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Justice, Mercy, and the American Taliban

The father of the “American Taliban” John Walker Lindh went public yesterday calling on President Bush to grant clemency to his son. Frank Lindh claims his son, first captured at 20 in Afghanistan and now 25, is innocent, “acted with integrity,” is a “great kid,” and “never fought against America.” He said, “In simple terms, this is the story of a decent and honorable young man embarked on a spiritual quest.” According to Frank Lindh, his son went to the Middle East to study Islam, traveled to Pakistan to escape the summer heat, went into Afghanistan without informing his parents, and only joined the Taliban army to fight against the Northern Alliance, not America. Meanwhile, the father choked back tears and showed baby pictures of his son.

The record, however, tells a different story. John Walker Lindh is charged with conspiring to kill Americans and supporting terrorists. He avoided a life sentence in 2002 by pleading guilty to lesser charges of supplying services to the Taliban and carrying weapons against U.S. forces. He was given a 20 year prison sentence.

No one who has children can watch or read this story without feeling some compassion for an anguished father. I don’t doubt that he loves his son, that he genuinely believes his son is innocent of wrongdoing, or even that his son may have been involved in some kind of spiritual odyssey. And I don’t begrudge his request for clemency. Many of us might very well do the same thing in similar painful circumstances.

But a father’s love does not change John Walker Lindh’s record, clearly established through due process of law. Lindh was not abused or tortured. He was given a fair trial in an American court through which he was provided with an opportunity to defend himself. And in the end, his sentence was far less severe than his deeds warranted according to law.

Justice has been served. But the father’s request is not about justice. It’s about mercy in the form of clemency. So if you were advising President Bush about this case how would you recommend he respond?

While John Walker Lindh’s father is asking for mercy another father, Johnny Spann, is trying to get Lindh’s sentence extended for murder and treason. His son, CIA officer Johnny Michael “Mike” Spann, was killed in a prison riot after being videotaped speaking to John Walker Lindh. Again, most people, particularly those of us who have children, understand Spann’s response.

This is a sad case, but this is more than a “troubled youth” who made a couple of ill-advised decision in the neighborhood. This is about a young man who was intelligent and resourceful enough to travel around the world to study under religious teachers and who in turn took steps to align with groups clearly functioning outside the bounds of American, Afghan, or moral interests. He was not confused. He was intentional. He knew what he was doing, and he was old enough to understand words like treason, traitor, and terrorist.

So, should President Bush grant clemency to John Walker Lindh? I don’t think so. I believe mercy and even forgiveness can be extended within the constructs of his sentence, while I do not think freeing him serves justice or the needs of the American people. He is not in prison in some forgotten part of the world. He serves his time at the medium security federal penitentiary in Victorville, California. This is not a fun environment, but given his crimes, serving his time in his home state near his parents is a form of mercy in itself.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

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Family Leadership Succession in Christian Ministry

The Crystal Cathedral’s recent investiture of Robert H. Schuller’s son, Robert A. Schuller, as pastor of the Crystal Cathedral is the latest in a series of similar family leadership successions in Christian ministries.

Bob Jones followed Bob Jones who followed Bob Jones as the president of Bob Jones University. Richard Roberts followed his father as president of Oral Roberts University and associated ministries. Franklin Graham inherited his father Billy Graham’s leadership of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and affiliated ministries. John Osteen went to his reward and his at-first reluctant but now phenomenally successful son Joel Osteen followed his father to the leadership of Lakewood Church in Houston. Gordon Robertson is apparently heir apparent of his father Pat Robertson at CBN in Virginia Beach. Somewhat distinct from the others yet a similar story is Andy Stanley’s founding of North Point Community Church across town from his father Charles Stanley’s longtime ministry at First Baptist Church of Atlanta.

Sons and daughters have long followed their parents into “the family business”—it even happens in politics—think George H. and George W. Bush. But a Christian ministry is not a family business, particularly when the sons typically possess very different skills than their fathers and may evidence very different levels of spiritual commitment or maturity.

I’m not suggesting there is necessarily something unbiblical or otherwise unwise about these successions. But I do find them interesting. I’ve wondered what discussions have taken place about the son’s sense of calling, what motivates the son to take the reins, and what constituents think about the appropriateness of the choice versus others that could have been made. I’ve wondered what a famous name, family features, and sometimes a similar tone of voice or mannerisms have to do with the ability to lead a Christian organization for the Lord’s service.

That said, I think the Graham transition has been especially strong and effective. Franklin possesses an “edge” that Billy did not evidence, which provides a voice I think our culture needs. I appreciate him. All in all, these successions may indeed be God’s best. Clearly it is these families’ and organizations’ responsibility, not mine. I wonder about it, but I wish them well.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

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Super Bowl Wagering

The Super Bowl is the number one betting day of the year---this time with legal wagering predicted over $7 billion. Illegal gambling worldwide will more than double that total. Gambling is not just an American pastime; it’s a world pastime.

I know a few people who gamble regularly, usually in small amounts, and of course they lose more than they win. They may be experiencing some kind of fun or gratification, but the economics of their behavior doesn’t make sense.

I also know a few Christian people who do not believe gambling is wrong or especially hurtful, unless one gambles to excess. I always tell them the burden of proof is on them, not me, because considering gambling immoral is a position consistent with some two thousand years of church history.

I believe gambling violates at least five doctrines of Scripture: the sovereignty of God (Luck and an omniscient, omnipotent God are mutually exclusive concepts), stewardship (We are accountable to God for our time, talent, and treasure), theft (For you and me to win at gambling a lot of others must lose), covetousness (God commands contentment not greed), potentially addictive (The Bible tells us not to allow our minds, bodies, or souls to be brought under the power of anything other than the Spirit of God). [See my book, Gambling:  Don’t Bet On It, for more discussion of this topic.]

Football is an enjoyable game, one involving nearly limitless statistics. It’s also a “stop action” game—the game pauses after each down. So football plus television presents gamblers with nearly limitless opportunities to place bets. TV, football, and sports wagering are a dangerous combination. That’s why the NFL is on record with strong condemnations of sports wagering. The League knows that one Chicago “Black Sox” or Pete Rose-type gambling scandal could undermine the game and its legitimate profit making potential for years to come.

Gambling in any form is little more than a time bomb in a pretty package. Gambling in sports is a direct threat to the integrity of the game in terms of fair competition. Wagering on the Super Bowl is, therefore, a bad bet.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

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Funeral Politics: Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King’s funeral in Atlanta earlier this week became as much a political event as a time for remembering and mourning. Mrs. King was rightly lauded for her consistent support for civil rights for minorities and for her diligence in protecting and advancing the legacy of her slain husband Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She is a lady who will be missed.

But Rev. Joseph Lowery shifted from eulogizing Mrs. King to talking about “weapons of mass destruction,” health insurance, and poverty. Meanwhile, President and Mrs. Bush sat directly behind the speaker. Former President Jimmy Carter said Mrs. King and her late husband had been “violated” by “government wiretapping and government surveillance.” He also took shots at the current administration’s handling of post-Katrina assistance in New Orleans by referring to “the color of the faces in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, those…most devastated by Hurricane Katrina.”

I can forgive Rev. Lowery, because politics in the pulpit is a fairly standard experience in the Black church. But former President Jimmy Carter’s comments were unnecessary, out of place, and beneath the dignity of a former president, particularly in the context of a funeral eulogy. There was so much about Mrs. King’s life and legacy that President Carter could have talked about. To focus on current political divides was a low ball blow.

President Carter’s rhetoric may fit the man, but it does not fit the position he holds in trust for the American people. I don’t begrudge him his views or even his right to express them. I simply think he could have gone about sharing them in a more dignified manner. In the end, his attack on the current administration’s policies in that venue did nothing to advance his point of view.

For President Bush’s part, he was gracious, praised Mrs. King, remained positive in words and in response to his critics, and in general revealed a bit of class. Whatever one’s position on the war, poverty, post-Katrina response, etc., you have to give Mr. Bush credit for the way he handled these cheap shots. He acted like a President when his predecessor did not.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

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Oprah's Mea Culpa Much Welcome

Oprah Winfrey's back-pedaling apology for defending falsehood-published-as-truth is a very welcome development. On Thursday’s show, Winfrey expressed chagrin, remorse, and anger, some of it directed at herself and most of it aimed at James Frey and his book, A Million Little Pieces. Frey’s “memoir,” now known to contain more than a few documented falsehoods, still tops the bestseller lists and is still making money for Frey and his publisher. But at least people know it’s not what it claims to be.

Before the legion of fans who watch her show, Oprah told Frey, “I feel duped. But more importantly, I feel that you betrayed millions of readers.” In that she was echoing the rest of us. Frey admitted to lying, and he’s lost respect and what reputation he was attempting to rebuild even if he is walking away with a bigger bank account.

But Winfrey cannot offload all of this on Frey. Her organization selected Frey’s book for the Oprah Book Club, apparently without vetting it thoroughly. And worse, she called Larry King’s CNN program on January 11, staunchly defending Frey and his work, saying the growing controversy about truth versus fiction was “much ado about nothing.” Winfrey can make a mistake like anyone else, but she is too shrewd not to have known what she was doing when she made that call.

But let’s salute Winfrey’s quick ownership of her misstep. She told her viewers, “I regret the call. I made a mistake and I left the impression that the truth does not matter, and I am deeply sorry about that. That is not what I believe.”

Whether Winfrey’s own conscience got to her, whether she is worried about her image and reputation, or whether she is simply responding to the thorough shellacking she experienced in the national media, we don’t know. But she did acknowledge that she has been the subject of numerous online and print editorials, calling her to account. In clear contrition she said, “To everyone who has challenged me on this issue of truth, you are absolutely right.” And they were.

Truth matters after all in postmodern culture. We cannot live without it, even if people and philosophies persist in suggesting that we can. Frey is just a blip. He’ll soon disappear. But integrity in speech, writing, and testimony are critical to the functioning of a free society based on objective truth and the rule of law. The day that truth really does not matter is the day the American experiment is only a step away from demagoguery and demise.

It’s more than a little interesting to see authors, columnists, and other writers (liberal or conservative) reacting so strongly against Frey’s infractions. Writers have taken greater umbrage with Frey than publishing houses. Why? Because this strikes at the very heart of what writers do and who they are. It’s about intellectual property, their incomes, and talent. It’s about their ox being gored, and they rightly do not like it. Publishers make money either way, true or false. Indeed as the Frey experience has shown once again, controversy sells books.

So in the end truth won this battle in the culture wars. Winfrey learned, publishers learned, and, hopefully, so did the rest of us.

 

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

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Feminism AWOL at Golden Globe Groping

Apparently feminism went on holiday at last week’s 63rd Annual Golden Globe Awards. E! Network red carpet correspondent Isaac Mizrahi grabbed then peered down the front of Teri Hatcher’s dress, asked Eva Longoria about the disposition of her pubic hair, and squeezed Scarlett Johansson’s breast in an extended grope—twice. All of this outrageous behavior was beamed to millions and E! got what it wanted—attention and more viewers motivated by prurient interests.

Hatcher acted shocked, the key word being “acted,” but otherwise did not put a stop to Mizrahi’s affront. Longoria simply did not answer the question, while Johansson appeared nonplussed, asked, “What’s going on?” then put up with Mizrahi’s antics. For women adept at marketing themselves, all of them missed their chance to be the focus of national news, rather than Mizrahi.

Hatcher at 40 should have the perspective and self-awareness to have recognized the moment. At a minimum, she could have pulled away and said something like, “Keep your hands off me!” Or better, had she said that and slapped Mizrahi., she not only would have made national news, she would have become the hero of women everywhere. Hatcher would immediately have become “The woman who said ‘No’” to sexual harassment in front of the entire nation. She would be the “strong professional woman” who stood up for herself. She would be the talk of talk shows, and she would have launched herself into a whole new level of fame, for this incident and its aftermath would have been covered not just on entertainment but hard news programs. But, alas, she didn’t take action—nor did Johansson, who arguably had even more cause to protest Mizrahi’s behavior. They missed their moment for singularity.

Perhaps if any of these women had protested, their reaction would have elicited chuckles later, because these are women whose entire careers and personal presentation is built upon sexual contexts and evident sensuality. But even so, I think they could have won the day, because most women, or anyone for that matter, know that unsolicited improper touching is not acceptable and not legal, even if you remove moral concerns from the equation. Women from Oprah to Hillary would have rallied to their defense, and so would have a lot of men.

Curiously, none of these actresses have demanded an apology and none has been issued. In fact, the only people who seemed to have been offended by this public display of over the top behavior is GLAAD, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. GLAAD took umbrage with the openly gay Mizrahi’s use of the word “dyke” in his conversation with Charlize Theron. E! Network president Ted Harbert said, “"While E! Networks does not generally condone the use of that word, we are totally confident that Isaac is the last person on Earth who could be accused of even the slightest degree of homophobia." GLAAD later said that E! agreed to edit out this word in future airings of the program.

So in Hollywood morality, it’s O.K. to use a word like “dyke” if you are not “homophobic.” By this logic, one could use the “N word” if he or she is “not a racist,” or could call someone a “Nazi” if he or she really didn’t mean anything by it. It’s an interesting argument in this day of political correctness.

Also by Hollywood logic, it may possibly be an egregious error to use a derogatory term referring to gays or lesbians, but it’s apparently just fun and games to touch unsuspecting women in improper places—a behavior that in any other context would be called sexual harassment.

Feminists have argued for more than three decades that women should be treated with respect, should be regarded with dignity, should be accorded equality with men, should not be trotted out as mere sex symbols, etc. Later radical feminists positioned themselves and their movement as “men and marriage haters” and considered all sex with men to be forms of oppression, viewpoints that continue to undermine the movement’s other worthy considerations. But much of early feminist arguments had value and needed to be made. The Golden Globe incidents are a case in point. Feminists should be screaming the loudest about this episode, but they have been curiously silent.

This incident also demonstrates how much culture has changed. While neither Lauren Bacall nor Katherine Hepburn were paragons of personal virtue, can you really imagine either of them tolerating the public embarrassment endured by Hatcher, Longoria, and Johansson? Not really—primarily because they had come of age in a time when culture still operated with a reasonable moral consensus. Women did not enjoy all the civil liberties we now consider their due, but they were, largely, accorded a public degree of respect.

Morally, of course, from a Christian perspective, this episode is even more unacceptable and further evidence of cultural decline. So for once Christians and feminists ought to be climbing the same bully pulpit, decrying sexual harassment of any person, no matter who he or she is or what he or she does for a living. Christians will speak out on this issue, and I’m one of them, but where are the feminists?

© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006

*This blog may be reproduced in whole or in part with a full attribution statement. Contact Dr. Rogers or read more commentary on current issues and events at www.rexmrogers.com or follow at www.twitter.com/rexmrogers.

 

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Dr. Rex M. Rogers

Dr. Rex M. Rogers

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Gambling: Don't Bet on It