Retreat, Escape, or Face the Challenge 


18 March 2017

Three recent books are energizing conservative-minded Roman Catholics and other Christians these days. The theme in all three is the end of Christian America. One of my traditionalist friends called them to my attention, hoping to lure me away from my “dangerous liberal thinking.”

I guess a variety of viewpoints has always been with us; and I really do respect other opinions. I do not agree with the authors of these three books, however, because they propose solutions to some genuine American problems that are either unhelpfully narrow-minded or simply utopian fantasies.

On the other hand, out of fairness to my friend who brought them to my attention, I guess one could indeed use these books for a very healthy and effective discussion about what it means to be a truly contemporary Christian…..as well as a contemporary American, deeply concerned about religion, values, and morality in today’s USA.

I begin with Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World by Charles J. Chaput, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia.

Archbishop Chaput offers a strongly negative critique of contemporary U.S. society. I suspect many readers who page through his book will shake their heads in agreement, as they read his lamentations that the United States has now been conquered by a secularist, pleasure-seeking, self-absorbed worldview that leaves little place for Jesus or traditional morality. Telltale signs of America’s “post-Christian” decadence, according to the Archbishop, are divorce, contraception, abortion, materialism, an invasive Obama-generated government, and gay marriage.

Considering my own religious tradition that has long valued the voice of the People of God, and thinking about the city where the Declaration of Independence was drafted, the first red light about this book started flashing for me, when I saw Philadelphia’s Archbishop asserting that “Democracy tends to unmoor society from the idea of permanent truths.” An alternative fact?

Archbishop Chaput has Native American roots but, very frankly, political and ecclesiastical barrel vision. He says the U.S. press is much too hostile toward President Trump; and he praises Mr. Trump and his administration for their pro-life concerns. (It seems clear to me that the Trump administration’s pro-life concerns terminate once a fetus becomes a self-breathing human being in need of nurture, shelter, and education… but then I don’t want to be overly political.) Philadelphia’s Archbishop is critical of Pope Francis as well. Here he shares the concerns of the American Cardinal Raymond Burke. They both suspect Francis is not being faithful to Catholic orthodoxy and fear he is spreading doctrinal confusion in the church. Chaput, for sure, has no confusion. He has instructed pastoral ministers in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to NOT allow communion for divorced and remarried or cohabiting couples (unless they can demonstrate that they are not having sex!); and he believes children of same-sex couples should not be allowed to attend Catholic schools. Very pro-life? When it comes to contraception, the Archbishop believes the widespread use of contraceptives has now subverted the purpose of human sexuality and has led to conjugal infidelity and a general lowering of morality. He is concerned as well about an exaggerated feminism which, he says, has actively contributed to women’s dehumanization.

The good old days. Archbishop Chaput has often said he longs for the 1950s. He would like to retreat to a (highly romanticized) time when everything was clear. Men and women were clear about their identities. Sex was for procreation. The church was clear about its teachings and Catholics were obedient to clearly demonstrated church authority. I suspect the Archbishop is indeed a stranger in his own strangely perceived environment.

A second Catholic author is sounding the trumpet for his own kind of strong retreat from today’s American malaise. A professor at Providence College, Anthony Esolen is widely promoting his book Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture. In Esolen’s eyes, the United States is a cultural nightmare. I resonate with his concern about a commitment to truth; and I fear with him that America’s most powerful institutions—including the government—are becoming mass producers of deceit. I understand as well what he means when he says “Sometimes entire civilizations do decay and die, and the people who point that out are correct.” I do not agree, however, with his assessment of our contemporary United States. The situation is hardly as dark and decadent as he would have us believe.

I do not agree with Esolen that our public schools are failures beyond repair and must be replaced by private schools. Nor do I agree with him that most of our universities have become complete failures. In fact, I find it more than disconcerting that the handful of universities, he holds up as stellar examples for our emulation, are rigidly fundamentalist and lean far to the right politically.

Somewhat like Archbishop Chaput, Anthony Esolen would like to return to the good old days of Western Civilization, to a time before the sexual revolution when, as he emphasizes, people truly understood what sex was about and “men were men and women were women.”  Yes I do understand what some call the glory days of Western Civilization. I speak Latin and Greek, and I know and appreciate the philosophical, literary, and artistic traditions in our cultural DNA. I do not however want to return to some kind of late medieval world view with its exaggerated patriarchy, misogyny, religious narrow mindedness, and its great ignorance about psychology and ongoing human development and understanding.

Now to the third book my friend recommended to bring me back to the straight and narrow: The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. In his life (he is 50 years old) he has already had quite a personal religious journey. He began life as a Methodist. Later became a Roman Catholic. He dropped out of the Catholic Church because of the sexual abuse scandal. Curiously he says that sexual abuse is not due to pedophilia but rather to a network of gay priests which he calls the Lavender Mafia. I think he is wrong here on both counts. Pedophilia does not spring from homosexuality and the Lavender Mafia is pure fantasy. After being a Roman Catholic, Dreher next joined Eastern Orthodoxy.

Journalist Dreher has strong conservative credentials. He is a former publications director for the John Templeton Foundation and currently senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative. His view of contemporary America is totally apocalyptic. In his own words, he describes it this way: “There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God’s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America. This may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it.”

The solution for believers? The only way to escape apocalyptic destruction, according to Dreher, is for Christians to drop out of American society and create and live in their own subgroups like Benedictine monks. Not everyone of course can run off to a monastery. (I would suggest as well that Dreher has a misconception about Benedictine monastic spirituality and mission.)

My major concern, however, at the end the of this week’s reflection, is that the author of the Benedict Option misunderstands the Incarnation and what Jesus was all about. Jesus did not run away from his contemporary socio-cultural environment. He plunged in. Jesus ate with publicans and sinners. He understood the signs of the times. He lived in a Rome dominated society much more troubling and far more inhumane than contemporary America.

What Jesus did, of course, is now our contemporary Christian challenge.
Jack

My contact information:  Email: jadleuven@gmail.com

Jesus, Christianity, and Other World Religions


9 March 2017

A couple days ago, a friend asked me when I began my theological questioning. I remember the event that really triggered it….

I was in fourth grade in St. Mary’s Elementary School in Paw Paw, Michigan. It was a Monday morning. The local Catholic priest, a rigid but friendly fellow, had come for his weekly classroom visit. He started by asking everyone who had not been to Mass that Sunday to stand up. (Fortunately, that Sunday I had gone to Mass and was saved the embarrassment of standing there in my shame.) He then launched into a tirade against Protestantism as “a false religion.” My Dad was Protestant. I raised my hand, stood up, and challenged our Catholic pastor. With a bit of youthful bravado, I asked him how there could be anything “false” about my Dad. I said that he was a Christian, a good man, read the Bible, and said his prayers. That evening, I told my Dad what had happened. He very calmly said “I am sure Father is a good man. He’s just a terribly ignorant and narrow-minded priest.” 

We learn. We grow. Theological understandings change over time.  

My reflection about Jesus, Christianity, and other world religions comes as a reaction to the recent vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, bomb threats (now close to a hundred) against Jewish community centers, anti-Islam violence, and the destructive burning of mosques by crusading Christians. I find it particularly repugnant when Christian leaders like Franklin Graham call Islam a “very evil and wicked religion.” 

In Roman Catholic theological reflection, especially since the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), we not only understand that Protestants and all Christians belong to the Body of Christ; but in our respect for and appreciation for other world religions, there has been a tremendous development as well. Two books that have helped me refine my own thinking are: Jesus Symbol of God (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1999) by Roger Haight, S.J., and Theologies of Religion (also Orbis Books, 2002) by Paul Knitter. 

Theological understanding changes over time. My own thinking is moving beyond three more or less rigid viewpoints about the relation of other religious traditions to Christianity: pluralism, exclusivism, and inclusivism. 

Pluralism. Pluralism is generally the position that all world religions are true and equally valid. Well, I remain a Christian and an historical theologian. We all live and grow where we have been planted. The essential structure of the Christian faith in God is that it is mediated by Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus remains uniquely the center of Christian faith insofar as it is he who was and is the medium and focus of a Christian’s faith in God. I would suggest that the validity or truth of Christian beliefs is displayed by a thoughtful examination that shows its reasonability and credibility within common human experience. 

Exclusivism. Exclusivism is the theological position that maintains the absolute necessity of faith in Christ. Exclusivists insist that there is no salvation in non-Christian religions. This position, today, is most often identified with conservative evangelical Christians. The main objection to exclusivism is that it contradicts the message of the New Testament. Jesus announced God’s salvation for all. When we read the New Testament, we see absolutely no indications that the God proclaimed by Jesus was interested in saving just a distinct minority of human beings. 

Inclusivism. While exclusivism is clearly a minority theological position today, the same is not true of the inclusive view that Jesus causes the salvation of all. In one form or another this has been the dominant theology of mainline churches for some time. Inclusivism maintains that God is present in non-Christian religions but only through Christ. This viewpoint gave rise to the concept of the “anonymous Christian” by which God saves through Christ, even when the believer knows nothing about Christ or Christianity. The Roman Catholic theologian Karl Rahner popularized this “anonymous Christian” understanding. 

I am not ready to be burned at the stake but would suggest, however, that a close and careful reading of the texts indicates that the witness of the New Testament runs in a direction quite contrary to inclusivism. Theologians like Roger Haight and contemporary biblical scholars are strong in their assertion that Jesus did not preach himself but the Reign of God.  

The message of Jesus is theocentric: God saves and God is love. Jesus is the great symbol and reality of the proclamation of God’s salvation. A theocentric perspective on Jesus – where I am today — enables Christians to be fully committed to Jesus Christ and fully open to other religions. I remember very well the words of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions. It was issued on October 28, 1965, shortly after my arrival as a younger man and a theology student in Louvain. 

“In our time,” the document stressed, “when day by day humankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the church examines more closely its relationship to non-Christian religions. In the church’s task of promoting unity and love among all men and women, indeed among all nations, it considers above all, in this declaration, what people have in common and what draws them to fellowship. One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth. One also is their final goal: God. God’s providence, God’s manifestations of goodness, God’s saving design extended to all people.” [My inclusive language translation.] 

Yes of course, Jesus is the center of Christian faith insofar as it is he who was and is the focus of a Christian’s faith in God. The God of Christians, however, (and here we do have what for many believers amounts to a paradigm shift) cannot be conceived by Christians as just some kind of local or tribal God, who exists only for themselves. Christians can indeed regard other world faiths as true, in the sense that they too are mediations of God’s salvation.  

Considering the world’s religions, I suggest we have to work together in what the Roman Catholic theologian, Paul Knitter, has called a kind of “unitive pluralism.” We need to move beyond a simple tolerance for other religions and develop a positive appreciation for what they have to offer…. Moving from tolerance to collaboration. From collaboration to genuine appreciation. From appreciation to learning from the other. 

Global understanding, anchored in inter-religious dialogue and collaboration, is essential for everyone’s life and future. Our goal does not have to be the reduction of all faiths into one. We do need to look for commonalities, different expressions and understandings of the Sacred, and a base for common ethical responsibilities in a turbulent and anxious world. And yes, all participants in the conversation must remain humbly open to the challenges of mutual criticism and correction. No faith tradition has all the answers. We are all learning believers.  

Inter-religious dialogue is not just something that is a nice thing to do. It is appropriate and absolutely essential for our survival in a world of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multinational interdependence. We cannot survive by “going it alone,” even if we think we are great. 

I conclude with another citation from the Declaration on Non-Christian Religions: 

“People expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of all men and women: What is the human person? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment, and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?” 

Yes. We are all on this journey together. Our enemies are not Jews and Muslims but arrogant self-righteousness, ignorance, and xenophobic paranoia…… 

Jack

Dr. J. A. Dick

Geldenaaksebaan 85

3001 Heverlee BELGIUM

Email: jadleuven@gmail.com

 

2017 Blog Appeal


Dear Friends,

I am very appreciative that so many people responded to my original 2017 blog fund appeal. Since people have been asking, to date I have reached 75% of my goal. This is simply a final update. I promise to continue thinking and writing.

Warmest regards to all

Jack
Dr. J.A. Dick

Geldenaaksebaan 85A

3001 Heverlee

Belgium
jadleuven@gmail.com

Ash Wednesday Jottings


1 March 2017

Next week, my promised reflection on Jesus and world religions. Today some brief reflections about the first week of March and the first week of Lent, inspired by signs of the times. 

As my calendar shifted to March, thoughts of an earlier March popped into my head. I was ten years old……I remember the day well: 5 March 1953. It was a Thursday (Ash Wednesday that year fell on 18 February) and my Dad had gathered the family around the radio in our living room. He said “something historic is happening.” Then Walter Winchell came on the radio and announced that Joseph Stalin had died.  

It seems so long ago. No. I am not slipping into an old guy nostalgia trip. My concerns today are more contemporary, but today’s current events seem to resonate so much with events back then.  

Although I suspect a couple of my readers may not agree, my brief thoughts today are truly Christian theological, not partisan party political. 

Stalin, who once upon a time studied to be an Orthodox priest, maneuvered himself into becoming head of the Soviet Union, following Lenin’s death in 1924. He consolidated his power by manipulating information, passing laws against what he called terrorist organizations, and exploiting his own inflated personality cult. He insisted that he should be remembered for “the extraordinary modesty characteristic of truly great people.” Stalin of course was one of the 20th century’s most ruthless dictators.

What I especially remember about Stalin is how he branded his opponents “enemies of the people,” and subjected them to interrogation, deportation, and even death. Commenting about “enemies of the people,” Mitchell A. Orenstein, University of Pennsylvania professor of Russian and East European Studies, observed: “In essence, it was a label that meant death. It meant you were subhuman and entirely expendable.” 

Stalin succeeded because he was good at authoritarian seduction: emotionally-charged bully-talk, with very little rational or honest content. He was a self-centered, write-your-own-rules dictator. He got away with it in grand style. 

Strangely, authoritarian followers are loyal and easily submissive to such authoritarian leaders, insisting that everyone behave as dictated by the authoritarian. They are fearful about a changing world and a changing society, which they either don’t understand or do not want to understand. They are attracted to strong leaders, who appeal to their feelings of fear and anxiety. They respond aggressively toward “outsiders.” They scapegoat foreigners and people from other cultural or religious traditions. Blind faith is substituted for critical reason. A leader’s feckless racism and compulsive lying are seen not as moral failures but as signs of strength. The unknown and the different become the enemy. Authoritarianism becomes even more sinister, when authoritarian leaders begin to proclaim their message in the name of Christianity.  

Authoritarianism is not a Christian virtue. Jesus was not an authoritarian leader. He was neither boastful nor pretentious, and hardly a self-stroking narcissist. Jesus neither controlled nor directed his followers to isolate, segregate, humiliate, or persecute. In the New Testament, Jesus’ authority is not power OVER people but EMPOWERING people: motivating and empowering them to serve, to minister, and to spread the Goodnews. Jesus invites and empowers us today. He challenges us to think, to speak, and to act courageously.  

Authentic Christianity promotes solidarity and hope, not fear. Genuine Christians consider helpless refugees their brothers and sisters in need, not enemies. Followers of Christ do not set one group of people against another; nor do they promote a distorted view of patriotism that proclaims one country’s greatness is best established by demeaning other people. 

In Lent we have 40 days to take stock of ourselves. And to take stock of the world in which we live. On Ash Wednesday, we are charged to repent and believe in the Gospel. Believing in the Gospel means as well living the Gospel. May we encourage each other to stand strong, think clearly, and act resolutely. We live in very challenging times. 




For spiritual reading between now and Easter, why not a systematic re-reading the Gospels? I suggest starting with Mark. If you are looking for a handy guide for reading the Gospels I can suggest another book by Steve Mueller, who wrote the book on Revelation,  “So What’s the Good News? ” (Faith Alive Books). He writes with clarity and pastoral realism; and again, he is a knowledgeable and trustworthy scriptural guide. Gather a group of friends.His book would be perfect for your own Bible study group: sharing today to shape tomorrow!


If you are looking for something more comprehensive, I suggest: “Introduction to the New Testament” by Raymond F. Collins (Doubleday). Ray’s book is excellent. He offers a clearly written and very fine introduction to New Testament scholarship–its history, methodology, and findings. 

As always, I appreciate your observations and support. My contact info:  Dr. J. A. Dick — Geldenaaksebaan 85A, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium  


Email: jadleuven@gmail.com 

Cosmic Consciousness & Terrestrial Engagement


24 February 2017

NASA announced this week that the Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. This discovery sets a new record for the number of habitable-zone planets, found around a single star, outside of our solar system. 

Astronomy and the physical sciences are transforming the picture of the cosmos and of our galaxy and our planet’s place within it. To date, astronomers have found more than 500 solar systems; and each year new ones are being discovered. There may be tens of billions, perhaps even a hundred billion, solar systems just in our own galaxy; and astronomers now estimate there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in our observable universe. Add to that the recent findings that our universe is expanding and changing at an accelerated rate.  

Reflecting on the age and size of created reality, our image and conception of God takes on new forms as well. Do we have a spirituality for God of the expanding cosmos? Are the old theistic anthropomorphisms adequate for today’s believers? Years ago I read that Albert Einstein had started asking these kinds of questions. He wrote about “A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, our perceptions of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which only in their most primitive forms are accessible to our minds – it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity.” He added: “and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man.” 

A new expanded consciousness, I suggest in these trumpish chaotic days, must become operative in our thinking about ultimate realities such as God, Jesus Christ, humanity, and how we relate to each other. A new cosmic consciousness demands a more encompassing terrestrial engagement. How do we implement, down the street and around the globe, the Christian values of love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, and concern for the poor? New challenges for the world’s religions. New challenges for world politics as well. Who is master of our planet? Who should be Earth’s master? Can we continue to discuss but ignore climate change and simply wait until the seas rise? The current best estimates predict that sea level will rise 6.6 feet, or 2 meters, by the year 2100. That’s about 80 years from now. Then, the problem will not be immigrants but refugees from seacoast cities like New York and Amsterdam. What does it mean to take charge of people and their lives? What does it mean to make a country great? Is one race naturally superior to another? Can one race, or one country, or one religion ignore and/or denigrate the rest? 

In my more than seven decades being a student and a teacher, I have come to realize that a good teacher is not necessarily the answer person, but the one who raises questions and helps students think and act within a broader and deeper horizon. Now I realize more than ever that all of us on planet Earth are called and challenged to be students and teachers for each other. We are one human reality and one human family. We need to begin restructuring how we relate to one another. We are believers and unbelievers, Muslims and Christians, Republicans and Democrats, trumps and immigrants, gays and straights, and all the in betweens….. We either learn to live together or perish together. The clock is ticking on planet Earth. 

As I mentioned briefly last week, televangelist Pat Robertson announced recently that people who oppose Donald Trump are really revolting against God. I find this an interesting statement, when one looks at the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Drawing from a distinctly Jewish tradition, we see God as the one who assures justice for those who are defenseless and oppressed. In his words and actions, Jesus proclaimed a God whose goodness and graciousness are expressed in liberation of the oppressed and vindication of the weak and helpless. Jesus was no advocate for deceptive lying, racism, and xenophobia. Does Reverend Robertson need remedial Bible study? He certainly has a strange perspective on Gospel values.  

Cosmic consciousness? God is the creator of everything and the lover of all human beings, together as a group and individually as members of the species we call human. Yes, today we also see human beings caught up in negative situations of ignorance, sin, suffering, and death. We are members of a single humanity. Our human solidarity should prohibit anyone from conceiving or hoping for a salvation that would leave others behind. Is it conceivable that God would love some and not the others? Is God’s truth up for grabs in a society of alternative truths. 

The solidarity of humankind as creatures of one God is central to an authentic Christian vision. We need to remember this, when we observe modern western cultures promoting a privatized notion of salvation: looking out for my salvation, whether or not others are saved. A distorted idea of self-righteousness leads to an arrogant corruption of Christian belief. It’s happening around the world, not just in Washington. 

Across Europe, I see a new and troublesome political arrogance, especially in countries like Austria, Hungary, Italy, Romania, and France, which have ambivalent relationships with their fascist and Nazi pasts. I hear echoes of a fundamentalist Christian conservative-reactionary agenda in Poland, Bulgaria, Croatia, and even in Belgium. Political leaders in these countries fear Islam and want to “make their country great again.” 

As a theologian, with a special interest in ethics, I am alarmed by how easily governmental leaders get away with consequential ethics: an approach to human behavior that says the end justifies any means. We see it with revived interest in waterboarding and approval of other forms of torture to get “dangerous people” to talk. We see it with the arrests and crackdowns on “dissidents” in Turkey. We see it in the Philippines, where a new president’s government has hired vigilantes and secret death squads to combat drug sales and eliminate drug users. There is nothing Christian, just, or humane in any of this.  

Terrestrial engagement is our calling, our mission, and our urgent responsibility today. Our churches, schools, colleges, voluntary organizations of all types, and cultural groups constitute the primary places where we should be actively engaged. Protests are often good and appropriate; but by themselves, they are not enough. We need structural and institutional change. Christians properly understood must be social change agents.  

In the United States, Jesus is used to prop up politics on both sides of the aisle; yet in his preaching and action, Jesus revealed and announced the Reign of God: salvation that comes from God and is at work now on our planet Earth. The Jesus message challenges all political parties. In his day, Jesus, the Jewish prophet, bothered both the Romans as well as certain Jewish authorities. The Gospel of Mark (1:14-15) summarizes: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. ‘The time has come,’ he said. ‘The Reign of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” The Reign of God, the salvation Jesus preached and exemplified is a mission that must be taken up by Jesus’ followers and acted out in their history: in our history as we move beyond pious words and old Christian clichés. If there is no liberating practice from social oppression, by the followers of Jesus, it is nonsense to speak about salvation in this world. We urgently need to implement a liberation theology for the poor and politically oppressed; a feminist theology, that confronts and disables all androcentric forms of patriarchal misogyny, denigration, and abuse; a queer theology, that values and sustains people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity; an inter-religion theology, that values all the great religious traditions and promotes dialogue and collaboration…. The list is long.  

These are matters of belief and ethics not politics; but they challenge all politicians and all church leaders.  

Next week — the first week of Lent 2017 — some reflections about Jesus and world religions. 




Dr. J. A. Dick

Geldenaaksebaan 85A, 3001 Heverlee, BELGIUM

jadleuven@gmail.com

A Conversation about Church and Community


18 February 2017

No politics this week end. Just church-talk. Institutional religion in America (except for far-right evangelicals) is having a rough time. Membership numbers are still going down. Young people are turned off and have greatly dropped out, or never bothered joining up. Bishops are silent when they should be protesting. Angry old cardinals are undermining the pope. It is easy for people my age to find things to post and complain about on Facebook. I am not running away from reality. I have not lost my critical edge. I suggest however we can more effectively spend our time changing the conversation.

Conversation changes come from attitudinal changes and changed perspectives. This week end, I suggest we talk less about the institutional church and focus more on Christian community. 

Let’s support genuine Christian communities where they exist, and strive to revive them in places where they are languishing or have died.  

We can observe. We can talk. Now is the time to act.  

Bigger is not always better. In my tradition parishes are disappearing and churches are being closed. Consolidation is becoming the Roman Catholic word. Smaller parishes are being closed, church buildings sold, and people are encouraged to join the remaining, consolidated big parishes. For older people, consolidation is bad news because they cannot always get to the bigger parish across town. For everyone it can be a real downer. Where people once had a sense of community with face-to-face parish friendships, feeling part of a neighborhood community with supportive relationships, they now find themselves more like observers in a larger but anonymous congregation.  

If we change our perspective, we realize that the vitality of the church has always been based on the church as a genuine, warm-blooded community of believers in which people know one another, listen and talk to one another, and support one another. When we read the New Testament, and see the word that has often been incorrectly translated as “church,” we should more correctly see the word “community.”  

Paul wrote, for example, to the COMMUNITY in Ephesus. His words have a special meaning for us today: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

Buildings are institutional structures. They can come and go. People are the community of faith and always come first. If a church building costs too much to maintain, sell it but don’t destroy the sense and reality of community. Let people stay together. Small communities can meet in school halls, shared churches, neighborhood centers, or even a store front. A healthy community thrives on creativity. For several years, by way of example, my wife and I belonged to a Catholic community of faith (a diocesan approved “neighborhood church”) that used the local Methodist church for our services, adult faith sharing, youth catechetics program, and potluck suppers. 

Yes! We need to put on our thinking caps, because we need to shift from large congregations to intimate small size communities. Large parishes can be divided into smaller neighborhood prayer groups and study groups. Mega churches have the energy of a football game; but small communities have the energy of the human heart. This is not downsizing but reconfiguring. 

Too often big corporations and big institutional churches consider downsizing a virtue. In my RCC tradition right now, dioceses have big bills from sexual-abuse lawsuits. (They are not going to disappear next year, or the year thereafter…..) Downsizing and selling church real-estate can generate a lot of dollars, especially if the small churches you want to close and sell are in a place like Manhattan. But what about the people in those small communities? Maybe the cathedrals should be rented out periodically as meeting halls for management seminars, concerts, and university lectures? Perhaps then the small church buildings can be saved? Or provided by the Archbishop free of charge? 

Young people are good at networking. People often criticize them and joke about them: always having their thumbs on smart phones and Ipads. What the critics don’t realize is that those same young people are networking. Thumbs on smart phones lead to studying together, partying together, or (yes) demonstrating together. We must shift our parish focus from buildings to networking with people. I know a young pastor who understands this completely. He is electronically connected with his parishioners of all ages. His parish is alive and dynamic. It is a warm and supportive community. A community of faith.  

As we change our conversation, I suggest we stop talking about and longing for the good old days. We all have many happy memories. And some not so happy ones as well. I grew up in the 1950s and had a happy childhood. I also had just about every childhood disease imaginable and feared polio creeping around my neighborhood. I don’t want to live in the 1950s. Today I would not go to a physician anchored in a 1950’s cardiology. Why should we put up with a church leadership anchored in a 1950s theology? A 1950s understanding of human sexuality? A 1950’s understanding of “the woman’s place in society”? A 1950s Catholic conception of Protestantism as “a false religion”? 

All recent sociological studies – and I read and reflect on a lot of them – speak about the Millennial generation and their perspectives on life, their hopes and expectations, and their questions about values and religion. Changing the conversation, means we stop talking ABOUT them and begin to engage WITH them. How can we creatively make a place for young people in our Christian communities? How about a place for them as voting members on the parish council, in the education commission, on the finance committee, on the Christian service committee? 

Changing the conversation means as well that we courageously speak out and correct error and confusion. It means educating people about the Bible and our Christian tradition. It means calling nonsense nonsense. Yes, there are Christians today speaking a lot of pure nonsense. Changing the conversation does not mean that we denigrate and demean them. Paul, again in Ephesians 4, reminds us that we need to “speak the truth in love.” It is our Christian responsibility to offer the challenge of Christian correction.  

Two days ago, on “The 700 Club,” the former Southern Baptist minister, Pat Robertson, argued that people who oppose President Trump are revolting against God. That is pure nonsense. Robertson is not giving Christian witness but propagandizing a politicized religion pretending to be Christian. Regardless whether one likes him or not (see: I said no politics this week end!) the current president of the United States is not a divinely appointed and supreme monarch. And the United States is not a theocracy.  

In my own Christian tradition, Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke uttered his own religious nonsense last week, when he outlined his plans to keep Protestant theology from infiltrating the Roman Catholic Church. Burke, perhaps inspired by the severe screening of immigrants at airports, proposes a screening test for Protestant converts to the Catholicism. Burke may be knowledgeable about his field which is church law. When it comes to theology, however, he needs drastic remedial education. Like the clothes he wraps around his body, Cardinal Burke’s theology is late medieval. 

 As I write this, the sun is in my face. Spring is in the air. Hope is alive. 


Dr. J. A. Dick – Geldenaaksebaan 85A, 3001 Heverlee, BELGIUM

Email: jadleuven@gmail.com

Politics and Theology


10 February 2017

A few days ago, a friend gave me some friendly criticism. He suggested that I had begun to write more about politics than theology. He encouraged me to “stick to theology please.” His reprimand invited not a rebuttal but a longer reflection. 

The word “politics” comes from the old Greek word politica. It concerns achieving and exercising governance over a human community like a city or a state. Politics, in the traditional humanitarian sense, strives to maintain the common good. In our American political tradition, of course, key political expressions of the U.S. common good are found in the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution: all people are created equal and have inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The 1787 U.S. Constitution stresses the importance of insuring justice, domestic tranquility, liberty, and the general welfare – for all. 

“Theology” comes from two Greek words: theos and logos, meaning discourse about God. The traditional definition of theology is that it is “faith seeking understanding.” Theology probes and tries to understand and interpret the human experience of the Divine, whether called “Ground of Being;” “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob;” “the Sacred;” “God;” or “Allah.” 

In every generation, Christian theology strives to provide a believers’ narrative that makes sense of who we are today: that makes sense of the Good News of Christianity that God is love and we are not fated by our mistakes. Life is stronger than death. Care is stronger than hatred. We are all destined to be friends with one another and with God. Christian theology comes from a thoughtful conversation between the “I” who is a believer and the “we” who are believers. It is grounded in Christian tradition, the scriptures, and the experience of contemporary believers.  

I am not a politician but a theologian. I have no interest in getting involved in party politics. One can be a Republican or a Democrat or belong to any or none of the smaller political party groups. In the current U.S. political situation, I respect all party loyalties. I respect the right of anyone to be “conservative” or “progressive.” I expect people to respect my political stance as well. 

As a citizen of the United States and of the world, I do have some concerns about the current occupant of the White House. Yes, these are my personal opinions and I have no desire to impose them on anyone. Personally, I think the current occupant is an immoral, psychologically unstable, and incompetent leader. The U.S. political process will have to deal with what has already become a very real and critically dangerous situation.  

Now to religion. A religion is an institutionally organized and highly structured theology. It has institutional and cultic leaders, set symbols and rituals, an official creed or statement of belief, a code of morality, sacred scriptures, and sacred places like shrines, synagogues, mosques, and churches.

When religion and politics get twisted together, one can expect sparks, short circuits, and explosions. The genius of the American political philosophy and governmental structure has been a strict separation of church and state. Good political wisdom. Good religious wisdom. As an American I don’t want a theocracy. I don’t, for instance, want an imam telling me what to do: establishing rules of life for me and telling me what I can or cannot do. That being said, I don’t want any rabbi or any bishop or any evangelical reformer establishing rules of life for me and telling me what I can or cannot do as a citizen. Religious leaders can and should critique government policies; but they shouldn’t become political operators. And certainly not high level functionaries of any political party. An established church or religion is the end of democracy, and undermines the common good. 

It is a very dangerous situation, when a religion becomes the political engine that runs a country. Why? History teaches and current events demonstrate that highly politicized religion loses its proper religious identity. By becoming so intimately bound up in the political operations of society, it loses its ability to challenge the values of that society. It loses the always necessary prophetic and counter-cultural social critique function of a religion. Over time, it loses as well its ability to be of service to people. It loses its proper religious identity. Instead, it becomes an autocratic crowd-control mechanism. It ceases being the object of respect and admiration. It becomes the cold, controlling, and demanding object of idolatry. We see this happening in Erdogan’s Turkey. The Orthodox Church and Putin are doing it in Russia. Mr. Trump is clueless about what is going on.

By way of conclusion, I have no desire to get entangled in party politics. As a strong believer in Christ and as an historical theologian, however, I will speak out about and challenge any politician, political policy, or political movement that denigrates or destroys another person because of that person’s gender, sexual orientation, race, religious identity, or nationality. Being the Good Samaritan is not just pious platitude demanding polite lip service. It is the way of Christ. I will speak out as well, however, and I will protest any religious leader who becomes so entangled in politics that he or she ceases to be a prophetic witness to the message a spirit of Christ in contemporary society. 

Lent is just around the corner and I am gathering my Christian thoughts……Warmest regards to all. If you have suggestions you can always write.  

              Dr. J. A. Dick — Geldenaaksebaan 85A, 3001 Heverlee, Belgium. Email: jadleuven@gmail.com




 

Apocalyptic Days


February 4, 2017

I really don’t think “the end is near.” But….one never knows for sure. Since January 20, 2017, we have certainly entered a new era in the United States and abroad: domestic and international seismic shifts. The Doomsday Clock, created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to sound the alarm about the catastrophic nature of nuclear weapons, has now been set ahead 30 seconds, to two and a half minutes to midnight. This is the closest it’s been to midnight since 1953.  

With current events in the back of my head, and some of my friends talking about a new apocalypse, I decided to revisit the last book of the New Testament: “Revelation” also know as “Apocalypse,” from the Greek word apokálypsis which means “uncovering” or “revelation.” One of my spiritual exercises in the next few days is a careful and reflective re-reading of Revelation; and I am thinking about using it for a Bible study group later in the year. 

The Book of Revelation is packed with powerful images — a mystic journey to heaven, a beast with seven heads, four horsemen, a scroll with seven seals, a whore of Babylon, etc. The book is highly symbolic and imaginative. Parts of it are like contemporary political cartoons. They point to deeper realities and invite deeper thinking and challenging dialogue. Revelation is, nonetheless, divine revelation: in a variety of literary styles and symbolic images, it narrates the challenges and confrontations that Christians face in contemporary life and culture. In many ways, we twenty-first century believers can resonate with the Christian experiences of first-century believers. 

Anyone doing biblical study these days — even old historical theologians — needs of course a trustworthy and up- to-date study guide. One can always be misled by “alternative facts.” One of my old professors at the university of Louvain used to say that the Bible has a wax nose which interpreters can twist and shape according to their own biases….Sometimes I get the impression that there is a lot of biblical nose-twisting going on these days.  

For my Revelation guide, I have picked a small book by Steve Mueller Reassuring Visions: Reading John’s Book of Revelation (Faith Alive Books). Mueller’s book is well-grounded in contemporary biblical theology and is excellent for personal or group study. I plan to use it for my own Bible study group. It is not a ponderous annotated scholarly commentary on Revelation but a trustworthy pastoral guide for Christians struggling to live as authentic followers of Christ today. 



The text. The contemporary scholarly consensus suggests that Revelation was composed sometime during the reign of the Roman emperor Domitian (CE 81 – 96). His was an authoritarian, totalitarian government built and sustained around a narcissistic cult of his own personality. He viewed himself as a divine monarch: “Son of God.” His admirers addressed him as Dominus et Deus: “Lord and God.” It made him feel very, very great. He had no use for the senate’s powers. He relied on his close group of sycophant advisors. Loyalty to him was the essential political value. He was annoyed when people joked about him. He hated actors who satirized him or his government. People who wrote against him were punished by exile or death. He was also very sensitive about his hair. As he got older, he was getting bald; and had a great assortment of wigs. 

The writer. The author of Revelation called himself “John.” At one time the presumption was that he was the “John” of the Fourth Gospel. Contemporary scholarship takes a different view, calling him simply “John,” a Christian prophet from the island of Patmos in the Aegean. A prophet of course is one who courageously speaks out in support of authentic Christian teaching and behavior. A prophet also sounds the alarm about false prophets. 

Focus. In Revelation John shares the distress of the Christian communities near him: the seven churches. They were being oppressed by socio-political powers greater than themselves. In his letters to the seven churches, John stresses his concerns about truth and the dangers of deception. The Roman world view, propagated and imposed by Domitian, was fundamentally based on a false view of reality, unethical values, and a deceptive and demeaning use of power.  

John encourages his audience to adopt the Christian vision of reality. That of course will demand a revision of both their values and their behavior. Will they choose evil, personified in the divinity-seeking Roman emperor Domitian and his subordinates, or will they choose Christ? In Revelation, the Christian view of reality affirms that God in Christ, and in the Christian community, is initiating the transformation of our world into a new creation characterized by justice, love, no persecution, and no sting of death. God’s new creation will bring about peace for both the cosmos and for all humanity. Not the end of the world but a new start. Revelation is not about doom and gloom. 

Politics. John contrasts the political strategy of Domitian and the strategy of Christ. The Roman imperial program used religion to promote and justify war and condone the killing of imperial enemies. This led to victory and a tightly controlled state of “peace.” The dangerous trouble-makers and dissident people were simply eliminated. The counter-program of the other “Son of God” uses religion to inspire and motivate people to seek nonviolence, justice, and peace.  

Peace. These were and still are the two great strategies for global peace: a controlled peace through violent war and victorious over-powering or a calming peace of human solidarity through nonviolent justice. 

Proverbs 29 warns: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” One could add that where there is a wrong vision, people will perish even faster.  

Mixing politics and religion can be a toxic and dangerous mix. The traditional American separation of church and state safeguards both church and state. In enables the church to exercise its mission in the world: being a free counter-cultural voice and influence: questioning and challenging political leaders and socio-cultural values and behavior.  

Final Thought. Three days ago in Commonweal, the independent Catholic journal of religion, politics, and culture, journalist John Gehring summarized for me the message of the prophet John of Patmos: 

Prayer, theology, and Christian discipleship,” Gehring wrote, “should be counter-cultural because the Gospel is subversive. The Lord’s Prayer is radical and revolutionary. When we pray that God’s kingdom will be made real here on earth, we’re praying for a kingdom where the poor, the refugee, the sick, and the broken have the best seat at the banquet. Building that kingdom requires prayer, activism, solidarity, and moral resistance that are politically engaged but which ultimately transcend the politics of the day.” 

That indeed is the message of John’s Apocalypse…… 
That indeed is our contemporary Christian challenge….. 

……………………………………..

Dr. J. A. Dick

Geldenaaksebaan 85A

3001 Heverlee

BELGIUM


Email: jadleuven@gmail.com


Your comments and support are always appreciated.



Christianity’s American Challenge


January 28, 2017

The most striking religious trend in the United States today is the growing percentage of adults who no longer identify with any religious group. When asked about church membership, they reply that they belong to “none.”  According to the Pew Research Center, these “nones” now make up more than 23% of the U.S. adult population. They are about on a par with evangelical Christians (25.4%); and they have moved ahead of Roman Catholics (now about 20.8%) and mainline Protestants (14.7%). The ecclesiastical exodus is strongest in Roman Catholicism and mainline Protestantism.  

Millennials make up a large part of the “nones.” Millennials are generally much less interested in organized religion — and also, contrary to what one often reads, less interested in spirituality in general. This is a sobering reality when one realizes that Millennials have now surpassed Baby Boomers as the nation’s largest living generation, and the Millennial generation continues to expand as young immigrants join its ranks. 

Certainly part of the decline in church engagement is due to a growing sense of individualism and a break-down in primary group relationships in American culture. Churches are becoming less and less close communities of faith where people know each other well. I find this particularly true in the Roman Catholic Church where due to parish closings, consolidation of parishes, and the shortage of ordained ministers, people find themselves becoming anonymous participants in services often led by rotating or foreign priests. The American political scientist Robert Putnam called attention to this trend over ten years ago in his book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Putnam pointed out that Americans were becoming less likely to participate in associations— like joining bowling leagues – and were more often “bowling alone.” According to the National Conference on Citizenship, the trend continues today. In a recent report, they highlight the fact that today only a third of Americans are involved in any kinds of formal organizations. 

Examining surveys from the Pew Research Center and the Barna Group, as well as reviewing my own studies and interviews, I see five more reasons why Americans are dropping out of church. 

(1) Boredom: Increasingly many people, in all age groups, find their church experiences impersonal, shallow, and uninviting. Many long for a supportive Christian community where people know each other face to face. Many long as well for what one of my students called a “taste of the Divine.” Too often church leaders miss this point. A couple years ago a neighboring parish held a concert of sacred music on the Saturday before Pentecost. The church was packed. The music was powerful and deeply moving. When the concert finished, the congregation sat there in silence for a good ten minutes. People had been deeply touched and were lost in concentration. Then a rather nervous pastor stood up, looked at his watch and told people it was his bed time and he asked them to leave. The next morning, Pentecost, I was attended liturgy in that same church. There were only about twenty people present. Most looked disengaged. Without looking at us, the pastor read the same sermon he had given the year before. On my way out of church, I greeted the pastor as he stood at the church door. I chuckled and said that he had had a full house on Saturday night. “Yes,” he replied, “those were the heathens.” I looked at him and simply said “I think you are terribly mistaken. We should talk about this.” 

(2) Reality: Another reason why people are dropping out of church membership is because far too often they find the message of church leaders out of sync with reality. They often find church leaders more concerned about questions that very few people are really asking. And they ignore the questions that really perplex and bother people today. A friend in California wrote me about a young priest who, two weeks before Christmas, launched into a fifteen minute Sunday tirade about the evils of contraception. He told his congregation of mostly retired people that people practicing birth control should not be coming up for communion. He warned them as well about the evils of masturbation and pre-marital sex. He said nothing about where one can find signs of the Sacred in contemporary society, nothing about the questions older people have about life and death, nor how Christian faith can be an anchor and a source of stability in troubled times. 

(3) Sex: One of the big problems for the ongoing church exodus, especially in my Christian tradition, is the great ignorance about human sexuality that is still broadly demonstrated by church leadership. As I have said before, our leaders need remedial sex education. They don’t understand or don’t want to understand that since the 1950s, we have learned a lot about ourselves as sexual beings. Issues of gender and sexual identity must be seen more broadly. Biblical teaching and ecclesiastical pronouncements about sexuality must be understood in an historical critical context. Human identity, we are realizing, is far richer, more varied, and more complex than people realized fifty years ago. Nevertheless, far too often church leadership understands human sexuality as simply a matter of genitalia and procreation. They denigrate BGBTQ people as innately disordered, discriminate against them; and they fire them from parish ministry or from teaching in parochial schools. 

(4) Pro-life: Watching and reading reports about the recent March for Life in Washington DC, I thought about yet another reason people are leaving the churches: right to life single-issue barrel vision and the short-sighted political engagement of religious leaders. I am anti-abortion. I am also pro-life. What I miss in much of the anti-abortion rhetoric is a strong pro-life agenda. Right now, today, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput, is denouncing President Donald Trump’s critics for displaying what he says is an unprecedented opposition to the new president. Chaput strongly supports the new president because he and the new vice-president are (reportedly) strongly anti-abortion. Over the past year, Christian leaders have loudly and enthusiastically supported political candidates whose rhetoric has been strongly anti-abortion. They have been unusually silent however about those same political candidates who are avowedly racist and sexist (in often crude and violent ways) and unwilling to admit that pro-life means pro-child care, pro-health care, pro-housing for the homeless, pro-criminal justice reform, and pro-a-wide-range of humanitarian causes. Why the silence? Why the narrow vision? One Roman Catholic bishop, whom I know, rejoiced the day after the recent presidential inauguration: “I thank almighty God that we no longer have a president who is anti-life and a baby-killer.” 

(5) Cheap grace: Too many church leaders, and too many Christians, I fear, have sold out to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” Bonhoeffer was a young Lutheran theologian in Germany, as Hitler came to power. In 1937 he published his book The Cost of Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was appalled when he saw how Protestant and Catholic church leaders supported Adolf Hitler very openly, enthusiastically, and with little restraint. He said they had sold out to cheap grace. “Cheap grace,” he said “was preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance.” Cheap grace asserts that the purpose of Christianity is to selfishly protect people’s own self-interests instead of sacrificially serving others. Cheap grace is comfortable and easy, because it offers no challenge. Cheap grace does not demand Christian Discipleship. “Costly grace” on the other hand, Bonhoeffer stressed, is being a disciple of Jesus and implementing the Sermon on the Mount. Bonhoeffer worried that in his day church leaders had cheapened the Gospel and that obedience to the living Christ was gradually being camouflaged beneath pleasant sounding formulas and attractive rituals. (Bonhoeffer was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo; and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.) 

In summary: Christianity’s contemporary American challenge is the challenge to us, church members, and to church leadership to accept the cost of discipleship. A church that lives in the spirit of Jesus and follows his teaching and example is a church that promotes community, compassion, and the charity of Christ for all. It is a church that grows in understanding and welcomes those who question. It is a church that seeks and celebrates “a taste of the Divine.” It is a church that proclaims there is no place in the human family for parading falsehood as the truth, and no place for denigrating and punishing people because of their race, religion, gender, or sexual identity. It is a church that will have no fears about losing members. 
 

Inauguration Day Reflection


January 20, 2017

If I could have a face-to-face and man-to-man chat with our new president, this is what I would like to say:



Mr. President:  By way of introduction I am an American and an older academic, a couple years older then you. For more than three decades, my primary research, teaching and writing has focused on religion and socio-cultural values in American (U.S.) society. I consider myself a patriotic citizen and come from a very politically active family.  

Although I have been a Democrat since the Nixon/Kennedy election of 1960, I have strong Republican DNA. Maybe that enables me to engage in respectful dialogue with people who don’t hold my personal political viewpoint? I am happy that, in the United States, we have at least two political parties. Monotone politics can lead easily to despotic dictatorships. Republicans and Democrats, with their differing viewpoints are nonetheless genuine Americans.We can debate, we can reflect; and then we can determine how we can best work together for the good of all in our society. That is an essential part of the American way of life. 

Yes Mr. President I must acknowledge that I did not vote for you; but I speak today with no animosity. I address you respectfully, because I do have some major concerns, as you become our forty-fifth president. 

Mr. President, one of my big concerns, as I reflect on contemporary U.S. Society, is the extreme socio-political polarization that is tearing our country apart. It is worse, Mr. President, than at the time of our nineteenth century Civil War. Sorry to say, sir, you and your election campaign have greatly contributed to this national tragedy. I am not writing today to condemn you or your supporters. I write to strongly suggest, however, that it is now your presidential responsibility and that of your administration to drop the rhetoric of animosity, to build bridges, and to repair the damage. 



I am reminded of the words of our Civil War Republican president. You took the oath of office with your hand on his Bible. Abraham Lincoln was speaking about Civil War America. You, Mr. president, could use his words today: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.” 

Mr. President, you have often said you want to make America great again. Personally, sir, I think America is already great.  

When it comes to greatness, however, I would suggest that the genius of greatness is not located in overpowering other people or other countries. Greatness is not an exercise of self-centered power but an exercise of understanding, respectful dialogue, compassion, and humble collaboration. American greatness is reflected in the words of Emma Lazarus at the base of the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”  



Mr. President, there are a lot of people in our country, and in our world, yearning to breathe free. In 1987, Republican President Ronald Reagan told the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “tear down this wall.” Why don’t you emulate President Reagan and demand that all walls be be torn down when they block people yearning to breathe free. There are concrete walls. There are legal walls. There are walls of ignorance, and walls of racism and prejudice. They all need to be dismantled. You and your administration can do this. 

Mr. President, I happen to be a Catholic and I was very surprised when I learned that a great number of U.S. Catholics voted for you. The argument I have since heard and read is that they felt compelled to vote for you because you are anti-abortion. I too am opposed to abortion but I am also pro-life. I hope, sir, that your administration will be not just anti-abortion but strongly pro-life as well. And pro-life for all.  

Being pro-life demands reaching out to lift up the poor, giving a hand to those whom you call “losers.” Pro-life is pro-education, pro-child support, pro-health care, pro-living wage, pro-single parents. It is pro-straight and pro-gay…..Being pro-life means that one truly does believe Thomas Jefferson’s words in our Declaration of Independence that a legitimate government must protect the “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for all.  

Actually, Mr. president I would like to see you establish a strong human rights commission in your administration. I would suggest that your commission insist, at home and abroad, on a strict adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948. It was our Republican President Dwight Eisenhower who praised that Declaration for its “recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” and as “the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”  

Mr. President, throughout your campaign and even afterwards there have been a number of questions raised about your competence, your psychological health, your moral rectitude, and your commitment to truth and honesty. These are serious questions. As you begin, your presidency I strongly encourage you to seek the truth, reflect on the truth, and to speak the truth. Theodore Roosevelt was a strong Republican president. As I watched your campaign, I thought of his words. “The man who knows the truth and has the opportunity to tell it,” Roosevelt said “but who nonetheless refuses to, is among the most shameful of all creatures. God forbid that we should ever become so lax at that.” On another occasion, President Roosevelt reminded reminded Americans: “A true patriot must necessarily be a zealot and fighter for the truth.” Good advice, sir. Good advice for all of us. 

Well Mr. President I wish we could sit down and discuss these and other issues. You and your administration are introducing a major climate change in Washington. If the opinion polls and the news reports are accurate, more than half of our U.S. citizens, as well as millions of people around the globe, fear that your winds of change are launching, to use Shakespeare’s famous words, a long “winter of discontent.” Some very big challenges will confront you — and us — before we can all sing “spring is in the air.” 

For my part, in my teaching and writing I will do my best to promote genuine American values. I will endeavor to dialogue, especially when it seems to be so difficult. I will do my best to collaborate in maintaining the common good. I will challenge ignorance. I will challenge bullies who denigrate other people because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. I hope, sir, that you and your administration will do the same. We must work together. We will not survive as a healthy and peaceful country unless we do. I remember the words of President Eisenhower: “You do not lead by hitting people over the head – that’s assault, not leadership.”  

Mr. President, your presidency comes at a pivotal point in U.S. history. I hope you are up to the challenges that await you. I hope sincerely that the Donald J.Trump administration will be characterized by strong humanitarian leadership and unquestionable integrity. If not, sir, be prepared. I suspect that either the people will call for your resignation or Congress will remove you from office.