Trump’s national security advisor resigns

Michael_T_FlynnMichael Flynn, President Trump’s national security advisor, has resigned.  He was caught negotiating with the Russian ambassador over sanctions before taking office.  It is illegal for a private citizen to do so.  Flynn also lied to Vice-President Pence about it.

The pressure for him to leave evidently came from Trump himself.

Embattled White House national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned Monday night, two sources tell CNN.

His departure came just after reports surfaced the Justice Department warned the Trump administration last month that Flynn misled administration officials regarding his communications with the Russian ambassador to the United States and was potentially vulnerable to blackmail by the Russians. [Read more…]

Why is Cedar Rapids so Godless?

Cedar_Rapids_skylineIowa defines the American heartland, with its staunch Midwestern values and rural American virtues.  Though its prairie populism sometimes elects Democrats, today its elected officials are most Republican.  The candidate favored by Christian conservatives usually wins the Iowa caucuses.

A recent study ranked Iowa as the 19th most religious state in the union.  Except for one mysterious outlier:  Cedar Rapids.

The second largest city in the state, with a population of only 130,000, is an island of secularism in an ocean of religion.  By virtually ever standard–Bible reading, Bible believing, church attendance–Cedar Rapids scores closer to the big coastal cities than any of its midwestern neighbors.  Nearly half (47%) of its adults are “nones,” holding to no particular religion at all.  That’s the same percentage as Los Angeles county.

So why is this?  People are trying to figure that out.  One perhaps counter-intuitive reason:  Cedar Rapids is overwhelmingly white.  So are the vast majority of “nones.” Black people, in contrast, score extremely high on the religious indexes (Bible reading, Bible believing, church attendance).  A large black population tends to increase a city’s religion score, while a large white population decreases it.  At least that’s what the post says, quoted and linked after the jump, which also lists other possible factors.

Still, the mystery remains.  Iowans, can any of you explain? [Read more…]

An obituary for a contemptible life

Memento_mori_(3690813647) (1)Obituaries summarize the events of the life of the deceased, a way of honoring the dead by looking back on the life they have lived. They often turn into eulogies, praising the character and good deeds of the person who died.  Lutheran funerals try to keep the focus away from the person’s good works as something to comfort the family, instead emphasizing Christ, the Gospel, and the persons’ faith.  The funerals of non-Christians are trickier.  (I’d be curious how you pastors handle those.)

A woman recently wrote an obituary for her father, who, she said, would “be missed only for what he never did; being a loving husband, father and good friend.”  He died at age 74, “which was 29 years longer than expected and much longer than he deserved.”

“At a young age,” the obituary said, he “quickly became a model example of bad parenting combined with mental illness and a complete commitment to drinking, drugs, womanizing and being generally offensive.” “Leslie’s life served no other obvious purpose, he did not contribute to society or serve his community and he possessed no redeeming qualities besides [quick-witted] sarcasm which was amusing during his sober days.”  “Leslie’s passing proves that evil does in fact die and hopefully marks a time of healing and safety for all.”  And that’s not all.  You can read the entire obituary after the jump.

My first impulse was to laugh, then to appreciate the brutal honesty, then to be disturbed.  Is this breaking the Commandment about honoring your father and your mother?  It certainly breaks the taboo against “speaking ill of the dead.”  A news story confirms that the man abused his family, having been arrested several times, including for pouring boiling water on his wife.

But imagine living a life that inspired your family to write an obituary like this. [Read more…]

Chicken sacrifices and overturning the travel ban

512px-Santeria_sacrificeWe now have an answer questions about the appeals court’s legal reasoning in throwing out President Trump’s  seven-nation travel and immigration ban.  The judges did so, in part, by invoking his campaign speeches that he would ban entry to America for all Muslims.  This shows, they said, that the intent of the ban was to discriminate against Islam.  Even though nearly all of the world’s Muslims were unaffected by the ban and can still enter the country.  Just not citizens of seven countries with a history of terrorism.

Politicians say things all the time without their being relevant to interpreting actual laws.  Are we to interpret JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you” in such a way that it limits welfare applications?

But the courts were following a Supreme Court precedent.  In 1993, a Florida city passed an ordinance forbidding the slaughter of animals.  Lawmakers at the time themselves said that this would be a way to get rid of the Santeria religion, which practices the sacrifice of chickens and goats.  The court ruled that the ordinance forbidding the public killing of animals was a violation of the Santeria followers’ freedom of religion.  So this, in the minds of appeals court justices, justifies rejecting the seven-nation ban, because of what Trump said about all Muslims.

But these cases are not remotely similar, are they?  Not being allowed to sacrifice chickens to prevent all Santerias in the community from practicing their religion.  Not allowing citizens of seven nations into the USA does not affect all Muslims, as Trump was originally saying.  Trump clearly changed his earlier focus from religion to national origin.  If he had listed all Muslim nations, religion being the basis for categorizing them, yes, that would be religious discrimination.  But here nations associated with terrorism is the criterion.

Whether you are pro-immigration or anti-immigration, for Trump or against him, can’t we agree that this legal reasoning is specious?

Photo:  Santeria sacrifices by James Emery from Douglasville, United States (Santeria Sacrifice) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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The formal and the material principles of theology

The “formal principle” of a particular theology is its source and authority.  The “material principle” of a theology is its central teaching, the characteristic “content” of the theology that shapes its other teachings and practices.

In the course of some research for a project I am working on, I learned that this distinction emerged out of Lutheran scholarship.  But it’s a helpful way to understand any theological tradition.

Wikipedia has an entry on the subject that lists the formal and material principles of Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Anglicanism, Zwinglianism, Calvinism, and Methodism.

These are taken from F. E. Mayer’s classic study The Religious Bodies of America.  I give them after the jump.

These are theologies, not church bodies, and it’s evident that various evangelicals might be “Zwinglians,” “Calvinists,” or “Methodists” (a.k.a. Arminians).  But there are still Baptist, Pentecostal, and other theologies, including popular expressions such as “the prosperity gospel.”  How would you break down their formal and material principles?

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Appeals court rejects Trump’s immigration ban

SeaTac_Airport_protest_against_immigration_ban_02 (1)The lower court that blocked President Trump’s ban on immigrants from seven terrorist-plagued countries was upheld by an appeals court.  Next stop, more than likely:  the Supreme Court.

I understand that lots of people are pro-immigration and feel compassion for refugees from some of these dangerous countries.  But I’m curious about the legal reasoning.  As I understand it, the executive branch has the statutory authority to regulate immigration, including excluding citizens of nations on the basis of national interest.  And I can’t see how this ban is discriminatory.  This isn’t the ban on Muslims that Trump proposed during the campaign.  Most of the world’s Muslims can come in, just not those from the seven countries with a history of terrorism.

But Trump is thwarted, which makes him angry.  And, as is his custom, he responds to criticism by “hitting back,” slamming the “so-called judge” that delivered the initial decision, which does not help his case with the judicial branch.  Even his Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was bothered by that.

UPDATE:  Here is the statue in U.S. law, which was not even referenced in the judges’ ruling:

“Whenever the President finds that the entry of any aliens or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interests of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”

According to this analysis, the judges’ ruling focused on two issues:  (1) the administration’s contention that the executive order was “unreviewable” by a court, which was predictably rejected; (2) that the president’s campaign statement about not allowing Muslims into the country invalidated what would otherwise be a lawful order. (That makes no sense whatsoever!)

UPDATE:  Trump now says he will not at the present time take the case to the Supreme Court.  He will pursue it in lower courts.  And he may rewrite the order so that it passes legal muster.

Photo:  SeaTac Airport protest against immigration ban by Dennis Bratland (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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