Earlier today, I saw a link to a blog post about a man, Michael Salman, who had been thrown in jail and fined for hosting a Bible study in his home. We’ve seen things like this before, but what made this one unique is that it was in Arizona; yes, this is happening right here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I shared the link with others, voicing my support for him if the situation was as it was presented. However, a friend followed up with a link to a news story that gives more of the history and what has happened. As it turns out, the original post is highly-slanted advocacy that left out some key details. The more I’ve thought about it, the angrier I’ve become, to the point where I now hope that Salman comes to his senses while he’s in jail.
Here is the Cliff’s Notes version of the first post (feel free to read it if you’d like). This man and his wife were having family and friends over for a Bible study on a weekly basis. Neighbors complained about the extra cars and the traffic, and the fire department broke up one of their studies. The man then gets building permits for a 2,000 square foot building where the number of people could be without causing a fire hazard. Since erecting that building, he has been continually harassed and accused of running a church on his residential property. He maintains that these are simply guests in his home and new out-building, and that they have as much of a right to be there as would a birthday or Super Bowl party. Salman is now facing 30 months in jail and $12,000 in fines.
Sounds pretty bad, huh? Well, my opinion began to turn when I saw a picture of his yard…
OK - the “this is not a church” claim just became very, very hard to swallow. From the above link, plus another from the DailyMail, we learn some other interesting facts. First, Salman is an ordained minister. Second, this out-building, contrary to the restaurant-looking picture from the Freedom Outpost article, is equipped with a pulpit, stage, and chairs. Third, these Bible studies were hosted on the weekend. A time of Bible study on the weekend in a building with a pulpit on a stage… If only there were a word that would be more succinct to describe that sort of thing! There is, and it’s the one the city of Phoenix used - church.
This brings me to the angry part. My anger is based in the blemish to the name of Christ that this has caused, and for the people who are going to look like fools for supporting this when the first, incomplete, biased, and dishonest story came out.
Yes, dishonest; candor is a part of honesty, and involved disclosing information that the hearer, upon learning that it was not disclosed, would feel wronged. There is real religious persecution going on all around the world; this does NOT rise to that level. In the realm of ideas, honesty is paramount. This is why so many arguments fall flat on their face when all the facts come out; even those who claim that their are no absolutes tend to still hold honesty as a moral character trait.
Secondly, what happened to “love your neighbor as yourself,” Mr. Salman? A Super Bowl party and a birthday party are both once-a-year events, and even those have been broken up by police and fire officials if they cause a safety concern. You knew that your neighbors did not like the extra traffic, particularly when your study expanded from 15 to nearly 40. I’m sure there is a restaurant in Phoenix that would love to have a weekly banquet room reservation for 30 people; there are two I could attend in the Albuquerque area every week. But, rather than show peace and love, you extended “the middle finger of the Lord” to your neighbors and the city. You are now reaping what you have sown; how can you expect your neighbors or the city to have mercy on you when you were not interested in giving it to them?
Thirdly, Mr. Salman, did we miss Romans 13:1-2?
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.
The city told you what you needed to do. They did not prohibit you from continuing to have meetings; they told you the codes with which you must comply if you wanted to continue doing so. All churches have to meet building codes; if you have any doubts regarding their importance, compare the earthquake devastation in countries with them to the devastation in countries without them. They ensure public safety where large numbers of people are present on a regular basis; a building does not have to be a public building to meet this criteria. You chose to call your meetings something other than church to get around that (see how that honesty thing keeps cropping up?), you got called on it, and now you have, to quote Paul, “incur[red] judgment.”
Mr. Salman, I hope you use your time away to think about what you have done. Will the world be better off if your 5 children show the world the love of God the way you’ve modeled it for them in this situation? And please, be HONEST when asking for help. There are good people who will support you, but we don’t want to be played for fools. By doing what you have been doing for the past several years, YOU ARE HARMING THE CAUSE OF CHRIST. Christ did not come to give us freedom of religion; He came to free us from sin. He chose to place us in a country where we have very few limits on the free exercise of religion; don’t lose sight of that because you happen to have bumped up against what you view as an impediment on that free exercise.
The good thing in all this is, Mr. Salman, that grace is always there. You can receive it, and you can extend it. This cause is not hopeless, especially if you change the focus from “I have a right!” to “where does God want me to hold this study?” Who knows the ministry God may have for you if you get out of a landlocked residential neighborhood and into some place with room for growth?
This is part two of the series “2011 Year in Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” These are the things that were bad, but didn’t quite make the ridiculous list. (In many cases, though, they were close.)
Japan’s Handling of Fukushima
The tsunami that hit Japan in March of 2011 was bad - really bad. Nearly 16,000 people lost their lives because of it, and estimates on the damage it caused was over $200B. The enormity* alone would have been enough to land it on this list. However, the nuclear angle of the tsunami sent it right to the top.
Initially, the Japanese government declared a state of emergency. Then, they said that they had everything under control, and did not need to take any further steps. Some people familiar with reactors were not comfortable with this, and sadly, they were proved correct. The government of Japan admitted, little by little, how dire the situation was, which ended up with a complete meltdown of three reactors, and several hydrogen explosions. The contamination was likened to Chernobyl; thankfully, that disaster has not produced the ill effects that were forecasted for it. Hopefully we will see the same at Fukushima.
While there is no guarantee that any other nations’ aid could have prevented these meltdowns, it underscores the need for honesty and transparency in government, particularly during times of disaster. Thankfully, the myriad armchair nuclear scientists have moved on to other pursuits, and Japan has cleanup well underway. However, the effects of this disaster will be felt for many years to come.
On January 8th, 2011, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) was holding a constituent meeting in Tucson when she was shot at point-blank range. The shooter then turned and sprayed bullets into the crowd, killing several people. Miraculously, Rep. Giffords survived the shot, though she spent the majority of 2011 in the hospital or in rehab facilities. As the year closed, she was nearly ready to resume her regular schedule in Congress. While she was in the hospital, her husband flew on one of the final Space Shuttle missions. The shooting was bad, but her recovery has been one of the good news stories of 2011.
The man who shot her was a troubled individual, an anarchist who believed in “nothing” according to his friends. However, this did not stop the rush-to-judgment speculation of many media members. The first meme was that this was a deranged right-wing lunatic, acting out a map produced by Sarah Palin’s PAC in 2010. This map showed vulnerable seats with a cross-hair icon; of course this was the dog-whistle for the loonies to assassinate Democrats! Well, when that fell though, they still stuck with the right-wing narrative, until finally recanting when it was clear that this was not the case. Their rush to judgment gave us a window into their hearts, and what we saw was not pretty. (It also wasn’t news to many of us; just confirmation.)
Finally, many used her shooting to condemn the “violent” rhetoric (AKA firearms metaphors) that had become a part of the political system. This civility proved to be short-lived, and gave rise to the #NewTone Twitter hashtag, used by conservatives to retweet some of the vitriol directed at them.
These reactions illustrate the value of freedom of speech. Should these people have reacted the way they did? Of course not. But, without free speech, we wouldn’t know who the moonbats are. There are “journalists” who I simply will not patronize based on their behavior during this terrible tragedy.
US Credit Downgrade
In August, Standard and Poor’s downgraded the credit rating of the United States from AAA to AA. They did this in response to the failure of our country to address our looming deficits. When you look at our economic policies from 2006 forward, including 2009 being the last year with a Senate-passed budget, it’s hard to fault them for doing so. Our nation is ignoring the signs that tell us we should change; this year, the debt eclipsed our annual GDP. We cannot continue to spend money we do not have, while ignoring debt we have already accrued. Austerity is probably not going to get anyone elected, but it’s what we need; the world economy is no better than ours, so we cannot base our recovery on exports to other nations. We should position ourselves to ride out this contraction, so we will be ready to take advantage of the next expansion.
The Cain Train Derailed
I was on the Cain Train. I really liked Herman Cain’s plans for our nation. He was not a Washington insider, he has proven results with taking indentured businesses, making them live within their means, and growing them. His 9-9-9 plan attacked the sacred cow of tax code, proposing a much more fair solution. I wrote about him at length. However, as he rose in the polls, women began coming forward claiming sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior. These were bad, and he sadly put himself in the position of being vulnerable to those claims. His response, through his lawyer, was even worse; it sounded like something out of the Clinton administration.
Character matters. Even if every one of these claims were false, his inability or refusal to deny them outright gave us pause. A legal response that it was none of our business sounded fishy. Learning that he gave these women money unbeknownst to his wife just made me hang my head. Now, I realize that this comparison I’m about to make isn’t really apples to apples, but bear with me. When the Bible lists qualifications of a pastor, two of them are “husband of one wife” and “manages his own house well.” The first is important because fidelity to one’s spouse is an indication of fidelity to the rest of what they claim to believe, and the lack of it the same. The second lets us know that this person can work with people with whom they are close without letting them dissuade him from doing what it right. We’re not electing a pastor - I get that; the character required, however, is very similar. Mr. Cain did not manage his own house, could not refute these charges, and thus was drummed out of the race for Barack Obama’s job.
While there were plenty of bad things that happened, we can generally learn from them. May we learn, and not repeat 2011’s mistakes in 2012.
p.s. Intentionally left off this list is the Jerry Sandusky / Penn State scandal. Such unspeakable horror - may anywhere else this may exist be exposed, and the perpetrators be punished to the full extent of the law, and then some.
* Word nerd tip - “enormity” is not a synonym for “size,” but carries a negative connotation as well; in other words, it’s not just big, it’s big and bad. Its use here is appropriate; its common use elsewhere usually is not.
2010 was quite a year. To wrap it up, I’m bringing back a mostly annual tradition here of the three-post “Year in Review - The Good, the Bad, and the Ridiculous.” Per tradition, the posts are published in reverse, so when they’re all posted, the good is on top. With no further ado, the ridiculous…
The BP Oil Spill
While this, on its own merits, would have landed on the bad list, the incompetence surrounding the spill launched it to the top of the list. On the front side, BP’s pencil-whipped audits and ignoring of safety warnings is deplorable; those controls are there because they are necessary, and I’m sure that shutting off that particular well until it was fixed would have been much cheaper than clean-up from the spill was. On the back end, the US government’s response was horrible. The failure to quickly approve waivers for foreign ships and exhaust regulations, and the failure to accept help from other countries in containing the spill while it was small, was eerily similar to the failures surrounding Hurricane Katrina. These failures led to the effects of the spill being far greater than they need to be.
While the Gulf does seem to be recovering more quickly than expected, there will be pockets of oil and a poorer overall quality of water in the Gulf of Mexico for years. The knee-jerk reaction of stopping all off-shore drilling compounds the problem. A safety down-time to recheck all the rigs is in order, but once the rigs are found to be safe, there is no reason that they should sit idle. This also illustrates the ridiculousness of prohibiting drilling on land; how much easier would this well have been to seal up if it was in land? But, to placate tree-huggers and NIMBYs, we’re drilling through a mile of water to get oil.
What solidifies this ridiculousness is that we seemingly have learned nothing from these lessons. Time will tell, and I won’t feel any joy and bringing this back up, but I have a feeling we’ll be revisiting stories similar to this one if things don’t change.
United States v. Arizona
One of the basic rights recognized by our legal system is the right to self defense. Many things that would be otherwise illegal are justified when they are done in self defense. The state of Arizona is experiencing an influx of illegal aliens streaming across its southern border, and people who live in southern Arizona are encountering increasing violence from these illegals. While the Federal government has laws on the books, the current administration (and the one before it) seemed to be more interested in turning this group of illegal aliens into voters than enforcing the law. So, Arizona passes laws similar to the ones the Federal government has. Simple self-defense, borne of necessity due to inaction by the Federal government in the face of mounting threats.
How does the US government respond? With loud denunciation, even threats of lawsuits against Arizona if they enforce these new laws. They are joined by the media, who painted heart-wrenching pictures of illegals who were deciding to move because of the new laws. (To which I say, “Good!” I read one where the illegal was going to Colorado, and I thought, “Well, that’s the wrong direction.”) The law makes the state less hospitable to those who shouldn’t be there in the first place; just as the laws passed in Oklahoma a few years back, this is a good thing.
How much better shape would Mexico be in if they had another 30 million workers there, stimulating its economy? How much better would employment opportunities be here if there were 30 million fewer potential employees, many of whom skirt labor laws? This is win-win! Each nationality lives and works in their own country, and we visit each others’ countries on vacation. It works well for Canada - why wouldn’t it work with Mexico?
The Spiraling Inanity of Reality TV
The Real World started it, Survivor perfected it, and many, many other have followed it. I don’t know that 2010 was the year when this “jumped the shark,” but it certainly continued down the trail. It appears that script writing is becoming a lost art, except on cable channels, where the shows aren’t subject to the restrictions of over-the-air TV; basic cable can now be categorized as either sports, news, reruns, niche networks, and train wrecks. A&E has gone from Biography to Billy the Exterminator; History has gone from actual history to current-day shows that may be tangentially-related to history. This probably explains why I’ve been watching less and less TV that isn’t sports or news.
(One notable exception to this are the sitcoms on ABC; this is likely why they are so successful.)
Finally, a ridiculous quote to finish it off, from now-former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi - “But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it.”