Thursday, May 25, 2017

THE LEGAL PRINCIPLES SUPPORTING MY RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

I am pasting a link to the brief that our legal team filed with the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission last week.  I do so to let you know what the law is, and has been for a long time, the meaning of judicial "impartiality" and "independence," and so you will know what my rights are under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States and the Arkansas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, both as a follower of Jesus and as a judge.  

The brief is 20 pages long.  The law supporting my position is clear, well-established, and has been followed in Arkansas and elsewhere for years.  The ethics complaint against me was lodged in the face of that law.  That complaint, and the referral by the Arkansas Supreme Court that triggered it, is baseless.

In my brief I've asked that the complaint against me be dismissed by June 1, 2017. Because the legal principles in my case are clear and well-established, the executive director of the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission should readily grant that request.  Time will tell if that happens.

    

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

THIS IS WHAT RELIGIOUS FREEDOM MEANS

On May 18 my legal team filed a 20 page brief to respond to the complaint filed against me by David Sachar, executive director of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission (JDDC), arising from my actions in practicing my faith as a follower of Jesus on Good Friday, April 14, 2017. I am pasting a link to that brief to this blog post so everyone will know that people in this society -- including judges -- are free to hold and follow religious beliefs.  People in this society -- including judges -- are free to hold and express their views about disputed social and political issues.  People in this society -- including judges -- are free to assemble peacefully.

I have no obligation to conceal my faith or my political viewpoints because I am a judge.  Concealing one's faith or political views does not make a judge ethical, nor does expressing one's faith or viewpoints make a judge unethical.  The freedom to express one's faith and social perspective lies at the core of our democracy.

I am not a stranger to this issue, nor is this the first time I have been threatened for exercising my freedoms of religion, religious expression, and speech.

On September 27, 2007, the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission dismissed two similar ethics complaints that were filed against me in 2005, twelve years ago.


  • Those complaints were filed after I remarked during a banquet speech delivered to the Arkansas NAACP that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina revealed the scab of racism and classism in the United States.  
  • I had earlier criticized the nomination of John Roberts to become Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court during a public meeting of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.  
  • I joined other Arkansas clergy in a January 2006 statement supporting a ballot proposal to increase the minimum wage in Arkansas.  
  • In October 2006 during a speech in Fayetteville, Arkansas I publicly opposed the war in Iraq and denounced politicians who villify persons who are homosexual and immigrants.  
  • Later that month, I authored an opinion editorial that criticized some of the policies of President George W. Bush.

I battled the staff of the Arkansas Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission for almost two years before the Commission decided in 2007 that my comments amounted to "protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution."  In that 2007 decision, the JDDC declared that "[t]here is no Arkansas Canon that expressly prohibits a judge ... from publicly discussing disputed political or legal issues.  The Canons ... cannot be used as a basis for a finding of judicial misconduct if the alleged misconduct is solely related to a public discussion of disputed political or legal issues."

I mention the 2007 experience to emphasize that my determination to live according to my faith and exercise my rights as a free person to express my views about social and political issues is unwavering.  I will not shrink from behaving like a free person no matter what actions are taken or threatened against me.  I will not flinch, blink, back down, or be bullied by anyone, including politicians who dislike or disapprove of the way I understand and practice my faith and fulfill my duties as a judge.

None of us should do so.  Tyranny is defeated by bold exercise of our freedoms.  Tyranny is defeated by standing up to and resisting bullies and tyrants, not by silent or timid acquiescence to their demands and dictates.

This is what I have written about in The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope (Judson Press, 2017).  In the second chapter of my book I quote the following words written by Dr. Cornel West in his book Democracy Matters:  Winning the Fight Against Imperialism:
To be a Christian is to live dangerously, honestly, freely--to step in the name of love as if you may land on nothing, yet keep stepping because the something that sustains you no empire can give you and no empire can take away.  This is the kind of vision and courage required to enable the renewal of prophetic, democratic Christian identity in the age of the American empire.  
Freedom requires that we hope fiercely and love boldly.  If we believe in freedom we must protect and uphold freedom for all persons.  This means we must fight the tyrannical efforts and views of those who fear or despise freedom.

I am determined to engage in that fight with all my being.  I will do so as a follower of Jesus and as a Baptist pastor.  I will do so as a judge elected by voters who believe in freedom and who know what it means to have others try to deny freedom.

During the January 2, 2017 investiture ceremony to begin my current six-year term of office I made the following comments:

I will never forget that you elected me to do justice.  You did not elect me to show favoritism to the powerful, to cut corners, or to give an advantage to the powerful over the weak.  You did not elect me to be a black-robed spectator while popular passion and prejudice threaten the human dignity and freedom of individuals, people who are unpopular, and persons who are less favored.  You did not elect me to protect the interests of the wealthy, privileged, and powerful at the expense of those who are less fortunate.  You elected me to do justice.  I intend to do that work every day as well as I am able.
I meant those words.  I remember those words.  I know, both as a follower of Jesus and as a judge, that freedom must always be boldly exercised, and that threats to freedom must always be fiercely confronted.  I will not dishonor myself, my faith, and the trust that has been placed in me as a judge by allowing myself or anyone else to be bullied, threatened, or intimidated by agents of imperial politics, imperial commerce, or imperial religion.

Hope Fiercely!  Love Boldly!  Stand up for freedom and justice!

Here's my response to the latest judicial discipline complaint.











    

Sunday, May 21, 2017

EMBRACING THE PRESENCE, POWER, AND PERSISTENCE OF GOD'S LOVE

EMBRACING THE PRESENCE, POWER, AND PERSISTENCE OF GOD’S LOVE
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
May 21, 2017 (Sixth Sunday of Easter)
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Arkansas

John 14:15-21
15 ‘If you love me, you will keep* my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,* to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in* you.
18 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’

       How often have we heard, thought, or spoken these words:  If you love me, you will …?

        They are words spoken by parents and children.  They are spoken by lovers.  They are spoken by friends.  These words are spoken by people to others with whom they share, and cherish, intimate relationship. 

        If you love me, you will… 

        These words spoken by Jesus to his close followers and dearest companions the night of his arrest have been cherished for hundreds of years.  As with parents and children, lovers, and intimate friends, they are words of deep intimacy and tenderness.  They draw us into a mood of great passion, especially if we remember the situation facing Jesus and the others when Jesus spoke these words. 

Jesus told them he was about to be taken from them by his enemies.  They were struggling with the news that Jesus was about to die.  Then Jesus spoke with them about something he called “the Father’s house,” a metaphor Jesus used to introduce them to “eternal life.”  These followers of Jesus were being led into depths of faith and fellowship they had never imagined. 

Then Jesus spoke these words:  If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

  Notice the intentionality of this tender passage.  Notice how often we find the word “will” in it.

If you love me, you will keep my commandments…

And I will ask the Father…

And he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

I will not leave you orphaned.

In a little while the world will no longer see me…

[B]ut you will see me.

[B]ecause I live, you also will live

… [Y]ou will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

…[T]hose who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.

It seems that Jesus was determined to burn some deep truths into the hearts and minds of his followers.  Those truths are:  (1) Loving Jesus inspires us to intentionally and relentlessly live according to the love and justice commandments of Jesus (that we love God with our whole being and love others as ourselves—meaning as neighbors); (2) Jesus will petition God (“the Father”) on behalf of all who live according to his love and justice commandments; (3) God (“the Father”) will, in love for Jesus, give all who live according to the love and justice commandments “another Advocate” as our companion; and (4) that somehow this binds us to Jesus, God, and the Spirit of truth  “forever.”

Jesus strained to impart these truths into their hearts and minds as he neared the threshold of his great struggle with the powers of human empire, politics, commerce, and religion.  With the deadly threat of religious jealousy, imperial pretension, and commercial greed lurking and approaching, Jesus assured his followers that his death did not mean their abandonment.  I will not leave you orphaned.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you will live. 

With the threat of death looming over him, Jesus spoke about living.  With the forces of empire bearing down on him to kill him, Jesus spoke about a relationship with God that would produce “another Advocate” to be with us “forever.”  With religious leaders scheming to produce false testimony against him and persuade Roman occupiers of Palestine to put him to death, Jesus spoke about “the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive.” 

These are words of presence.  These are words of power.  These are words of persistence.  These words testify about the love of God for Jesus, the love of Jesus for God, and the relationship between God, Jesus, and the Spirit of truth. 

And, these words called the first followers of Jesus and all who followed afterwards to know that we are caught up in something that is powerful, deep, mysterious, and majestic.  …[Y]ou will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 

Because of love, we are followers of Jesus.  Because of love, we are one with Jesus.  Because of love, Jesus is one with God.  Because of that love, we are one with God.  Because of that love, we are one with the Spirit of truth.  Because of that love, we are part of all God is, all God hopes, all God loves, all God desires, all God is doing, and all God has. 

There is no deeper fellowship than this.  We cannot be loved more than this.  We cannot have any better life than life with and in God.  We cannot experience any greater truth than the truth produced by God’s love.  We cannot be associated with anything more powerful, more virtuous, more affirming, and more hopeful than God’s love.  Jesus is talking about what George Lucas termed “the Force” in the Star Wars science fiction movie saga.  In God, we are one with “the Force.” 

Jesus assures us now, as he encouraged the first followers on that long night before his arrest and eventual trial and crucifixion, that the powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce cannot overcome the power of God’s love.  The powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce will conspire against love and justice in our time and place, as they conspired against Jesus. 

The powers of empire—politics, commerce, and religion—will mass their forces against us.  History has shown this to be true time and again.  This is what happened to the prophets of old.  This is what happened to Jesus.  This is what happened to the first followers of Jesus.  This is what always happens to people who live according to the love and justice commandments of God. 

Beloved, know that if we love Jesus, we will live according to his love and justice commandments.  If we live according to his love and justice commandments of God as revealed in the life of Jesus, we will live contrary to the powers of imperial politics, imperial commerce, and imperial religion. 

If we live according to the love and justice commandments of God as revealed by the life of Jesus, the powers of empire will first seek to seduce us away from following the love and justice commandments of Jesus.  In the same way that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness by Satan and offered “all the kingdoms of the world” after his baptism by John the Baptist (Matthew 4:8-10), some people who would desire to live according to the love and justice commandments of God as revealed by Jesus are enticed away from that living by offers of wealth, fame, popularity, influence, and other aspects of imperial success.  In the parable of the sower Jesus described these people as seed that fell among thorns which “are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14).

If we do not succumb to the seduction efforts the powers of imperial politics, commerce, and religion will attack us, accuse us, seek to divide us, threaten us, and otherwise seek to discredit us.  This is what happened to Jesus throughout his ministry.  The powers of imperial religion accused Jesus of not being sufficiently devout because he dared to follow the love and justice commandment of God by healing people on the Sabbath, welcoming and loving people religious imperialists called unworthy, and throwing in his lot with women, children, immigrants, and other marginalized people.  The powers of imperial religion and imperial commerce and imperial politics accused Martin King, Pope Francis, Dorothy Day, Fannie Lou Hamer, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, and countless other prophetic souls of not being righteous, patriotic, practical, or business minded. 

When seduction efforts fail to entice away from obeying the love and justice commandments of God and when efforts to discredit us fail, expect the powers of imperial politics, commerce, and religion to strike at our very existence.  This is what happened to Jesus.  This is what happened to Martin King.  This is what happened to Medgar Evers.  The powers of imperial politics, commerce, and religion ultimately resort to violence when efforts to entice and discredit followers of the love and justice commandment of God fail.  They will use violence, secretly and openly, to try to stop the love and justice movement of God.  They will bomb churches, mosques, synagogues, and other places where God is praised, revered, and where followers of God gather.  They will defund Planned Parenthood.  They will attack clinics where women receive health care.  They will send government agents to conduct raids, engage in terror tactics, and threaten followers of God’s love and justice commandment. 

Jesus knew this would happen!  Jesus knew that the powers of imperial politics, commerce, and religion will try to seduce us, discredit us, and destroy us.  Jesus knew this because Jesus experienced all these tactics.  In the face of all Jesus knew about the powers and practices of imperial politics, commerce, and religion, Jesus comforted his closest followers—and comforts us—with the promise about what God will do.

According to Jesus, when the powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce confront and threaten us, we are not alone.  According to Jesus, when the powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce work to divide us from one another, we are not alone.  According to Jesus, when the powers of imperial politics, religion, and commerce threaten to take our lives, we are not alone. 

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.  This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.  I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.  In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

We are not orphaned.  We are not alone.  We are not forsaken. We are not helpless.  We are not powerless. 

No!  We are people of God’s love.  We are the sheep of God’s pasture.  We are prophets of love, justice, hope, peace, and truth.  We are followers of Jesus.  The Spirit of God is with us.   We live according to the love and justice commandments of Jesus.  We are one with God in Jesus.  The forces of imperial politics, religion, and commerce cannot see who is with us, but we are not alone.  The forces of imperial politics, religion, and commerce can and will try to seduce us, discredit us, and destroy us, but they cannot overcome us because we are not alone. 

We are one with Jesus.  Jesus is one with the Father.  The Father is one with the Spirit and Jesus.  We are part of that deep and powerful oneness.  We are part of all that is love, all that is truth, all that is hope, all that is peace.  We are part of God!  We are part of God!  We are part of God!

Because Jesus lives, we live forever in God.  Because Jesus lives, we live forever in the power and company and comfort of the Spirit of truth.  Because Jesus lives, we know that Jesus is in God forever, and we are in Jesus forever, so we are in God forever! 

We are in God now.  We are in God in sickness.  We are in God in seasons of struggle.  We are in God in our ups and our downs.  We are in God whether we are comfortable or suffering hardships and heartaches.  We are in God.  We are in God.  We are in God forever! 

Now! 

Tomorrow!

Always!

Forever!


Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
you have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by your spirit to keep your commandments,
that we may show forth your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
to all your people. Amen.

Monday, May 15, 2017

THE HARVEST OF WHITE CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM

THE HARVEST OF WHITE CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
May 15, 2017

            One of the Scripture passages I often heard my black elders utter while growing up in rural southwest Arkansas was Galatians 6:7.  The New Revised Standard rendering of that passage reads:  Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow

Another was Matthew 7:15-20, where the NRSV reads: 

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits.  Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?  In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears good fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will know them by their fruits.

These passages from the New Testament shed light on the public policy situation facing the United States as a nation, and in many of its states, because of the politics of white Christian nationalism. 

White Christian nationalism is a term I used in my book, The Fierce Urgency of Prophetic Hope (Judson Press, 2017), to describe the ideology and social perspectives of two groups:  white evangelical Christians such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and James Robison (who mentored Mike Huckabee) and white supremacists such as David Duke, Thom Robb, and Stephen K. Bannon (President Donald Trump’s chief strategist).  Although white evangelical Christians may take offense about being identified as white nationalists, they do so pretending to not know that the voting history and social perspectives of white evangelicals is functionally the same as white supremacists. 

However, other people understand that white evangelicals and white supremacists traditionally vote the same way.  During the 2016 U.S. presidential election, self-proclaimed white evangelical Christians overwhelmingly voted to elect Donald Trump president knowing they were supporting the same candidate endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke.

“Good” white evangelicals like Pat Robertson and James Robison and white supremacists such as David Duke and Thom Robb all claim to be followers of Jesus.  Yet, they have supported the same race-baiting, patriarchal, militaristic, imperialistic, homophobic, sexist, materialistic, and xenophobic candidates for two generations – since President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Let me say it plainly.  President Trump’s personal and commercial racism, white male supremacy and patriarchy, racist and misogynist bigotry, xenophobia, and pathological penchant for violence, oppressiveness, and fear of others will shape US policy only because “good” white evangelical Christians and white supremacists – white Christian nationalists –embraced his candidacy, elected him, and continue to support him. White Christian nationalists are morally and ethically accountable for the injustices, injuries, and other wrongs that are occurring during Trump’s presidency.

Less than four months have gone by since President Trump took office.  In less than four months, the world has learned what has been obvious for years, long before 2016 when Trump was elected.  Donald Trump is morally, intellectually, socially, and emotionally unsuited for public service at any level of government.  He is unstable, brutish, and impulsive.  His driving values are not service to and for others, but personal adulation and profit.  Trump appears to be allergic to truth about anything, including his conduct, others, or the rest of the world.  To borrow from Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, Donald Trump is a “bad tree.”  

We should not be surprised to harvest bad fruit from his presidency.  We should not be surprised when variations of Donald Trump’s value system produce harmful results across the United States and other places where US power is exercised according to his directions.  Remember Galatians 6:7.  God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  The United States cannot avoid reaping a bitter harvest from white Christian nationalism.  Thorns never produce grapes.  Thistles never produce figs. 

We must also not allow ourselves to be fooled into thinking that the white Christian nationalism tree can somehow be reformed into something that produces worthwhile public and social policies.  Thorns have never been reformed into grape vines.  Thistles have never been rehabilitated into fig trees.  White Christian nationalism, like thorns and thistles, always and only produces “bad fruit.” 

The issue now is whether people in the United States will have the good sense to do what every farmer knows must be done about thorns and thistles.  Every farmer knows that thorns and thistles must be cut down and eradicated.  Every farmer knows that thorns and thistles never evolve into anything that is beneficial.  Every farmer knows that the sooner one eradicates thorns and thistles, the sooner one can use the ground to plant and produce something useful that will produce “good fruit.” 

Let’s see how long it takes voters to begin cutting down and up-rooting white Christian nationalism.  How long will it take before white Christian nationalist elected officials in Congress, the U.S. Senate, and in state and local offices of government are challenged for re-election and defeated?  How long will it take before voters in the United States reject the racist, sexist, materialist, imperialistic, patriarchal, homophobic, xenophobic, and techno-centric values of white Christian nationalism? 

Finally, when will religious observers declare white Christian nationalism a heresy to the gospel of Jesus?  People who supported, voted for, and now cheer President Trump – while professing to be followers of the One who represents divine love, justice, peace, and truth – must be challenged as committing heresy.  

White Christian nationalists demonstrate an irreconcilable contradiction.  At best, their claims of allegiance to Jesus are ill-conceived.  At worst, their claims of allegiance to Jesus are fraudulent.  Any claim that one has welcomed Jesus (an immigrant whose parents were refugees in Egypt with him during his early childhood) into one’s heart and professed that Jesus as the center of one’s faith and living while supporting hateful behavior and policies towards immigrants, persons who are poor, refugees, and other marginalized persons is beyond unpersuasive.  Such a claim amounts to moral and ethical nonsense bordering on insanity. 

The United States is reaping in Donald Trump’s political views and policies a harvest of moral and ethical nonsense from the bad tree that is white Christian nationalism.  Time will tell whether voters in the United States have the moral, ethical, political, social, and intellectual insight and courage required to cut down white Christian nationalism and discard Trump’s presidency and its policies.  Time will tell whether we have the will to uproot white Christian nationalism.  Time will tell whether we have sense enough to throw white Christian nationalism – fruit, limb, leaf, trunk, root, and all – into the fire.

That is what time teaches must be done with thorns and thistles.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

FASCISM, DONALD TRUMP POLITICS, AND ARKANSAS

FASCISM, DONALD TRUMP POLITICS, AND ARKANSAS
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
Justice Is A Verb!
May 10, 2017

Donald Trump has fired James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who may have done more to single-handedly cause the defeat of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Trump’s election as the 45th president of the United States in 2016. 

Trump’s May 9, 2017 late afternoon firing announcement was achieved with typical Trump clumsiness, disdain for truthfulness, and impudence.  Comey was not summoned to the White House.  Trump did not look Comey in the eye like an honorable person and deliver the news that Comey was being sacked.  Trump didn’t ask for Comey’s resignation, either directly or through a White House emissary (such as the White House chief of staff).  Instead, Donald Trump issued a letter that the White House publicized to the world while James Comey was in California on a FBI recruiting trip. 

Add cowardice to the long and growing list of President Trump’s character flaws.

Firing Comey didn’t solve a single problem facing the United States.   But it clearly achieved one Trump objective.  James Comey no longer leads the ongoing criminal investigation about the relationship between the Trump presidential campaign, Donald Trump’s personal and family business activities, and Russia, the foreign government that directly meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign which Trump ultimately won.  Donald Trump no longer has to worry about Comey announcing anything, as FBI director, about Trump’s financial empire and crime.  Donald Trump does not have to worry about James Comey, as director of the FBI, calling him a crook.

Does this mean Donald Trump isn’t a crook?  NO!

Does this mean James Comey won’t someday call Trump a crook?  No, but if that happens, Trump will say Comey would be calling him a crook because Comey was fired.

Does this mean Arkansas politicians and voters – the people who backed Trump’s candidacy with their money, votes, and influence – will distance themselves from Trump’s presidency?  I doubt it.  You see, Arkansas politicians, Arkansas voters, and anyone else capable of basic moral judgment, have always known enough about Donald Trump to realize he is a crook. 

Trump is many things, but he isn’t an unknown or mysterious character.  He is a narcissistic maniac whose addiction to attention, greed, and disregard for morality appears to be boundless.  In many respects, he reminds one of an inferior model of George W. Bush and the people President Bush “43” chose as closest advisors. 

Don’t take my word for it.  Consider Donald Trump in light of what Kurt Vonnegut said about George W. Bush, with Vonnegut’s usual boldness and clarity, in his last book, A Man Without A Country (Random House, 2007, edited by Daniel Simon).

George W. Bush has gathered around him upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka Christians, and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or PPs, the medical term for smart, personable people who have no consciences.  [This is obviously true about Donald John Trump]

To say somebody is a PP is to make a perfectly respectable diagnosis, like saying he or she has appendicitis or athlete's foot . . .

PPs are presentable, they know full well the suffering their actions may cause others, but they do not care. They cannot care because they are nuts. They have a screw loose! . . .
So many of these heartless PPs now hold big jobs in our federal government, as though they were leaders instead of sick. They have taken charge of communications and the schools, so we might as well be Poland under occupation.

They might have felt that taking our country into an endless war was simply something decisive to do. What has allowed so many PPs to rise so high in corporations, and now in government, is that they are so decisive. They are going to do something every fuckin' day and they are not afraid. Unlike normal people, they are never filled with doubts, for the simple reasons that they don't give a fuck what happens next. Simply can't. Do this! Do that! Mobilize the reserves! Privatize the public schools! Attack Iraq! Cut health care! Tap everybody's telephone! Cut taxes on the rich! Build a trillion-dollar missile shield! Fuck habeas corpus and the Sierra Club and In These Times, and kiss my ass!

The political word that describes what Vonnegut wrote about is fascism.  According to the Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary, fascism is a way of organizing a society in which a government ruled by a dictator controls the lives of the people and in which people are not allowed to disagree with the government.

Donald John Trump is what fascism looks like in the 21st Century version of the United States. This is what Arkansas voters and politicians openly embraced, cheered, funded, and must now be held accountable for inflicting on our own people, the rest of the nation, and the whole world.    

The fascist personality profile and moral character Vonnegut decried in A Man Without A Country more than a decade ago contaminates all three branches of state government in Arkansas. 

·         Governor Asa Hutchinson’s administration high-handedly dissolved the democratically-elected board of directors for the Little Rock School District January 28, 2015.  The Little Rock School District is governed by State Education Commissioner Johnny Key, an unelected ruler and former state legislator who is unaccountable to the parents, children, and employees of the state’s largest and most diverse public school district.
·         State legislators cut taxes needed to support vital public services to schools, workers, persons who are sick, and to preserve our environment as a healthy place for all persons.  The legislators did this so they could give tax breaks to wealthy persons.    
·         The state supreme court refused to rule in an appeal from a lower court decision in favor of marriage equality.  State legislators wanted to impeach the lower court judge who ruled in favor of marriage equality, but said nothing about the state supreme court’s refusal to decide the appeal.
·         The state correction department engaged in deceitful conduct to acquire a drug from a pharmaceutical distributor.  Then it rushed to use the drug to kill four death row inmates last month before the drugs expired. 
·         The state attorney general appears to have known about the deception and worked to prevent trial judges from holding evidentiary hearings about it.
·         The state supreme court and attorney general worked together to prevent the distributor from retrieving its drug product by defying longstanding legal procedures and principles about fairness, integrity, and transparency in court proceedings.
·         Now legislators want to impeach a judge who followed Arkansas law because they dislike the way the judge ruled and disapprove of the way he practices his religion.  Yes, I’m that judge.
·         Arkansas voters appear unconcerned, for the most part, or not concerned enough to do anything to the politicians responsible for these and other abuses of power.

The Bush-Trump version of fascism not only exists in Washington, DC and Arkansas.  Versions of it are also present in Kansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, to name a few obvious examples.  Fascism is what government now looks like and how it behaves in various parts of the United States and across state government in Arkansas. 

What will we do about it?  What will you do about it?


In the words of actor and comedian Arsenio Hall, “let’s get busy.”  As our emerging leaders (sometimes termed “millennials”) now say, “stay woke.”

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

FAITH, THE RULE OF LAW, AND DEMOCRACY NOW

FAITH, THE RULE OF LAW, AND DEMOCRACY NOW
Justice Is A Verb!
©Wendell Griffen, 2017

On May 8, 2017, I spoke with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, co-hosts of Democracy Now, about the controversy surrounding an April 14, 2017 temporary restraining order (TRO) that I issued concerning a pharmaceutical distributor whose drug product had been wrongfully and deceitfully obtained by the Arkansas Department of Corrections.  After I issued the TRO, I followed through with plans our congregation (New Millennium Church) had previously made to attend a Good Friday prayer vigil in front of the Arkansas Governor's Mansion.  

Without notice to me and without allowing me any opportunity to be heard, the Attorney General of Arkansas and Arkansas Supreme Court engaged in ex parte (meaning hearing from only one side) communications based on the Attorney General's motion to remove me from the case and vacate the TRO on April 17, 2017, before I could hold a hearing on the dispute scheduled for April 18, 2017. The interview with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez focused on demands by some Arkansas politicians who have called for my impeachment and removal from the bench because of my Good Friday TRO ruling and my prayer vigil attendance.  I am pasting the YouTube link to that interview for your information. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pxJyqeeM3o

Do we truly have a democracy if judges are not free to hold and express beliefs about issues affecting our life together?  Does faithfulness to religious conviction disqualify a judge from performing the duties of that office, let alone hold the office at all?  Do we truly believe that judges cannot and will not follow the law when they disagree about the law they are sworn to uphold?  How am I reacting to calls for my impeachment?

I hope the interview provides information about my thinking on these and related questions.  

Monday, May 8, 2017

SHATTERED HOPE AND OPENED EYES

SHATTERED HOPE AND OPENED EYES
©Wendell Griffen, 2017
May 7, 2017 (Fourth Sunday of Easter)[1]
New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

Luke 24:13-35
13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles* from Jerusalem, 14and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad.* 18Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place ther777e in these days?’ 19He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth,* who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people,20and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.* Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ 25Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26Was it not necessary that the Messiah* should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ 27Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. 30When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us* while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ 33That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ 35Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
       
We seem to be always living in a time of shattered hope. 

In 1960, John F. Kennedy, a United States Senator from Massachusetts, was elected to become the 35th President of the United States.  Kennedy was the youngest person to ever be elected to that office.  His youthfulness, idealism, handsome appearance, and moving personal and family history caused many people in the United States and around the world to hope for peace and justice.  But, those hopes were shattered, on November 22, 1963, when President Kennedy was assassinated while riding in an open motorcade in Dallas, Texas.

In 1964, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., co-pastor with his father of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia and leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was awarded the Nobel Prize in the field of human rights for his leadership in civil rights and social justice when he was only 35 years old.  Dr. King’s advocacy for civil rights, social justice, and peace through non-violent change challenged the United States and inspired social justice movements around the world.  However, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee on April 4, 1968.
 
In 1976, Jimmy Carter, a former Governor from Georgia, was elected to become the 39th President of the United States.  His humility and down-to-earth manners prompted many people to hope that public policy in the United States would be defined by peace and justice.  President Carter embraced equality for women and persons of color.  He promoted energy conservation and human rights.  He convened a historic summit involving President Anwar Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel at Camp David that resulted in the first treaty of peace and cooperation between Israel and any of its neighboring Arab nations.  But, Carter was defeated in his 1980 bid for re-election by Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California. 

In 2006, Barack Obama wrote a book titled The Audacity of Hope.[2] In his 2006 book, Mr. Obama (who was then a United States Senator from Illinois), set out his vision and views on what he termed a new kind of politics based on cooperation, a shared sense of community, and a conviction that we can work together to improve life for all persons.  In the fall of 2006, The Audacity of Hope became a best seller – and reached the number one position on both the New York Times and Amazon.com best seller lists – after the book was endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. 

Barack Obama later became a candidate for President of the United States in the Democratic Party.  He eventually won the Democratic Party nomination.  Ultimately, Barack Obama was elected, in November 2008, the 44th President of the United States.  His election was viewed in this nation and across the world as a hopeful sign for justice and peace.  After leading the nation to enact Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – the most comprehensive health care legislation in its history – President Obama was re-elected, in 2012, to a second four-year term of office.  During his second inauguration in January 2013, he took the oath of office while placing his hand on a Bible that had belonged to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In 2016, Hillary Clinton, who served as Secretary of State during the first term of the Obama presidency, United States Senator from New York after leaving the White House as First Lady during the presidency of her husband, President Bill Clinton, and who devoted her life and career to public service and advocacy for equal rights for women around the world, became the first woman in the United States to be nominated as the presidential candidate by either of the two leading U.S. national political parties when she won the Democratic Party nomination.  Ms. Clinton’s candidacy seemed likely to succeed because of her record for public service, and because the nominee chosen by the Republican Party, Donald Trump, had never served in public office.  Secretary Clinton’s candidacy was buoyed by and personified the hopes of many people – in the U.S. and elsewhere – that a women would finally be chosen to lead our nation.  Her candidacy was openly supported by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. 

However, President Obama was not followed by Secretary Clinton.  In November 2016, the hopes for a Hillary Clinton presidency that would build on the policies advanced by President Obama were shattered when Donald Trump, a New York real estate developer and television celebrity, was elected the 45th President of the United States.  Mr. Trump’s “Make America Great Again” presidential campaign was defined by white nationalism, hostility toward immigrants and Muslims, bigotry against women, persons who are disabled, and other persons who are marginalized.    

I recount these aspects of relatively recent political history so we will identify with the two men mentioned in the passage we read from Luke 24 who were walking toward Emmaus from Jerusalem days after Jesus had been crucified by the Roman Empire at the insistence of religious nationalists who opposed his ministry.  The two men appear to have been followers of Jesus.  But unlike other men who remained in hiding in Jerusalem, these men left Jerusalem.  Unlike the women who followed Jesus throughout his ministry, supported his ministry, followed him to the site of his crucifixion, watched him suffer and die, followed him to the place he was buried in a borrowed tomb, and who had resolved to pay homage to him afterwards, these men left Jerusalem. 

Why? 

Luke’s Gospel gives us a clue.  After a third person joined them along the walk to Emmaus and asked them what they were discussing with each other as they walked along (Luke 24:17), their reply is found at Luke 24:19-24.
 
“The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in word and deed before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him.  But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.  Moreover, some women of our group astounded us.  There were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see him.” 

These men suffered from shattered hope.  Those of us who were remember what it was like days after President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963 should be able to identify with them.  We who remember what it felt like days after Dr. King was assassinated in 1968 should be able to identify with them.  We who remember what it felt like days after President Carter was defeated in 1976 should be able to identify with them.  And those of us who remember what it felt like when Secretary Clinton was defeated and President Trump was elected should be able to identify with them.

Cleopas and his friend are examples of us!  Like them, we have held high and noble hopes.  Like them, we have seen our hopes shattered.  Like them, many of us appear to have thrown up our hands in disappointment, confusion, and disgust.  Cleopas and his friend were not hiding in Jerusalem.  They were not hanging out with the women.  They were not hanging out with Thomas.  They left town!  They quit the place.  They appear to have decided to throw in the towel.

They had seen Jesus ambushed by their own religious leaders.  Their own people had turned on Jesus.  Their own people had turned Jesus over to the Roman occupiers of Palestine.  Their own people had falsified evidence to accuse Jesus with the crime of insurrection.  Their own people, religious leaders, had done all this after bribing Judas, one of the trusted disciples of Jesus. 

After seeing so much corruption, Cleopas and his fellow disciple decided “to hell with it!”  After they had hoped so much in Jesus and seen him do so much for their people only to be rejected by the very people he had served, these men were done with the religion of Jesus.  They were done with hope. 

It is tempting to criticize these men for giving up.  We who have the advantage of knowing “the rest of the story” might be tempted to look down on them.  We might be tempted to think, “Where was their faith?  Why did they leave Jerusalem even after hearing the report from the women who said that Jesus was no longer dead?”  Do you have those thoughts? 

But are we so different from Cleopas and his fellow traveler?  Have we, like them, heard about the risen Jesus?  Have we, like these men with shattered hope, heard that despite everything the principalities and powers of empire and pride did to Jesus, God raised him up!  Have we, like these men with shattered hope, not also been tempted to quit on Jesus nonetheless? 

Shattered hope can cause us to quit believing God will make a way.  Shattered hope can cause us to quit believing that anything we do for God and with God matters.  Shattered hope can make us leave what we believe we were called to do.  Shattered hope can make us stop trusting others we have once trusted. 

And shattered hope can make us blind!  Shattered hope can blind us to realities that contradict and refute our hopelessness.  Shattered hope can blind us to the living presence and power of God walking with us, talking us, listening to us, comforting us, and challenging us.  Shattered hope can make us blind to the power of God.  Shattered hope can make us blind to the truth of God.  Shattered hope can make us blind to the presence of God.  Shattered hope can make us blind to the peace of God.  Shattered hope can make us blind to the unstoppable justice of God. 

Well, if you wonder if there is a cure to shattered hope, there is good news.  The third man who joined Cleopas and his buddy along the walk to Emmaus joined them in the power of God.  God finds us even when have thrown in the towel!  God finds us even when we’ve quit the field.  God finds us and hears, finds us and consoles us, and finds us and challenges us!  God will not abandon us to be people of shattered hope.  In the risen Jesus, God finds us. 

In the risen Jesus, God helps us understand that some suffering is part of every liberation movement.  In the risen Jesus, God shows us that not even God can deliver us without suffering oppression from the principalities and power of empire and pride.  In the risen Jesus, God shows us that even when those principalities and powers appear to have done us in, God has us!  God has a way planned out of our “no way!”  Even when the principalities and powers rise up, rail, and seem to rule over us, God is making a way and God will have the final word.

Because Jesus showed up on the road to Emmaus, shattered hope was eventually replaced by opened eyes.  Because Jesus showed up and drew men with shattered hope into a burning heart fellowship, they could not keep leaving Jerusalem.  They had to return to Jerusalem.  They returned because the power of God revealed by the resurrection of Jesus opened their eyes.  They returned because the Jesus of resurrection had become real to them, not merely a rumor. 

When Jesus becomes real, we will go back to work for God.  When Jesus becomes real, we will not quit when people persecute us.  When Jesus becomes real, we will not dismiss reports from others about what God has done, what God is doing, and what God will do.  When Jesus becomes real, people of shattered hope will become people of resurrection truth, justice, and hope. 

We are called to be those people.  We are called, with Cleopas and his companion, to walk with Jesus, learn from Jesus, be challenged by Jesus, have our hearts warmed by Jesus, and then get back to work for God with Jesus!  In Jesus, God is calling us back to the work.  In Jesus, God is calling us back to Jerusalem.  In Jesus, God is calling us to be people of resurrection hope who defy the principalities and powers of empire and pride. 

Thanks to the risen Jesus, people with shattered hope can have our eyes opened, our hearts warmed, and our strength renewed.  Hallelujah!

Amen.



[1] The scripture for this sermon is the Gospel lectionary passage for April 30, 2017 (Third Sunday of Easter), and this sermon was originally intended for that date.  However, worship services were canceled at New Millennium Church on April 30 because of severe thunderstorms and flash flooding in central Arkansas on April 29 and 30, 2017.  The sermon is delivered on May 7, 2017  (Fourth  Sunday of Easter) because it is relevant to what Reverend Harry Emerson Fosdick called “the living of these days.”
[2] Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope:  Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, (Crown/Three Rivers Press:  2006).