Tag Archives: Human Rights

2016: The Year of the Displaced

As we enter a new year, I’m going to go out on a not-very-long limb and declare 2016 the Year of the Displaced. I do this to call attention to the fact that “one out of every 122 people alive today is someone who, at some point, was forced to leave his or her home“.

If that statistic alone wasn’t enough to get your attention, here are some others:

  • The United Nations expected in 2015 that by the end of that year there would be at least 60 million people displaced, the highest level of displacement they’ve ever recorded.
  • If these 60 million people formed a nation, it would be the world’s 24th largest — roughly on a par with the populations of Italy, South Africa or the United Kingdom.
  • Not all of the displaced are refugees: 34 million of them (that’s more than half), are “internally displaced”, which means they’re still in their home country. For example, while Syrians account for 21 percent of refugees, they account for 28 percent of the internally displaced.

So while the international refugee crisis dominates the headlines and our discourse, the humanitarian crisis in the shadows is a new kind of global homelessness brought on by political instability and war.

Now, along with dis-placement, I’ll call out some mis-placement: The misplacement of our priorities. We are rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking humanitarian ship while there is real deprivation in the world. Here in America, we are struggling to address basic dysfunctions in our society that we should simply be better at handling, to wit:

The epidemic of gun violence. We are not the only nation in the world to struggle with this problem. But we act as though, because of the Second Amendment, our American exceptionalism means we can’t figure it out the same way the rest of the developed world has.

It’s naive and just plain wrong, and I lay the blame for it squarely at the feet of the gun lobby (who stay in business by helping us flog the idea that no red-blooded American is safe without a gun to fight the government) and the politicians who take money from them while not acknowledging what we all secretly know: That most of the headline-making shooting-spree gun violence is committed by people with undiagnosed or poorly treated mental health issues who are being failed by a mental health care system in shambles.

Police killings of black civilians. Thanks to social media we are now painfully aware of a silent epidemic that is a real cancer on policing in this country. In order for our police to be effective, they simply must figure out a way to do their jobs while dramatically reducing the number of people who die at the hands of police. There is no real alternative here.

We also need to deal with the elephant in the room: Racism. As a pastor friend of mine has said, racism hasn’t disappeared now that the Ku Klux Klan has been publicly exposed — it’s simply traded sheets and hoots for suits and ties. (See “institutional racism”.)

Religious freedom/liberty. The culture war is the biggest, most meaningless distraction imaginable. It is by no means what Jesus had in mind when he said he came to knit us together into a single human family. But the evangelical Christian community continues to have a fetish for stirring this particular pot with the notion that their faith and spirituality are somehow in jeopardy — and that the First Amendment suddenly, 200-plus years on, isn’t up to the task of protecting them from the liberal bogeymen who want to force them to bake gay wedding cakes, among other horrors.

Here in Georgia, we have a state senator who says he’ll introduce legislation this year to protect Christians in government and business. From what, exactly? I’m sure he’s not intentionally leaving out Muslims, interracial couples, the divorced (and the remarried), the unbaptized who need state services, alcoholics… Or is he? But we collectively seem destined and determined to waste another legislative session and the requisite resources debating the finer points of such proposed legislation when in metro Atlanta alone tonight, there will be more than 10,000 people who need shelter in a city where the number of beds awaiting them numbers far fewer than that.

So now you have a sense of what I’m praying over as we enter the new year. I invite you to join me. And let’s hope that a year from now, we have a very different list of things to take to God.

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Civil Rights and Civil Wrongs

All I can say about the movie “Selma” is that it ought to be mandatory viewing in every high school in the country. And there are a million reasons why. But mainly, the civil rights movement is now so far in the rearview mirror that we have generations of young people who have no idea what a struggle that movement really was. What a pity.

We have Santa Claus-ified Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., putting him in the cultural/historical equivalent of a cute little snowglobe where he perennially delivers the “I Have a Dream” speech, the nation’s laws change for the better, and everyone links arms and goes back to the work of being American.

We’ve been sold this idea that Dr. King’s legacy is that we should go rake mulch in a community garden on what will probably be a rainy, cold day. Or maybe paint a mural on a wall in a part of town we’ve never seen before and may never see again.

But here’s my version of “A Day On, Not a Day Off”: Let’s get off our duffs and be honest with ourselves about the civil wrongs of a nation that thinks its civil rights are firmly established. Because I do believe, in my heart of hearts, that if Dr. King were alive today, he would have burst out of that snowglobe long ago and would still be marching and preaching. And I also firmly believe that it might surprise a lot of people just what he’d be marching and preaching about.

You see, the attitudes that allowed for those people to be beaten and treated with such contempt in Selma five decades ago are actually very much with us today. The methods have changed, but the underlying attitudes are still very much present.

I know that there are those who say that things are different now, that things are better. But I believe that point of view that depends on which side of the political, theological or socioeconomic street you live on. Here in Atlanta, it might be affected by whether your side of the street is in Buckhead or, say, the southwest side of town.

To anyone who really thinks we’ve evolved since Selma: Please explain to me why my transgender sisters and brothers are being brutally murdered and the cases often go unsolved.

Explain to me how a Kansas pastor can call for the government execution of gay people.

Explain to me why our privatized jails are filled predominantly with black men.

Explain to me why the nation’s drug laws, when enforced, are heavily weighted toward black offenders being charged with felonies while white offenders walk with misdemeanors.

Explain to me why every year in the state of Georgia, less and less money goes to treatment for mental health challenges.

Explain to me why in a metro area that has 11,000 homeless, we only have 5,000 beds.

Explain to me how we live in a country where a person’s love for another is not only not recognized but is demonized – and those who demonize it in their hearts are the target audience for laws made under the cover of “religious freedom”.

Explain to me how we live in a country where our police officers – who are called to “serve and protect” – now look, feel and behave like a military occupying force.

Explain to me how every year the fake “War on Christmas” is the object of frivolous lawsuits, making lawyers rich and garnishing headlines while people freeze to death in our streets.

Explain to me how a 911 call results in the death of a 12-year-old boy at the hands of a police officer.

Explain to me how we can live in a country where feeding the disenfranchised could actually be against the law.

Explain to me how in the city the size of Atlanta there are practically no public restrooms to be found.

Explain to me how a pastor is allowed to stand in front of the Georgia Legislature and preach about “erotic liberty” as though a) it’s a thing and b) it would be in opposition to “religious liberty” if a) it were actually a thing.

Actually, don’t bother.

Instead, would you mind standing in front of a mirror and explaining these things to yourself? And hopefully resolve to think differently? To do business differently?

In fact, could we just resolve to practice the Golden Rule? That would be a great start.

We could also take more seriously the words of the Prophet Micah, who wrote: And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Or maybe we could spend some time finding the way into God’s heart as Jesus indicated: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “

I welcome your commentary. But if you’re tempted to stereotype me as just another big-government liberal, then you really must not know me or my heart.

As Dr. King said: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Ebola: Pastoral Statement on the Virus and Our Response

If there was ever a time for the Christian Church to step up and step out, now is the time.  The Church has historically been not only slow but hesitant to stand up for justice and mercy.  It was too slow in responding to the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the genocides in Europe, Asia and Africa and certainly still struggles mightily with the LGBTQI community and HIV/Aids.  As a people of faith we cannot allow the institutional church to be slow again.  As a people of faith we  call on our church leaders and congregations to take social responsibility for being a people of healing and hope in this fragmented world.

Over 4,000 gentle souls have already died from the ravages of Ebola.  This is an echo when another disease (HIV/Aids) was killing people at a grotesque rate and very little was said or done during the early 1980’s.  We must speak out because we are connected with those who have died, their families and friends because we not on an island but are apart of the world community.  We are apart of this because we live in Atlanta, which resides in the spotlight.  Emory University Hospital is just up the street from where we worship.  Emory’s administration welcome any and all people who are ill, including those with Ebola.  The center for Disease Control is based here; the whole world is watching, and learning from what we do and say.

With all that said this is what we must do:

1) Pray for our neighbors in Africa,  Atlanta and anywhere in the world that a soul is stricken by Ebola.  We need to remember prayer has the power to overcome isolation, despair, evil intent, demonic behavior, separation, disease and yes even death.  Prayer binds us one to another through the power of unconditional love.  We must pray for healing, pray for stronger backs to bear this heavy burden.

2)  We must advocate for resources and help to be sent overseas to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ghana and wherever our help is most needed.  We are the richest country in the world, therefore we have no excuse for not adding a full measure of our resources.

3) Our African neighbors “need more money, more health-care workers, more troops to help coordinate relief efforts. In the short term, the only way to halt the epidemic is with better infection-control measures.” (Michael Spector, “The New Yorker”, October 20, 2014)

4) We must not panic!

5) We must not be afraid!  We will not give into fear.

6) We must not participate in hysteria or hyperbole, nor attempt to use this tragic disease and suffering for political gain or judgments about race, culture and socioeconomic status.

Now is the time for  all of us to come together, to work and serve on a united front, to set aside petty differences and find a common ground so that we might save human lives and build healthier communities.

We cannot, we must not forget that with the help of God we will overcome this challenge “for such a time as this!”

Rev. Paul M. Turner, Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church

Rev. Dr. James L. Brewer-Calvert, Senior Pastor of First Christian Church of Decatur

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Our Dirty Little Secret

Originally, I was planning on writing a blog concerning “Marriage Equality”.  Last night that all changed as I attended a community event called, “Facing Sex Trafficking: Atlanta’s Dirty Little Secret”.
 
What I experienced, heard and saw has caused such a level of disruption to my soul as to cause me to vomit upon arriving home.  My anger is such that my tears of anguish are hot enough to fry an egg.
 
Yes, I am a survivor of sexual abuse.  Yes, over the years I have read and heard the stories about how some lone freak did horrendous deeds to children.
 
Yes, when the city of Atlantamade a move to banish prostitution from the city, I knew in my gut the city council and their political friends were turning victims into criminals.
 
Yes, I knew that Pedophiles exist and work their evil every day of the year.
 
Yet, what is difficult to face is the same thing that was difficult for Audrey, Daisha and Yewanda from “Face Atlanta” to face,
 
It’s been difficult for us to face how few of those who buy and sell kids for sex are held accountable, how kids are groomed, slowly lured into the trade, how the average age of victims is 12 to 14 years old, how some 400 girls are sold for sex in George each month, and how difficult it is to escape.”
 
 
 
What is difficult to face this is going on in my neighborhood, my LGBTQ community and the city that I call home.
 
According to INnocenceATL.org these are the facts:
 
Atlanta was named by the FBI as one of 14 US cities with the highest rate of children used in prostitution
 
 
 
The Schapiro Group Georgia Demand Study
 
In Georgia, 12,400 men purchase sex with young women in a given month; more than 27,000 men purchase sex with young women in Georgiamore than once per year.
 
Approximately 100 adolescent females are sexually exploited each night in Georgia
 
In Georgia, adolescent females controlled by the child sex trafficking trade are sexually exploited by an adult male on an average of three times per night.
42% of men who buy sex either seek out young girls, or are willing to disregard all signs that the woman they are about to have sex with is an adolescent
 
 
Bureau of Justice Statistics
 
Bureau of Justice Statistics
 
Federal law enforcement task forces opened 2,515 investigations into suspected human trafficking incidents between January 2008 and June 2010
of these investigations, 8 in 10 were classified as sex trafficking:
 
82.1% of victims in sex trafficking incidents were identified as US citizens
40.4% of all suspected trafficking incidents were child-related and classified as “prostitution or sexual exploitation of a child”
 
I have not included the statistics for young boys because as you will see later it is a much harder group to get information about.
 
I sat in this auditorium as 10 stories of victims were given voice through the spoken word, song, poetry and rap and tried to convince myself I did not know that “sex trafficking” is a 30 billion dollar a year industry.  I didn’t know it was this evil, this horrendous, this wide spread, this close to my soul.
 
Please indulge me as I share just one of the stories from this very unsettling night.
 
As told by JONATHAN BLANCHARD Soul Singer, Actor, Educator
jonathanblanchard.com
His TESTIMONY
I’ve worked in the public school systems in TN, GA, AL, AR, and IL as an Artist in Residence. The primary objective has been to integrate Afrikan American Music into the core curriculum. To say that I spend a lot of time around children is an understatement. Before signing on to be a part of the Facing Project, I’d never done any real research on the matter of child trafficking. I had no idea how prevalent it is in the US furthermore in Atlanta, GA.To know that there are young children growing up in these conditions makes me feel as if there is so much more that I should be doing. I suppose however that it shouldn’t be a shock, seeing how the majority of women that I know have expressed to me that they have been molested or touched inappropriately at least once in their life. Ironically, for this project I was assigned the task of exposing the stories of young boys who are victims of sex trafficking. My research revealed that boys are forced into the lifestyle at a very alarming rate, and though young boys account for 57% of all child sex trafficking cases, almost 100% of efforts to combat and expose trafficking has been focused on girls. You see, boys aren’t going to say anything, young men aren’t going to say anything, and no one cares to even ask them. That is the reality. That’s why myself and the brothers that participated with me, decided to present the research in the way we did…….to be the crying voice of the forgotten. 
 
FACING STORY: THE FORGOTTEN
This presentation will attempt to shed some light on the enslavement of young boys whether it be for slave labor or sex slavery. We will address specific accounts of nameless young men, as well as their fear of talking about their abduction and victimization. It will be comprised of myself and other men chanting a song while presenting brief accounts of males who have been victims of child sex trafficking. The unnamed young men will be represented by a blank, black piece of construction paper. The song will feel like an old spiritual being sang in the field.
 
MENTAL HOSPITAL DIRECTOR
Claude Foulk, the director of a mental hospital deliberately adopted a young boy to be his sex slave for almost a decade as part of a pattern that spanned four decades and ensnared dozens of young boys. Foulk was convicted of 20 counts of forcible oral copulation, nine counts of sodomy and two counts of lewd acts for abuse between 1992 and 2001. His victim is now 30 and living in Atlanta where he remains anonymous. 11 other men came forward claim Foulk molested them as children dating back to 1965. 5 adult men testified that Foulk would take them to a cabin in the mountains and force them to commit sexual acts, telling them that this is how men show love.
 
THE STEPFATHER
A young boy’s stepfather locked him up in his bedroom for six years with straps and hooks. The step-father deprived the boy of food and water while constantly torturing him sexually, emotionally and physically. This abuse went on from the time the boy was 11 until he was 17. The boy said that he was so underfed, that he had gained 100 pounds in six months after leaving his stepdad’s house. He also said that when he was allowed out of the bedroom, the stepfather would force him to stay sitting on the kitchen floor and would hit him and cut him with knives to intimidate him.
 
In an article by Clinical Social Worker Steven Procopio it is stated that:
Since it is assumed that “boys can take care of themselves”, indicators of abuse amongst boys often goes unrecognized. It is estimated that 50% of the children victimized by “commercial sexual exploitation of children” aka “CSEC” are boys. One in six boys in the UShas a history of sexual abuse. While awareness of CSEC has gained momentum in recent years, legislation to protect trafficking victims, as well as recent and ongoing nationwide FBI busts targeting culprits, continue to focus nearly 100% of society’s attention on sexually exploited girls. First, there is a sense of shame and stigma about perceived as gay that keeps boys from self-identifying as sexually exploited. Secondly, they simply are not being asked. Even law enforcement and other service providers fail to assess young boys at intake under the guise that boys are not victims of CSEC. This leads to the belief that boys are not generally pimped. Furthermore the boys are viewed as deviants with a desire for quick sex and money. The reluctance to discuss the exploitation of boys is generated by a culture that is sometimes both hetero-centric and homophobic, causing these victims to be under-discussed and therefore underserved.
 
THE TRIPLETTES
A poor grandfather in Scotlandwas approached by a man who offered him a large amount of money to take his three boys and raise them. The grandfather thought that this would be a good opportunity for the boys. He didn’t know that the man ran a “puppy mill”…….(a place where young boys can be purchased for sex; it is named after the unethical practice of keeping dogs in cages simply to reproduce). They were only nine years old.
The man forced the boys to do whatever the clients wanted which was mostly sex. The boys were often forced to perform together for the clients viewing pleasure. Puppy mill boys are also used as assassins, and drug smugglers….they are expendable and easy to replace.
 
Since pedophiles consider it erotic to have sex with twins or triplets, the boys were in high demand and were sold and resold eventually being shipped to England. Finally they were sold to an organized crime syndicate, and imported to the United States. In all, they were shipped to 9 different locations.
After one of the triplets attempted to escape, his owner drove a bolt between the tendon and the bone in his leg, and chained him to the wall, after which he was beaten to death at 12 years old. While in the US the other two boys were separated one going to an even more brutal mill and the other going to a private home. After being brought back together because of the appeal as twins, they were eventually rescued at the age of 19.
 
Now I can no longer say I didn’t know.  7:30 pm till 8:45pm, story after story after story, all children under the age of 18 and many starting as young as 9.
I can no longer plead ignorance.  I can no longer be silent.  I can no longer stand on the sidelines.  My days can no longer be peaceful and uneventful until I have done my part to bring a bright light to this ugly secret, until I have done my part to bring to an end this exercise of “power and control” that is destroying generations of God’s little children.
 
So, now you know, what are you doing about it?
 
RESOURCES
 
4Sarah is a 501(c)3 Nonprofit Faith-based tax exempt organization whose mission is to empower change in the life direction of women and girls who are adult entertainers, prostitutes, escorts or victims of sexual exploitation by offering a holistic approach as well as an educational, emotional, physical and spiritual support system. 4Sarah will affect the life direction of women and girls involved in the sex trade industry by offering resources through our outreach, intervention and scholarship programs. We need volunteers for our outreach team, intervention team, care team, and scholarship committee members. To get more info or to get help please visit www.4Sarah.net or call our hotline: 470-362-8808 Email: 4Sarahinc@Bellsouth.net
 
Founded September 12, 1999 with the mission to serve, empower and equip women to make a positive difference in the lives of other women and girls, Circle of Friends has three main programs: Living Water for Girls serves girls between the ages of 12 and 18 who have been the victims of sex trafficking. Living Water Learning Resource Center serves girls and young women, ages 16 and older, who have had life challenges and/or survived violence, street life, or child sex trafficking. Living Water Training Enterprises serves the girls and young women from our two sister programs. We also serve the community by strengthening families, educating and training local and federal law enforcement, educational institutions, and religious communities, and inviting citizens to come together to combat this heinous crime and protect our children. Learn how you can get involved at www.cofcl.org or call 404-627-0225
 
Susan Norris is the author of the must-read Rescuing Hope: A Story of Sex Trafficking in America. She is an outspoken advocate for the protection of victims of child sex trafficking, speaking across the United States and internationally on sex trafficking and empowering women. Susan works alongside other organizations to address child sex trafficking, while lobbying for stronger laws to protect victims and investing herself into the lives of rescued girls. Susan@susannorris.org www.susannorris.org
 
The mission of Out of Darkness is to reach, rescue, and restore victims of commercial sexual exploitation, that the glory of God may be known in the Earth. We reach through jail ministry, medical trainings, and a weekly street outreach called Princess Night. We rescue by operating a 24-hour hotline and picking women up when they call for help. And we restore by taking rescued women to a safe home where medical, emotional, and spiritual needs are addressed. www.outofdarkness.org For more information, email Jeana at info@outofdarkness.org
 
Street Grace is a faith-based organization leading churches, community organizations and individual volunteers on a comprehensive path to end domestic minor sex trafficking (DMST) through awareness, empowerment, engagement, and social change in Metro Atlanta and throughout the United States. Street Grace is helping end DMST through training, lobbying, feeding vulnerable children, and collaborating with the Governor’s Office of Children and Families, Department of Education, and the Georgia Attorney General’s Office. Through the Father’s Against Child Exploitation (FACE) program,
Street Grace is developing a platform for empowering men with a “male focused” program aimed at ending demand for DMST. To learn more about Street Grace, visit www.streetgrace.org or call 678.809.2111.
 
Synchronicity Theatre activates communities toward social change through powerful, transformative theatrical experiences. In collaboration, Synchronicity supports women artists, forges long-term and effective community partnerships and develops new work. Now in its 16th Season, Synchronicity offers cutting-edge plays for adults, a renowned Family Series and award-winning educational programming, including Playmaking for Girls (PFG). Created in 2002 to uplift the voices of ‘at-risk’ (we prefer the term ‘with hope’) girls, the PFG program has expanded to include two-day workshops at Regional Youth Detention Centers and group homes, an after-school program for middle-school girls, designed to impact their lives before they get into trouble, and a summer public performance by girls on probation, presenting plays created in the workshops alongside poetry, music and dance. This performance is FREE and open to the public: join us this year on June 7. These three components provide a continuum of service that seeks to empower young women’s voices and break the cycle of those who are often without a voice. www.synchrotheatre.com
 
Tapestri helps immigrants and refugees that have experienced domestic violence or human trafficking. We provide direct services to trafficking victims, including assistance with basic needs and immigration relief. Tapestri also partners with agencies to provide direct services to trafficking victims in HHS Region IV. Our domestic violence advocates help survivors with emergency assistance, translation, and legal assistance. Our Family Violence Intervention Program offers classes for batterers. Lastly, we conduct outreach by speaking to various groups and providing material printed in 22 languages. We encourage interns and volunteers that can give at least 10-20 hours a week- please fill out the application on the website. https://www.facebook.com/TapestriInc www.tapestri.org office: 404-299-2185
 
The Mercy Project seeks to open the hearts and minds of our community to the growing problem of modern-day slavery both here in metro Atlantaand worldwide. We seek to unify Christians and pursue true worship of God as talked about in Isaiah 58:6-7 by freeing the chains of those unjustly enslaved. We strive to accomplish this with educational outreach, anti-slavery partnerships, financial contributions, and direct service to victims. We are dedicated to ending one of the greatest human tragedies of our time.” www.themercyprojectatl.org
 
VOICE Today is a non-profit organization breaking the silence and cycle of child sexual abuse and exploitation through awareness, prevention and healing programs. Tragically 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused by their 18th birthday and only 1 in 10 ever tells.  Between 80-90% of children sexually exploited have been sexually abused at an early age. Even more alarming is that 93% of abuse is by someone the child knows. The VOICE Today awareness programs help adults understand every child is at risk, the educational training programs educate how to predict and prevent CSA and the healing programs give aftercare in community. VOICE Today offers support groups, healing
  
Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Are There Multiple -isms, or Really Just One? Um, Yes.

Let us start with a definition according to “Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia”. Now there are lots of other -isms’s that could be brought up which are just as brutal, unfair, and theologically incorrect. However, if we could just get to a place where we really understand what “racism” is and where it takes us, then it is a simply step to eradicating the other -ism’s because they all work the same way.

Racism: The Oxford English Dictionary defines racism as the “belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races” and the expression of such prejudice,[11][12] while the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines it as a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority or inferiority of a particular racial group, and alternatively that it is also the prejudice based on such a belief.[13] The Macquarie Dictionary defines racism as: “the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others.” Next, let us give a summary of what these definitions, while slightly different, are pointing to. What each of these definitions are ultimately talking about is “power and control,” the belief that somehow among humans there is a sense of superiority over other people because of skin color and culture and therefore has the privilege to rule over another group of people.

The dirty little secret around this subject is that the racists themselves do not want to admit that for hundreds of years they have lived with the idea they somehow were superior simply because they were free and in this country white. In fact good hearted and kind people get bent out of shape when this conversation comes up because they do not want to be lumped in with the despicable kinds of behavior that racism allows.

However, what is forgotten is that they are part of a system that has been and still is in many ways racist to the core. Of course I am raising this issue because of the most recent shooting of a young black man Trayvon Martin by a “wanna be” cop.

One of the more interesting quotes I saw surrounding this shooting was, “I think too many people make this an issue of black or white. We have not the other side. If in fact this was racially motivated…it was wrong. But what about white Americans being shot by other ethnicity? You just never hear about this. I feel the “race” card is used more than it should be. And that Americans truly affected by “race” are truly served an injustice. It is not a black or white thing…it is a “HUMAN” thing!!”

While on the surface this statement might be partially true, it misses the point of what happen to this young man. It was an act of racism no matter how you slice and dice the debate. When one listens to the 911 call that CNN got it is obvious the shooter uses a racial slur in response to the victim. I know the commenter’s kept trying to cover their butts as to what was said, but my ears work pretty well and it was pretty obvious the phrase used by the shooter was “f****** c***”.

If one is not feeling superior this phrase is never uttered. Then we get commentary from some political bureaucrat that if this child of God would have just stopped and answered the shooter’s questions there would have been a different outcome. Really?

I can damn well tell you had that been me in a hoodie and I was walking to my Mother’s house and some dude starts following me and asking questions and it was obvious to me he was not a police officer I am not stopping or talking either.

Now let’s add to the fact that when the police do show up they see a black kid down and the shooter saying he was threaten and they just let him go? In fact according to news reports the most bizarre part of the police statement is “Zimmerman tells police he killed Martin in self defense. Taking him at his word, police do not arrest him, nor administer a drug or alcohol test. They also did not run a background check.” This was an unarmed kid shot 3 times… Why? Simple, it was a black kid with a hoodie. It does not take a rocket scientist to see an act of superiority at work here.

I may be naïve here, but logic would say you take the shooter into custody until you can figure out what happened. The fact this guy, who had no law enforcement authority, has not been arrested speaks volumes.

In a related story, there was another shooting in Florida where a white guy got shot by a black guy, and guess what? Yup, the black guy has been arrested and charged. Why?

Where all this is taking me is back to one of the definitions of racism:

“the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate others.”

It is this whole idea that we continue to believe in this country that God created the human being to be superior to one another. Nothing could be further from the truth.

However, the plain facts of the matter are;

We still live in a world where women make .70 for every dollar a man makes.

We still live in a world where men are superior to women.

We still live in a world where being white is superior to any other color.

We still live in a world where heterosexuals are superior to homosexuals.

We still live in a world where if your gender identity doesn’t fit a rigid definition of what is male and female–well let’s just say the results are not pretty.

We live in a world where one religion is superior to another.

We live in a world where cultures are superior to another.

We live in a world where the more money one has that somehow makes them better than those who have less.

Call me crazy but these –isms, regardless of whether it is race, sex, gender, economic or just about any other label you can think, are not going to get better until we wake up.

We need to wake up to the fact that no one person is superior to another. No one race or culture is superior to another. No one gender is superior to the other. Love and intimacy is meant to be shared by all regardless of gender or gender identity. Despite what folks may try to tell you the “human being” in this world, on this planet is one body and the sooner we recognize that the better off we will be. From my faith background a New Testament author by the name of Paul wrote:

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as God wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.”1 Corinthians 12:14-26 New International Version

The -isms of our world are an injustice to the human condition and as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote from the Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963 “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

And Jesus Wept…

The events of yesterday (the execution of Troy Davis) have unsettled me in a way I did not think was possible. Let me try to explain.

A few years back there was a TV show called “In the Heat of the Night”. It was a spin-off of the movie by the same name. The TV series starred Carroll O’Connor as Chief William O. “Bill” Gillespie and Howard E. Rollins Jr. as Chief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs.

In one of the episodes titled “A Trip Upstate” (1989), George Brownlow sends word to Bill Gillespie that he wants to see the Chief at Parchman prison on the day of his execution. George had been the driver in a bank holdup where two robbers killed a guard and a customer before Bill killed them in return. As an accomplice, George was sentenced to die.

At Parchman, Bill sees George, who persuades Gillespie to stay until he is gone. The execution is devastating to the Chief.

When the Chief returns, he and Detective Tibbs have a conversation about capital punishment and whether it’s the right thing to do. Tibbs points out the U.S. Constitution makes reference that no cruel or unusual punishment should be administered. It’s at this point that the Chief relates his experience with the person who was executed. After hours of listening and watching the condemned man, he comes to the conclusion there is no way to invoke the death penalty and have it not be cruel or unusual.

He then gives this example (I couldn’t find the script, so this is from memory):

You take the man who is about to be executed for his crime and you sit him in a chair in front of you. You then tell him he is forgiven and that he is free to go. Then in the moment you see in his face the relief, the happiness at such good fortune, you tell him he is free to leave and go home. As he stands and turns to leave for his newfound freedom, you step up behind him and shoot him in the back of the head.

To say the least, I was stunned. In that bit of TV writing I recognized there is no way to kill another human being without being cruel or unusual.

At 6:30pm last night on CNN it was announced that the execution of Troy Davis had been put on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court took a final look at it. According to the experts, Mr. Davis would have already been in the “death room” with the I.V. in his arm and preparing to receive a sedative to calm him. Then suddenly everything stopped. I don’t know if they left him on the gurney or took him someplace close by; but his final hours were exactly what torture is all about. The really sad thing about it is the state of Georgia was really trying to do the right thing by waiting. According to Georgia state law they didn’t have to wait, they could have proceeded.

So now I sit here and think that damn, this was indeed a cruel execution.

Thanks to Amnesty International for some basic facts about the death penalty:

Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death rows throughout the country due to evidence of their wrongful convictions. In 2003 alone, 10 wrongfully convicted defendants were released from death row.

Factors leading to wrongful convictions include:

  • Inadequate legal representation
  • Police and prosecutorial misconduct
  • Perjured testimony and mistaken eyewitness testimony
  • Racial prejudice
  • Jailhouse “snitch” testimony
  • Suppression and/or misinterpretation of mitigating evidence
  • Community/political pressure to solve a case

So how on earth can we continue to fight for a system of such a final solution if it has been wrong 130 times – and maybe 131 times, if you count Mr. Davis? How can “We the People” allow the government to kill even one person if the system is that broken? Are you telling me that those who are constantly harping about us being a Christian nation do not get this?

At least Governor, George Ryan of Illinois, in January 2000, said: 

I cannot support a system which, in its administration, has proven so fraught with error and has come so close to the ultimate nightmare, the state’s taking of innocent life… Until I can be sure that everyone sentenced to death in Illinois is truly guilty, until I can be sure with moral certainty that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate.

Thereby, Gov. Ryan declared a moratorium on executions in his state, after the 13th Illinois death row inmate had been released from prison due to wrongful conviction. In the same period, 12 others had been executed.

I shudder to think how many people have been executed for a crime they did not commit.

And how about this little factoid:

In a 1990 report, the non-partisan U.S. General Accounting Office found “a pattern of evidence indicating racial disparities in the charging, sentencing, and imposition of the death penalty.” The study concluded that a defendant was several times more likely to be sentenced to death if the murder victim was white. This has been confirmed by the findings of many other studies that, holding all other factors constant, the single most reliable predictor of whether someone will be sentenced to death is the race of the victim.

Wow. So the system is not only broken, but it also appears to have a deep bias.

The most troubling thing for me is that what we call “capital punishment” is about as far from a Christian response as one can get.

In the Christian novel The Shack, the main character Mac has a conversation with God about his inability to forgive the man who brutally raped and murder his very young daughter. The character of God says this in response to Mac’s struggle with forgiveness:

For you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him.

Now, I know this isn’t a quote from scripture, but isn’t this really what Jesus taught? There is no real way we can decide a person should die and be justified. All of the New Testament is about agape – that is, unconditional love and forgiveness. So as Christians, how do we come to the conclusion that someone is beyond God’s reach and that it’s okay for us to come up with all kinds of fancy ways to kill them?

People who commit heinous crimes against others are a what inspire us to call for revenge, to get even, to get a payback. But while that may be our knee-jerk reaction my friends, that is not what we are taught by the One who redeems us; instead we are taught to let the first one without sin cast the first stone. We are taught to forgive not once but seventy times seven.

Forgiveness acknowledges that a wrong was committed.

Forgiveness changes us from victim to victor.

Forgiveness takes the power from a bad act and turns the act to good.

Forgiveness is the only road to freedom.

Jesus, as near as I can tell, never made the act of forgiveness a bargaining chip for revenge and judgment.

I did not know Troy Davis, nor did I really know a lot about his particular case, except that he was convicted of shooting an unarmed off-duty police officer. Was this crime anymore heinous then that committed by the man in Texas who dragged a black father to his death and was then executed on the same day as Troy Davis?

I also know there was enough hell raised around Mr. Davis’s case to know that something was terribly wrong. I also know there was no hell raised about the execution of the man in Texas, and this too says that something is very wrong. Has our lust for blood, retribution and power become such we now want God’s job? Do we get to decide a color code for heinous crimes and then ignore our faith teachings and kill?

A presidential candidate recently bragged about how many people had been put to death in Texas, while claiming to be a born-again Christian. The audience was filled with Christians, and they cheered his accomplishment. Really? Oh my God, really?

This might be a stretch here, but I would guess most of the folks in the audience and the presidential candidate himself are also what some would call “pro-life”. How does this square with capital punishment? I mean, if all life is sacred and cannot be terminated, does that not make these folks who support capital punishment nothing more than late-term abortionists?

Our Christian faith and its leader Jesus are very clear on this point. We do not have the ability to make clear judgments that allow the government to take a life. One hundred thirty-plus wrong convictions is really all the evidence we need.

I wonder who in this whole debacle showed more mercy and justice? Troy Davis, who asked for a polygraph test and was denied, said as his final words:

The incident that night was not my fault, I did not have a gun… I did not personally kill your son, father and brother. I am innocent… Those about to take my life, may God have mercy on your souls, may God bless your souls.

Was the State of Georgia merciful in waiting to see if there was some “legal” reason to stop the execution – or were they just covering their political asses?

Today I am heartbroken and weep at the thought there are those who really believe it’s okay to play God. I am heartbroken that in the end there are far more than a few who can look past forgiveness and a direct command from Jesus to “Love one another as I have loved you” and find creative ways to come up with all kinds of justifications as to why it is okay to ignore the teachings of the one that Christians call “Savior”.

Today, I have a better understanding of why Jesus sat on a hill outside of Jerusalem and wept. May God have mercy on us all.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Our Moral Responsibility

In the last few days if I have been asked once I have been asked a dozen times…why would we sign on with the Somos Georgia / We Are Georgia’s BuySpot & Sanctuary Zone Community?

The answer is pretty simple, as Christians, as persons of deep faith we have an obligation to stand up and say no. To speak the truths that this law HB 87 “Georgia Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act” is probably not constitutional and it is certainly not morally correct.

Rev. Richard Nathan is the pastor of Columbus Vineyard Church made the point a while back when he wrote:

I would hope that Christians would first put on biblical spectacles when approaching the issue of immigration. The biblical Christian would:

1. Begin with the conviction that illegal immigrants are persons made in God’s image and are, therefore, worthy of respect and dignity (Genesis 1:26,28).

2. Appreciate the fact that many of our spiritual ancestors were themselves economic refugees. Thus Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob moved from the Promised Land on several occasions in search of food (Genesis 12:10; 26:1; 41:57; 42:6; 43:1-7). The story of Ruth is the story of an immigrant who continually crossed national borders in search of food. Other spiritual ancestors of ours were pushed out of their homeland because of war or persecution (Joseph, Daniel, Moses, David, and the baby Jesus). So immigration because of economics, war, and asylum seeking is not far from every Christian’s own heritage.

3. Specifically apply the Second Commandment to illegal immigrants: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

4. Care for immigrants since they had a central place in the laws and practices of ancient Israel. Israel was commanded to love immigrants because God loves immigrants. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).

5. Be hospitable according to New Testament teaching which literally means to “love the stranger” or the alien (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). Jesus commanded his followers to welcome people who had no social standing, such as the poor, the sick, and the outsider (Luke 14:12-14).

The ACLU has a “Preliminary analysis of the HB 87 “Georgia Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act” which explains in great detail the constitutional problems with this law.

HB 87 signed into law by Governor Deal does not come close to doing any of those things pointed out by Rev. Nathan.

In fact most of the law does just the opposite.

The law allows the local police to have almost unlimited power to stop, detain and arrest on the simple suspicion of ones immigration status. Let’s be honest here, it won’t be white people the police will be taking a closer look at.

This law does not have the first hint of having Christian morality attached to it.

Pablo Otaola in a blog called Theology of Immigration had this observation;

“The history of immigration to the United States is the history of the country itself, and the journey from beyond the sea is an element found in American Folklore, appearing over and over again in everything from The Godfather to Gangs of New York to Neil Diamond’s “America” to the animated feature An American Tail (Rachel Rupin and Jeffrey Melnick, Immigration and American Popular Culture: An Introduction – 2006). Recent movies that speak to immigration, race and culture are The Namesake, The Visitor, Spanglish, A Day without a Mexican and others all which speak to the fact that there is a social awareness about issues with immigration that people want to dialogue about. Most movies and plays seem to have an overarching theme of sensitivity and amicability to racial differences and immigrant social justice issues that can be compared to God’s commandment to “love you neighbor as yourself,” but somehow these themes do not carry over in United States legislature with immigration laws.”

As Christians we are encouraged to “cast out all fear and replace it with unconditional love”…so then we must ask ourselves how does this Georgia legislation promote the love we are suppose to be living, the love we are suppose to be practicing, the love we are suppose to be sharing?

In our political world today the conservative and progressive’s seem to agree on very little but as a people of faith we indeed have some common ground.

Rev. Brain Clark a conservative pastor of Calhoun First United Methodist made an interesting post on his blog, which makes my point.

“Despite the fact that undocumented persons contribute to the State tax base, bolster the agricultural economy, and keep local businesses alive, the real issue before the committee isn’t economic. The real issue is that Arizona-style legislation is both immoral and unscriptural. The legislation is immoral because it threatens to tear families apart, destroy the lives of countless children and youth already living productive lives in our communities, and does nothing to advocate for a fair earned pathway to citizenship. The legislation is unscriptural because it ignores the biblical mandates to love our neighbors, to offer forgiveness, and to treat others the way we desire to be treated. God loves the undocumented persons living among us as much as God loves every natural born citizen and calls us to treat them with love and respect. Leviticus 19:34 says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”

(NRSV)”

The full blog post can be read here: If we heed his call then we must be willing to sign on to: BuySpot & Sanctuary Zone Community.

http://drbrianeclark.blogspot.com/2011/01/proposed-georgia-immigration.html

We as a people of faith cannot hide behind separation of church and state.

We must consider where we stand…how do we love others? Is this love up to the standards set by Christ?

Brothers and Sisters, what is written in the scripture?

And a certain teacher of the law got up and put him to the test, saying,
Master, what have I to do so that I may have eternal life?
And he said to him, what does the law say, in your reading of it?
And he, answering, said, has love for the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;
and for your neighbor as for yourself.
And he said, you have given the right answer: do this and you will have life.”

–Luke 10:25-28

If we are to be a state where justice prevails, mercy is a priority and we have true equality then we must not leave anyone behind; we must not leave any part of our community out.

Slicing and dicing families and turning them into fugitives from the law are not what our faith teaches in these matters.

Jesus came to proclaim good news for the poor. Right up to his death, he made himself one with the poor, including strangers. In this way he broke down the barriers that human beings erect and showed that the love of God is for everyone. It is thus correct to say that our treatment of the poor and of strangers is a test of how well we understand the Gospel of the love of God as it is revealed in Jesus Christ. In the parable of the Judgment of the Nations, Jesus exposes the ignorance, indifference and lack of concern that people show towards the least of those who belong to his family. And today, these words penetrate our minds too. No-one can say, “I didn’t realize…” Jesus says, “I was a stranger, and you did not welcome me.” How do we treat the stranger?

Apparently in the State of Georgia the stranger will be arrested, and those who help the stranger will be persecuted.

As a minister of the Gospel and as a “church without walls’ we cannot let this law go un-challenged. As persons of faith whose lives are dedicated to “doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with God” we cannot and will not obey this law.

“An unjust law is no law at all”, said St Augustine, providing the foundation of civil disobedience movements across the world. If a law is not really a law at all, it is argued, one has a right — even a duty — to break it. Martin Luther King articulated this view in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”.

We have signed because it is our moral responsibility and our duty to “walk our talk”.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Forgive Me if I Don’t Raise a Toast

Let me start by saying that in the deepest part of my soul I am opposed to “capital punishment”. The hairs on my neck crawl when the State of Georgia injects killing poisons through the veins of anyone allegedly on my behalf. I take seriously the teaching of Jesus, which say the “one without sin” gets to cast the first stone.

However, I also know if at 2am someone breaks into my house and has gotten past CoCo and Koda (our dogs) and are coming up the stairs to my bedroom the phrase “Your soul had better be with God, because your ass is mine” comes to mind. I will do everything in my power to stop them up too and including killing them. With that I would probably spend the rest of my life in therapy trying to get rid of the nightmares of taking a human life.

Interestingly my husband who if faced with this situation, would simply shoot the intruder dead, go back to sleep and call the trash people in the morning. He would not feel an ounce of remorse because they were there to do him and his family harm.

Now it should be noted that neither of us would see ourselves as heroes nor would we throw a celebratory party with chants of “We got the bad guy”, we got the bad guy”. I know we would be embarrassed beyond all measure if police photos of the scene were made public.

The quandary for me is both scenarios have the same result…a human being dead.

However, it is the aftermath that is the spiritual dilemma. It is not even a question of whether the person deserved to die or not.

I would not be able to find fault in my husband for his lack of remorse or the fact that he killed this intruder. I also think my own hypocrisy is also understandable as well.

So the conundrum is about 2 different worldviews. In my case I make the choice to end another’s life. Right or wrong it is I who makes the choice. We all know there are consequences to choices we make.

In my husband’s view it is the criminal who made the choice and the consequence of that choice is death. However, we also both know and accept there is nothing to celebrate, nothing to be joyous about and most certainly nothing will be the same.

Our dogs would be dead and we would no longer feel safe and secure in our home.

So how does this all square this past week with the killing of Bin-Laden. Well had I come face to face with him I would have most assuredly killed him. There is no doubt my husband would have. However, 3,000 plus people in the United States would still be dead. The thousands of innocent Muslims who have been killed in the hunt for Bin-Laden would still be dead. We would still not feel safe or secure in our homeland.

So why the need to party? Why the chants of USA! USA! as if we have won a World soccer match? Why the chest beating for killing a monster that our foreign policy created?

Why do we need to see the bullet hole in his head? It seems to me President Obama had it right when he said, “there is no need to spike the football”.

Were we not as people of the United States mortified at the celebrations in the Middle East that took place after 9-11 by our enemies? Did we not think this made them especially bad? So is the killing of Bin-Laden and these celebrations the same thing that we say we abhorred on 9-11 but not on 5-11?

Lets deal with a raw truth…

From the moment Bin-Laden chose to come after the United States on her soil, he was a dead man…it is the way the United States and the world does business. However, as a person of deep faith in a loving God I am not sure this is something to be treated like a sporting event.

The real hard truth is killing our enemies will only succeed when everyone is dead. Please read that line again.

So maybe instead of thumping our chests, toasting the death of our enemies and then demanding to see the pictures that are the result of our lust for gore and death, we might find a moment to consider an alternative to killing everybody on the planet or at minimum glorifying the killing of everyone on the planet.

Maybe it is really time to begin to consider some alternatives. After all the current thinking doesn’t seem to be giving us a planet where love and peace are all the rage.

Jesus spent almost his entire time on earth telling us the way to peace was through forgiveness and the road to forgiveness was through the practice of agape (unconditional love). Of course we all know how that turned out. The powers of that day were not going to lose their ability to play God so they killed him.

Seems to me that today the extremists of any of these religious groups are playing God deciding who will live and who will die. Wow, are we slow to learn or what?

Yet we know ultimately in our heart of hearts what he taught was the best if not the only way to peace, security and safety.

So forgive me if I don’t join in the chant of USA, USA. Forgive me if I don’t raise a toast to the killing of an enemy of the state. Forgive me for saying that if the United States is going to lead the world to peace then it’s way of doing business in the world needs to change drastically.

It is time to give more then a fleeting thought to these ideas:

1) “Trying to keep in mind that how I respond to the death of my enemies says as much about me as it does about my enemies.” Author Rachel Held Evans

2) “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation”. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Strength To Love, 1963

3) “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” Jimi Hendrix

If we can’t grasp that our security, safety, peace and prosperity can only be found when we are serious and intentional about practicing the afore mention ideas…then I fear somewhere in the universe we will not be remembered as a great people but rather a people who are extinct. God have mercy on us all.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

An Unjust Law is No Law at All

A little less than a year ago, I wrote a blog concerning the Arizona Immigration law.

So if much of this blog looks familiar, forgive me but what was written this past spring still applies especially in view of what is about to happen in Georgia.

It is my prayer this gets a serious read. My prayer also is for the clergy of our State to step forward and give the moral leadership that is required by our faith, “to do justice, act mercifully and walk humbly with God.”

I find it interesting as a people of the Christian faith we say the sins of the parents (father) should not be visited upon the children, yet there are some who are pushing to make that the law of the state.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote from his cell in the Birmingham jail,

“I would agree with Saint Augustine that ‘An unjust law is no law at all.’ . . . A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law.”


Unless we wake up our state is in danger of passing an un-just law.

The legislation, which has been introduced instead of helping solve the problem, will only create a whole new level of criminals and cause those people of faith who support the law to be more than just a little hypocritical in the practice of the faith.

It is a point of fact that such a law will give policing agency’s far more power than we want them to have.

This law is not written to hand out any kind of justice, or extend any kind of mercy.

Further this law is not written to prevent crime or to allow Georgia law enforcement folks to “serve and protect”. No, this law is written out of fear, bigotry and political opportunism.

Ever since 9-11 our fear of illegal immigrants has reach unprecedented levels of fear. We are now justifying our fear of people and cultures we don’t know or understand by painting with a very wide brush that says if you are not American then you must mean us harm.

Of course lost in this kind of thinking is Tim McVey, the “Uni-bomber”, Eric Rudolph, John Wayne Gacy or Charles Speck, all who were white and as American as they come…but I digress.

This is of concern also because this is the same kind of fear used against LGBTQ people and through various laws attempt to control and crush or kill if need be those who don’t live out their lives from the correct biblical perspective and view of the universe.

We have heard all the arguments why “these” people must be contained, captured, and deported without benefit of legal counsel or trial. Why it is justified to destroy families and even kill those coming across the border with very little provocation.

These arguments have “collateral damage” by making the landscape ripe for “human trafficking and smuggling”. We don’t seem to care about the truckloads of humanity that have died in mass in the desert heat and without water or food because someone was trying to make money.

It is argued first, this is a matter of national security since we don’t know which un-documented simply wants a job and food for their family or instead might be a terrorist sneaking into our country to blow off the very hand which feeds them.

When that argument doesn’t have the desire results the arguments added to the rhetoric is the rise in violent crime, theft, poaching and land destruction (property values). At the same time this is being spewed across the landscape, we hear the cry: “They are taking our jobs”!

Further, because of our ridicules drugs laws we have set ourselves up for more collateral damage with an unwinnable “drug war”, which also becomes part of the collar placed on the necks of all those who are un-documented …well you know, “they are all “drug traders”.

Finally when all else fails the argument is made “these un-documented people are breaking our health care system.” Really? Our “health care system” was pretty screwed up long before out of political expedience this jumped front and center in our “war” on those who are un-documented.

Now let me be clear these concerns are things for which we must be aware of and at some level as with anything there is good with the bad.

However, all these arguments are being made and exploited without benefit of our faith connection being considered as our starting point for our conversation, questions and concerns.

Rev. Richard Nathan is the pastor of Columbus Vineyard Church and makes two excellent points in two different articles:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hardly a liberal organization, published an extensive report refuting often-cited myths concerning immigration (“Immigration Myths and the Facts Behind the Fallacies,” www.uschamber.com). Despite claims to the contrary, illegal immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year, and do not qualify for or collect public assistance or welfare benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid or Section 8 housing.

Furthermore, enforcement-only policies are no solution. Deporting 12 million illegal immigrants is utterly impracticable. Not only would it cost hundreds of billions of dollars ($206 billion over five years, according to the chamber), it would destroy families and communities across the country.

The way forward is clear. We need to secure our borders, crack down on dishonest employers and require illegal immigrants to register with the government and meet certain requirements, including learning English, working and paying taxes before they earn the chance to become citizens. Such practical reforms would strengthen our economy, serve the interests and honor the ideals of our nation, and provide immigrants with the opportunity to fully join our society.

His second point asks his readers to put on their “biblical spectacles” when confronted with the issue of illegal’s and your “faith response”. I would ask my readers to do the same:

I would hope that Christians would first put on biblical spectacles when approaching the issue of illegal immigration. The biblical Christian would:

1. Begin with the conviction that illegal immigrants are persons made in God’s image and are, therefore, worthy of respect and dignity (Genesis 1:26,28).

2. Appreciate the fact that many of our spiritual ancestors were themselves economic refugees. Thus Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob moved from the Promised Land on several occasions in search of food (Genesis 12:10; 26:1; 41:57; 42:6; 43:1-7). The story of Ruth is the story of an immigrant who continually crossed national borders in search of food. Other spiritual ancestors of ours were pushed out of their homeland because of war or persecution (Joseph, Daniel, Moses, David, and the baby Jesus). So immigration because of economics, war, and asylum seeking is not far from every Christian’s own heritage.

3. Specifically apply the Second Commandment to illegal immigrants: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

4. Care for immigrants since they had a central place in the laws and practices of ancient Israel. Israel was commanded to love immigrants because God loves immigrants. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).

5. Be hospitable according to New Testament teaching which literally means to “love the stranger” or the alien (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). Jesus commanded his followers to welcome people who had no social standing, such as the poor, the sick, and the outsider (Luke 14:12-14).

I am fully aware that these considerations will not solve the challenge of those who are undocumented, but it will sure change the discussion from what is now destructive, punitive and life ending to something that more closely resembles “doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with God”.

As Christians we are encouraged to “cast out all fear and replace it with unconditional love”…so then we must ask ourselves how does this pending Georgia legislation promote the love we are suppose to be living, the love we are suppose to be practicing, the love we are suppose to be sharing?

In our political world today the conservative and progressive’s seem to agree on very little but as a people of faith we indeed have some common ground.

Rev. Brain Clark a conservative pastor of Calhoun First United Methodist made an interesting post on his blog, which makes my point.

“Despite the fact that undocumented persons contribute to the State tax base, bolster the agricultural economy, and keep local businesses alive, the real issue before the committee isn’t economic. The real issue is that Arizona-style legislation is both immoral and unscriptural. The legislation is immoral because it threatens to tear families apart, destroy the lives of countless children and youth already living productive lives in our communities, and does nothing to advocate for a fair earned pathway to citizenship. The legislation is unscriptural because it ignores the biblical mandates to love our neighbors, to offer forgiveness, and to treat others the way we desire to be treated. God loves the undocumented persons living among us as much as God loves every natural born citizen and calls us to treat them with love and respect. Leviticus 19:34 says, “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (NRSV)”

The full blog post can be read here: I only hope we heed his call:

http://drbrianeclark.blogspot.com/2011/01/proposed-georgia-immigration.html

So now we as a people of faith cannot hide behind separation of church and state.

We must consider where we stand…how do we love others? Is this love up to the standards set by Christ?

Brothers and Sisters, what is written in the scripture? Just this:

And a certain teacher of the law got up and put him to the test, saying,
Master, what have I to do so that I may have eternal life?
And he said to him, what does the law say, in your reading of it?
And he, answering, said, has love for the Lord your God with all your heart
and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind;
and for your neighbor as for yourself.
And he said, you have given the right answer: do this and you will have life.”
–Luke 10:25-28

If we are be a state where justice prevails, mercy is a priority and we have true equality then we must not leave anyone behind; we must not leave any part of our community out.

Slicing and dicing families and turning them into fugitives from the law are not what our faith teaches in these matters.

Come on folks it is not rocket science! There is no justice, there is no safety, and there is no protection until all really means all. This proposed law cuts out a huge chunk of all.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

The Church’s Actual History on Immigration Might Surprise You

I was a little fuzzy as to what I wanted to write about or what thoughts to express in this particular blog. To be honest as a person of faith, who has a strong desire for decency, justice and mercy, I must say the new Arizona law concerning illegals is more then just a little troubling for me.

I have read, extensively opinions on this new law from both the right and left of the political spectrum. The arguments for and against this law range from compelling and thought provoking to ridicules and racist.

Yet when is all said and done, this law disturbs me deeply…not just in the head or the heart but the far reaches of my soul…you know that place where only you and God go.

Even more perplexing to me is, why as an out and proud gay Christian man this law should disturb me so deeply.

Then it hit me, this law was not written to hand out any kind of justice, or extend any kind of mercy. Further this law was not written to prevent crime or to allow the Arizona law enforcement folks to “serve and protect”. No, this law was written out of fear and political opportunism.

Ever since 9-11 our fear of illegal immigrants has reach unprecedented levels of fear. We are now justifying our fear of people and cultures we don’t know or understand by painting with a very wide brush that says if you are not American then you must mean us harm. Of course lost in this is Tim McVey, the “Uni-bomber”, Eric Rudolph, John Wayne Gacy or Charles Speck, all who were white and as American as they come…but I digress.

All this concerns me because this is the same kind of fear used against LGBTQ people and through various laws attempt to control and crush or kill if need be those who don’t live out their lives from the correct biblical perspective and view of the universe.

We have heard all the arguments why “these” people must be contained, captured, and deported without benefit of legal counsel or trial. Why it is justified to destroy families and even kill those coming across the border with very little provocation. These arguments have affected “collateral damage” by making the landscape ripe for “human trafficking and smuggling”. We don’t seem to care about the truck loads of humanity that have died in mass in the desert heat and without water or food.

It is argued first, this is a matter of national security since we don’t know which illegal who simply wants a job and food for his family might be a terrorist sneaking into our country to blow off the very hand which feeds them.

When that argument doesn’t have the desire results the arguments added to the rhetoric is the rise in violent crime, theft, poaching and land destruction (property values). At the same time this is being spewed across the landscape, we hear the cry: “They are taking our jobs”! Further, because of our ridicules drugs laws we have set ourselves up for more collateral damage with an unwinnable “drug war”, which also becomes part of the collar placed on the necks of all illegal’s who well you know are “drug traders”.

Finally when all else fails the argument is made these illegal’s are taxing to the breaking point our health care system. Really? Our “health care system” was pretty screwed up long before out of political expedience it jumped front and center in our “war” on illegals.

Now let me be clear these concerns are things for which we must be aware of and admit at some level as with anything there is good with the bad.

However, all these arguments are being made and exploited without benefit of our faith connection being considered as our starting point for our conversation, questions and concerns.

Rev. Richard Nathan is the pastor of Columbus Vineyard Church and makes two excellent points in two different articles:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, hardly a liberal organization, published an extensive report refuting often-cited myths concerning immigration (“Immigration Myths and the Facts Behind the Fallacies,” www.uschamber.com). Despite claims to the contrary, illegal immigrants pay billions of dollars in taxes each year, and do not qualify for or collect public assistance or welfare benefits such as food stamps, Medicaid or Section 8 housing.

Furthermore, enforcement-only policies are no solution. Deporting 12 million illegal immigrants is utterly impracticable. Not only would it cost hundreds of billions of dollars ($206 billion over five years, according to the chamber), it would destroy families and communities across the country.

The way forward is clear. We need to secure our borders, crack down on dishonest employers and require illegal immigrants to register with the government and meet certain requirements, including learning English, working and paying taxes before they earn the chance to become citizens. Such practical reforms would strengthen our economy, serve the interests and honor the ideals of our nation, and provide immigrants with the opportunity to fully join our society.

His second point asks his readers to put on their “biblical spectacles” when confronted with the issue of illegal’s and your “faith response”. I would ask my readers to do the same:

I would hope that Christians would first put on biblical spectacles when approaching the issue of illegal immigration. The biblical Christian would:

1. Begin with the conviction that illegal immigrants are persons made in God’s image and are, therefore, worthy of respect and dignity (Genesis 1:26,28).

2. Appreciate the fact that many of our spiritual ancestors were themselves economic refugees. Thus Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob moved from the Promised Land on several occasions in search of food (Genesis 12:10; 26:1; 41:57; 42:6; 43:1-7). The story of Ruth is the story of an immigrant who continually crossed national borders in search of food. Other spiritual ancestors of ours were pushed out of their homeland because of war or persecution (Joseph, Daniel, Moses, David, and the baby Jesus). So immigration because of economics, war, and asylum-seeking is not far from every Christian’s own heritage.

3. Specifically apply the Second Commandment to illegal immigrants: “The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

4. Care for immigrants since they had a central place in the laws and practices of ancient Israel. Israel was commanded to love immigrants because God loves immigrants. “He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigners residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).

5. Be hospitable according to New Testament teaching which literally means to “love the stranger” or the alien (Romans 12:13; Hebrews 13:2; 1 Peter 4:9). Jesus commanded his followers to welcome people who had no social standing, such as the poor, the sick, and the outsider (Luke 14:12-14).

I am fully aware that these considerations will not solve the challenge of illegal immigration, but it will sure change the discussion from what is now destructive and life ending to something that more closely resembles “doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with God”.

As Christians we are encouraged to “cast out all fear and replace it with unconditional love”…so then we must ask ourselves how does the Arizona law promote the love we are suppose to be living, the love we are suppose to be practicing, the love we are suppose to be sharing?

In looking through my copious notes for sermon writing I came across something I had cut out of an article (I am not sure who gets credit for this) and they more then apply here:

One must consider where they stand…how do they love others? Is this love up to the standards set by Christ?

-if you haven’t killed some one-who have you called a fool? What emotion did you pour out upon them when you became angry with them? Whose reputation have you slaughtered by the harsh things you had to say about them?

-If you haven’t committed adultery-and felt good about this-then consider for a moment what you have wanted to do….

-Or consider who holds a grudge against you because of something you did-something for which you have not apologized?

-Or again-what promises and vows have you broken and then justified yourself in doing so?

-When was the last time you criticized immigrants for stealing all the jobs in this country, or expressed your dislike for the person who took the promotion that belonged to you?

Let’s be honest here the whole thing in a nutshell comes down to a prevailing attitude in this country today:

1) We greet those who greet us.

2) We do good to those who do good to us.

3) We lend to those who will pay us back.

4) We welcome those who welcome us.

As for everyone else, well if asked, most people have a reason for what they do and an excuse for what they do not do.

That is the problem with the Arizona Law; it is an excuse for what we have not done.

God have mercy on us all.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.