Category Archives: news

Lies, sexual assault prosecution, and the truth


Don’t know if you have seen the news that former IMF chief Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn, accused of sexually assaulting a chambermaid and ordered to house arrest while awaiting trial, has been freed from house arrest and it appears that the case against him is evaporating. Why? It appears that his defense team has done a good job in providing evidence that the chambermaid has a credibility problem. Lies on her asylum application, lies to the investigators as to what happened after she was assaulted (what she did next), and lies on her taxes. There may be other lies too.

But of course none of these lies are about that actual assault. It will be sad if (a) she did fabricate the assault, or (b) he did assault her but previous lies allows him to avoid being found guilty. While you and I do not know the truth, we do know that some of the evidence has not been explained (forensic evidence, his prior history of sexual harassment) away. But, due to the legal system values we protect the possibly guilty over the possibly abused. Better to let a guilty man go free than an innocent man be jailed. Note that the victim is not in this equation.

I do not know who is telling the truth. I do know that those who have means and power tend to be able to launch all out defenses and so destroy the credibility of victims so as to either make them appear to be lying or make it appear to be consensual. What I do know is that victims with checkered backgrounds probably receive little justice and that offenders with power or prestige are more likely to get off. What I also know is that one day, lies and truth will be revealed.

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Some thoughts and emotions on justice


What is justice? How do you go about determining what is just and what is unjust?

If you are like me, you’ve had a number of conversations and thoughts about justice in the last 48 hours. I can only believe that such conversations about justice are good, especially if we apply our philosophies to ourselves as well as others.

So, how do you answer my first questions? Do you lead with your intellect or your emotions? Let’s consider each (even though we can’t really separate these two parts of our being)

The intellectual approach to determine what is just

1. What is legal? Lawful = just. This works if you assume that those who create the laws are just lawmakers. But, we all can point to some draconian laws that we would not consider just.

2. What is deserved? Justice = penalty fits the crime. If you get what you deserve, an eye for an eye, then you have been served justice. Of course, if we follow this thinking, it could be just to walk up to a pedophile and castrate him. This would be illegal whether he was tried and convicted or not.

3. What is adjudicated fairly? Justice = blind adjudication. If you are accused of a crime, then justice is served if you receive a fair trial. However, justice does not hold exactly the same meaning as fair. It more accurately means righteous. One could have a fair trial and still get away with murder.

The emotional approach to determining justice

If we are truthful, our emotions tell us what is just. We hear of someone getting their due and we feel relief. Or, we hear someone who got his due but we hear that the one measuring out justice did so in a vicious or destructive way…and we feel conflicted if not downright sickened. Some of our thoughts on justice reveal certain values that we have yet to articulate. Consider the following options from an emotion perspective:

  • Law enforcement attempts to capture a killer but uses deadly force because they thought they saw him reach for a gun
  • A soldier kills an opposing soldier on the battlefield
  • A soldier kills an opposing soldier who was unarmed and running away
  • A soldier kills an opposing soldier who had dropped his weapon and raised his hands in surrender
  • A mass murderer who was not given a final time to give self up before being shot to death
  • A mass murderer killing another murderer who had only killed once

I suspect we could argue that in each case, the killing was legal, even deserved. But does it pass the emotional smell test?

Think this is a new issue? Then check out Habakkuk in the Old Testament. He raises a complaint to God about the sinfulness of his own people, Israel. God answers him and tells him that a heathen group of terrible sinners will bring just punishment on Israel. Habakkuk, as you might expect, struggles with this. “You are going to you THEM? Why they are the WORST!” God answers and tells him that he, God, is going to act in righteous and mind-blowing ways. And Habakkuk responds in only the faithful way he can: I see your fame, I see your Glory and I stand in awe. You are just in all you do. And even if there is no food to eat, I will yet praise you.”

Justice, it turns out, doesn’t always make sense to us. It may be easier to tell what is not justice than what is. For example, we ought not promote pragmatism (e.g., killing someone because jailing him will cost too much) or vengeance (e.g., eye for an eye…since bin Laden didn’t warn 9/11 victims, we ought not warn him).

We cannot go on human laws alone, intellect (as good as it is), or feelings. God’s view of it surpasses all of these ideas. And even when we come to terms with justice, we recognize that justice, without mercy also, is something none of us want to see. We will treat others better than they deserve. We will rejoice when evil men may no longer harm. We will be thankful when governments deliver justice and yet hold them to higher standards than those they judge. We will not return evil for evil. And we will mete out justice yet knowing that we too will face our day of justice as well. And so we will ask God for the grace to live justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly!

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What is the proper response to Bin Laden’s death?


Last night as the news media began telling of Bin Laden’s demise I began contemplating this question: What is a proper response to his death or, for that matter, the death of any oppressor, abuser or grossly unjust person? What is the right response?

Celebration? I heard one person say they were not celebrating death but were celebrating the end of a mass murderer. Glee? Wishing him well in hell? Praising justice or vengeance? Confidence? (immediately, news outlets were noting futures for markets and the US dollar were on the rise and oil futures were on the decline)

Or, should we merely mark it with somber reflection on all those who died at his hand or in the attempt to bring him to justice over the past ten years?

Is there a best response? Here are some words that come to mind:

  • Relief. Something undone has been completed. At least one era has come to an end. One person seeking harm to another can do no more.
  • Joy. Now this is a complex emotion. You will see at the bottom I do not think we ought to gloat. But joy is a proper emotion when right is defended and wrong is put away. Now, this emotion needs tempering because in this world, we can easily defend righteousness with wrong actions and motives. You damage me so I, in turn, take out my wrath on your family. So, our joy must be tempered by the knowledge that “they” are not always evil and “we” are not always good.
  • Satisfaction. Any time justice is served, there is a level of satisfaction or vindication. Never fully experienced in this life, but in bits and pieces. (Of course there will be ongoing conversation about whether this was carried out in a just manner)
  • Remembrance. Of those who died as victims to a tyrant (and their families), of those who died trying to bring a tyrant to justice.
  • Reflection. Several kinds of reflections are quite appropriate. First, it is good and right to reflect on justice as a key character of God. Such reflection ought to cause us also to reflect on our own need for mercy in light of our own failings. We can reflect on how we want to handle future tyrants and how we speak about those who are quite different from us.
  • Pray. We can pray for peace. We can pray for protection of those who still serve in harm’s way. Pray for an end to the training of malleable children into practices of war, whether a child suicide bomber in the Middle East or a child soldier in the Congo.  We can pray that we will not turn a blind eye to injustices within our own communities. It is deadly to think that injustice is only in other countries. Remember, turning a blind eye to injustice in our midst is being complicit with the actual act of injustice.

While joy is a proper response to justice (Prov 21:15), I would think we ought not celebrate or gloat. Proverbs 24:17 tells us not to gloat when our enemy stumbles. But later in the same chapter it does tell us that there will be blessing for those who convict the guilty. Let God be the author of that and let us not attempt to bless ourselves.

If we rejoice, we ought to rejoice that God is in heaven and that our names are written in the book of life (Luke 10:20). Rejoice that all things here will pass away and one day there will be no more need for armies and warfare.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, news, News and politics, sin

Why Jonah was and is still wrong


You probably already heard the news that Fred Phelps and his family, aka Westboro Baptist Church, won their Supreme Court case yesterday. If you are unfamiliar with this case, read/listen to NPR’s news story on the sordid history. The short summary is this. The Phelps family believes that “sodomites” and their supporters (America) are going to hell. This particular belief is not all that rare. But what makes the Phelps family stand out is, (a) their belief about what God is calling them to do about the problem, and (b) their tactics of protesting at funerals of servicemen and women and other public figures. A father of a dead soldier sued the Phelps for causing him pain and suffering when they picketed outside his son’s funeral. Among their picket signs about homosexuality were signs such as “Thank God for dead soldiers”. A lower court agreed with the father’s suit and awarded the father 5 million dollars in damages. Yesterday the Supreme Court reversed that decision saying that hurtful speech is still protected speech.

The NPR coverage goes beyond the usual coverage and attempts to detail some of the Phelps’ theological beliefs and or motivations for their hateful speech. I found it very interesting since usually they are just (rightly) labeled as nut-cases. Some of their thinking:

  • It is their job to try to make American’s angry, to reject God and be damned to hell
  • “Our job is laid out,” she says, in comments sprinkled with biblical references. “We are supposed to blind their eyes, stop up their ears and harden their hearts so that they cannot see, hear or understand, and be converted and receive salvation.” (quote from NPR story)

Why the Phelps are wrong: A quick look at how we are to respond to sinners

If NPR has captured their motivations and beliefs accurately, then they have made a couple of significant errors.

1. Whose job is it to damn, blind, and judge?

At the last day, God will indeed judge the world. He will separate sheep from goats. There will likely be surprises in heaven (last minute conversions and people we thought were going to be there but were really wolves in sheep’s clothing). Sometimes God sends prophets to preach to the condemned. True enough. But, the prophets preach the need to repent and/or the coming judgment. God does say to Ezekiel that his hearers won’t listen to him preach the need or repentance. But, preach repentance he must.

Or consider Jonah. Jonah is called to preach to Nineveh. His job is to preach. And this is what bothers Jonah. Jonah knows that God is a merciful God and will forgive. That is what bothers him; he wants Nineveh to suffer! The Phelps want America to suffer.

2. The message? Do the Phelps want people to be converted and get into heaven? By the quotes above you would have to answer an emphatic NO. Seems they might be afraid to find that heaven is filled with all sorts of sinners (maybe even pride-filled, angry, protesting, mean-spirited people?). Paul says gives a list of sins and says, “and such as were some of you” as he writes to believers. Let us remember that heaven will be filled with sinners. Yes, those sinners have been forgiven and are living lives of daily repentance and turning from their sin. But sinners they are right up to the moment of entering heaven.

How do we respond to sinners? How do we respond to ourselves? Pray, converse, eat with, and care for. Oh, and yes, talk about the only way to righteousness. Following Jesus’ example is a good start!

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Sexual Assualts on College Campuses


As heard on NPR’s Morning Edition: 1:5 college women report being the victim of a sexual assault. 1:5! Despite the efforts to curb these assaults over the last decade, it appears we are not making much progress.

Why? Simple answers include: victim shame, the haze of alcohol (it tends to reduce clarity about whether sex was consensual or not), the desire of the male to deny and cover up, and (very sadly) the fear in some leaders who worry too much about false accusations. Yes, people do lie. However, the ones who bear that cost are usually victims. We’d prefer that if we are to make a mistake, that the victim should be the one to pay for that mistake.

I didn’t have the privilege of having a sister or a daughter. But I do have female colleagues who I greatly respect and love. How is it that we, as a culture, have such low regard for women that we accept this problem.

Think you don’t accept this problem? What are you doing about the massive proliferation of women as objects for gratification? I drive by a bus stop ad that has women in various states of undress. What am I going to do about it?

I’m not sure, but I have to do something!

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Hooking up less difficult than admitting love?


Listened this am to NPR’s Morning edition and a story on “hooking up.” Definitely worth your listening for the 8 minute story. Here’s a couple of amazing thoughts (not quotes) from female interviewees:

1. The hook-up is all about the tension, build-up, and the sex.

2. Dating actually costs too much money; hook-ups are much cheaper

3. Talking about being in love is more embarrassing than talking about one’s sex life (hooking up) on the radio.

4. Dating a guy means bringing him into your circle of close friends and the preference is to have the hook-up but do nothing that could harm real friendships

5. It is vulnerable to be needy of love. Not so of sex.

Scary stuff here. Think about it. Taking your clothes off and sharing genital sexual activity with an acquaintance puts you in a less vulnerable position than asking someone out for a formal date?  Can someone explain that one to me?

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, news, Psychology, Relationships, Sex, sexuality

Greed, groupthink, and the housing/debt crisis


This week I heard a great program on “This American Life” (NPR) regarding the housing and mortgage crisis and how the heart of this problem is simply greed. Well, the problem is pretty complex. But, what is clear is that all involved–from the homeowner, insurance agent, Wall Street broker, to Banking Organizations looking to invest–everyone either turned a blind eye for personal gain or knowingly sought something that was too good to be true. You hear the stories of individuals choosing massive loans because they can (without any income verification), agents making 100,000 dollars per month selling loans that they knew couldn’t be repaid, large brokers who felt they HAD to satisfy larger companies desires for these bundled mortgages because they could get such a better return on investment. And everyone conspired to think that it was all going to work out. They had data on their side (unfortunately telling them about the predictions of loan worthy individuals repaying their loans but assuming that those completely unable to pay back loans would act like those who could pay them back), they had larger corporations demanding to invest and willing to offer mortgages too good to be true. A classic case of group-think!

If these kinds of situations interest you and you are wondering, “how in the world did anyone fall for this kind of thing?” then you should check out the link above and listen on-line.

As an aside, greed and group-think doesn’t just happen on a secular level. Years ago, many Christian organizations (along with some large Philadelphia organizations like the Academy of Art, UPENN, etc.) got sucked up into a ponzi scheme better known as New Era Philanthropy. It was a classic case of nonprofit greed (give .5 million dollars to Mr. Bennett and get back 1 million in 6 months). It was too good to be true but most only focused on the good part. Lots of well-meaning folk, including my own Biblical Seminary, came out quite wounded.

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Filed under Cultural Anthropology, news, News and politics, self-deception

Race matters: Obama’s speech in Philadephia


MSNBC provides this transcript of Obama’s speech today. As you likely know he is under fire for comments his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, made in sermons over the years. This speech is quite masterful as it rejects Wright’s characterizations but recognizes the reality that is behind his angry judgments about American politics, racism, injustice, and place in the world. He shows the parallel with white anger for being held accountable for the sins of our early fathers. In both cases, impolite speech is understandable but not helpful. He says,

Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze

What should we do? He tells us to take responsibility for our lives, reject victim mentalities, insisting on justice for all, acknowledging the legacy of discrimination, rejecting cynicism, working together as opposed to for our own good alone. 

He’s right.  When we see hyperbole, we must acknowledge the truth at the center. Fact: we have been arrogant snobs in dealings with other countries. It shouldn’t surprise us that if we kick the dog, the dog bites back. Fact: The country wants equality as long as it doesn’t cost anything. We keep complaining, but until we all agree that my neighbor’s struggle is my own, we won’t see much change. 

He’s wrong.  Trying harder and being truthful about racial reconciliation progress is good, but it is not enough. Without the work of the Holy Spirit, the breaking of our pride, the demand that our individual identities take precedence over that of God’s humble servants, we’re not likely to make much more progress. Legislation helps curb our sin, but it does not stop the seed of racialization. Only the Cross does that. Isaiah’s prophecy is that God is going to discipline his people so that cannot put their trust in man–whether he is bad (e.g., Ahaz) or good (Hezekiah). He lays us bare then He brings us into Zion so that we know that it is His power and holiness that makes us his people.

One final note from his speech. See how he explains why he doesn’t reject a friend who has said stupid things. In my mind this is how we ought to talk about each other instead of throwing them under the bus in order to get what we want:

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

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Filed under anger, church and culture, Civil Rights, Cultural Anthropology, Great Quotes, news, News and politics, Race, Racial Reconciliation