Who Would Jesus Kill? A Reflection on Violence and the Way of Christ

A friend recently asked me about the morality of killing an attacker. The story he used to highlight the question was the reported death of an ISIS leader killed at the hands of a woman the jihadi had enslaved in the group’s sex-trade. I could not get the web-link my friend supplied to work, but I did an independent Google search for the story. The story seems unverifiable, and the following link even suggests that it might be ISIS propaganda: http://www.examiner.com/article/woman-kills-isis-commander-captured-iraqi-female-made-into-sex-slave-retaliates

We just don’t know if the story is legitimate, but it doesn’t matter. I am going with the assumption that the story is true because the theme of abusers and using violence against them is not isolated. I am also going to assume that the killing occurred in defense, not vengeance. Revenge punishment or killing is specifically forbidden in Scripture (which is why I am against capital punishment), but defensive action is a knottier problem. There are evil people in the world, and there is no doubt that they intend to prey on others. The question remains, “Is it permissible to use violence to stop them from carrying out injustice?”

It’s a tough issue, and I have to qualify everything with an, “It seems to me… .” I don’t speak definitively with THE Christian perspective (as if there is only one), but rather as one voice among many. That being said, I side with the woman who shot her would-be attacker and slaver, and I say that with serious reservation since I am against both guns and violence. Furthermore, while I don’t think Jesus would kill anyone, it is clear from the biblical text that God’s patience with humanity does have its limits (although it is unknown what determines when, precisely, God has had enough. If the impending genocide of Native Americans, Jews, Cambodians or Russians -under Stalin- didn’t qualify, then… well, go figure).

But back to the alleged slaying of a militant sex-slaver. There are several relevant themes in play here. There are Jesus’ teachings about turning the other cheek, giving a robber or arbitrary order from an overlord more than he or she demands, etc. (Matthew 5.38-41). Similarly, we have the example of Christ who offered himself up as a sacrifice despite the fact that he could have easily made heads roll and kicked major ass at any point that suited him. He chose the way of passivity and self-destruction rather than defend himself. That is a powerful statement to say the least. However, Jesus wasn’t in it “only” for self sacrifice. He was in it, because he knew the unquantifiable good that his sacrifice would bring. It was a horribly difficult (but worthy) trade-off for him.

For a different perspective, there were many times in Jesus’ ministry when he stirred up the jealousy and hatred of the day’s religious big-deals, and the text says that “they” sought to kill him. It wasn’t Jesus’ time, however, so he easily danced through their traps. You could say that he stealthily “fought” their efforts until his appointed time, and even then, his execution was at his discretion. He retained choice.  This was not the case for the would-be target for sex-slavery. She did not have a choice as far as complete control over the situation went. Unlike Jesus, she didn’t have the option of easily evading those who would hurt her. Similarly, it doesn’t seem that her passivity would yield a greater good if the crime were allowed to proceed. The salvation of others was not on the line. Stated another way, her suffering would be gratuitous. In fact, if she had not successfully resisted, she would probably not be the last victim of this criminal. In that sense, her violent resistance -rather than passivity- yielded the greater good.

Finally, I think we should consider the only time we see Jesus get angry in a way that lead to violence: the temple cleansing. This story has multiple attestations, and can be found in Matthew 21.12-13, Mark 11.15-17, and John 2.13-17. Essentially Jesus finds a marketplace in the temple courts that is serving to separate temple-goers from their money. You may know the story. Jesus pretty much loses it, knocks over tables and uses a whip to drive out the capitalists.

But what if we were to up the ante, and make it not greedy money-changers and animal-sellers in the temple courts, but slavers (sex-slaves or otherwise)? I’m pretty sure Jesus would have been just as aggressive if not more so. The original whipping and overturning of tables was just for the sake of holy ground, not the subjugation and abuse of disenfranchised people, so I cannot fathom that Jesus would be any less motivated to knock heads together in a slavery situation. He would be pissed.

Throughout Scripture, we see both the Father and the Son advocating for the weak and marginalized, be they women, children, orphans, widows, the sick and the old. In our day and age, that would surely include “illegal” immigrants and those who identify as LGBTQ as well. As a Christian, I am convinced that we people of faith are mandated to stand up for these folks, even if that means that we take up “the sword” when oppressors turn violent. The problem, of course, is that humans are very good at rationalizing what qualifies as appropriate purposes for violence and what qualifies as “just war” or “wars of justice.” We see blood spilled over land, money, resources, power and prestige, and these are all sinful and surely variations of abuse. It is only when we use power to fight for REAL justice and protection of the weak that qualifies as honoring God. Killing a person (as a last resort) to stop injustice and systematic abuse seems appropriate to me in a fallen world, even if it is not ideal.

Thanks for reading me.


Posted in Questions for Christians, Theology | 2 Comments

Yes, Christians Can (and should) Support Same-Sex Marriage

And yes, you can be gay or transgender, and be a Christian. Shoot, you can even be a heterosexual too. Nobody is not invited to the Jesus party. But I digress.Replacing that Flag

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that bans against same-sex marriage are unconstitutional and therefore unacceptable. I support this decision and have long said that there is no other decision the court could come to if it is truly governed by fidelity to the U.S. Constitution, the 1st and 14th amendments in particular. Just as a reminder, the 1A prohibits our government from making laws that “respect the establishment of religion,” and the 14A guarantees equal protection under the law. It was the 14th that was specifically cited regarding the SCOTUS’s majority decision in favor of marriage equality on Friday. By contrast, the court rightly ignored religious claims against same-sex marriage, and the 1st amendment was not invoked in the court’s decision.

As I said, I believe that this was the right decision, but my conviction is not merely connected to the legal/ constitutional argument. I also believe that recognizing and supporting marriage equality is the right thing to do as a Christian. I am not ashamed of this.

Nevertheless, I acknowledge that I presently hold a minority position among fellow Christians in the United States. There are more than a few of them who want to “correct” me or judge me regarding my support of same-sex marriage (and almost always by quoting Scripture out of context or without any supporting rationale at all). They believe I am confused, at best, and downright deceived or in Bible-rejecting, God-hating, apostate territory at worst. Anyone who knows anything about me should know better than to go with the worst type of name-calling listed in the previous sentence. While I tire of all these accusations and the constant harassment and judgment of other Christians, I don’t necessarily blame them, at least not at first. The fact is that I used to be (perhaps too recently) among their ranks, and I used to believe similar things about the Bible and what God thinks about homosexuality.

So I don’t hate or ridicule Christians who are convinced that homosexual behavior is always sinful in all contexts at all times. I don’t troll their Twitter accounts or Facebook posts just looking for a chance to argue, judge, or inform them of my disapproval. I disagree with them, but I respect their opinions on the matter and their freedom to post whatever they like on their own social media outlets.

However, this does not mean they are welcome to post whatever they want to on my Facebook page. I do not often tolerate damaging words being posted on my page on the chance that they will hurt other friends who frequent my Facebook feed. I nevertheless understand that Christians who disagree with me believe their convictions are grounded in the biblical text. I accept that their opposition to same-sex marriage is connected to their understanding of morality and what good Christians should and should not do. If homosexuality (and same-sex marriage by extension) is always sinful, then they feel they would be remiss in not opposing it. I get it.

That being said, Christians who judge and speak out against homosexuality in general, and same-sex marriage in particular, are driving people (not just gay folks) away from Christians, away from the Bible, away from the church and even Jesus himself. This is another reason their right to free speech does not necessarily extend to my Facebook page. In expressing beliefs and opinions against the LGBTQ community, it seems to me that these Christians are actually working against Christ rather than for him. This deeply saddens me since I believe Jesus is legit and has a lot to offer our damaged world.

But how can I say this? If homosexuality is a sin, then how can I be for the LGBTQ community? How can I be against my co-Christians who call out the gay “lifestyle” as sinful, and how can I be for same-sex marriage? These are all fair questions, and as some of the commenters on Facebook have tried to prod me, they deserve a response.

For the sake of readability, I will be as brief as possible in describing my general advocacy for members of the LGBTQ community and marriage equality. Read on.

Here is my basic argument in support of same-sex marriage as a Christian

A. God is perfect justice.

B. It would be unjust for God to make a person a certain way and then categorically deny them appropriate means to express how he made them when that exact expression is happily given to others.

C. God makes gay people.

D. God indicates that marriage is the way his people can express their sexuality in a healthy and meaningful way.

Therefore, gay marriage is God-honoring and ought to be celebrated by all Christians instead of being banned and denigrated. If Christians want sexually active adults to be in committed, mutually consenting, monogamous relationships, then marriage is the way.

It is the premise, “God creates gay people,” that anti-gay Christians will take issue with. They have no other option in the argument above. Nevertheless, asserting that all gay people chose their sexuality while heterosexuals were merely created that way by God is hypocritical and completely unhinged from science, the testimony of many gay people, and even the biblical text itself. Thus far, I have found no reason to reject my argument as outlined in the paragraph above this one. Until such time, I will continue my advocacy and support of LGBTQ communities and marriage equality.

Furthermore, below is a smattering of other issues and arguments I believe should be considered before anyone gives in to the temptation of presuming that our nation is subject to their specific religious interpretations and before any more Christians make judgmental and hate-filled pronouncements against LGBTQ communities and same-sex marriage.

1. Bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. This conclusion has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

2. Theocracy has been tried and been found utterly lacking and destructive by the history of the world. The USA has Christians in it, but has never been (and never will be) a Christian nation. It is therefore inappropriate (and illegal) to let anyone’s religious dogma and doctrine dictate laws in the United States of America.

3. Christians who nevertheless want to make others live by their particular religious interpretations are closer to Islamic extremists -who want to impose Sharia Law on everyone- than they are to Jesus, who never forced anybody to do anything.

4. Christians who want to deny others the rights they themselves enjoy are not “loving” their neighbor. They are being hypocritical and bigoted.

5. Condemning same-sex marriage and being hateful towards LGBTQ folks will not change anyone’s sexuality or spirituality.

6. Same-sex marriage is not like bestiality or sexual exploitation of children. We aren’t talking about sex anyway. We are talking about marriage, and unlike marriage among mutually consenting, monogamous adults of sound mind, marrying animals and children has never been legal for anyone in our nation. This is the difference between equality and legality.

7. Quoting Bible verses at people is not a proper way to engage anyone who doesn’t give the Bible (or an anti-gay interpretation of it) any special authority.

8. Judging people won’t make them like you, other Christians, the Bible, church, or Jesus. In fact, it will drive them away.

9. Judging others’ salvation is exactly what Jesus told his people not to do.

10. Even if a homosexual “lifestyle” was always a sin in all contexts (a claim I reject), it does not follow that being “perfect” is required of anyone who wants to follow Jesus. If that were the case, then all Christians, gay or otherwise, would be totally screwed. Sinful or not, There is absolutely no reason that a gay person cannot be a Christian.

11. Nowhere does the Bible feature the word “lifestyle.”

12. Nowhere does the Bible specifically speak of same-sex marriage, but it does hint at the goodness of committed, monogamous, marriages among consenting adults of sound mind.

13. No bacon-eating Christian has any credibility when they quote Levitical Law to make negative assessments of homosexuality.

And finally, a wise campus minister once told me, “Nobody cares what you know until they know that you care.” Pushing for oppression, spewing hate, and pronouncing judgment is a pretty good indicator that you don’t care about non-heterosexuals. At all. And if that’s you, you’re following somebody, but it’s not Jesus.

For my part, as a Christian advocate and friend, I support same-sex marriage in particular, and all LGBTQ people in general. I don’t anticipate that changing anytime soon.



Additional comments, questions, and arguments are welcome provided that they honor the spirit of friendly conversation. Posts that violate this spirit will be edited and may not be read or posted at all. There are already enough a-holes with internet access. Don’t be one of them. -CL

Posted in Politics, Sexuality, Theology | 41 Comments

Oregon Passes Universal Background Check Law for ALL Gun Sales. That’s a Win.

I just stirred the pot on Twitter with the @NRA regarding Oregon’s new law requiring background checks for ALL gun sales (internet and private sales were previously exempt). I know, I know, probably not the best way to approach NRA types. What can I say? I am human too and don’t always tolerate the stupidity I see in the world. Anyway. Not only do the the NRA trolls apparently like the idea of gun sales to folks without background checks (insane), they also predictably united against me in rabid, gun-nut propaganda and hostility. Rather than taking my chances by further taxing the emotional state of angry and unstable gun-users, I decided to release myself from the insanity and not waste any more time trying to reason with them. Nevertheless, I thought it would be fun to add a quick blog entry about the encounter. I put a link out there for them to engage on the blog, but I suspect most of them are too busy congratulating themselves on attacking me. But I digress.

The first NRA mantra that surfaced was the faux-point that gun laws of any stripe won’t stop crime. The implicit conclusion they want to force is that we should therefore not have any gun control laws. What a load of garbage. This is like saying that murder should be legal since laws against it won’t stop it. Fail.

I mentioned this to one of the gunnutters, but it didn’t compute for him. I then asked him why he thought we had any laws at all, and his response was to “punish those who break them and deter crime.” His failure to connect the dots was lost on him. I briefly tried to get him to think, but he switched to telling me that criminals fear people with guns more than they fear prison. I asked him to support this, so he referenced a 30-year old study that only considered the input from a select group of inmates in a handful of prisons and merely assumed that it applies to all criminals today. I hope reasonable people can see the problem with this. For just one example, by his reckoning, “60% of criminals avoid crime when they know their intended victims have guns.” Sounds like an impressive case for guns, right? Wrong. The inclusion of all criminals  is like saying that a drug-dealer wouldn’t sell crack cocaine to his usual clientele if he knew they were carrying or that a tax-evader wouldn’t have dodged his taxes if he knew IRS agents carried guns. Once again: fail.

The second and perhaps most mindless dogmatic claim that was made (this time) is that guns are “harmless.” I told the Twitter-er who said this that he should therefore let his children play with a loaded gun. Needless to say, he didn’t like that and then switched to the old adage that “guns don’t kill people; it’s people who something something.” I’ve dealt with the stupidity of that argument here, but it always amazes me that people are so indoctrinated with that logic (and oblivious to its problems). When will it ever die? Never,  I suppose, at least as long as folks are willing to let the NRA do their thinking for them.

But anyway, for the third argument that was made, Bobby B. (isn’t it always a guy?) posted the following meme in reply to my suggestion about regulation and cars:


I love dissecting this sort of thing, so let’s consider it line by line:

1) The first line posits that cars are not regulated for use on private property, therefore guns shouldn’t be regulated either. This begs the question: How are you going to get your car/gun to your private property without crossing not-your-private-property? Fail. And a car isn’t much good if you can’t take it off your property, but whatever. I might not be opposed to enforced laws (and technology) that prevent any guns from leaving one’s private property. I’m pretty sure that the gun-nuts don’t want that, so once again, number 1 fails to make a decent argument.

Line 2) No license required? Hardly. You have to take a test (or series of tests) to drive a car regardless of its transmission. The same should be the case for the regulation of guns. Number 2 fails.

Line 3) You are required to title and register a car through proper paperwork when you buy it. Period. This is all the more the case (as well as required insurance) if you want to use it on public roads, regardless of private or “public” sales. Number 3 fails. Like cars, guns should be titled, registered and insured.

Line 4) “Full faith and credit?” I don’t even know how that part of our legal code applies to cars, much less concealed carry laws for guns. Number 4 not only fails; it is three notches up on the “Huh?” factor.

Line 5) Unsupervised operation at 16? Yes that’s true for cars, but applying the same standard for guns seems questionable at best. At the very least, I would not oppose raising the driving age to 18. Does number 5 fail? Hmm. I don’t know, but I don’t find it particularly convincing either.

Line 6) Mufflers and Suppressors required? Like number 4, this so vapid and ridiculous that it  totally fails. Mufflers don’t increase the chance of murder like suppressors do. That being said, I think that perhaps my EV should have synthetic Harley pipes broadcast outside so unsuspecting pedestrians don’t step off the curb into my path. In that sense, perhaps guns should be required to be louder or have warning signals broadcast when they are in use. That’s some reasonable #gunsense that I could support.

Line 7) Limits on fuel and magazine size? This is another stupid, apples to envelopes comparison. Gas in the tank doesn’t increase potential death tolls like bullets in a magazine do. Besides, how many bullets do you reaallly need for hunting deer and target practice? If you need a machine gun with a huge magazine to go hunting, you’re probably doing it wrong.

So, nice try, @bobby_b71, but you’re going to have to try again. Your meme is stupid and unconvincing. At best.

For my part, I think I’ll stick with a more realistic comparison between guns and cars:


Unless it is because of the irrational fears and general paranoia fostered by the NRA, or unless they actually want irresponsible types to have guns (and perhaps they do), I don’t understand why any “good person with a gun” would be against any of these sensible regulations. Don’t they want guns to only be in the hands of functionally responsible citizens? Don’t they understand that requiring proper training and licensing would be a good thing and make it more difficult for criminals to attain and keep such weapons (or at least help authorities know an unauthorized gun when they see it)? Don’t gun advocates want people with guns to be physically and mentally capable and in good health before having or using a deadly weapon? Shouldn’t responsible citizens want to know what happens with guns, who has them, when they are sold, traded or given away? Don’t responsible citizens want accountability for people who are irresponsible in who they give, trade or sell guns to?

The NRA and their minions are against each and everyone of these common #gunsense suggestions. It begs the question: “Why?”

If that’s not enough, be sure to look at my other, related blog entries regarding the ridiculousness and insanity of our gun-nut culture:

In Guns We Trust

If You Give A Man an Assault Rifle

Trayvon Martin and the Insanity of Gun Culture

Happy hunting!

As always, thanks for reading me.


Posted in Other Topics, Politics | 41 Comments

Is Now a Good Time to Invest in Oil?

I am going a little afield from the usual menu of faith-based entries with this post, but I am also an aspiring finance geek and wanted to put some thoughts together on the recent trend in oil prices. But don’t worry, one of my core Christian convictions remains that we cannot show respect to our creator while systematically disrespecting his creation (especially when it’s done in the name of short-sighted economic gains at the expense of just about everyone, especially the poor and defenseless). Yes, gasoline is “less-expensive,” these days, but if you were driving in the mid to late 90’s, then you know it still isn’t “cheap.” And when we figure in the externalized costs of oil (like health problems and environmental destruction), it is still way waaay too costly.

Anyway, I just read a friend’s blog this morning that discussed the ramifications of the drop in oil prices for personal finances. It was well done, and you can find it here: What Falling Oil Prices and a Rising Dollar Mean for You. But it got me thinking about investments in oil as a money maker or a portfolio holding. Unfortunately, if you own any mass-market exchange traded fund (ETF) or mutual fund that focuses on large-cap companies or the S&P 500, you absolutely have money invested in the oil industry, like it or not. It is what it is, and there’s nothing you can do about it if you prefer index funds (like me). That being said, there are ETFs and mutual funds that are specifically dedicated to the oil sector (as well as individual stocks if you like extra exposure). The question, therefore, is: “Is now a good time to buy in to oil-dedicated investments?”

As much as it pains me to say this (no really, I may have to punch myself in the face here), right now might be a decent time to invest in oil (in general) if you are a short-term or even medium-term investor. Oil securities, ETFs and mutual funds have generally taken a beating in the last 6 months, and I don’t think this is going to last. There’s just no way. Short term, I’d say less than 2 years. Mid-term? Maybe 3-7. And when prices spike again, it could be the perfect model of buying low and selling high, if you buy-in now. But investor beware, so-called “market timing” is notoriously difficult, and I am not recommending any such thing. In fact, the prevailing wisdom of benefiting from investing in stocks, bonds, ETFs and mutual funds is to buy and hold, holding forever if possible (thanks, Mr. Buffet). With that in mind, Now is definitely NOT the time to take a long-term approach to investing in gas and oil or any of their subsidiary businesses. Ah, maybe I can sleep tonight after all.

Whether it’s investing or budgeting for sub-$2 gallons of gas, I think it is a huge mistake to get too excited or make long-term financial plans that depend on lower oil prices year over year. What I mean is that the current trend is likely a fluke in the steady rise in demand for and shrinking supply of oil. At least easy-access oil, that is. At best, this will cause oil securities to stagnate concerning capital appreciation and dividends too, and maybe even continue to fall. And please, for the love of God, don’t go buy a Chevy Suburban or Ford Expedition thinking that gas prices won’t ruin your day in the future. They will.

Over the mid-term, the less expensive oil hiccup will simply not continue. Oil companies all over the world have a vested interest in higher oil prices. Combined with free-market mechanics, this necessitates that less-profitable drilling and refining will be shutdown, which will entail reduced supply. On the other side, demand will inevitably increase, especially with the growing middle classes in China and India (and all of them want cars). This will cause oil securities to rise in capital appreciation and perhaps dividends too.

Falling production with increasing demand = higher prices, and this is exactly what Saudi Arabia (the cornerstone of OPEC) wants AND why they have decided to increase short term oil production. It’s a brilliant market play on the part of the Arab Kingdom because (as I said) this will drive a lot of the smaller and more challenging oil fields to become unprofitable and shutdown (think dirty tar sands oil & every smalltime operation in West Texas and North Dakota). Once those players are out of business, and OPEC chops its supply (and they will, mark my words) that organization can do whatever it likes with prices and the rest of the world will just have to say “Thank you, may I have another?!”

That being said, over the longer-term, the entire oil business is in deep trouble (and it should be, given the environmental and geo-political consequences of long term oil addiction). Eventually we are going to wake up and realize that fossil fuels (and all the petrol dictatorships who hate the USA that depend on them) are not a good thing for our nation or for the world at large to keep financing. When we finally accept the poisonous nature of our addiction to fossil fuels, and when we finally build-out a renewable, clean energy economy that eschews dirty fuels, long-term investments in the fossil-fuel industry are going down in a major way. Hasten the day.

But it’s not just an environmental thing. As hinted at above, moving away from oil means that nations like Venezuela, Iran, and Russia get put in a serious financial pinch. These nations aren’t exactly a list of America’s biggest fans, and each of them are presently facing serious financial crises and domestic turmoil for no other reason that falling oil prices have gutted their economies (think military and social spending). I suggest that Putin’s recent land-grabs are motivated by the desire to distract as much as they are to commandeer much-needed, non-oil resources, but that is a separate topic, I suppose. Nevertheless, the fact is that moving away from oil means that we can put hostile nations (many of which use oil revenues to finance terrorism) out of business, and that is a wonderful thing. It also represents a serious set of motivators for clean, renewable energy sources like solar, wind, geothermal, etc. Even if we prefer to deny science / climate change, the fact is that moving away from oil can protect more than the planet.

When we take the longview, it seems that the heyday of oil is over, perhaps in its twilight or at the very lest, well past noon, and thus not a good option for the buy and hold investor. Divesting from fossil fuels now = investing in a healthy and peaceful future.

And I think that’s something Jesus could dig.

Thanks for reading me.


Posted in Environment, Other Topics, Politics | 5 Comments

Justice for Michael Brown?

Update 7/15/2015: Since I first wrote this blog entry, countless new cases of police brutality and proven overreactions have surfaced online, on YouTube and on various media outlets across the nation. It has become clear that the Michael Brown incident is not an isolated event, but rather a small piece of accumulating evidence that our nation’s law enforcement agencies suffer from, perpetuate, and deny systemic racism and procedural overreactions and excessive force against our fellow citizens of color with alarming frequency. As such, I have often thought of deleting this entire blog post, but I have chosen to let it remain as a reminder to myself how my white privilege and alleged intellect can cloud my own judgment, a judgment I previously believed to be excessively well-reasoned and fair despite my own biases. I failed. This “update” is a slice of humble pie, and I will eat it. I no longer believe that Michael Brown received anything that could be mistaken for “justice,” and I am sorry for not having arrived at this conclusion sooner.

Sincerely, -C. Lambeth 7/15/15

Original Blog Entry Below:

I sign a lot of petitions for many different issues. Most of these are for environmental causes and cases of human injustice, especially those concerning women and children. As a Christian, I take injustice very seriously and strive (although not very well at times) to treat others how I would want to be treated. Similarly, as part of my desire to remake the world in a better and more equitable place, I sign up to get emails from various organizations who support such causes. One of these is the petition hosting site, MoveOn.org, and more often than not, I’m not particularly discerning in which petitions I sign. I rarely see one that doesn’t deserve my signature. That was not the case last Tuesday, however, when I received a request to sign a petition urging the President and Attorney General, Eric Holder, to indict the police officer, Darren Wilson, who shot and killed Michael Brown, and to do so regardless of the findings of a grand jury assembled to weigh the matter.

Here is what the leading portion of the petition saidYesterday, a St. Louis grand jury refused to indict Mike Brown’s killer—police officer Darren Wilson. On Aug. 9, the nation was horrified to learn that Mike Brown was targeted and killed by police as he walked down the street with a friend.”

As the carefully worded petition reads, people are lead to believe that officer Darren Wilson specifically picked Michael Brown as a target for his unbridled prejudices, and for his part, Brown was merely sauntering down the lane with a friend and minding his own business. Moreover, everyone in “the nation” was “horrified” at the fact that a grand jury “refused” to bring charges against the police officer who shot Brown.

What a load of misleading and manipulative nonsense. As per the known facts, here’s what the petition should have stated: St. Louis grand jury determined that police officer, Darren Wilson, did not violate the law when he defended himself with lethal force against the violent assailant, Michael Brown. However, we think we know better, so please sign this petition advocating circumvention of due process and forcing a decision that accords with our personal feelings rather than law. 

The Real Question

I want it known that I am troubled by the incident between officer Wilson and Mr. Brown. It should not have happened at all. Had Mr. Brown not robbed a convenience store and not been holding up traffic as he walked in the middle of the street and not attacked officer Wilson when given a reasonable directive by the officer, he would still be alive. In fact, he would be alive even if he had robbed the store and held up traffic IF he had complied with the officer’s reasonable request for information and appropriate pedestrian behavior. And IF officer Wilson had killed Brown for Brown’s peaceful compliance, THEN a grand jury WOULD absolutely have reason to indict and convict the officer.

As it stands, officer Wilson did not pick this fight. He approached Brown only after he witnessed some odd behavior from Brown. In fact, Wilson was only in the vicinity because a police dispatcher had sent him to the area for a different call. Wilson did not “target” Brown in the sense that he was looking for a reason to kill an unarmed black man. Yes, he technically aimed at Brown (with his gun) when Brown was attacking him, but not before. The petition conveniently left these details out, and it used the verb “targeted” in a sense that does not immediately indicate using a site on a gun, but rather an intentional and unmerited desire to persecute Brown because of some prejudicial condition.

While the petition sent to me thankfully did not mention this “prejudicial condition,” it has nevertheless been identified as race. Time and again I have heard that, “white police officer, Darren Wilson, gunned down unarmed, college-bound, black student, Michael Brown.” All of these descriptors are technically accurate, but just like the petition’s wording, they are designed to evoke certain themes in the mind of the viewers/ listeners. I think they are also designed to elicit thoughts of police brutality.

Let’s face it, some people want this to be about race, and therein lies a huge problem. The shooting death of Michael Brown is not necessarily a case of violent, white-on-black racism. That may (or may not) be an issue worthy of investigation here, but it seems to me the real question concerns what happened between officer Wilson and Mr. Brown? To make this incident only about race can completely obfuscate that obvious question.


It should be noted that an assailant doesn’t have to possess his or her own gun in order to have a “weapon.” A fist, a car door, and even an officer’s own pistol are all options that a criminal can opt for in the midst of an altercation. Officers have the right to defend themselves by force when attacked with any manner of weapon. We see this all the time when a criminal tries to ram a cop with a vehicle. By the evidence made known to the grand jury and the public, Mr. Brown did not comply with the officer’s requests and ultimately responded violently (although not with a gun) to officer Wilson. This ended with Wilson firing his weapon and Brown’s death. The real question is not, “Is Wilson a racist?” but rather, “Did Wilson use his weapon lawfully?” The grand jury found that Wilson did, in fact, lawfully use his weapon.

Before I go on, we should consider a few important questions. For example, should a police officer not address wayward pedestrians who are intentionally holding up traffic and putting themselves at risk? Should a police officer not defend him or herself when attacked by an assailant? If a cop cannot even ask citizens to comply with the most basic of traffic laws, much less defend him or herself from a violent perpetrator, then what would we suggest cops do with their time? Have we not opted for some sort of anarchy when we prevent cops from doing their jobs? What would we have had officer Wilson do?

Or, what if Brown had succeeded in his attack against the officer? What if Brown had killed Wilson with a weapon and then a grand jury determined that Brown was merely acting in self defense? Would the residents of Ferguson Missouri and other municipalities automatically declare that a grave injustice occurred and march in the streets, sometimes violently to show their displeasure? Would a petition rise up on the internet to ask our President and the Attorney General to step in and ignore due process and make an armchair decision without the weight of measuring all the evidence or even considering a jury of citizen peers? No. There would be no marches and no mass outcries of injustice. In fact, I doubt most of us would have ever even heard the story.

And that raises an equally important question, namely: “Why do some folks immediately assume (without having access to the facts and testimony that the grad jury did) that this incident is an example of injustice, racism and police brutality?” Have these protesters even considered that perhaps the grand jury reached a logical and accurate decision? Could it be that, as the grand jury determined, officer Wilson was defending himself from a violent attack? And if this could NOT be the case, then we must ask, “Why not?” Could it possibly be that the various protesters (and petition creators) are leaping to the wrong conclusion because of some gut-level feeling they have (rather than facts)? Could there be a level of anti-white racism afoot in those feelings that merely presumes that anti-black racism is to blame, and that Michael Brown was just walking down the street with a friend as an innocent and hopeful college student? These are questions that must be considered.

Is Michael Brown’s Death an Instance of Racism and Police Brutality?

I understand that many, many people are dismayed at what happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. I am one of them. The incident could have easily been avoided. I understand that police brutality is a very real thing. I accept that racism, primarily against both black and Latino people, has played a very real, very violent and very unjust part of American life, both past and present. Be that as it may, when it comes to the shooting death of Michael Brown, the question to ask is not, “Is there racism, brutality and injustice in parts of our nation’s police forces?” but rather, “Is the death of Michael Brown an example of these police problems?”

IS Mr. Brown’s death an example of injustice perpetrated by our system? Am I big jerk for criticizing the notion that it was? Am I even capable of considering the question given my white privilege and power? I have no absolute certainty about what really happened between Brown and Wilson, so I must consider the allegation as a possibility. Nevertheless, it will take more than what I’ve seen thus far from the get-officer-Wilson contingent to convince me that I am wrong here. While I acknowledge that it IS possible that racial hatred motivated officer Wilson to gun down Mr. Brown in cold blood, the grand jury says otherwise. That jury was in the best place to make a decision, far better than my personal feelings, and they did. When someone outside of that jury claims to know what really happened, they are making a claim without credibility. Whether they realize it or not, they are presuming to know better than those who had direct access to the evidentiary details, and that is beyond reason.

So. Back to the petition I was asked to sign. I get it that people are upset and want justice. The problem is that a large portion of them do not accept what has been determined to BE justice by a jury of Brown’s and Wilson’s peers. And once the petition creators jumped to their own ill-conceived conclusions about the event, they decided to compose a petition that purposefully misrepresents the situation so that they might stir up sentiment (and signatures) for their misguided cause. I’m sure the tactic has worked among folks who haven’t bothered to consider the problem it typifies or those who operate on feeling at the expense of reason.

I also wonder if the petition’s creators have considered that the manipulative way they have written it undermines their own cause. What I mean is that some people who accept the grand jury’s decision have come to believe that the folks who reject it are merely troublemakers who do not care about facts, due process, or even the law itself. This petition plays to those very suspicions. The most reasonable thing skeptical people can say about this sad story is that they do not know if the grand jury’s decision was right, but they feel like it wasn’t. Even so, our legal system is (supposed to be) held accountable to facts and legal arguments, not feelings. When we overturn law and misrepresent facts to fit our feelings and manipulate others we have become the instruments of injustice.

Going forward, reasonable people should continue to push for appropriate police accountability, civil rights AND obedience to the law. We should protest when these things are trampled on, regardless of who does the trampling (cops or robbers). Nevertheless, if both parties in the Brown-Wilson incident had respected police accountability, civil rights, and acted in obedience to the law, then Brown would still be alive. Indeed, there would have been no reason for officer Wilson to pay him any attention at all.

Thanks for reading me,

-C. Lambeth

Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

Atheist Sam Harris’ Wheelbarrow

Recently I came across a comment from the atheist popularizer, Sam Harris, deriding Christians for believing accounts of Christ that come from a millennia-years old book penned by people for whom the wheelbarrow was emergent technology. I understand that for some people (apparently Sam Harris), this might appear to be an appropriate criticism, but the logic is more than a little muddled. Harris’ argument hinges on the idea that people whom WE consider to be technologically primitive are incapable of perceiving events as they actually occurred and equally unable to report them to anyone else with fidelity. Like other atheists, Mr. Harris is welcome to place his faith in such dubious conclusions, but there are a few things the rest of us should consider before converting to his beliefs.

First off, neither historical events nor truth statements are contingent upon the relative technological advances of the people that witness or record them. By Harris’ logic, anything and everything that ancient people did, said, wrote down or thought is contemptible for mere fact that ancient people were ancient people. Put another way, his argument suggests that technologically “primitive” people are incapable of discerning truth, much less accurately conveying it to those who come after them.
This isn’t just questionable; this is dumb.

Secondly, statements like Harris’ demonstrate an embarrassing lack of self-awareness when it comes to our own location in history. What I mean is that this sort of logic presumes that we are presently at the pinnacle of knowledge and technological innovation, and this is laughable. While it might initially be tempting to buy into this because of where we are SO FAR in human history on planet earth, a tiny bit of reflection will reveal that the sentiment is ludicrous even if we ruled out the possible technological advances of truly alien races (think ET). To clarify, while we can look back and congratulate ourselves for having come this far (iPods and space shuttles etc.), we are not at the end of time. We are part of a continuum and should consider that perhaps Harris’ wheelbarrow is to the 1st century what the microchip is to the late 20th century. Looking forward, what might we hypothesize that humans in the 41st century would say about the technology and understanding of people in the 21st century? Speculate with me:

Can you imagine, those poor schleps thought that electric cars were amazing ‘technological innovations’!?!? Since we obviously know better now, we should dismiss anything that those ignorant, 21st century fools did, said or transmitted to us here in the 5th millennium.

The (poor) logic here is astounding.

Of course I suspect that Harris’ verbal hand-grenade was not intended to criticize everything about 1st century peoples everywhere, but rather just those who had profound experiences with Christ and his church. I doubt that Harris approaches non-Christian and non-supernatural accounts and events of a similar vintage with the same amount of vitriol and skepticism. That is his prerogative, but it accomplishes little besides pulling back the curtain on his biases and materialistic faith-commitments (at least for those willing to look).

To make a final point, what if we turn the tables on Harris and consider the earliest Christians to be well ahead of their time. The argument might sound like this:

Because extremely educated and technologically sophisticated people believe in Jesus in the 21st century, this demonstrates that people who believed in Christ with the comparative technological limitations of the first century were truly thousands of years more enlightened than their non-believing associates.

I suspect that atheists will not be impressed by such thinking, and this is precisely why I am amazed that they think Harris’ quote on the matter merits allegiance or why they champion him as a spokesperson for their cause. Is he the best they have to offer?
Happily, I think so. Dig deep. Christians have nothing to fear.

Thanks for reading me.

Posted in Atheism / Secular Humanism | 1 Comment

Denying Climate Change is Stupid and UnChristian

How can people can still deny climate change and humanity’s culpability for it? Why are Christians so heavily represented in that group of denialists? There is no legitimate debate over what is happening. The greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, a has increased exponentially in our atmosphere over the last 200 years to almost 400 parts per million, a level not recorded since at least 10,000 years ago. There is only one viable explanation for these elevated levels: human activities. Simultaneously, our planet’s carbon-sinks, or those features like healthy oceans and rain forests that absorb carbon dioxide, have been polluted, deforested and generally damaged at an unprecedented rate and scale (also by human activities). The only things we don’t know about climate change are: 1) how quick and disruptive the effects will be, and 2) what, if anything, humans are going to do about the problem they created.Image

In a particularly troubling move, I have noticed that those who have long rejected science (at least when it suits their political allegiances) have jumped from denying climate change altogether to claiming that there’s nothing we can do about it now, so don’t bother trying. It is pretty clear that these folks’ pretext has ALWAYS been: We’re never going to do anything about climate change, and we’ll find whatever excuse is most convenient to avoid taking any responsible action on it. 

Even more troubling is that some of my fellow Christians deny science and refuse to support action on climate change because they’ve allowed it to be dictated in political terms. Since Democrats (in general) accept what our atmosphere and science is telling us about climate change, and Republicans (in general) deny it, respective supporters of these political parties often fall in-line with those partisan positions. This isn’t particularly unique. It happens all the time, but the atmosphere (and science) don’t give a damn about our political or religious beliefs. We desperately need a reality check. We cannot continue to plod along blindly because of our political dogma.

What About God?

Speaking of dogma, can we talk about some of the wacky religious ideology on this issue? Perhaps it would be more accurate for me to say, “the wacky dogma of some religious people.” It’s a subtle but important difference. What I mean is that we don’t have to look too far to find some Christians professing faith that God won’t let humans wreak havoc on the climate. In a not-too-distant disagreement with one of my old friends from elementary school, he vehemently denied climate change (because he couldn’t see it with his own eyes), and subtly accused me of some type of apostasy when he asked me, “Are you going to believe man, or God on this issue?!?!

I didn’t realize God had spoken on climate change. Oh. Wait. He didn’t. I don’t precisely know where this “logic” comes from, but it’s not the Bible. I suspect it’s linked to the belief that only God will destroy the Earth/ Universe, but this fails to be applicable to climate change.1  Let’s not blow things out of proportion. Climate change won’t destroy the celestial mass we call Earth, nor the universe. However, it will accelerate the already-happening mass extinction rate on Earth, as well as general destruction of natural habitat, biodiversity, and stable sea-levels. Climate change will also aid in the spread of disease, pestilence, forest fires, floods, droughts, and extreme weather in general. It will also disproportionately and negatively affect impoverished individuals and nations who have not the means to relocate or adequately cope with the effects of climate change. Continued belief that God won’t let these sorts of things happen is disconnected from both human history AND Scripture. God seems quite comfortable letting humanity deal with the deadly consequences of its own stupidity. There is no reason to believe this time will be any different.

It All Comes Down to the Dollar (doesn’t it always?)

In one of its oddest forms, anti-climate folks proclaim that climate change is a money making scheme perpetrated by the likes of Al Gore to make money off of gullible types (as if the fossil-fuel industry doesn’t see us as cash-cows and has no interest whatsoever in maintaining our addiction to dirty energy). Right. Even a family member claims that in the 1970’s, “all the scientists were saying the planet was in a horrible cooling period and that we were well on our way into another ice age.” Then the person declares that it was just a money-maker for “those people” and a way to manipulate the political landscape.2  The result is that this anecdote is used as a pretext to dismiss what scientists say about the reality of climate change. Fail.

In its slightly more plausible form, the money argument against taking on climate change is that acting ethically will be expensive and damaging to our oh-so-fragile economy. I understand the sentiment. Transitioning away from dirty fuels and towards alternative, clean renewables certainly comes with a price tag. Nevertheless, this fails to consider that if we screw the climate, our global economy gets screwed too (not to mention your beach house).

The Economics Protest fails to consider the following:

1) The true cost of NOT doing anything to mitigate and reduce climate change is likely to FAR exceed the costs of transitioning away from fossil fuels. We are simply messing with forces we do not understand on an unprecedented scale, the consequences of which are not fully known. The exacerbation of super storm Sandy by climate change/ risen sea levels is but a foretaste of the kind and cost of costal damages that our nation (and world) are in for. Considering that dirty fuels are going to be depleted at some point anyway, transitioning to clean, sustainable alternatives sooner rather than later makes the most sense. It’s not a matter of IF we must transition away from dirty fuels, but when. Citing economics as a reason for refusing to act on climate change is both short-sighted and stupid.

2) Transitioning to alternative, renewable, clean means of power creation/ consumption will mean the exponential and sustainable growth of new jobs and industries. The first nation(s) to make this transition and sell it to others will be a global game-changer. Transitioning away from fossil fuels like oil will also put many nations and groups who hate the United States out of business. Believing that transitioning to clean, renewable power will cost us jobs and security is plainly wrong.

And please, for the love of God, stop throwing Solyndra into this argument. Using that failed solar company to try and make a point is like saying that we should have given up flight after the first few attempts to build airplanes came to nothing. Or that we should have given up fighting polio when the first efforts at inoculation foundered. Or the moon. Or the computer. Or…  I think you get the idea.

3) Finally, and with particular regard to Christians, it ought to be considered that, as per the Bible, God cares infinitely more about his creatures (all of creation) than he does about fickle human wealth and political allegiances. If we were to ask Christ, “What should we focus on, economic development that permanently damages creation OR a sustainable economy that seeks balance between human activities and the rest of his creation?” I think we can predict what he would say and all the more so when we consider that our present economic system (here’s looking at you, capitalism) favors the wealthy at the expense, subjugation, and desolation of impoverished nations and people. Favoring destructive environmental practices for micro-term wealth creation is not just stupid, it’s unChristian.

I could go on, but it’s unnecessary. Chances are that if you understand the reality and threat of climate change, you don’t need me to tell you about it. Similarly, if you deny the reality of climate change, you probably wouldn’t read this blog-post in the first place. I hope I am wrong on both counts, but even if I’m not, I hope whoever reads this found some part of it helpful or at least mildly interesting.

Thanks for reading me,


1: The popular Christian conception that the entire cosmos will ultimately be destroyed by fire is grounded in a particular interpretation of 2Peter 3:10-12. All too often, the resulting attitude is that we shouldn’t be so concerned with conservation or limiting our destructive activities because it’s all going to burn anyway. This is stupid. Even if this interpretation of the verse were accurate (and there is reason to believe that it is not), we simply have no idea when Christ will return. To use an analogy, sound financial planning posits that retirement be constructed to reduce the possibility of running deficits before a person’s body becomes worm food. From a self-preservation and care-for-our-progeny perspective, I think we should at least consider treating our planet in the same way until the truly unpredictable moment of THE END. Put another way, when we consider that we have no idea when history will end, we had better take care of what we have for as long as we can.

2: A Brief Review of the peripheral 70’s cooling fear can be found here: http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2014/01/the_myth_of_the_global_cooling_consensus.html

And just for a little extra reading: Climate Change Skeptic Sees the Light, Changes Mind


This post was last edited on 12/31/14.

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