Monday, April 30, 2007

War and Peace: Part I

There is much talk about “peace” these days. As a Christian, I try to view peace from a biblical perspective. One of the Beatitudes in the New Testament is: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9, NRSV) I would like to expand upon that Beatitude and put “peace” into some sort of perspective. In a future blog posting I will give some thoughts on Iraq and the Middle East situation.

Peace is not only the absence of war, but it’s the absence of personal conflicts. Peace is also that sense of security, well-being, and comfort that we all want to have. In discussing peacemaking in the context of this Beatitude, I believe we have to focus on personal relationships, not necessarily government actions. Nevertheless I want to briefly discuss peace as it relates to government actions since that is in the news quite a bit these days.

Governments and Peace

It is generally understood that nations and governments are not necessarily subject to the same biblical principles as individuals. Governments have certain duties that individuals typically don’t have: to maintain security and order, and to protect its citizens against lawlessness, disorder, and invaders.

However, Christians have tried to apply Jesus’ teachings to government for nearly 2,000 years. Great minds such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin have struggled to reconcile the teachings of Jesus with the duties of governments to protect their citizens. They came up with the concept of a “just war” These define specific situations in which governments are morally justified and even duty-bound to engage in armed conflict for the good of their citizens. Most people believe that war must be the last resort for a government to take, when diplomatic and other efforts have failed, and there is no other way to protect its citizens from imminent harm. Most people don’t want to live through a war with all of the tragedy, death, disruption, and destruction that inevitably results.


However, I suspect many individuals are quite content to not live in peace with their neighbors, but to continuously be at odds with them. While some people are absolutely opposed to war, they are less than peaceable in their personal relationships. Moreover, I find it hypocritical when peace demonstrations turn violent or nasty.

I believe Jesus was focusing on personal relationships in this Beatitude, because that’s where we as individuals have some control. We can’t always control what a government does, but we can control our own behavior.

Unfortunately, many people don’t want to be peacemakers in their personal relationships, and that’s why Jesus mentioned peace-making in the Beatitudes. This Beatitude falls towards the end of the list because I believe it incorporates several of the other Beatitudes previously mentioned, such as:
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

You will be a peace-maker (and a peace-keeper) if you are meek, righteous, merciful, and pure in heart. I see a proactive aspect to this peace-making Beatitude: we are to go out and actively make peace. Peace-making is proactive: you work to make peace where there is no peace. The peace-maker works to resolve the issues that are dividing the parties so that there is a permanent absence of conflict, not just a truce.

Two Kinds of Peacemaking

As an individual, you can be a peacemaker in two ways: First, you can initiate peace between yourself and someone else. This involves forgiveness and mercy. When there is some sort of discord between yourself and someone else, you can make the first move. You can be the one to forgive, to offer mercy, to extend the olive branch, to begin the process of achieving peace.

Even if your peace-making initiatives are not accepted by the other party, you can have an inner peace because you did the right thing. You can’t control what the other person does, but you can take the high road yourself and obey biblical teachings.

The second way you can be a peacemaker is to work to get two different parties to stop their fighting and get back into right relationship with one another. This can be a dangerous activity, because you can get caught in the cross-fire. Both sides may hate you, since both sides in the conflict may not be interested in peace. Both sides may be so invested in this conflict that they have no intention of ever changing their lives by ending it. Yet I believe we are called to be peace-makers, despite the cost.


As a Christian, I believe Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker because he made peace between God and humanity, and taught his followers to have peace with fellow human beings. We read about the peacemaking work of Christ in 2 Corinthians 5:18b-19, NCV:

Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself, and God gave us the work of telling everyone about the peace we can have with him. God was in Christ, making peace between the world and himself. In Christ, God did not hold the world guilty of its sins. And he gave us this message of peace.

Since Jesus is the ultimate peacemaker, the Prince of Peace, let us do the same, as we are called to do:
·Make peace where there is no peace;
·Maintain peace where there is peace;
·See that we have pure motives in all we do;
·Seek justice so that peace does not come at the expense of someone else.

Blessed are the peacemakers. No matter what your religious beliefs, let's make the world a better place by going out into a hurting world and sowing seeds of peace wherever we go.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

For Parents

Parents, listen up! I read the following article that should be of interest to parents:

Children whose parents talk to them about religion and where the parents regularly attend religious services were rated by both parents and teachers as having better self-control, social skills and approaches to learning than children with non-religious parents, according to a study reported at However, if parents regularly argue about their faith, it has the opposite effect.

Researcher John Bartkowski, a sociologist who led the study at Mississippi State University, sees three reasons for the result:

(1) Religious networks provide social support to parents which can help improve parenting skills. Children who are brought into such networks and hear parental messages reinforced by other adults may also “take more to heart the messages that they get in the home.”

(2) The types of values and norms that circulate in religious congregations tend to be self-sacrificing and pro-family. These “could be very, very important in shaping how parents relate to their kids, and then how children develop in response.”

(3) Religious organizations imbue parenting with sacred meaning and significance.

One limitation of the study, Bartkowski points out, is that it did not compare how denominations differed with regards to their effect on the children.

(From the “Pastor’s Weekly Briefing,” 4/26/07, Copyright © 2007, Focus on the Family
All rights reserved)

So help your kids by taking them to church and enrolling them in Sunday school or CCD. For one thing, religious education will reinforce the values that you are teaching them. With all of the negative influences on them from the media and violent games, these kids need to be exposed to positive values.

I read the following example of biblical illiteracy recently:
“Sadly today, many people know nothing about the Bible. I was amazed when I heard about a conversation that took place at a bus stop during a torrential downpour. One man commented to someone who was waiting for the bus, ‘If this doesn’t stop, soon we’ll need an ark.’ ‘What do you mean?’ asked the bystander. ‘Haven’t you heard of Noah and the ark?’ replied the man. ‘I’m afraid not,’ said the other person, ‘I’ve only been in town a few days.’”

(From “Every Day with Jesus,” by Selwyn Hughes, copyright 2006, CWR)

Amusing, but sad. Although they will probably resist it, do your kids a favor and make them go to church and attend some kind of religious instruction. You and they won't regret it.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Will to Act

Many theories have been put forth on why the Roman Empire fell. I’m sure many of them have validity, but I think the main reason why Rome fell is the lack of will. The Romans became so decadent that they lost the will to stop their slide, and at the end lost the will even to defend themselves. As a result, Roman Gaul was overrun with barbarian hoards from across the Rhine. Eventually the City of Rome itself was overrun and sacked.

How could this happen to the mighty Roman Empire which had dominated the Mediterranean basin and beyond for centuries? I believe it was the lack of will to take action when needed. Unfortunately, I see the same thing happening today in our country.

There are a number of problems that, if we don’t have the will to address now, will cause us serious problems in the future. It could be the near future or 20-30 years from now, but they will seriously hurt us if we don’t start working on them NOW. For example:

(1) Lack of universal health care. It is talked about but nothing is done and no workable solutions have been proposed (see a future blog for some ideas). Our current system is unfair, discriminatory, expensive, and inefficient. Tort reform must be part of any health care plan, since the lawyers are partially to blame for the high cost and the practice of “defensive medicine.” Something must be done NOW!

(2) A comprehensive energy policy is long overdue to reduce dependence on foreign oil, slow the consumption of non-renewable resources, and reduce air pollution due to carbon emissions (see my blog on climate change and watch for a future blog on energy policy ideas).

(3) Social security reform, which is not an immediate threat but must be addressed now to prevent a serious problem in the future. There is a demographic juggernaut bearing down on us.

(4) Exporting American jobs overseas, which hurts our economy by eliminating decent-paying jobs, increases our unfavorable balance of trade, and makes us more dependent on foreign countries for many goods. Often the people taking these jobs in Third World Countries are terribly exploited as well.

(5) Immigration reform. A country that can’t control its borders is a country in trouble. This doesn’t mean that we should shut our doors to immigration, but we must control it as any country does, especially given the terrorist threats we are facing today.

(6) Shaping up our security and disaster response capabilities is essential for our protection. Homeland security has been bungled and the dispersing of security funds has become another pork barrel boondoggle. Congress is playing games with our security, and I believe that is the height of irresponsibility.

(7) At a state level, the cost of living in New York State is becoming obscene. NYS is in competition with 49 other states and over 100 different countries for business. How does this state hope to compete effectively with such a dysfunctional state government, high taxes (and what do we get for those taxes?), high cost of living, and a crumbling infrastructure. Meanwhile, Albany fiddles while Rome burns. The Empire State is a mere shadow of its former self.

Those are the big ones, and there are many more issues facing us that Congress or the state have failed to address. Politicians today lack the will to act, and the electorate is so fed up (and probably apathetic) that many don’t even bother to vote. If we don’t vote, then we get the kind of government we deserve.

The Republicans had a majority in both houses of Congress for 12 years, and a Republican president for 6 of those years. What did they accomplish? Very little. The Republicans blew it, and so the Democrats took over both houses (the electorate spoke this time).

What have the Democrats done so far? Play partisan politics and engage in payback (the Gonzalez affair). So once again, partisan politics takes precedence over conducting the people’s business and tackling the critical issues facing this country. It’s easy to criticize the President’s handling of the war in Iraq, but it’s a lot harder to actually do something to solve the tough issues listed above. I’m not saying the war in Iraq isn’t important, but compared to the longer term risks of not addressing these other issues now, the war is comparatively less important. For example, if we had implemented a good energy policy 20 or 30 years ago, we might not even be in Iraq today.

Politicians have a God-given responsibility, and they aren’t meeting it. We elected them to represent our interests, and they are not doing so. Politicians of both parties and at all levels of government are controlled by special interest groups. Next election, vote the bums out! If the incumbents keep getting voted out, maybe they’ll get the message and actually start doing something constructive. Also, I suggest you write or email your various representatives to express your opinion on a subject that is important to you, and let them know you’re watching. When they get enough correspondence on a topic, they do take notice. If they continue to be in the pockets of special interest groups and continue to engage in partisan politics, vote the bums out! Our representatives are elected to represent us, the people, not the party. You don’t do your job, you’re fired!

Climate Change

Al Gore notwithstanding, man’s impact on climate change is still open to debate by a fair number of people. Unfortunately, calamitous predictions on the part of some have called into question the scientific validity of the many claims regarding climate change. We as a people have become immune to these “sky is falling” doom-sayers (remember the Club of Rome predictions in the 1960s?) Again, with all the hype and heavy breathing on the subject, we need to clear the air (if you’ll pardon the pun). Let me make a few points on the subject for your consideration:

As a guiding principle for this discussion, I believe, as somebody coming from a Judeo-Christian perspective, that God has given humans responsibility over the earth, as we read in these two passages from the creation accounts in Genesis:

Genesis 1:26 (NRSV):
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Genesis 2:19-20 (NRSV):
So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.

Notice that God asked the man (Adam) to name the animals. Naming someone or something in ancient times indicated control (or “dominion”) over that person or thing. Regardless of how you might view the creation story, the message God is communicating through it is clear: humans have been given stewardship over the earth (“stewardship” means responsibility for taking care of something for somebody else). With this “dominion” over the earth and everything in it comes responsibility. In this regard, humans have failed miserably.

Some thoughts regarding the issue of carbon emissions:

Carbon emissions result primary from burning fossil fuels: oil, gas, and coal. These resources are non-renewable. Once we run out, they are gone. The earth does not have an endless supply. By continuing to use non-renewable resources in such a profligate manner, we are stealing from future generations, which will look back at us and rightfully ask, “What were they thinking?”

Carbon emissions pollute the air. The more we pollute, the unhealthier the air we breathe becomes. Do we want our children and grandchildren taking into their little bodies such filth? Asthma and other ailments have increased significantly over the past 30-40 years, and I strongly suspect environmental causes are responsible for many of these (air, water, and land pollution).

God has built into the eco-system amazing cleaning powers. The earth cleans its air, but we have now reached the point where we have overloaded the system. The earth can no longer purify its atmosphere adequately, and the result is lingering and building air pollution. Much of the so-called climate change is due, I believe, to this overloading of the earth’s cleansing system. Who knows how long it will take to reverse itself?

The earth is now unable to completely clean its air, not only because of increased carbon emissions as mentioned above, but also because of the cutting down of forests, especially in places such as Brazil. The world community must, in my opinion, put pressure on Brazil and other countries to stop this clear cutting of forests for many ecological reasons, not the least of which is the purifying work done by trees.

The United States uses an enormous amount of the earth’s resources, and is a significant polluter by its sheer volume. To me, it is clear that we need to do better. Not only are conservation measures good for the planet, but they save you money. At roughly $3.00 a gallon, think of how much money you would save on gas if your next car got 5 mpg more. With energy-saving light bulbs that use a fraction of the wattage of regular bulbs, you will save money in the long-run even though they are more expensive to purchase. The list goes on.

Having said that, I believe the Kyoto Protocol needs to be renegotiated to include developing countries such as India and China. Their enormous economies are putting out significant pollutants at an alarming rate, and they should no longer be given an exempt status.

The bottom line is that everybody everywhere needs to do all they can to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels; reduce polluting the air, water, and ground; and develop an attitude of conservation in all they do. While this might seem pie in the sky, it can be done if the world governments and people develop the will to act. This might be a good area for the UN to take a leadership role for a change. Some of my ideas on energy policy and conservation will be in a future blog.

Speaking of ideas, I happened to catch part of an interview on PBS with Bjorn Lomborg who recently wrote a book on the subject called "Cool It." I haven’t read the book, but from what Mr. Lomborg said in the interview, he appears to have some excellent thoughts regarding conservation, energy policy, and pollution. Unfortunately there is much rhetoric on those subjects but very little in the way of feasible strategies.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Partial Birth Abortion Ban

Recently the Supreme Court upheld the ban on partial birth abortion passed by Congress a few years ago. Pro-abortion folks have been wringing their hands in despair, and the anti-abortion folks have declared a victory. While this is a complex topic, let me make a few brief points in this regard to perhaps clarify our thinking a little, which can become muddled by all the hype and misinformation surrounding this issue.

(1) We should understand that the right to an abortion is a manufactured right, not a constitutional right. The Supreme Court determined in 1973 that a fetus is not a human being, and therefore there is no reason why women should be prohibited from having an abortion. There is noting implicit or explicit in the Constitution regarding abortion. It is simply the Court’s opinion that since a fetus is not “human,” there is nothing in the Constitution that could be construed as prohibiting abortion.

With better scientific understanding than we had in 1973, it is now generally understood that a fetus is a distinct individual within the mother’s womb, not an appendage (although certainly dependent on the mother for life). So the pro-abortion argument has now switched to arguing that a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy supersedes the baby’s right to live. Pro-lifers, on the other hand, argue the opposite: the baby’s right to live takes precedence over a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. This is because pro-lifers have always viewed the fetus as a distinct human being, so that terminating a pregnancy is taking a human life.

(2) Even rights specifically mentioned in the Constitution have some limits placed on them by the law, such as free speech, right to assembly, free press, etc. Abortion should be no different.

To show how ridiculous the situation has become, schools need written permission from a parent to give a child an aspirin, but abortions can be performed on minors without the parents’ permission (or them even knowing) in many states. By law, any signs of abuse of children must be reported to the authorities, but underage girls get abortions without the clinic’s reporting clear signs of sexual abuse. As a result, underage girls are abused and the abuser gets away with it. Why should these clinics be exempt from the law?

(3) The so-called “partial birth abortion” procedure has been described as barbaric (I’ll spare you the gory details), and from what I have read, it has been performed rarely, if at all, for health reasons. The current law upheld by the Supreme Court does have a life exception, but not a health one.

(4) The reason, I’m sure, that there is no health exception is that it can be abused, and “health” can be very loosely defined. “Life” is less subjective.

(5) We have to understand that much of the hand-wringing is done by groups having a large financial stake in the abortion business. While they self-righteously proclaim the right of a woman to choose, they also make millions from the abortion business (they aren’t performed for free, you know). NARAL (a pro-abortion advocacy group), Planned Parenthood, and others have viciously attacked crisis pregnancy centers for helping women better understand their choices. Why do they oppose having women better informed? Because it is bad for business when a woman chooses to have her baby. A fully-informed person has true “choice,” but the abortion business doesn’t see it that way.

(6) Clearly the goal of the pro-life movement is to overturn Roe v. Wade, so this is one step in that process. Nevertheless, overturning Roe v. Wade will take a long time, if ever. Moreover, the partial birth abortion procedure isn’t nearly as common as earlier-term abortions, so this ban will have little effect on the “reproductive rights” of women. The majority of abortions are performed in the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy.

In my opinion, other controls on the procedure should be enacted, such as parental notification for underage girls, reporting to authorities by abortion clinics when underage girls are found to be pregnant, limits on late-term abortions, and the requirement for clinics to provide their patients with information concerning the possible side effects of the procedure.

(7) In my opinion, it is good for partial birth abortions to be prohibited, because it is infanticide in reality, even if it is referred to as an “abortion.” A civilized society should not kill its newborns. Again, one small step towards a more civilized society.

There is a good (and fairly brief) article on the subject at

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Shock Jock

As I said in my introduction, I plan to comment on news items and perhaps fill in some “gaps” in reporting as I see them. I have a number of comments on this Don Imus business. You are probably as sick of hearing about Imus as I am, but I think the points below may shed a slightly different light on the subject.

First, why are we surprised that “the I Man” insulted a group? That’s what shock jocks do! If you put someone like him on the air, that’s what you get. I think that kind of “entertainment” is degrading and appeals to our baser instincts. While I’m not an exponent of censorship, I do believe there should be some controls on what goes out over the public airways.

Second, he crossed a blurry and ill-defined line. He obviously didn’t get the memo that said there even is a line, let alone that he wasn’t allowed to cross it. Imus and Howard Stern have been getting away for years with insulting everybody, so what makes this different? See my fourth point below for the answer to that question. I don’t listen to those guys, but I suspect both have said a lot worse about all kinds of people and groups. I suspect he thought that because he used a term that is also used by African Americans to describe women, that it as OK – he was being “one of them.” Not so, Don.

Third, why was this bigoted and intolerant insult worse than similar hateful things said by the likes of Rosie O’Donnell against Christians and others who disagree with her? It’s because Christians aren’t politically correct, so we are fair game for bigots such as Rosie. Talk about a double standard. Rosie is free to criticize those who disagree with her, of course, but not in hateful, bigoted ways. A civilized discourse is better than name-calling.

We also have another double standard that is thankfully now being addressed because of this incident, and that is the fact that African-Americans use the “N-word” and other uncomplimentary terms themselves. I hope the use of these kinds of words will stop being used everywhere by everyone.

Fourth, why was this particular comment such a big deal when Imus and Stern have probably said worse in the past? I read somewhere that a “liberal” watchdog group had been monitoring the Imus show because he tends to have “conservative” guests. When they heard this terrible comment of his, I read that they went on the Internet and publicized this outrage. I presume they saw this as an opportunity to bring Imus down, and that’s exactly what happened. I can’t verify this account because I don’t remember where I read it, but if this is true, I thank them for getting this disgusting shock jock off the air. One small step towards a more civilized society, and hopefully one big step for cleaning up the public airwaves.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Introduction to Pastor Tony's Blog

This is my first blog, so I'll give you a brief introduction. I'm a pastor at a southern Dutchess County church. I plan to give my thoughts on various aspects of life, often looking at current events or life in general from a Christian worldview (which we don't often see in the media). I plan to point out the inconsistencies and aburdities of life, as well as to give some spiritual insights and inspirational words. In areas that I am familiar with that are in the news, I'll try to give my insights and point out where the media is a bit off-target in its reporting (or provide additional background).
I don't view this blog as a preaching tool, but I will, as appropriate, include excepts from my sermons, words of hope, and expressions of faith. While I am a Christian and a Protestant, I'm hoping this blog will be read by everybody: Catholic and Protestant, Christian and non-Christian. To that end, I will occasionally point out where Christians are coming from so as to give non-Christians some insight into the Christian mindset (realizing that all Christians do not think alike). Understanding someone else helps in establishing peace and harmony. We may agree to disagree, but at least we can understand and respect each other's viewpoints.