Monday, September 28, 2015

White Collar Crime as Deadly as Gun Toting?

Did you hear about the peanut company CEO sentenced to 28 years in prison?  What was the crime?  His company is directly linked to the death of nine (9) people.  Apparently he, that is, his company and his executive decisions within the company, is guilty of poisoning them with salmonella.

He and his family pleaded for mercy, leniency in sentencing.  To them, the thought of even considering the death penalty was excessive.  Yet, nine people are dead because of his executive decisions as then CEO of Peanut Corporation of American based in Georgia.

Excessive?  How is it that a robbery gone wrong, such as, for example, a street thug waving a gun to rob a local liquor-store in inner-city USA and ends up shooting and killing the store’s attendant, readily gets the severest of penalties with no argument while a CEO who is responsible for the death of nine people believes with all his heart that he deserves leniency?  After all, the motive between the two crimes is exactly the same: money!

It is believed that he knew.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  He knew that he was cheating and lying and putting peoples’ lives in jeopardy and all for what, for money, to avoid loss, to keep up profit.  It was a so-called “white-collar” crime, but still a crime nevertheless.

We stereo-type and generally assume that the “bad guy” is black or brown or Muslim, inner-city, poor, uneducated, and addicted.  Thus, we give little thought to the more egregious crimes of secrecy, duplicity, and fraudulency happening daily in our high rise executive offices.

You may balk at this thought, but bankers, lawyers, industrialists, and CEO’s of any number of companies can also be guilty of murder, rape, and thuggery.  Sure, they may not directly use guns and knives and chains or brass knuckles, but given their flagrant exercise of power, privilege and position, their executive decisions can and do cause harm—even to the point of causing death to others.  And the thing about it is that it is far easier for them to get-away-with-it.

Stewart Parnell is the gentleman in question, the once CEO of Peanut Corporation of America.  He is quoted to have said: “This has been a seven-year nightmare for me and my family.  I’m truly, truly, sorry for what’s happened.”  It’s good that he is sorry.  He should be.  Still, I can’t help but wonder, would he have been sorry if he had never been caught and prosecuted, given the knowledge that nine people still lost their lives because of his greed (keeping company profits up by refusing to recall bad peanut butter from the market place)?

And then there is the Volkswagen scandal.  You have also heard of that one, I’m sure.  Here again the CEO is extremely sorry and apologizes profusely.  Again, I have to ask, is it because the company was caught?  Why did the company do this in the first place?  (The company rigged millions of vehicles around the world to cheat on emissions testing so that they appeared to be in compliance with emissions controls when they actually were not.)

More white collar crime and more harm done.  This harm is indirect and subtle, falling under the radar screen of detection, almost impossible to directly link its cause and effect to any harm done, but it is still harm done nevertheless!  And that’s what we’ve got to realize.  Indeed, because of its very nature—subtle, indirect, almost impossible to link to direct harm—I have no doubt that white collar crime is more dangerous and does more harm than common street thug crime, because it affects many, many more people.

This is why it is dangerous to allow companies and corporations to become “too big to fail.”  This is also why it is irresponsible to legally deem corporations as persons.  Why?  It is irresponsible because real people can too easily hide behind the façade of corporate personhood and avoid personal responsibility themselves, blaming the corporation.  Yet, how does one prosecute a corporation for murder?  How do you arrest and incarcerate a corporation?

We have given too much power and control to corporate America.  And this has resulted, if I may generalize here, in the raping of our lands and the polluting of our air, etc. etc. while they claim to be bettering America.  Of course it’s our fault for believing this to be the case.  Yet, how much unseen and undetected crime is being committed?  No, I’m not saying that all of corporate America is guilty or untrustworthy.  But I am saying that we over trust them and have put too much blind faith in big business and in corporate America in general.

The trouble is that our real American value system can be reduced to one thing: profit and consumption!  Greed is good!  As long as corporations employ us and pay us high dividends for our investments, we pat them on the back and congratulate them on a job well done.  It’s only the bottom line that really counts.  It’s all about the money.  Corporate profit is always good, often making us turn a blind eye as to its means and methods for obtaining said profit.  This is a big reason why our nation is in trouble and why we have CEO’s that do in fact lie or cheat and steal from us while we remain clueless.  One has to wonder, for every Volkswagen or Peanut Corporation of America that is caught, how many corporate deceptions go undetected and scot-free or are just ignored?

Monday, September 21, 2015

An Answer to the Palestinian/Israeli Conflict?

When speaking about the Middle East, specifically with regard to the Israelis and the Palestinians, it seems inevitable that mutual hatred is a given, conflict is a foregone conclusion, and that war is inescapable.  Not necessarily so, says author and Middle East mission’s worker, Andrew Bush, in his book, Learning from the Least: Reflections on a Journey in Mission with Palestinian Christians (Cascade Books: 2013).

But where exactly do Christians, who supposedly follow The Way of Christ, stand with respect to the Middle East conflict between Israel and Palestinians?

Many Evangelical Christians side with Israel, hands down.  Why?  Because of the central role that the people of Israel play in Biblical history, theology, and prophecy; Christians learn early on that those who bless Israel shall be blessed and those who curse Israel shall be cursed.  (See for example Numbers chapter 24 and note especially verse 9.)

But perhaps Christians have forgotten that we must interpret and apply Biblical lessons through the lens of Jesus Himself.  For, Jesus is Lord of all Lords and King of all Kings.  Hence, we must follow the way of Christ.  In that light, note that it was Jesus who said things like, “Love your enemies” and “blessed are the peacemakers.”  Assumption: All serious followers of Christ must take Christ’s teaching and example as his/her practical guide for life’s values, principles, and practices.  Hence, theology matters, how one lives-out and practices his or her understanding of God’s Will, expectations and commands, in the person of Christ, matters!

This brings me back to Andrew Bush’s book, Learning from the Least.  What should be the Christian response to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict?  Bush has an answer.  And I believe it is a viable, Biblical, Christo-centric, Godly answer at that.  All Christians who care about Israel and are concerned for peace in the Middle East need to read this book.

The exercise of privileged status and the power that comes with it, militarism, the oppression of the weak and lowly, nationalism (specific to any nation, region, or people group) over-against loyalty to the Rule of Christ (the Kingdom of God), are contrary to the Way of Christ.  Hence, Christ would have His followers be supportive of BOTH the people of Israel AND the Christian Palestinians.  Indeed, Christ would have us care for anyone who is poor, oppressed, and/or cruelly and unjustly treated—regardless of race, ethnicity, or national origin.

Thus, in his well written book, Bush encourages Western Christianity to undertake a radical renewal in its Global Missions as regard to its spirituality & motive and its Gospel underpinnings—vis-à-vis, by means of grace, mercy and re-embracing the way of the cross, especially as it affects the Middle East.

Bush reminds Christians, for example, that Jesus calls us to the radical act of picking up one’s cross in following Him: Jesus calls us to love and compassion, mercy and grace, humility and servanthood; NOT to a self-aggrandizing privileged status of prominence and power and militaristic national triumphalism.  So, for example he also addresses uncritical Christian Zionism among our churches, questioning our Western Christian behavior that seems to assume that it is okay to use power and military force and oppressive tactics against Others, IF we believe it advances “God’s Will.”  (My note: and of course with such an assumption comes the belief that we Western Christians also have the right to define what God’s Will is).

In short, Andrew Bush calls us to reexamine our theology respecting the Middle East as it concerns Israel and Palestine.  Yes, Bush believes in and supports Christian Missions.  Yes, he believes in communicating and spreading the Gospel of Christ.  Yes, he respects and embraces Biblical truth and the People of Israel.  Because of this, Bush also believes there needs to be a spiritual renewal in Western Christian missions that brings us down from our lofty pedestal of presumed power and privilege that victimizes and marginalizes Palestinian Christians or that blindly supports nationalism (Palestinian, Israeli, or American) over-against the teachings, principles, and practices of God’s Kingdom rule—the rule of Christ in a believer’s heart and mind that surpasses any particular nationalism of any particular people.

Andrew Bush’s book is well worth the reading, especially if you are a Christian and have (1) a deep commitment to Christ and His Gospel (2) a deep respect for the people of Israel as inspired by the Bible (3) a deep longing for peace in the Middle East, especially as it relates to fellow Christian Palestinian believers and fellow Messianic Jewish believers, and finally (4) if you have a deep passion for spiritual growth and maturity to be a faithful follower of Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Deal With Iran Is Like a Deal with….

Making a deal with the Devil?

This is extreme talk as always when it comes to politics.  But we seldom hear wise insightful and carefully thought through reasoned observations from extremists.  Rather, we get a whole lot of dizzying political spin—a whole lot of clanging symbols and pounding gongs—noisy and deafening political soundbites.  So, the deal with Iran is either the best deal we could ever have had, or the worst deal we could ever have gotten.  Which is it?

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle.  It’s probably not the best deal nor is it the worst deal.  Truth is, as nations go, Iran is not Satan’s Kingdom nor is the U.S. God’s Heaven on earth.  Is it un-American to say such thing?  I hope not, because it’s true.

Obviously there are times in which negotiating deals does no good.  The 1938 Chamberlain/Hitler “Peace for our Time” Munich Agreement is a lesson well learned to that effect.  Sometimes negotiating peace with an enemy merely gives the enemy wanted time to prepare a preemptive strike.  Is that what this Iranian agreement does?  Some extremist think so.  But that’s just it: It is exactly what an extremist would say.

Whole nations can act as foolishly as individual people do.  Why?  People run nations.  People can be laughably ignorant, ridiculously stubborn, foolishly proud, blindly arrogant, and just plain ole stupid.  Hence, so can national leaders be.

But the question is: how can a nation and/or its leaders know whether or not it’s being ignorantly stupid when negotiating peace terms, for example, with an enemy nation?   Or how does a nation know it is making the best decision by declaring war on an enemy nation?  For example, as a nation, were we being wise by agreeing with then President George W. Bush’s declaration of war against Iraq and supporting a preemptive strike against her?  Hind sight being what it is many would now say we were not being wise at all, rather the contrary.

Jesus told his disciples to be “innocent as doves but wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16).  That’s good advice.  But what does that mean exactly.

One’s innocence has to do with one’s inner-being, one’s integrity, one’s inner wholeness or one’s moral and spiritual center.  And that touches upon one’s motives with any action taken and one’s purpose for any goals that are set.  The wisdom of the ages have always taught that where there is pride, vengefulness, abuse of power and wealth, greed, selfish interest, arrogant controlling of others, there is not only a lack of “innocence,” there is also much foolishness.  And this is true on a personal level as well as on a national level.

That being said, apart from Iran’s state of being as a nation, we should take a closer look at our own national state of being.  If I may be so bold as to engage in a little national self-criticism, when our nation chose to do a preemptive strike against Iraq back in 2003, we were full of ourselves with pride and were more than ready to have our vengeance; we were quite eager to throw our weight around, ready to flex our muscles and show our strength and exercise our mighty military power.  And where did that get us?  In short, we were neither “innocent as doves” nor were we “wise as serpents.”  We acted foolishly.

Know this: Jesus’ admonishment to his disciples does not equate innocence with weakness and foolishness.  Innocence is its own strength, has its own power.  Innocence means having integrity, which in turn means wholeness and wellbeing, being steady, balanced, solid and true, right-thinking and right-working.  All these add up to real strength.  It also brings clarity of vision and purpose—Wisdom.

That’s where the wise as serpents comes in.  When one is “green with envy” or is “red with anger” or is in a “blind-rage” or “drunk with power” or “flushed with greed” or is being “proud, haughty and arrogant” or is “on the attack,” or is being rude, crude, and uncaring, or abusive and demanding, or self-interested and egotistical, critical and dismissive, and so-on and so-forth, one is far from being wise as a serpent.

The question about dealing with Iran is as much a question about us as it is about Iran.  We may not like to hear it, but historically speaking the people of Iran have had good and justifiable reasons for distrusting America.  If we know our history with Iran we’d understand this.  Suffice it to say that our history with the people of Iran does not favor us or put us in a good light—yet most of us would probably defend our past bad behavior with Iran or even flat out deny it.  Nevertheless, the fact is that our previous history with the Iranian people taught them not to trust us.  Still, it can safely be said that the people of Iran (as opposed to many of its present core leaders) would like to have a better relationship with us.

Things are never as black and white, cut and dry, up or down, left or right, this way and that way, as we like to think.  There are complexities, mysteries, unknowns, complications, inaccuracies, and messy inexactitudes.  That’s reality.  That’s life.  So of course the Iranian deal is not perfect.  And of course there are (realistically speaking) unanswerable questions.  Do you have a crystal ball that can foretell exactly what will happen, deal or no deal?  Does anyone?  Of course not!  Deals are acts of faith and trust as well as acts of skeptical distrust requiring validation, verification, and other checks-and-balances for reassurance.  That’s reality.  Nevertheless, cautious deals often serve nations better than having no deals at all.

The real question then is whether or not we ourselves can be wise as serpents while also being innocent as doves in our own willingness to negotiate.  A willingness to negotiate with integrity has its own strength and “innocence” about it.  An absolute unwillingness to negotiate at all simply leaves both nations free to continue to hate, demonize, and threaten the other—ad infinitum.  Which road has a better promise?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Kim Davis, Religious Freedom Wrongly Applied?

It’s not a good witness.

Like Kim Davis, I am a Bible Believing Christian.  I share the same faith and convictions: The Bible is the inspired Word of God.  Jesus is the only begotten of the Father, the Son of God and Savior of humanity.  Jesus died on the cross, was raised again on the third day.  Jesus is Lord!

Kim’s Lord is my Lord.

Nevertheless, I think she is behaving wrongly.  Kim Davis disagrees with, and therefore chooses to defy the Supreme Court ruling on the issuance of marriage licenses for gay people.  In her position as County Clerk (Rowan County, Kentucky), she had stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether for that reason.

She claims that she is acting under God’s authority.  That was her response when she was asked by what authority was she presuming the right to deny issuing a marriage license to a gay couple intending to be married.

Several principles come into play here.  First of all, there is the principle of separation of Church and State.  Out of that comes the principle that distinguishes between a Secular Government and a Theocracy—a God Rules Government.  The U.S.A. is not a theocracy.  Indeed, Kim Davis does have personal religious freedom; churches have institutional religious freedoms as well.  However, Kim Davis is also an elected official working for the County of Rowan in the State of Kentucky.  She is not legally allowed to apply her own personal faith convictions in her government role as a County Clerk, representing the State of Kentucky.  If she were allowed to do so in that role, what would happen if a Muslim believer were elected to that same position and therefore wanted to apply Islamic Sharia Law in the same capacity?  We’d have a problem with that, wouldn’t we?

Alas such arguments obviously mean nothing to her.  And I am not surprised.   But the real argument I would have as a person who shares her faith in the Living Lord, Jesus Christ, is that she is fighting the wrong battle for the wrong reason.  Rather than being a positive and loving witness to the grace and mercy of God as found in the Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, she is coming across as arrogantly self-righteously judgmental, ungracious, unmerciful, and condemning.

It is clear that she believes herself to be a kind of martyr for her faith, willing to go to jail for her beliefs.  However, if she is willing to make such sacrifices, she should merely resign from her position and thus sacrificially lose her job as a statement of her faith and convictions.  She is mixing up Secular State authority with Kingdom of God Theocratic authority.

The State is not asking her to deny her faith in God, nor is it asking her to renounce her commitment to Christ.  However, the State is asking her to do something that she believes is condoning of immoral behavior—homosexual marriage.  In that case, to be consistent with her convictions, she must resign working for the State altogether. 

The United States of America is NOT equivalent to the Kingdom of Christ.  It is a secular government, run by human beings, not Christ and his angels.  We Christians are IN the world but not OF the world.  The U.S. does not belong to Christian Evangelicals, nor does it belong to Muslims who may wish to apply Sharia Law.  Thankfully we have religious freedoms and religious rights as to our faith practices and beliefs.  But they are not guaranteed as long as we live in the world but are not of the world (My Kingdom is not of this world, said Jesus; see the Gospel According to John chapter 17).

It is interesting that the Apostle Paul had this to say about unbelievers choosing to live lives that are contrary to Biblical mandates: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexual immoral persons—not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world….  For what have I to do with judging those outside….  God will judge those outside.”  See 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

Paul makes a clear distinction between those inside and those outside the Fellowship—believers versus non-believers in Christ.  Non-Believers will live and do according to their unbelief.  That’s all there is to it.  Christians must simply accept this.  In such an environment Christians are to be the salt of the earth and light of the world to bear witness to a better way, the Way of Christ.  See 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, where Paul summarizes his motives and says, “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the Gospel.”

It seems to me that Kim Davis is not doing this “for the sake of the Gospel.”  Rather she is engaging in a power struggle with the State and with unbelievers.  She seems more concerned about her personal self-asserting rights than about her witness for the Gospel that she might save some—perhaps the very people with whom she’d come in contact, but for her refusal to respectfully serve in her role as County Clerk.  The point is that one need not have to agree with non-Believers in order to serve them or to live side-by-side with them or to respect them.  Respect is a two way street.

But Kim Davis is showing neither respect for the law (regarding a Supreme Court ruling), nor respect for persons who have no conviction or ownership of her faith.  Ideally she could give witness to her faith and love for Christ by, let’s say, volunteering to care for and serve those who are dying of AIDS and because of this have been abandoned by their own family and friends.  Then shall the love and grace of Christ penetrate what may once have been a hardened heart to the mercy of God.  Now THAT is living by ones faith in the Grace of God, by the mercy of Christ, in the power of His Spirit!