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Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Biblical text from the Gospel of Matthew found fused to metal from the World Trade Center wreckage at Ground Zero in Manhattan. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”

Retraction and Correction – Page 228

Obtainable Expectations: Timely Exposition on the Sermon on the Mount

Please strike over and disregard the entirety of the second full paragraph on page 228 of my Sermon on the Mount book. It is rubbish I wrote in 2003. This book was written over of a couple decades and there are several places where I’d say things differently today. However, the issue I correct here is so central at the very the summit of the mount it cannot stand uncorrected. There is no section of the Bible like here at the summit of the mount (enemy love) where corporately, Christians contort themselves more to get out from underneath its demands. Here we come to the second of the two main issues of interpretation with regard to the Sermon on the Mount. The first being, is it liveable? Is it an obtainable standard? The entire thesis of this book is absolutely, it is liveable and obtainable. The second issue then becomes who is it for, an individual believer or also for Christian’s corporately, including nations seeking to adhere to Judeo-Christian values? If you want a more developed article on non-retaliation go to my essay: Love as a Foreign Policy: September 11 and Turning the Other Cheek (pdf alert, 11,000 words). One of the first questions I get on this is; what about self-defence, what about defending the nation?? This article is about retaliation and to whom the non-retaliation commandment applies. If that is not kept in mind one will misunderstand and misrepresent my argument. The following constitutes the corrections I wish to make in place of the disregarded paragraph.

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Christians quickly hide behind Romans 13 arguing God gives governments the power of the sword. Romans 13 does say just that, except the passage does not say God agrees with and sanctions every pagan governments decided use of the sword. And most certainly, Paul was not telling Christians that they are justified to forsake the path of mercy and love if and when they one day assume positions of power. Why then are so many Christians today defending the values of pagan Romans and the ethics of Nero? Perhaps it should be the case that governments in the Christian sectors of the world are based more on the ethics of Jesus rather than on the ethics of Nero. It is remarkable how much weight Christians throughout the centuries have given to this eisegesis of Romans 13:4. Somehow it outweighs fifty verses from Jesus on showing mercy and love.

Retreating to a bifurcated interpretation of “turn the other cheek,” in that it applies to Christians interpersonally but not to Christians corporately and politically, is to entirely miss all that the Apostle Paul underscored in the chapter immediately before Romans 13, chapter twelve. Chapter 12 of Romans reads much like the Sermon on the Mount;  “Love must be sincere… Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  Those were Paul’s instructions immediately prior to his Romans 13 statement on Christians living submissively under pagan governments (whom God has delegated the power of the sword). There is no caveat that they do not apply to the Christian later, if and when they find themselves in positions of power and political authority.

There is no caveat that these divine strategies of responding to hate and hurt with love and responding to evil with good only work on a small scale. My contention here is those who have been faithful and obedient in smaller situations can be entrusted with the same in larger situations. Jesus never differentiated between loving a neighbour and loving a neighbouring nation.** Effectually it is as if we believe Jesus said “These are some strategies that I commend to you for little matters. Honestly, for the more complex conflicts I have nothing for you in terms of heavenly wisdom or strategy so go ahead and ‘do unto them what they’ve do unto you’ and I’m okay with whatever response seems and feels right for you at the time. Not to worry, forgiveness comes easy with me, and grace cheap.”

**Leo Tolstoy settles this centuries-old, unnecessary uncertainty with a simple appeal to the words Jesus used and what they would have meant to his original hearers. “…[N]eighbour in the Hebrew language meant, invariably and exclusively, ‘a Hebrew.’” Considering the lengths he went to describe the thoroughness of his study of these words, that he seems to imply Jesus spoke this originally in Hebrew, not Aramaic, is peculiar. His justification may be it is the same word and meaning as in Luke 10:29 where the “neighbour” is a Samaritan– someone a Hebrew would have clearly not regarded as a neighbour. Finding the same meaning in Acts 7:27, his conclusion is “‘neighbour’ in Gospel language, means a compatriot, a person belonging to the same nationality…. And so the antithesis used by Jesus in the citation, ‘love thy neighbour, hate thine enemy,’ must be in the distinction between the words ‘compatriot’ and ‘foreigner.’” Tolstoy contended his supposition was further confirmed when seeking the Jewish understanding of enemy. “The word enemy is nearly always employed in the Gospels in the sense, not of a personal enemy, but, in general, of a ‘hostile people.’” His citations are Luke 1:71,74; Matthew 22, Mark 12:36 and Luke 20:43. Based on the words Jesus used, Tolstoy’s conclusion is that it is not possible that Jesus intended his teaching to be applicable only on the interpersonal level. [Source: Tolstoy, Leo. My Religion–What I Believe. (Guildford, UK: White Crow Productions Ltd, 2009 reprint of the 1884 text), 72.]

4/2016, SH

Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

Stanley Hauerwas and Steve Hickey

On March 11, 2016, here at the University of Aberdeen, I asked Stanley Hauerwas the question: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after September 11? What follows is a verbatim transcript of my recording of his answer. Next week I will be publishing an essay entitled: Love as a Foreign Policy: Hauerwas, Elshtain and a Christ-like Response to September 11th. Part of Hauerwas’ comment below appears in my essay but I’m posting his entire statement here so it is out there for others to use. ______________________________________

Steve Hickey: What should turn the other cheek mean to a Christian President the morning after a September 11?

Stanley Hauerwas: And my answer is, how does a Christian ever get elected President of the United States? I mean I would assume that they would have been interrogated about what it means to turn the other cheek before they ever got to be president. And that would have made them– not ready candidates to be understood as people who would be ready to do anything to defend the American people. So the question itself already presupposes a Constantinian form of Christianity that I do not represent.

In terms of September 11, America is a country whose politics is fundamentally determined by September 11th. When September 11th occurred I said “this is the next fifty years and maybe longer than that” because Americans are determined to find a way to get out of life alive. And we think that if we have the strongest military that will be able to provide that result. And of course, it’s just bullshit.

And this would be kind of a Niebuhrian point…. One of the tensions within the American society is the disconnect between the morality necessary to sustain a serious military and the ethos of the American people. What was the fundamental thing that George Bush said a day after September 11?… what is the moral response of the American people to September 11th? “[Go out and] Shop.” So now you have the American military, which is an honour society, defending a social order whose deepest moral commitment is shopping. How do you do that?

And so those are the deeper questions I think that occur about how Christianity relates to American politics. Reinhold Niebuhr, his thought was committed to trying to figure out what it would look like if as a matter of fact America had a Christian Secretary of State and the primary implication is they have to be planning out how to kill as few as possible and that means you need to be smart in terms of how you act out of American self-interests. Niebuhr never called into question whether a Christian could be a Secretary of State. He wanted that.

A preliminary word is in order as to what could possibly motivate me to write three articles on the subject of transgenderism in the span of two weeks time. Primarily the fact that the South Dakota Legislature is making news on this subject all the way over here on this side of the pond (I’m living in Scotland) and until recently I was a member of that legislative body. Additionally, my difficult and surprising votes last year on this issue put me in some serious hot water with Christian friends, church members and pro-family values groups whom I’ve worked alongside for years. Then comes the year of Caitlyn Jenner and I sat quiet as I sorted through my discomfort and sadness at the course joking by Christian friends on social media. Finally, dealing with hot potatoes is something I’ve never shied away from and I typically have little restraint in firing away a prophetic challenge if I discern the Church needs a wake up call or a course correction. So here goes it.

This won’t be the place where I discuss inner healing and the power of Christ to mend the broken, including broken identities. Also I won’t take time to defend that statement but will simply refer to the three frameworks– integrity, disability and diversity – outlined in Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse of Wheaton and Regent Universities new book called Understanding Gender Dysphoria. Or, read my recent op-ed on this topic here: Empathy and Accommodation for the transgendered in South Dakota. What follows in this article is about the Church and its witness and welcome of transgenders and the matter of Christian Hope.

From my vantage point the Church, myself included, has utterly failed homosexuals in our communities. And now we have our chance at stewarding a message of hope and being a community of hope for the transgendered and those struggling with gender dysphoria. TIME magazine called 2014 the year of the transgendered. It is my opinion that though well-intentioned, the path we’ve chosen on this issue in the South Dakota legislature in the 2015-2016 Sessions, a path that the Christian contingency in the House and Senate have forged, is a path that has now done irreparable harm to our witness.

In an earlier post I wrote: Is there any hope of a transgender kid going to any of our churches? 41 percent of transgender and gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide, compared to a national average of just 4.6 percent. When kids kill themselves because we reject them with vehemence are we complicit and how could Jesus possibly say to us “Well done”?  This is from my earlier article on this subject:

I’ve been on the scene of a number of teen suicides as a police chaplain, one in particular where the teenage boy hung himself from the ironwork around his parent’s back patio. He looked just like my son Thomas. It messed me up for a couple weeks. When you see that stuff you wish there was a way to turn back the clock and you’d do anything to make sure you weren’t a part of the rejection and despair in his life. The SD legislature and particularly the Christians are sending a loud message of vehement rejection to human beings in our state who have a far harder plight than even homosexuals.

Do you suppose our world will ever come to the place again where we have to hide Jews and Gays? (I’m aware there are differences between homosexuality and gender dysphoria.) If the days ever come again where we must hide the despised of this world, will they come to us and consider God’s House a safe house?

No. As long as Deuteronomy 22:5 is the only text the Church reads, our witness and welcome will continue to be disastrous. In no way am I advocating being selective or ignoring any text. I remain theologically conservative holding a high view of Scripture. The fact of the matter is Deuteronomy 22:5 can hardly be construed to be God’s view on gender dysphoria today. The situation behind the text was the matter of pagan swapping of sex roles and rituals in temple prostitution. That is what is abhorrent to God– not a seven year old boy who sneaks off to wear his sisters dress and feels crushing shame afterward. There are however other texts that more directly apply which I will illustrate shortly. Some of my friends will be again disappointed in me for the position I am taking on this issue but there is too much at stake to leave our present course unchallenged.

There is nearly a total breakdown in our society of traditional gender norms. But let’s be honest, this started long before the 1960’s. A few generations ago a young woman who wore pants was a matter of gossip and scandal among good churchgoing people. Today any female of any age could wear exactly what men wear – mens jeans, sweatshirt – and minimise any femininity and even don even some masculinity and really, does any one care? We view it as completely amoral. Boy hair cuts, girls on the football team and others who wear camo and hunt – the Church somehow found a way to successfully navigate it. Yet there is no grace or wiggle room for a male who dons femininity in hairstyle and dress – such a person is a pariah to us, a freak. A question I’ve been asking lately is: What makes us think someone else’s brokenness is a bigger deal to God than our own?

The following is a brief rereading of 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 particularly in light of the challenge the Church is having welcoming the transgendered. I’ll start by presenting the text itself, a text which I suggest vitally important text relating to our welcome and inclusion of various members of the Body of Christ.

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

The working title of this rereading I’ll phrase as follows. I’ll try to be brief.

The Body, it’s Members and the Body of Christ:
What Does Christian Hope Look Like For The Transgendered?

This text offers much for a theology of the body and a theology of disability within the broader framework of the Body of Christ as a community of inclusion– not severing disabled or unsightly members or members that are hard to look at or be around – all the while living in a fantasy or illusion of uniformity where everyone should just blend in.

In a variety of areas today, radical surgical and bio-enhancements including prosthetics are commonly encouraged strategies to help people find some measure of normalisation, functioning and sanity. Whether that is right or wrong, judgments about them have become a criteria for inclusion and welcome into Christian community. What I’m challenging here is the fact that those judgments are keeping people from the very place they most need to be.

My hope is we realise we have failed to figure out how to love the sinner and hate the sin and that we rethink what is amoral and what is actually immoral when it comes to the DSM-5 psychological designation of gender dysphoria.

The admonition in the text is to extend a special measure of grace toward the member that is hurting: “When one part hurts….” The Christian community is to be a fellowship of the suffering.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. We aren’t to leave people to hurt in isolation from the other members, or cut them off. Severing results in death of the member (think here of the 41% transgender suicide attempt rate). Attachment to the body is vital to the life flow. The life flow, and structural things like bones and ligaments, aren’t effected by anything superficial or cosmetic. If it is true that God looks at the heart, maybe we ought to look deeper. If it is true that nothing can separate us from the love of God, why have we been severing away the less presentable members?

On a number of occasions over the years I’ve told homosexuals who visit our church they are welcome on one condition – that they remain open to God touching any area of their lives, including that area. And I made a promise in return, to not press the timing of God dealing with whatever He wants to deal with in their life.

Parents may retort; But Pastor Steve, there are children in the fellowship too, doesn’t this sow confusion? No. It sows no more confusion than any other disability in our midst. How hard is it to explain to our children that some people struggle and that we ought to love those people all the more? A little loving explanation and our kids go… Oh, okay– and head back out to play.

On several occasions over the years this issue has presented itself to me in the pastoral context. The Christian people struggling with this confide deep remorse and conflict at giving God the impression they are rejecting his handiwork, or insinutating that he made a mistake when he made them. My response has been God understands entirely, in fact better than we do. He’s not offended or mad about their ingratitude. The Father is a father.

When my son Thomas was a teenager I bought him a light blue electric guitar for his birthday. He was thankful but I could immediately tell he was disappointed. He didn’t like the color and I could tell by the look on his face. It bothered me for a few weeks and one day when he was at school I swapped it out for the red guitar he really wanted. I wasn’t offended in the least. My heart was for his happiness. My suggestion here is not that God says to the transgendered, “Oops, my bad. By all means get the red guitar.” My suggestion is that God is a Father and he understands this far better than we ever will. People who have gender reassignment surgeries haven’t cut themselves off from the Father’s love. This article is a plea that the Church would reconsider whether this community should be treated as a severed member.

The Christian Hope for the transgendered is right up front in verses 12-13… Christ’s bringing together of separated parts (Jew/gentile, Male/Female), offering humanity wholeness and congruence again, and his Body being a community of inclusion where people are valued, indeed indispensable.

Could this mean the transgendered person has much to contribute and teach us? Isn’t the text saying the entire body becomes disabled if we cut them off? The Christian hope for the transgendered is not in a series of procedures that fixes all their problems. It is Christ and his new Body.

 

Anyone else notice the Great Meme War that is underway on Facebook these days? I rather enjoy it and even post ones that sting me a bit. (A meme – for those of you who are secluded from popular culture in some remote cave somewhere – is an image with text, typically humorous and satirical in nature that spreads rapidly over social media.)

Last night I posted this one:

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Shortly thereafter a Facebook friend countered with one of his own:

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And that set me off on yet another rant about how war isn’t working.  Enjoy…

More slaves in the world today than ever in the history of the world. More oppression, genocides pop up every few years, nazism is back with a vengeance. We’ve spent most of my adult life at war in the Middle East and the world is not safer and there are a loads more people who hate us. With every bomb we plant a seed that produces ten more people who hate us. War hasn’t worked and isn’t working. It is not our only alternative. The same handful of international banking families fund both sides of our wars. Of course their sons and daughters don’t spill their blood. We don’t need to spend a billion on an experimental drone balloon that floats away from it’s tethers on its own and gets ruined landing three states away in a grove of trees. Selectively fiscal conservatives are anything but fiscally conservative when it comes to defense spending. They act like there is no waste to cut and that we have an unlimited supply of tax dollars for new wars. One week we are in the sky-is-falling-fiscal-emergency mode closing down national parks for the weekend because of a government shutdown and we can’t afford to pay a park ranger. The next week we somehow miraculously have a billion NEW dollars to send to some country in a never ended civil war and a trillion more to build a new ship for ourselves. We have no confidence our commander in chief is even on our team. Vets are treated like crap when they return but Congress gives themselves raises and a whole different set of benefits. We spent billions arm the wrong people (while moving toward the disarming of our own populace), we only make defense contractors rich spending double, triple and even ten times what should be spent on national defense – and btw, I think service men and women need a doubling of pay. And don’t read this as any indictment on the men and women who serve so sacrificially. I’m the product of a Vietnam vet who came home screwed up (a book called Vietnam wives descries what it was like to grow up in our home after the war). My dad resented our government the rest of his life, deeply. Did that war work? How about any of the ones we’ve been in the last twenty-five years?

Just saying.

 

This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.
There is much chatter these days around our church about the sense that economic hard times are right around the corner. One doesn’t have to even tune in to the prophetic/apocalyptic voices or the Bible passages on the matter, the headlines from secular media sources are all around us. Take this recent one for example…. How You And Your Money Will Be Parted During The Next Banking Crisis
We should be as familiar with terms like “bail ins” and not rely on bail outs. Respected friends of mine are saying things like, Take the hit and pull your 401K now, there are possibilities on the horizon, plausible ones, that could vaporize your 401K and other digital monies and create unprecedented civil unrest and hardship. Pray about where to give that money away. Free each other and your church.
Do with that what you want, I’m just repeating it here. Giving financial advice isn’t my purpose here. Sounding an alarm is. I wrote the following for another purpose and decided to share it here.
Forthrightness on the Possibilities of Hard Times Ahead.
Nobody likes alarm clocks, especially when sounded in society. Like alarm clocks, alarmists can be irritating and annoying. It is a challenge to sound an alarm without being an alarmist.
Even so, elected officials should be shooting straight with us and being forthright about challenges and concerns on the horizon. The elected position I hold is to represent people not be a representative of big government, big banks or big business. We are living in a time when that trinity is not being forthright. We should be hearing, “Hey, there are possibilities on the horizon, plausible ones, that could vaporize your 401K and other digital monies and create unprecedented civil unrest and hardship.” Instead we are hearing nothing. We scoff at the preppers in our midst yet are oblivious to the fact big government agencies are prepping in enormous and unprecedented ways. What are they getting ready for and why is it wrong for us to wonder or prepare ourselves?
In the words of an ancient king, “a prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it.” The main points outlined here are things I feel need to be said from an official capacity.
1. Citizens are not the first on the list for actual, factual information. 
There is little transparency and the average Joe is not in the loop. Government agencies presently doing large scale stockpiling and military exercises are hardly being forthright with Americans. We live in a surveillance state where the government watches our every move. The Founders intended that it be entirely the other way around. Government is increasingly hard to trust and believe. Agencies may be talking honestly among themselves about threats, but citizens are marginalized and mocked when they raise concerns and connect dots.
2. South Dakota is not a top priority for Federal anything in times of national crises.
South Dakota is a dependent state– for every dollar we send to Washington, two come back. An economist in Pierre told me several years ago that a twenty percent reduction in Federal funds would put us back in the Stone Age.  For three years I have proposed the idea of forming an Economic Contingencies Work Group to ascertain the effects of a significant and extended national economic crisis on South Dakota and to make recommendations to the state and general population on how to best prepare for, and manage, an economic crisis (see HB1086).
Many of my colleagues in the legislature have signed on to these proposals and believe strongly in them. But it takes the legislative leaders and the Governors office to make it happen. Some members have scoffed… Hickey, we don’t go by the Mayan calendar up here. Instead they have chosen to form work groups to study wine distribution in our state, and to further beat the transgender issue to death. We are heading into days when transgender issues will be the least of our worries. Why can’t we talk about how there are reputable economists saying: a crisis that dwarfs the crisis of 2008 is coming.
It is foolish to think what happens in other countries can’t and won’t happen here. Haven’t we learned yet bailouts are not for citizens?
3. South Dakota, it is time to rise to new levels of neighborliness and readiness.
fema.gov is saying… have a bug out bag; three days of food and water, a hand crank radio and prescriptions, etc, etc. A Department of Homeland Security employee told me DHS recommends 90 days food supply for their employees. What are we not being told? In the absence of any official word from Pierre, I’ll offer the following…. that every household in South Dakota consider the following.
  1. 90 days food supply – enough for you and others. Start with 3 days, then 7…
  2. alternative water sources
  3. Stash $500 cash (in small bills) to weather a fews days without ATMs
  4. Passports for everyone, kids especially
  5. Make this a-summer-to-save-and-sell, not spend and borrow. Cut up your credit cards and get out of debt.
  6. Adopt the poor and elderly. Talk to your neighbors.
  7. Find a community to connect with; Vets, moms, church, etc.
4. Our business community needs to talk about benevolence and what it means for them to take care of their own.
A CEO at Avera mentioned to me they have an economic contingency plan so they can continue a level of care if/when Federal reimbursements are reduced or stop. This is encouraging and maybe there are more thinking along these lines. State leaders and business leaders need to have these conversations. My hope is that people, not profits, will be our priority.
5. Get your church ready for its finest hour. 
  1. Appeal to Heaven. Return to your spiritual roots. The tree planted by water has no fear of drought.
  2. Repent for squandering these years of plenty.
  3. Ask, who is my neighbor? Prepare for an influx of people to the area. How can we host them? Address any hostilities toward them.
  4. Teach enemy love now so we don’t just shoot back and do unto them what they do unto us.
My challenge to every spiritual leader in our state is to talk in your communities about what it means that things might not always be as they are right now.
6. Resist the extremes of fear and denial.
There are more dollar crash deniers out there than climate change deniers. Decide what makes sense for you and your family and ignore those who have no grid for things to radically change.
There are a variety of things that could shake our nation economically and socially and I’m not going to speculate what I sense coming. History is a good guide, so are simple things like math and gravity. Those with open eyes can connect dots without venturing off into conspiracy theories. Some of this is self-evident– we reap what we’ve sown. My emphasis here is more on when than what. If there was no urgency there would be no press release today. My personal sense is, at minimum, we have the summer to get ready for an economic shaking. After economic humility comes military humiliation as our enemies are moving into position to pounce.

This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.

There are stirrings in South Dakota that a Right to Die/Death With Dignity bill is being shopped around to those of us serving in the legislature. To date I’ve received two letters on the matter inquiring about my interest to support a bill. Below I’ll paste my reply to one of them. It’s an unusually preachy response from me but like it or not, in the matter of death, faith is a factor.


Dear [redacted],

Thank you for your letter inquiring about my interest in supporting Right to Die legislation. Initially I want to extend my concern and prayers for you with regard to your declining health. Reading your letter reminded me of my great Uncle Thomas who shot himself rather than let his terminal illness drag on. Believe me, I understand the rationale, especially considering the hope we can have of eternity with God through our faith in his Son, Jesus. Perhaps you are a person who shares my Christian faith and also appreciate that sentiment. Countless times I’ve seen Jesus take the sting out of death for the believer.

Enclosed is an article which you perhaps have seen which tells some of the story of my own health situation. My mother died, and so did her brother and sister, from what I have been diagnosed with; pulmonary fibrosis. Doctors say there is no cure and the average patient lives only 3-5 years after diagnosis without a transplant. I lost another half liter of lung capacity since last fall. My uncle died before a lung transplant was available to him. My aunt lived two years after her transplant and my mom lived six years after her transplant. It’s a hard way to go. I’m only 48.

Also, you may know that I’m a minister and have been at the death bed of countless people over the years. As a Sioux Falls police chaplain I’ve also been at the scene of a number of suicides. The reason I share all this background with you is so that you can see the world of death and dying is a world that I spend quite a bit of time in.

Out of all of these experiences including my own situation, and my religious background, I have come to the conclusion that death is the strictly the domain of God and we need to quit figuring out reasons to justify killing people; abortion, death penalty, euthanasia. The Bible teaches God gives us sufficient grace to live and I have found this includes sufficient grace to die. I’ve written a few books and in one of them I write about how we have a fraidy cat view of death seeing it as the worst thing that could happen, as a travesty, final and the end. God sees it very differently. To him death leads to life. Confidence and strength in facing death comes from good theology. Please forgive the little sermonette there but these are things I deal with daily and have found to be true.

From my position in the legislature I can’t in good conscience be apart of a death with dignity bill. Hopefully my comments above are sufficient to explain my reasoning. Please feel free to respond as frank as you’d like. Again, know that my thoughts and prayers are with you.

Sincerely,

Rev/Rep Steve Hickey (District 9, Sioux Falls)

This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.

The Watertown Public Opinion Editorial board says I’m wasting everyone’s time. Phooeey on that. Here’s my retort:

Dear Editor,

It was disappointing to read today your partially informed editorial opinion that my Victims Wish bill (HB 1159)is a waste of time. The bill allows an adult South Dakotan to indicate opposition to the death penalty in the unfortunate case they later become a victim of a homicide themselves.
In the recent murder of Maybelle Schein in Sioux Falls, her personal opposition to the death penalty was not allowed to be a consideration by the Court in sentencing James McVay to death. Like the organ donor designation currently on our drivers license, this bill is for those of us who would rather another life not end just because ours did. After the fact, a friend or relative coming forward to say we were opposed to the death penalty amounts to only hearsay.
46% of our state opposes the death penalty and that means several hundred thousand South Dakotans want nothing to do anymore with institutionalized vengeance and the values of ISIS. We believe it accomplishes nothing, that it delays closure, that it is not limited government and that this isn’t about what they did, it’s about what we do. We believe taking away a person’s life without taking away their breath is a consistent life ethic – that doing something inhumane doesn’t mean you have no more value as a human. We believe it’s better to introduce a person convicted of a crime to their dignity as a human being instead of simply punishing their depravity.
We believe stories of forgiveness and redemption ought to be encouraged in our increasingly violent culture. For us to want someone dead is the same dark sentiment that was in them to kill. There are many in our state who have given thought to the day we stand before our Maker asking for mercy ourselves. We want it said of us we were willing to extend it to those in our lives who least deserved it. It’s the dying prayer of Jesus and Stephen; Father forgive them.
In most other crimes law enforcement will ask you if you wish to press charges. This is along those same lines. This is vigilante mercy. Our society could use so much more of it. By the way, this bill (HB1159) is a sister bill of HB1158 which allows a victim’s opposition to the death penalty to be presented at a pre-sentence hearing. The reason I’m asking for this on the driver’s license application is because there are 680,000 drivers licenses in our state. Only one in six people age 35 have a will. It is no cost to add a confidential field in our DMV database for this record.
Rep. Steve Hickey, (R-District 9, Sioux Falls)

This is a repost from a 2015 article I wrote at at one of my other blogs, now dormant.

Every gold rush winds down sooner or later. That day has come for the poverty profiteers who bilk millions from South Dakota’s poor and elderly through high-interest predatory lending.

It’s called the poverty industry; payday and title loan shops, casinos, pawn shops and the subprime credit card industry. It’s the backside of our Great Faces and Great Places. Those who grew up here may not see it, but the rest certainly do. As Augustana economics professor Reynold Nesiba says; there are far better ways to help the poor than to give them the financial equivalent of rotten meat.

Small dollar high interest predatory lenders only thrive because they make misleading claims about how their products are designed. They offer an intentionally defective financial product intended to be a debt trap and market it to the financially unsophisticated barely surviving on the margins of our economy. They fool the rest of us to tolerate them by saying they offer a needed one-time fix for ordinary people in a financial crunch. However, if all they were offering were a one-time fix, no one would take issue with them.

Their business model only thrives because they quickly lock people into multiple successive loans on the same money borrowed. $1000 turns into $2600 in a matter of a few months. Lutheran Social Services Consumer Credit Counseling in South Dakota reports people coming in with ten different loans. Responsible lending is based on what people are able to pay back.

Their own annual reports and CEO’s state their profitability kicks in on these successive loans. An annual report to investors of one of the largest payday lenders, Advance America, shows the company made eight loans a year on average to their customers. The average payday loan is flipped eight times.

ACE Cash Express, a South Dakota lender, was brazen enough to put a graphic in their employee training manual explaining how to keep distressed borrowers in a debt cycle. The Department of Defense determined payday loans “undermine military readiness.” As such Congress unanimously enacted and President G.W. Bush signed into law a 36% rate cap on loans to active duty soldiers and their families. A 36% rate cap has been deemed the percentage rate a person can dig out of on their own.  If high-interest loans aren’t good for our service women and men, they certainly aren’t good for our state’s poor and elderly.

Predatory Lenders point out their rates only seem high because we require them to disclose them as an annual percentage rate, seemingly unfair for a two-week loan. They say an overdraft fee at the bank is more costly. Again, what they aren’t telling us is the model isn’t based on one short-term loan that is quickly paid off.

Payday industry executives admitted last year South Dakota is the wild west when it comes to high-interest lending. In the early 1980’s, Governor Janklow repealed our interest rate cap to bring in 400 Citibank jobs. He later said he was after 400 jobs and certainly not 20% interest rates, which he called unhealthy.

Today interest rates of 300%-600+% are common here. The average payday loan interest rate in South Dakota is 574%.  Last year the Sioux Falls Business Journal reported 56 payday/title loan shops in our city. If these places were helping the poor as they assert, why are half the students in our school still on free and reduced lunch? Truth is, predatory lenders leave people worse off than before and the taxpayers clean up the mess. Time to get the poverty profiteers out of the middle.

In the legislature I’ve drafted reasonable regulations and the industry resists every one. Our Republican-dominated legislature has a free-market approach to this industry. Somehow it’s free-market for our state government to be quick to financially help businesses come into our state but it’s dubbed anti-free-market for us to discourage some to stay out. It’s an irony.

Montana recently voted for a 36% rate cap and the sky didn’t fall. There was no discernable uptick in internet lending– it’s growing in every state requiring a Federal fix. You may hear the poor will have nowhere to turn. They managed somehow twenty years ago before we had loan sharks and today there are various creative alternatives. It’s not the case that payday loans help build your credit. These loans aren’t reported to the credit bureau.

A coalition has formed called South Dakotans for Responsible Lending. The partners include major groups in our state and cross party lines. Find us on Facebook. Shortly we will announce a signature drive to put a 36% rate cap on the November 2016 ballot.

As I write this I’m getting angry notes from friends for my op-ed in today’s Argus Leader which was a call for empathy and accommodation for transgenders and for us as state leaders to not be selective and misdirected in our morale outrage. You can read that here. Please do as it will help you make sense of what follows here.

I’ll use this space here to drop some of my follow-up comments which give additional insight into my thought process on the matter…

HICKEY: Is there any hope of a transgender kid going to any of our churches? When kids kill themselves because we reject them with vehemence (40% transgender suicide rate), are we complicit and does Jesus say to us “Well done”? I’ve been on the scene of a number of teen suicides as a police chaplain, one in particular where the teenage boy hung himself from the ironwork around his parent’s back patio. He looked just like my son Thomas. It messed me up for a couple weeks. When you see that stuff you wish there was a way to turn back the clock and you’d do anything to make sure you weren’t a part of the rejection and despair in his life. The SD legislature and particularly the Christians are sending a loud message of vehement rejection to human beings in our state who have a far harder plight than even homosexuals.

HICKEY: I have zero energy or interest to get all flustered about this bathroom issue. Obviously. This is a hurting population and I’m tired of Christians being so loveless and this is a bizzaro fixation for our legislature going on now for two years.

HICKEY: Do we really need bathroom laws too? This notion of limited government is so selective for many Republicans. Our idolatry/fixation on sports in high school is more unhealthy than a transgender kid in the wrong bathroom. It’s just sports. Why are they part of education anyway? My view is there is no problem with this in SD and it’s sucking up all the moral outrage from Republican Christians who have not a drip of moral outrage for the real immoralities in our state – a key point in my article . Instead we conjure up exaggerated hypothetical scenarios and produce multiple bills and effectually kill any opportunity for real Christian witness and compassion. All for what? For a problem we haven’t had yet in our state?

HICKEY: Why is our moral outrage so limited? I never hear our likes get riled about racial injustice in SD or economic injustice – the two issues I mentioned in the article. It’s not you (name). It’s Republican Christians in general.

HICKEY: Transgender people have been using the bathroom of choice for how long? Why is this such a stinking big deal in the SD legislature? Leave the laws alone. I’m not advocating indecency . Focus on real problems. Figure out how to have the broken people of the world come to us like they came to Jesus. As is, they hate us and ours sons and daughters are suicidal, including some here who will read this on my Facebook page.

HICKEY: I’m trying to make a point with our sport-centric culture and I’m not advocating for it to be out of schools. I know it teaches much to young people. But we take it too seriously. We already have girls playing football and wrestling. When your dad and I were bantering around this issue, and he – my very close friend- doesn’t agree with me either, we were talking about wrestling and a guy doing some manuver where he grabs the crotch of the other. I joked I think its wrong for guys to be grabbing crotches of anyone in high school and college.

HICKEY: Is there any example in America of a boy showering with a girl at school or are these just exaggerated hypotheticals?

HICKEY: If we are going to make laws, let’s bring back some modesty legislation where it’s illegal to show off too much regardless of who you are – pants below the crack, skirts up to the top of the bottom, skin-tight anything – and make the law apply everywhere public, including restrooms… illegal to be undressed in front of others. Period. And maybe we need to rethink locker rooms and group showers. I don’t want my kid naked in front of anyone at school. Maybe it should be illegal for the department stores to push soft core porn and the exploitation of women in glossy advertisements that I used to have to remove before my kid saw the newspaper. Modest is hottest no matter what gender flavour you are today. The rest of us don’t want to see it whatever it is you have.

kevin-moore-bathroom-cartoo

Why do you lock your doors at night? Fear? Or is it prudence and wisdom? Is it unChristian to thank God for walled cities and for discerning gatekeepers? Is that fear, or prudence?

With regard to the refugees coming in mass from Muslim nations it is easier today to stay quiet and just camp in the Christianliness of hospitality toward the stranger.

We should be hospitable to the stranger, but it’s not that simple. We need to pray for those responsible in government to identify and neutralise threats and not just write them off as lousy Christians. When the Christian left scolds us for being full of fear and xenophobic I only wish it were that simple. It sounds a bit like the echoes of the days when the religious leaders cried Peace, Peace when there really was no peace. Curious that passage (Ezekiel 13:10) mentions building a flimsy wall.

We should love Muslims. We should respond to refugees right now. Foreign aid is sorely needed. Resettlement issues for them are complex. European nations are being destabilised.

Is it fear mongering for me to say I believe there are clear signs of an Islamic invasion of the West, currently underway, particularly in Europe? I do have some measure of fear that Christians and Christian agencies are using the crisis as a cash cow. Resettlement is big business for them.

To invoke Godwin’s Law, no doubt in the 1930s the average churchgoer in Germany had very little sense of what was growing up in their midst. Pastors who did see a threat and said something about it were marginalised and later rounded up and silenced. Others feared reprisal on themselves and said nothing. Is it fear to have fresh discussions about how the Nazi’s used gun control? There are two opposing scholarly views on the question. The one says:

University of Hawaii political scientist Rudolph J. Rummel, one of the leading students of democide (mass murder of civilian populations by governments), has estimated that nearly 170 million people have been murdered by their own governments in our century. The familiar list of mass murderers–Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot–only scratches the surface. The mass slaughter of helpless, unarmed civilian populations continues in Sudan, Rwanda, parts of the former Yugoslavia and East Timor. The reluctance of outside forces to intervene is well documented. And yet the obvious question is strangely absent: Would arms in the hands of average citizens have made a difference? Could the overstretched Nazi war machine have murdered 11 million armed and resisting Europeans while also taking on the Soviet and Anglo-American armies? Could 50,000 to 70,000 Khmer Rouge have butchered 2 million to 3 million armed Cambodians? The answers are by no means clear, but it is unconscionable that they are not being asked.- Robert J. Cottrol is a professor of law and history at George Washington University in The Last Line of Defense: The right to bear arms is a matter of individual safety and ultimately, freedom. The issue goes far beyond gun nuts.

The other view says, no, arms in the hands of average citizens would not have made a difference– that’s NRA propaganda and fear mongering.

I am a product of the gun culture in America and I wouldn’t call my friends our part of the world afraid, at all. There’s a joke among them of an old lady who gets pulled over by a cop and he asked if she has any weapons concealed. She shocks him listing off the various caliber firearms in the trunk and glove box. The cop says, Wow lady, what on earth are you afraid of? She chuckled and said “Not a damn thing.” My gun culture friends and family aren’t afraid of certain people, they are more mad at certain people. Big difference.

Islamophobia doesn’t describe the people I know. But it is frightening what that Koran actually teaches. It is frightening to think of how Islam regards and treats women. It is frightening to hear the rhetoric coming from various Imams. But is that Islamophobia? Perhaps we could say there are two paths before us, wisdom and foolishness. It is a fair game discussion to be asking whether or not it is foolish to have wide open borders right now.

And this irrational fearing goes both ways. Can it be said that those who didn’t grow up around guns live in fear of them today? Sure it can. Hoplophobia is the fear of firearms. Many times I’ve taken friends who have never been near a gun out to target shoot. They get stiff, nervous and are afraid to to even touch it. They jump when it goes off. I can only imagine what the millions of Americans who never been around a gun feel about guns. Is that feeling fear? Those of us who grew up around guns have no such fear. When I went to high school I had a shotgun in my pick up in the school parking lot. No big deal. We don’t have guns because we are afraid.

I thought the caption from a meme says it well… “Seriously. Conservatives own 200+ million guns, 12 trillion rounds of ammo. If we were violent, you’d know it.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The West doesn’t want to admit it but we find ourselves in the midst of a brutal holy war. As the sun comes up in Paris this morning the world is reeling from last night’s attack on Paris by the Islamic State. Media outlets are still unsure the exact body count. Muslim radicals are engaged in a full-on holy war against the West. The leaders of this holy war aren’t military generals, they are imams. What if the religious leaders of the West took the lead in responding?

UntitledThe President of France immediately announced France will respond mercilessly. Haven’t we learned since 9/11 this (a merciless response) isn’t working? We’ve mortgaged our future spending trillions on the sword. Selectively fiscal conservatives still think additional trillions in defence spending and ongoing war will make us safer and depopulate the world of bad guys. It has done the opposite. Maybe it’s time we push the leaders espousing those failed solutions aside. Where is the radical leadership of those who hold to the values of Jesus? Is it really nutso to say if they bomb our children we will only work harder to feed their refugees until they can be screened and relocated? There is a demonic spirit in radical Islam. You don’t disarm a demonic spirit with more bloodshed. That feeds it. You dislodge a demonic spirit by moving in the opposite spirit. My pushback here is fuelled by my concern that in Christian circles in America the same spirit of violence in radical Islam is also operating increasingly in us.

My weariness is in all the creative rationales Christians concoct to avoid the mandates of the Sermon on the Mount. For example, turn the other cheek only applies here or there but not every where?!? What is left is that we live none of it because we’ve wiggled out from under all of it. These are questions I raise in my Sermon on the Mount book: What does turn the other cheek mean to a Christian leader the morning after a 9/11? I’m not suggestion police officers or soldiers turn the other cheek. I’m saying what if our Presidents, Prime Ministers and Generals effectually and strategically did? If something is God’s strategy on a small scale, why will it not work on a larger scale? Where has it be tried? Is a bomb really the only thing in our arsenal? The more we kill them, the more they kill us. And who wins? They kill our children and we kill theirs. And Christian leaders essentially baptise all this with their silence and lack of leadership. Baloney that our role is to only comfort the grieving and pray blessing on our soldiers. 5646ddfcc36188e1198b4602

Time for some radical alternatives. We need some holy leaders for this holy war. Wouldn’t it be something if 100 Paris imams held a press conference with 100 Paris rabbis and Christian ministers and said – Stop, both sides, this isn’t the way forward and call for a total renouncement of violence from all sides? I’d like to see religious leaders take the helm from the national leaders and navigate our way out of these times. The time for peacemakers is now. A peacemaker is one who stands in the middle of conflict and sets both sides back. National leaders don’t have the tools or the anointing for peacemaking. That’s our job.

4905446128_ddb41c277cEvery bomb we drop has proven to be a seed that produces ten more people who hate us. Closing borders is step one. Slowing down the welcome of refugees is step two to vet them properly so radicals aren’t waltzing right in among them. A military response here is more of the same and produces more of the same. We need to use our values not our bombs. Certainly there is a Sermon on the Mount response that will effectually heap burning coals on the heads of our enemies

If you’ve never read Mark Twain’s short War Prayer I commend it to you today. If you think these ideas are worth considering, please forward the link to this post on to others. Maybe it’ll resonate and gain some traction.

If you are a Christian free-market Republican or Libertarian who opposes our 36% rate cap on payday and title lending on the grounds that the sacred FREE MARKET will keep things fair, this is for you….

The Mercat Cross, Aberdeen, Scotland

The Mercat Cross, Aberdeen, Scotland

This is the Mercat Cross here in the market centre of Aberdeen, Scotland. ((They spell market like they say it here in Scotland, mercat. And no I’m not intentionally using British spellings now (i.e. center or centre), autocorrect does that – apparently it can tell where I am.))

These structures are in many European cities that existed in the Medieval Period. These were erected as designations of Royal permission to physically designate a spot as a market for free trade. Markets were forbidden elsewhere and it was because at Mercat Cross buying and selling and trading could be overseen by the Soveriegn. These rulers of medieval Christendom erected these to regulate economic activity to thwart bad actors and make sure the poor had access to necessities. Mercat crosses effectually policed economic activity and kept trade fair. In the name of economic justice their times were regulated to ensure common poor people had access to goods in preferance to financial speculators. These markets were free and not taxed because the rulers knew that fair buying and selling helped everyone in the society. A purely free market like we long for today was considered barbarous because of the ease in which “it graduates into the exploitation by brigands.”

Today these exploiting brigands are payday and title lenders who dish up the financial equivalent of rotten meat to serve the starving (poor). We need market crosses in every place of our economy. I’m not saying over regulation but there is a Christian duty to make sure the poor aren’t being exploited. We are probably past the day when a state government like ours can erect a cross in the middle of an economic market. However, through strict rate caps and oversight we can effectually ensure these Christian values of concern for the poor govern our economy.

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