Here’s a speculation: For three years, Trump has been singling out American military commanders and lower-ranking troops and treating them like dirt. He’s also elevated some dirt bags, like the Navy Seal prisoner-killer he pardoned, who was hated by his own team members.
He’s toyed with whole units, sending them on phony-baloney, embarrassing “missions” to the Mexico border, to repel what all of them knew were imaginary, nonexistent immigrant “invaders.”
Further, he forced them to hold a Soviet-style parade (making them mimic the old enemy?) It was a completely superfluous ordeal for the troops required to be there in heavy uniforms and zipped lips. And he made them do it on a day when the Washington Post said “extreme heat and humidity will power through . . . the day and into the evening . . . . Overall, it’s going to be ridiculously hot and sticky on July 4, in Washington, D.C.” Temperatures were in the 90s, then it rained buckets.
The response of the generals was dumped in the last paragraph of the New York Times‘s report, but was unmistakable:
The president announced months ago his intention to speak on Fourth of July. But it was just in recent weeks that he demanded a robust military presence, including tanks and fighter jet flyovers.
That led to a mad scramble in the Defense Department to gather the military leaders who would attend. The Pentagon was given only a few days’ notice that Trump wanted his defense secretary, all the Joint Chiefs and all the service secretaries by his side during his remarks.
Most of the Joint Chiefs were on leave or on travel and did not attend.
In September, there was another slap: most of the money diverted to Trump’s wall-building came from projects meant to benefit military families and their kids. CNBC put it pithily:
Pentagon pulls funds for military schools, daycare to pay for Trump’s border wall
The Pentagon said on Wednesday it would pull funding from 127 Defense Department projects, including schools and daycare centers for military families, as it diverts $3.6 billion to fund President Donald Trump’s wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
Schools for the children of U.S. military members from Kentucky to Germany to Japan will be affected. A daycare center at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland – the home of Air Force One – will also have its funds diverted, the Pentagon said.
A month later, Trump abruptly abandoned Kurdish troops who had fought & bled against ISIS for years on the U. S. side. Trump trashed their loyalty and left them to be slaughtered by the Syrian army without a backward glance.
I was raised in a military family; but that was long ago, and I haven’t been in the military myself; so I’m no expert. Even so, observing this long roster of chickensh*t antics, I felt it must be having some impact on opinion among U. S. troops. A great many of them still take what are called military values & honor with some or high seriousness.
Officially, they’re supposed to keep out of public politicking. But many of these troops vote. And there are large numbers of them in North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, and other states with pivotal races.
What this procession of follies adds up to is that Trump has repeatedly shown no more respect for the troops than for anyone else. These repeated shocks should have been pounding this ugly message home to many of those in uniform.
Nor is this merely an ego/image matter: these are the Americans who go into harm’s way, and stupid, reckless leadership ultimately produces needless casualties, in and out of uniform. Surely, I’ve been thinking, some of the troops must be getting fed up with this.
Could a shift in GI opinion make a 2020 electoral difference? Rhetorical question: in a tight race, for sure — say, the one facing Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, home of Fort Campbell, one of the largest army bases. Or Thom Tillis in N. Carolina, where more than 100,000 troops are assigned to Ft. Bragg and Marine base Camp Lejeune. Add family members and the numbers nearly double. Almost any move could tip the balance.
Sure, many servicepeople are strong Trump supporters. But the feeling is both not unanimous, and appears to be measurably slipping. The Military Times papers do such polls, and their most recent one was in mid-December. The summary of that tally was stark: Military Times:
“Trump’s 42 percent approval in the latest poll, conducted from Oct. 23 to Dec. 2, sets his lowest mark in the survey since being elected president. Some 50 percent of troops said they had an unfavorable view of him. By comparison, just a few weeks after his electoral victory in November 2016, 46 percent of troops surveyed had a positive view of the businessman-turned-politician, and 37 percent had a negative opinion.
The poll surveyed 1,630 active-duty Military Times subscribers in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. The numbers likely reflect a more career-minded subset of the military than the force as a whole . . . .
“These are people for whom the morals and standards of the military mean a lot,” [military analyst Peter Feaver] said. “The president has criticized those same career workers in the State Department and other agencies. So, it’s possible they are more likely to be offended by the president than other parts of the military.”
Still, Feaver said, the drop in Trump’s popularity in the poll (conducted with the same parameters over the past four years) indicates growing dissatisfaction with Trump and his handling of several military issues.
When asked specifically about Trump’s handling of military issues, nearly 48 percent of the troops surveyed said they had an unfavorable view of that part of his job, compared to 44 percent who believe he has handled that task well. That marks a significant drop from the 2018 Military Times poll, when 59 percent said they were happy with his handling of military issues, against 20 percent who had an unfavorable view.
This week has been marked (so far) by the bum’s rush of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and his uninvolved brother, Col. Yevgeny Vindman out of the White [supremacy] House like criminals, Alexander for the “offense” of doing his duty & complying with a legal subpoena, and his uninvolved brother for being — related. These petty acts also made public fools of DOD higher-ups, who had vowed to prevent any retaliation.
What will come next? There are many other currents swirling in the maelstrom of the 2020 election. But military servicemembers are citizens who whose votes will also count, and both their experience with Trump, and their reaction to it will make their mark before it is done.
The little church challenging the huge California Quaker megachurch (described in the blog post, David vs. Goliath, the “Friendly” Version, of January 30), won a round in court on January 31; but its reward was only a reprieve. The struggle over an aborted effort to help the homeless continues.
Orange County superior court judge Thomas Delaney denied the motion from the Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW), based in Yorba Linda, California, to dismiss a lawsuit by the small Friends Community Church of Midway City, California. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to stop EFCSW from closing the Midway City church and firing its pastor, Joe Pfeiffer.
In late 2017 and early 2018 Midway City took in several of the many thousands of homeless people who cluster and camp across Orange County, just south of Los Angeles.
Hostile neighbors complained to Orange county about signs of homeless people staying on church property, in violation of county codes. When an inspector wrote Pfeiffer a letter about it, he promptly but reluctantly complied, sending the homeless visitors on their way.
But when a copy of the inspector’s letter arrived at the EFCSW office, members of the Elders Board, made it the basis for a secret decision, taken March 27, 2018 to close the church, fire pastor Pfeiffer, and oblige him, his wife and their four foster children to vacate the parsonage behind the church.
Pfeiffer and his wife Cara were told of their removal and eviction in June. They were also told to vacate the parsonage within weeks.
The church’s membership, barely 30 people, rallied behind them and resisted the closure order. It was delayed for months, then on October 12, 2018, Midway City filed suit, asking the Orange County Superior court for an injunction to stop the closure and the firing.
EFCSW filed a motion for summary judgment, which argued that the Midway City lawsuit did not raise any issue the court had jurisdiction over. It insisted that EFCSW was a “hierarchical church” with total power over member groups like Midway City: EFCSW owned the buildings and property, controlled the agendas and conduct of meetings, and could remove pastors at will, without appeal. Its brief claimed the First Amendment religious liberty provision protected the denomination from legal interference. It cited precedents where courts had declined to take up cases involving church doctrine and internal practices.
Midway City countered that EFCSW had in fact frequently violated its own rules with secret meetings and decisions that were not subject to review by the whole body, contrary to its own and other Quaker traditions. They also contended that EFCSW did not really own its buildings and property. Such violations they said, were subject to judicial remedies.
At the January 31 hearing, Judge Delaney agreed that there were real questions about whether EFCSW’s actions followed its own rules, and thus summary judgment was not warranted. He scheduled another hearing on March 30 to consider the issues involved. Midway City won the day, but the reward was only a two-month reprieve.
What moved the judge? There were technical arguments about passages in the EFCSW book of Faith and practice, regarding quorums for meetings, and about various kinds of property deeds. Such is the nature of most civil litigation.
But there were also in the case file papers of a different sort. Two of these stand out: statements by veteran EFCSW pastors which bring a very different perspective on that body’s life. The two were from James Healton, of Sacramento’s Friends Community church, and Joe Ginder, from Long Beach Friends.
Their statements combined personal witness with long experience both in EFCSW and among Quakers. They directly challenged one of the denomination’s main claims, that it was a hierarchical church, governed by a Board of Elders at the top which was, for all practical purposes, sovereign.
This challenge proved to be risky, as we shall see. But first let’s hear from them directly:
I am the pastor at Sacramento Friends Community Church. Since 1974 I have been a member of the EFCSW . . . . I have served as a local pastor therein since 1982.
During the last twenty years, a number of changes to Faith and Practice were adopted by the Representatives. On the governance side of things, the trend was increasingly toward concentration of responsibility in fewer hands. Those who recommended these changes defended them on the basis that it was increasingly difficult to find enough volunteers to fill all the boards, committees and offices. Despite this trend, we were never told that the Elder Board had replaced the Representatives as the ruling body of the Yearly Meeting, without appeal.
I was present in the Representatives meeting when the language in Faith and Practice . . . was adopted, under the heading, “Essential Business of Representatives”. I asked for and received assurances during the meeting that the words, “The final decisions and actions on the following must be approved by the Representatives”, implied no limitation on what other business the Representatives were free to consider but only a limitation on what other bodies (including the Elder Board) could act upon. We never understood this language to mean that the Representatives could not discuss and decide upon any other matters of concern to them. I had not heard that there was such a limitation implied by that language until I heard it from the attorney for EFCSW . . . .
Moreover, Faith and Practice says that “Other business may be introduced from any of the local churches, Elder Board, and other boards, committees and task forces.” . . . Again, this indicates that the Representatives have the right to bring any matter they choose before the assembled Representatives. If a church wishes to propose a decision to the Representatives different from one taken by the Board of Elders they are free to do so under the rules governing EFCSW the corporation. This would, of course, include the possibility of an appeal to the Representatives.
In all my years in the EFCSW denomination, I do not recall an instance where a church was closed against the decided will of its members. If pastors were removed by the Yearly Meeting it was on account of serious moral failings or because the local church was divided over their leadership and the Yearly Meeting was asked to step in to settle the matter. To my knowledge it was never the case that pastors were removed because of things like “poor leadership skills, lack of discernment as a minister, an ineffective ministry, inability to increase the membership of FCC, poor decisions” or even “misuse of church property … “ as has been alleged against Pastor Pfeiffer. Dealing with such matters was left up to the local church unless Yearly Meeting staff or other people were asked to help or offered their help.
In the case of Midway City, there was not an offer to help them meet the city code requirements. They were simply told that Joe Pfeiffer was fired, their church was no longer a church in the EFCSW denomination and they had to vacate the premises. Of course, had the church failed to meet the code requirements, there would have been possible grounds for discipline but the church did meet the city’s expectations. Again, this severe a response to a church in need is unprecedented in my experience of more than forty years in EFCSW.
I note that the charges against Joe Pfeiffer and Midway City Friends Church that they violated Faith and Practice were for actions after they had been removed from membership in EFCSW denomination by the Elder Board of the corporation.
These alleged violations all amount to one charge against them: that they objected to, and sought remedy for, the actions the Elder Board had taken against them.
The closing of Midway City Friends Church and removal of Joe Pfeiffer as its pastor represents a sharp departure from what I have known and from what I understood to be the relationship between the local church and EFCSW as a whole. I would also add that though
Pastor Joe Pfeiffer is unafraid to speak his mind I have never known him to be intentionally rude or mean-spirited in his remarks. He has high ideals that sometimes make us feel uncomfortable but it is always clear to me that he is motivated by good will toward others, including those with whom he may, at times, disagree. . . . They did, however object when Midway City Church was closed. To me this indicates that their motive was not to divide the body of EFCSW or vindicate themselves but to protect the interests of their flock and to defend the historic balance between EFCSW oversight and the rights of its constituent churches.
I have been a member of EFCSW since 1986 and pastor of Long Beach Friends since 1996. . . . I’ve been a representative to the Yearly Meeting / Annual Conference Business Meeting nearly continuously since 1987. The Yearly Meeting is a traditional term for the annual gathering of local Friends church representatives to decide upon the business of the EFCSW denomination as a whole. . . . Prior to coming to Long Beach, I grew up at Anderson First Friends within Indiana Yearly Meeting, soaking up Friends ways from my seniors. Many of my ancestors have been Quakers since the beginning of the movement. . . .
About hierarchy. I read a claim that the EFCSW denomination is a hierarchical church because our Faith and Practice invests authority in some that is not given to all. This is a distortion of the Friends way of doing business. Our Faith and Practice speaks clearly to this. We expect leaders to lead rather than to rule. We do not empower individuals or small groups of leaders to make decisions that disregard the sense of other members in good standing. We empower individuals and small groups to act and lead on behalf of the larger group when the larger group is not meeting, or when the smaller group has followed the Friends manner of making decisions within the larger body as a gathered people of God.
The Friends approach for a group of leaders to take on important decisions is to build unity and listen before taking a controversial direction, at least when a matter requires no urgent action. We always expect our leaders to act to try to build unity. Friends were cast out of a hierarchical church because we did not simply accept the decisions of the few in hierarchical leadership, despite their claim to divine right.
Rather, we held decisions up to the light of scripture and the leading of the Spirit. For this we were persecuted and imprisoned, some unto death. As a representative to the EFCSW denomination representatives business meetings, I have never agreed to or believed we were approving changes to our Faith and Practice which would allow a small group of leaders such as the current board to make decisions that could not be questioned or re-examined by our representatives.
The list of items of “Essential Business of Representatives” in Faith and Practice . . . is a restriction on committees and leaders, not on the representatives! Those who say otherwise are simply in error. [also] any EFCSW church can bring business before representative sessions. Several churches have not been allowed to bring items regarding FCC-MC to the representatives sessions in the past two years.
This is clearly in violation of our Faith and Practice. The representatives in session are the highest authority of our organization and can consider whatever business they choose; all of our churches have access to bring business to the representatives.
The elders board is not exempt from the Friends Way of Doing Business. Faith and Practice, p.33. This way of doing business embodies the value of building unity and seeks to prevent a few from imposing decisions unilaterally upon others without going through our business process of discerning the mind of Christ together. . . .
This description of our way of doing business applies between the Elder Board and other members, not just between members of the Elders Board. . . . We should never hear, “We didn’t have to ask you” as an excuse for excluding stakeholders from participating in the Friends way of doing business as has been done with FCC.
This statement directly contradicts Friends teaching. We are not a hierarchical church and never have been. While FCC (or the corporate elder board) cannot change the Faith and Practice of EFCSW without agreement of the Representatives. . . as Friends we do not empower one group as superior and relegate another as subordinate. Jesus is our Head. We are all subordinate to Him . . . .
I declare under penalty of perjury under the laws of the state of California that the foregoing is a true and correct. Executed this 15th day of January 2020 at Long Beach, California.”
Joe and Cara Pfeiffer came away from the court hearing with a sixty day extension of their residence, and eight Sundays for their church to gather in the home they had built and maintained for nearly ninety years.
EFCSW Annual Conference
Later that same day, EFCSW opened its 2020 annual conference, with a dinner for representatives from its 39 member churches in California, Arizona and Nevada. As noted by Joe Ginder, in most similar Quaker bodies, such events are called yearly meetings, and extended over several days, with a mix of business sessions, worship, family reunions, and social events. EFCSW had discarded that tradition, and compressed the gathering into one tightly scheduled Friday evening, followed by a Saturday morning session.
Among the attenders were Joe Ginder and James Healton. As they arrived for the opening dinner, they were taken aside by a member of the Elder Board, and shown a letter on a smartphone, addressed to them. The letter sternly rebuked them for submitting the statements, and warned them not to speak openly about the Midway City case during the annual conference. They were taken aback.
Ginder and Healton complied with the letter’s strictures. The evening went as planned.
Saturday morning was similarly programmed, with 35 minutes set aside for a “business session.”
As the meeting was getting underway, Cara Pfeiffer appeared, but members of the Elder Board quickly surrounded her and, despite her protests, firmly ejected her from the room.
Reports indicate that the “business session” lasted not much more than fifteen minutes, although it included formal approval of a $1,200,000 three-part budget, and a pre-selected slate of nominations for various boards. No one spoke about Midway City.
–Well, that last sentence is not quite right. In a packet of “Advance Reports,” Midway City was mentioned in print twice. The Elder Board’s report noted that “A challenge over this past year has been the ongoing legal issue related to the closing of one of our churches. Unfortunately, this issue has occupied a significant amount of the staff and elders’ time and energy. Continue to pray with us for a God-honoring resolution to this issue.”
Then under “Annual Budget,” EFCSW Chief of Staff Ron Prentice reported that “The 2019 General Administrative budget projected a year-end balance between income and expenses. However, the legal costs for the defense against the claims by FCC Midway City and the increase of one staff position from part-time to full-time are the two primary factors that caused our expenses to exceed our income by $111,000. As we look to 2020, the increases to personnel and our legal expenses have been included into our budget projections for the New Year.” There were no reports that either item was discussed. (The letter read to Healton & Ginder reportedly told them that if they tried to speak about Midway, they would be ruled out of order.)
The business session was followed by a “Prayer initiative and Time of Prayer,” then adjournment for lunch and departure.
Testimony by ECSW staff in pre-hearing depositions made clear that they believed the nine-member Elder Board acted with full authority for EFCSW, 364-plus days per year, except for the abbreviated session on that one Saturday morning. The board also prepared the agenda for that annual half-hour. The Board’s meetings were private, and there was no appeal from their decisions. We have seen what happened to those, like pastors Ginder and Healton, who spoke of when practices were different for that body. Their temerity in submitting affidavits dissenting from the Elder Board’s understanding could be hazardous both to their jobs and the churches they served.
Joe Pfeiffer advised me that late this week there will be a court-sponsored mediation meeting between Midway City and EFCSW officials, to see if a non-judicial resolution is possible. Pfeiffer insists that would be his preference, but says EFCSW Elders have turned aside several such suggestions already.
And lest it be entirely forgotten, this multifaceted melodrama will continue to play itself out against the backdrop of a vast city in which thousands still sleep outside each night, and their number continues to increase.
A report in The Guardian on December 28 compellingly describes the small, marginalized religious resistance to the self-described ”Christian” authoritarianism of the current Hungarian regime. In this sketch there is much to learn and reflect on for those Americans who feel called to a similar path.
The anti-democratic drive of the Viktor Orban government to undermine Hungary’s independent courts, media and other democratic processes is well-known. So is its unremitting hostility to the homeless poor, refugees, immigrants & LGBT persons, and incitement of anti-semitism.
What was less known, at least to me, is how much this burgeoning tyranny has been wrapped and sanctified in religious terms, as an expression of “Christian liberty,” intended to protect a version of “Christian culture.” Also new to me is how similar its rationale is to reactionary evangelical/fundamentalist movements in other countries.
Early in December a band of Hungarian religious dissenters responded by issuing what they call “The Advent Statement.” As I read it I noted that, if one replaced “Hungary” with the “US administration” & its cronies, much or most of its text could be an “American Advent Statement.” See if you agree:
“We are calling,” it says, “for resistance to an arrogance of power that makes the concept of “Christian Liberty” a slogan for exclusionary, hate-filled and corrosive policy; a power that destroys the social fabric and eliminates useful social institutions; a power that systematically threatens democracy and the rule of law. We are concerned about the arrogance of power that mixes the language of national identity with the language of Christian identity in a manipulative way. We cannot let our freedom, given to us by grace in baptism, be taken away.
We are concerned by the narrow political usage of the concept of “Christian Liberty”. Our goal is to restore the dignity of this biblical and theological concept. Christian liberty includes freedom from causing harm to the other person and to ourselves, freedom from abuse, exploitation, ignorance and freedom for protecting the other person’s dignity and rights, as well as our own. In this light, we cannot be indifferent to the current state of affairs we experience in Hungarian society. . . .”
Their bill of particulars should also sound familiar to American ears:
“The authoritarian exercise of power is spreading around the world but especially before our eyes in Hungary. We are witnessing manipulation of electoral law and the use oflegislative and executive power in order to provide legislative protection for the corruption inspired by the state. This is a strategy of power that deliberately eliminates political differences of opinion through the eradication of independent media, spreading fake news, discrediting and character assassination, and harassment by authorities. Because of this, in the name of Christian liberty we would like to be prepared to speak up and act unambiguously. . . . ”
One major difference between the two countries is that in Hungary (as in some other European nations), many churches are subsidized by the government, through allocations from taxes. These payments become an ongoing form of hush money:
But as a beleaguered Job noted in the Bible, “the Lord giveth & the Lord taketh away” (Job 1:21). He wasn’t talking about government funding, but the sentiment applies: the Hungarian Evangelical Fellowship, whose President, Pastor Gábor Iványi was instrumental in drafting The Advent Statement, saw its state funding withdrawn after the Orban regime consolidated its power. And maybe that’s why the larger Protestant groups in Hungary have not signed on to it.
Beyond direct funding, Vicar Faludy added, “there has also been a comprehensive instrumentalisation of the churches [by Orban] through the power of prestige. The idea of participation in public life, for people who grew up under communism, when churches were systematically placed at a civil disadvantage, was very tempting. I think that in 2010 [when Orbán was re-elected prime minister] there was a sense of hope in the churches. Church leaders thought: ‘This government may be far from perfect but it’s a way of getting things done, for example of making sure there’s a Christian ethos in the schools.’ From speaking to people in the churches, I think they thought they could ride the tiger.”
After 10 years in which Orbán’s grip on civil society has been relentlessly strengthened, Faludy says: “At best, the churches have chosen quietism rather than prophetic vocation.”
Of course, In the U. S., many prominent evangelical leaders are definitely not “quietist.” Rather, they clearly ARE “riding the tiger,” galloping, they believe, straight toward a promised land where their kind of “religious liberty” will be exercised to ban abortion, roll back LGBT rights, gain government support for their “Christian” schools & much more, so (with the rare exception of, say, editors of Christianity Today magazine), they show no inclination to get off.
Similarly, there’s as yet been no stampede among Hungarian churchgoers to join the Advent Declaration’s public dissent. And this should be no surprise to its authors:
“[Orban] is turning the Christian message on its head,” says Iványi. “Is there any other Christian country in the world where it is written in the constitution that you can be jailed for being homeless? Is it a Christian country where asylum seekers are not given the basic resources they need to survive? Is it Christian to use power to abolish media freedoms, the independence of judges and academic autonomy?
“In ancient Israel, the prophets spoke out against corruption and wickedness. We are now compelled to speak out. We might not be Isaiahs or Jeremiahs. But we take courage from their example.”
Yes, courage. Iványi and his cohorts will need it. The prophets they cite may now loom large in the Bible and the gospels. But in life, theirs was a lonely and frequently fatal career path.
It was also the path Jesus took, frequently denouncing the tiger-riding religious bigwigs of his day as the spawn of those who killed the prophets. And you see where that message got him.
I salute Pastor Iványi and The Advent Statement. And beyond courage, I wish them (& their American counterparts) stamina and determination: the stories of the prophets also show that it took time, often lifetimes, of endurance, protest and lamentation for their prophecies of greater justice even to begin to come to pass.
One day in 1980, I was at my desk on an upper floor of a way-past-its-prime hotel that had become a staff office annex for the U. S. House of Representatives.
My boss — Congressman Pete McCloskey of California, wanted some information about an obscure part of a not-so-well-known energy bill: say, Section 227D of the 1979 Energy Act Amendments, something like that, and the request had been bounced down the office status ladder to me.
I knew nothing about the Energy Act or the amendments, and Google hadn’t been invented yet.
But I knew who did know: Rep. John Dingell, of Michigan; or someone in his office. I think maybe Dingell even wrote the amendments. So I picked up the phone and dialed his office number.
By 1980, Dingell had been in Congress for 25 years; he would stay in Congress for almost 35 more.
Dingell was a tough, tenacious Democrat, who was already high up in the House hierarchy. That meant he had lots of staff assistants like me, only likely better-informed, with more political hustle, who could set me straight, if they bothered to take the call from a Republican nobody. (My boss, McCloskey was a Republican, and this was the time when Ronald Reagan was eating Jimmy Carter’s lunch.)
The phone rang once, maybe twice, then was scooped up with a pre-cellphone rattle that meant the receiver was grabbed with alacrity, not reluctance.
“John Dingell.” said a voice.
“What?? Err, uh, I, uh–”
If I was a coffee drinker, this was a java-spewing-from-my-nostrils moment. It wasn’t a receptionist. Nor an intern. Not even the assistant chief of staff.
The Boss. Himself.
When I recovered, I identified myself and my office and stumbled through my query.
“Sure,” Dingell said, and then reeled off the answer, clearly and concisely, as if I was calling from the White House, or maybe the New York Times (or the Detroit Free Press?)
I scribbled a couple of notes, and asked for clarification of one point, which he patiently offered. I thanked him, he said I was welcome and then it was done.
The call only lasted about three minutes. It took me awhile longer to recover my balance. Thirty-nine years later, I still have questions.
Why was Dingell picking up cold calls to his office phone? And why was he taking time to answer a rookie question from a minor league staffer from across the aisle?
And how, with hundreds of bills and laws and amendments streaming across his desk, day after day, week after week, was he up to the minute even on Section 227D?
(Would he have known Section 227C as well?? Probably.)
After much pondering, I’ve come to a simple answer: Dingell was a mensch, and a natural. He also didn’t have an inflated view of himself; he could, and did, speak to me as one colleague to another, from out of the blue.
It’s no wonder he was re-elected to Congress more times than anyone else in that body’s history.
Now my boss, McCloskey was a fine guy. But if there’s a special gallery in heaven reserved for the best of Congress, I bet John Dingell has a seat in it.
I know that’s an iffy notion; Mark Twain concluded long ago that “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress,” and we have recently heard much corroboration for that view, especially from one side of the aisle.
For that matter, my boss McCloskey argued, even before he left Washington three years later, that “Congressmen are like diapers. You need to change them often, and for the same reason.”
But still; I say IF.
I gather that some fatuous pretender recently spoke of John Dingell as being in hell.
It only took me about two minutes to learn, but I’m pretty sure I know otherwise.
This is a Megabus, seen from the upper deck pretty far back. It’s heading from Fayetteville, NC to Durham NC, just after dark Saturday December 7, 2019. This ride finished up a long and full day for me.
The day started with a chilly sunny gathering at the cemetery of the VA hospital in Fayetteville. I joined in with nine other stalwarts huddled around the grave marker for Beryl Mitchell, for the 12th in a series of annual outdoor gatherings.
That autumn, Beryl’s daughter, Christine Horne, called me at Quaker House in Fayetteville, asking for help with planning a proper memorial for her mother, including the placement of a formal marker. In turn, I asked for help from the kick-butt feminists of the Fayetteville Chapter of National Organization for Women, and we did help. They are a remarkable group, and have been for decades, (They were social justice warriors long before SJW was cool.)
At the conclusion of the memorial, a group of us gathered at the new marker with a wreath and released a bunch of lavender helium balloons.
The whole experience, while very solemn at one level, was also exhilarating for us all. And we decided that those of us who could, would regather there yearly and remember Beryl, and the many other victims of domestic violence against women, both generally and especially in connection with the military.
I missed this meetup the last two years, and was determined to be there this time. It was a bigger deal for me to get there now, due to health problems which prevent me from driving, along with the general complications of life. But I made it. (That’s me holding the round NOW sign.)
Also there, with other old friends it was wonderful to see again, was my particular buddy Debbie. (She’s in the middle, in the black tee shirt with the peace sign, and the windblown hair. It was cold.)
From the cemetery we went to a leisurely lunch, and then Debbie took me to her house to chill for awhile until the Durham bus was due. On the way, though, she made a detour to a friend’s place where an acquaintance had rescued a possum with pups, and asked Debbie to add it to a menagerie in her mini-wildlife preserve/backyard, which she was glad to do.
Debbie has lived on the outskirts of Fayetteville for decades, on a sprawling lot with many trees, with her husband Chuck (that’s Chuck Liebers, not to be confused with Chuck Fager). They’ve raised several kids there, who are all out of the house now.
Debbie is relieved to have the children elsewhere, but she’s hardly finishing raising things . Besides a flock of chickens, a couple of dogs, cats here & there), there’s now the brood of possums (their preferred cuisine, even the little ones, she tells me, is raw chicken wings, of which they eat every bit).
Debbie has also raised considerable hell hereabouts: domestic violence is but one of her many issues. We’ve already seen her concern about domestic violence, and there’s lots more; we’ll mention a couple presently.
Indeed, one appeared not long after my arrival, when I looked up at a TV screen as we settled in what she calls the Daddy Shack, and saw this brand new report:
I thought at first I might be hallucinating, but others (and my camera) confirmed that it was for real.
Well, with politics out of the bag, and those of us remaining confirmed liberals, I also showed them this new ad, the first “Liz-mas Carol,” which is rapidly going viral, and, regardless of candidate preference, I think is hilarious:
In fact, by Saturday night, there was a second “Lizmas Carol” up, which you can see here to the tune of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” if you want additional guffaws. (Speaking of Saturday Night, the highly paid SNL crew will be very hard-pressed to produce more laughs in its cold open than 45 and the Lizmas Carolers did today, likely both for free. UPDATE: They flunked.)
Anyway, if there was any doubt, finding a new occupant for the White House is tops on Debbie’s agenda; there’s no getting around it, but we won’t dwell on it here.
As the clock swept toward time to go, I strolled around Debbie’s back yard to get ready. And I kept seeing very interesting stuff. Like this sign & shrine, with its cat-headed Buddha turning his back on a ringing endorsement of science. Debbie used to be a churchgoer, but she quit a few years back, and says she feels “much more spiritual” now.
Debbie’s place is something of a hoarder’s stronghold, but one which includes a developed, if freewheeling sense of design. The camera came out again when I spied an old wringer washer posing amid a copse of bamboo, it joined the lineup.
When I turned, Debbie’s board fence was revealed to be home for a display for loads of more or less antique tools.
Then a section of the back wall . . .
. . . caught my eye, as it had been made another shrine of sorts, melding sun gods with a slogan tree.
There was lots more, but no more time; Megabus called. I’m sorry I missed the sign at the end of the driveway advertising eggs for $3 a dozen hard-gathered from Debbie’s pampered poultry flock. I need to ride the bus back soon and get another array of photos. I puttered over these most of the way back on the bus, shown here passing under the neon bridge that marks entry to downtown Durham . . . .
. . . All this kaleidoscope seemed to flow together naturally somehow, a day beginning with death, segueing into conviviality, which showed up politics as having crazy comedic aspects, and down-home art all around. Hope your weekend turns out as well.
In 2004, like the rest of the world, at Quaker House we began to learn about U. S. torture in the “War On terror.”
In one way, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Situated next door to Fort Bragg, we knew that besides being home to the 82nd Airborne Division (Airborne means they troops jump out of airplanes to get to their targets), Bragg also was headquarters for many of the most secret military units: Green Berets, Delta Force, “Jaysock” (the Joint Special Operations Command), and others.
And as torture information leaked out, in bits and pieces, this data was like dots. And connecting the dots produced lines that were like a spiderweb, and many of those lines (not all, but many) crossed and pointed to eastern North Carolina.
There was a county airport not far from us, where a CIA front company called Aero Contractors sent “torture taxi” planes across the Atlantic, to carry detainees who were blindfolded, shackled and spread-eagled on their cabin floors, drugged and diapered for long flights to secret locations called “black sites,” and sometimes Guantanamo. There the unspeakable and illegal was done to them by U.S. government agents. This reality was supposed to stay unknown.
But it didn’t. And soon, to our packed agenda of war protest, we added torture. There were vigils, letters, articles, a few arrests, al that sort of thing. Plus we organized or joined in several conferences. Hopes rose when the now-disgraced president who green-lighted all this malign madness left Washington in early 2009, succeeded by one who promised “Hope & Change.”
Our own hopes in this matter rested on accountability: we didn’t have to write Congress demanding new laws–torture was already a federal crime, a felony. Give us some law and order! Hopes rose further when the new president ordered a halt to torture.
But there, change was denied us, and hopes were dashed. The perpetrators of torture had walked free during the previous regime; the new boss said we would look ahead, and leave them alone.
Which was to say, U.S. torture was simply put on “Pause,” not truly stopped. The perps were still there. And sure enough, one of the main architects of the torture program was eventually promoted to head the CIA. The laws against torture were made a dead letter; impunity reigned. still does.
Furthermore, under the influence of highly effective popular entertainment like the show “24”, which ran for nine seasons and more than 200 episodes, frequently featuring torture, public opinion swung solidly in its favor — provided that the U. S. was doing the torturing.
Within a few years, the outcome was plain: torture may have been wrong, but the American public above all planned to forget about it. This forgetting, or corporate amnesia, was aided and abetted by its government, from the highest levels. It still is.
Some of us, an ever-diminishing band, kept trying. For several years, some of us periodically picked up trash along the roadside outside Aero Contractors.
There were more conferences and reports, most of which were presented to local, state and federal officials. While mostly polite, it was evident they didn’t want to hear about it, and some defend torture to this day.
It’s pretty quiet now, we’re older, energy is flagging and shouting into the wind is tiring. But a few have not forgotten. What other countries’ experience has to teach suggests that it typically takes decades for a society to begin to face up to its own atrocities and war crimes, if it ever does.
Last spring, when a peace pilgrimage stopped to have a religious vigil outside the now heavily-protected site of Aero Contractors (the CIA front company is still there, even bigger, but more well-hidden), most of those passing by who took our flyers didn’t know what we were talking about.
Torture, along with the war, was strongly supported by many religious Americans, notably evangelicals. Many such are in the military, even at high ranks. As an outreach to such, I even ventured into Bible study. I’m pasting it here, because I think it has wider and continuing relevance. If and when this segment of the public awakens from its amnesiac trance, it will still be apt. For others it’s brief.
From, “Patience & Determination,” a Pamphlet from Quaker House, 2009)
Most biblical translators seem reluctant to write the word “torture.” Yet there are places in the scriptures where softer terms read more like evasions. The spirit of torture hovers over many passages, like buzzards circling the lonely figure of Job, alone on a dung-heap. Indeed, the entire book of Job can be seen as a meditation on the relentlessly inflicted suffering that is of the essence of torture, with Job as the archetypal torture victim. He is innocent and faithful; yet he has been stripped of everything and left bereft and in continual pain, wailing and scratching his sores. Job’s condition is not accidental. It results from an arbitrary exercise of power, without warrant, limit, or foreseeable end. Worse, as he sees clearly, its source was supposed to be the font and guarantor of justice, not its destroyer. Yet not only translators shy away from calling such treatment what it is. Job himself confronts a claque of commentators – one is tempted to call them spin doctors – who fill pages like memos to the White House, explaining that what he is enduring is really only a new set of enhanced interrogation techniques, and anyway he must have deserved it. The victim is not having it. These rationalizations only reinforce his sense of what’s happening:
19:1 Then Job answered: 2 “How long will you torture me, and break me in pieces with words? . . .”
Only one among a score of versions in an online Bible collection (The New Living Translation) boldly renders the Hebrew here as “torture.” In the King James, Job merely sniffs that the apologists “vex my soul”; the Catholic Douay-Rheims version says they “afflict” him. Others speak of “torment,” which at least is closer. But Job interrupts, at 21:6: “Know then,” he continues, “that God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me. . . .” And when his vivid rage is momentarily spent, he begs,
21 “Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,’ for the hand of God has touched me! 22 Why do you, like God, pursue me, never satisfied with my flesh?”
A searching question; and whether Job gets any real explanation of what has happened to him (I think not) has been debated by Bible students ever since the book appeared. Further, Job’s cries for relief and vindication are more than an individual lament. For those with ears to hear, they echo as loudly for us today as they ever have down the centuries.
There is torture in the New Testament as well. And here again, translators typically shy away from rendering the term. This is harder to understand in the gospels, because the Greek term used there unambiguously refers to torture as we think of it today. This specificity should not be surprising; torture was a frequent feature of life and “justice” in Jesus’ world. When demons confront him, for instance, they are expecting it:
Matthew 8:28 “When Jesus came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demoniacs coming out of the tombs met him. They were so fierce that no one could pass that way. 29 Suddenly they shouted, “What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to [torture] us before the time?”
Luke 8:27: 27 As Jesus stepped out on land (from the sea of Galilee), a man of the city who had demons met him. . . . 28 When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torture me.” (Jesus didn’t torture him. Instead, he banished the man’s demons.)
For that matter, the scourging of Jesus (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15) certainly qualifies; and what else was crucifixion but execution by extended, public torture? So again, torture was a feature of Jesus’ world, though he did not inflict it. Small wonder then, that when his followers were trying to consolidate their movement after his death, it turns up in a list of general exhortations in the Epistle to the Hebrews:
Hebrews 13:3 “Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured.”
As with Job, though, only one translation of Hebrews in twenty (The New Revised Standard Version) ventures to say it plain. While the Greek term here is different from that in the gospels, and less exact, it still refers to excruciating suffering inflicted as part of persecution. This is clear enough from an earlier verse from the same epistle,
Hebrews 11:37 “The [early martyrs] were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, [tortured] . . . .”
Here the typical rendering is “tormented.” Yet isn’t it a plausible argument that being sawn in two would be somewhat more than “tormenting”? The earlier, more explicit term reappears in one more New Testament book, Revelation. The most vivid passage, in Chapter Nine, recounts a vision that for some readers at least, evokes surreal parallels with the more repulsive abuses of our own day, especially when carried out by those charged with upholding law and justice:
Revelation 9:1-11: 1 “And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star that had fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit; 2 he opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. 3 Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given authority like the authority of scorpions of the earth. 4 They were told not to damage the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. 5 They were allowed to torture them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torture was like the torture of a scorpion when it stings someone.
6 And in those days people will seek death but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will flee from them. 7 In appearance the locusts were like horses equipped for battle. On their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, 8 their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; 9 they had scales like iron breastplates, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. 10 They have tails like scorpions, with stingers, and in their tails is their power to harm people for five months. 11 They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit; his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. The first woe has passed. There are still two woes to come.”Would that this woe were the worst, but there is one more passage to contemplate. It is one of the repeated climaxes of the same book, describing the wrath of divine judgement:Revelation 14:9 “Then another angel, a third, followed them, crying with a loud voice, ‘Those who worship the beast and its image, and receive a mark on their foreheads or on their hands, 10 they will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured unmixed into the cup of his anger, and they will be tortured with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torture goes up forever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image and for anyone who receives the mark of its name.’”Such passages have long been a burden to those who can’t see the justice in applying an infinite punishment for the limited evil that even the most fiendish humans can do. Nor are these doubts eased by the pious admonition of verse 12 that “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus.” Perhaps that’s why translators prefer “torment” to torture here, although there is no real ambiguity in the underlying Greek. Who wants to think about the worst human torturer in history being subjected to even a worse torture, unendingly, as an endless quasi-pornographic spectacle for the angels and the Lamb, the Lamb who represents the One who is supposed to combine justice with mercy? I doubt there are many who want to contemplate such a scenario. And for those who were forced to, like Job, perhaps the best response was his: 21 “Have pity on me, have pity on me, O you my friends,’ for the hand of God has touched me!”Have pity, yes. But remember, as Hebrews charges us. Remember, and then act to banish the demons.
On September 21, 2019 Quaker House will observe its 50th anniversary, and is still working with soldier war resisters, military families and veterans. You are invited to join in. Details here.
When I arrived at Quaker House at the beginning of 2002, work on domestic violence was not in my job description. There was already plenty else to keep a one-person staff busy: troops from Fort Bragg were already fighting in Afghanistan, and plans for invading Iraq were clearly taking shape. Besides, I had no experience in that area.
But events didn’t care about that. Two weeks after moving in, I opened the Fayetteville Observer on the morning of Monday, January 14, 2002, to this headline:
Victim Stabbed Outside Eatery
A Fayetteville woman died Sunday afternoon after being stabbed by her estranged husband in front of the Mi Casita restaurant on Raeford Road, police said.
Shalamar Franceschi died at the scene, Fayetteville police said. She was 24.
Officials said her throat was cut and she was stabbed multiple times.
A warrant has been issued charging her estranged husband, Damian Colon Franceschi, 26, with first-degree murder. Authorities were looking for Damian Franceschi on Sunday night. He is considered armed and dangerous . . . .
In 2010, after eight years at Quaker House, I couldn’t recall ever seeing an article in our local paper, the Fayetteville Observer, that was affirmative of GLBT issues, or in particular, supported the repeal of the military’s repressive “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which since 1994 had pushed gay troops into the closet or out of the services..
This doesn’t mean the paper was a font of homophobic verbiage; but when anti-gay articles did appear, they usually went unanswered.
That silence was consistent with the general atmosphere of the community. Racial integration has been the policy of the military for sixty years, and federal law for almost fifty; racism still exists here, but it skulks in corners and speaks publicly in code. Mixed families in mixed neighborhoods are everyday.
Homophobia was another matter. I was acquainted with a number of gays and lesbians there, some who were quite active in the community. But there was no visible gay presence in the city. No “Gay Pride Day,” no vocal organizations, and the gay bars kept a very low profile. It was the most closeted city I had lived in.
Hence when a homophobic Op-Ed appeared in the Observer in the Spring of 2010, praising “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the chances were that it too would go unanswered. That commentary, by retired Chaplain Ronald Crews, is excerpted below, for context.
This communal closeting had long been a burden to me, and after reading Crews, I decided to speak up for my own convictions, and perhaps those of some others who did not feel safe to speak.
My Op-Ed response was published in the Observer on June 3.
As advocacy goes, it was pretty mild. That reflected an effort to take the immediate audience into account.
Yale University plans to move a controversial stone carving from a pillar by the entrance to a renovated library to a museum setting for study. The carving shows an Indian with a bow facing a musket-carrying Puritan.
(Below, two views of the carving: on top is the original, with musket; below, today’s version, musket covered. In its future home, the covering will come off.)
Such campus “cleansing” is also occurring on other campuses, and in different settings, particularly religious. And it is controversial.
For instance, recent efforts to marginalize or “cancel” William Penn by some Pennsylvania Quakers seem to me short-sighted. Yes, Penn once owned some slaves. That was a blot, but on an otherwise remarkable record, which I consider well worth remembering, grappling with, and yes, in many respects celebrating.
But back to Yale. A law professor there decried the move in today’s Washington Post. The move, and its motivation, in his view, have serious drawbacks. As he put it:
Anthony Kronman, Washington Post:
“This kind of ethical cleansing is bad for many reasons. One is that it discounts the importance of discomfort in the process of learning. Discovering what your conscience demands is the reward for confronting ideas that shock it, and maturity is the prize of learning to live with ambiguity.
Another is that it confirms the wish to have one’s field of vision seamlessly fit one’s system of values. It invites the smug belief that a real problem has been met simply by removing an irritant from view.
A third is that it reinforces the belief that those who lived before us were blinded by prejudices we have thankfully overcome. But that itself is a prejudice — one that powerfully shapes campus life in an age otherwise devoted to the eradication of prejudice in all its forms.
This trend places moral self-confidence ahead of the life of the mind, which is always more than a little dangerous, because that adventure should put even our firmest convictions at risk. . . .”
All these points, made about college-level education, in my view apply to religious/spiritual life too. As Kronman also argues,
“Our students must of course be free from physical harm. But they must also be free from the spirit of moral conformity that today represents a danger of a more insidious kind.. . .”
Besides “students,” this hazard also faces many religious seekers and their faithcommunities.
But let’s also hear the other side. The university released the following statement on August 22 about moving a historical piece:
Yale University is moving a decorative piece of stonework from the main entrance of its Center for Teaching and Learning. The decorative piece will be made available for study and viewing, and written material will accompany it and place it in historical context.
A carving, created during the construction of the building in 1929, depicts a Puritan settler holding a musket pointed toward the head of a Native American. During renovation of the building to accommodate the Center for Teaching and Learning, the project team in consultation with Yale’s Committee on Art in Public Spaces determined that leaving the depiction in place would have the unintended effect of giving it a place of honor that it does not deserve. The university consulted faculty and other scholarly experts, who concluded that the image depicts a scene of warfare and colonial violence toward local Native American inhabitants.
The decision to move this carving, contextualize it, and make it available for study is consistent with principles articulated by the Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming (CEPR) and adopted by the Yale Corporation in December 2016. The university has an obligation not to hide from or destroy reminders of unpleasant history; at the same time, the university chooses the symbols and depictions that stand in places of honor. The prominence of this carving changed when its location became a main entrance to the Center for Teaching and Learning. When the carving was originally discussed in the spring of 2016, the CEPR had not yet been formed and articulated principles. A team in charge of planning for the construction project decided to cover the depiction of the musket with removable stonework. Covering over the problematic aspect of this carving is not consistent with the principles subsequently adopted by the university in the CEPR report; and therefore, when the carving is relocated, the covering stonework will be removed.
In explaining the decision to move the decorative corbel and restore the covered part of it, President Peter Salovey said, “We cannot make alterations to works of art on our campus. Such alteration represents an erasure of history, which is entirely inappropriate at a university. We are obligated to allow students and others to view such images, even when they are offensive, and to study and learn from them. In carrying out this obligation, we also have a responsibility to provide information that helps all viewers understand the meaning of the image. We do so in a setting that clearly communicates that the content of the image is not being honored or even taken lightly but, rather, is deserving of thoughtful consideration and reflection.”
What do you think? And as the Puritan goes, so goes Penn? And which other worthies?