearly draws a line at animal cruelty let alone abusive treatment to those made in the image of God. There are other ways to gain intelligence.

 

© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2005

This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part but with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers, President, Cornerstone University, or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.