Monday, February 27, 2006

Bill Buckley: Have We Failed in Iraq?

Bill Buckley, one of my mentors and heroes, believes that the US is facing failure in Iraq.

The Bush administration's policy in Iraq is based on President Bush's belief that every person has a God-given right to live in a free society and a God-given desire for freedom.

Bill Buckley argues that the continuing attacks of terrorists and inability of Shiites and Sunnis to come together have led Iraqis to blame the US for the violence and division in their society. Because of Iraqi inability to come together and peacefully form a government, the attempt to establish a democratic government in Iraq can already be judged a failure. In his February 24, 2006 column Buckley writes:

One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed. . . . Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht backed the American intervention. He now speaks of the bombing of the especially sacred Shiite mosque in Samara and what that has precipitated in the way of revenge. He concludes that “The bombing has completely demolished” what was being attempted — to bring Sunnis into the defense and interior ministries.

Our mission has failed because Iraqi animosities have proved uncontainable by an invading army of 130,000 Americans. The great human reserves that call for civil life haven't proved strong enough. No doubt they are latently there, but they have not been able to contend against the ice men who move about in the shadows with bombs and grenades and pistols.

The Iraqis we hear about are first indignant, and then infuriated, that Americans aren't on the scene to protect them and to punish the aggressors.

I wonder if we aren't expecting more of the Iraqis than we expected of another almost failure--the US in the 19th century. Not only did division threaten for decades, but eventually we fought a bloody civil war with almost half a million casualties.

My great-great grandfathers fought on opposite sides in the Civil War. One of them, David Williams, had to flee with his family from his Arkansas homestead (a life-long dream which he poured his heart and soul into gaining) because of the marauders who operated freely near the end of and after the war. His brother-in-law, John Boen, was killed in 1865 by lawless bushwackers. And those are two examples from a very small sample--one family history.

Iraq is not weathering something new. And, they have not yet entered into a bloody civil war the likes of what our Union endured. If we were able to overcome the horrors of civil war, could it be that Iraq also might be able to survive one? We're not even sure that they will have one. At this point there is sporadic violence, but not anything close to formal civil war.

Even if Iraq does enter civil war, and the Sunnis come out with unofficial second class status, is that really all that different than what the South endured for a hundred years or so after our Civil War? Would a Shiite dominated Iraq be an automatic defeat for democracy in Iraq? I don't think so. A Northern-dominated Union is a stained legacy, but not a defeat for democracy in the U.S.

Iraqis need to deal with what separates them--as the North and South dealt with what separated them. If Iraqis can do it through diplomacy, all the better. If they can only do it through violence and more violence, they may have to follow the road we followed of a real and bloody defeat of the minority by the majority.

Hopefully, Iraqis will do much better than we did. But violence and civil war do not necessarily mean the end of democracy or of freedom. In fact, one struggles to think of a great democracy that has not had to go through conflict and bloodshed to survive, except for a case like Japan where democracy and a free society were imposed by force.

I think calling Iraqi democracy a failure is premature. But then, I have the same presuppositions as President Bush--not to mention Thomas Jefferson and our founding fathers.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Oregonian's Crocodile Tears on Measure 37

The Oregonian doesn't get it. Though reading the Oregon Supreme Court's decision well enough to understand that it struck down Judge Mary James' ruling, Oregonian editors couldn't understand the court's clear reasoning. Wednesday's editorial whines:

The court utterly demolished the reasoning of the lower-court judge who threw out Measure 37 last fall. Apparently, neither its nonchalant treatment of neighbors nor its undermining of governmental authority invalidates it from a constitutional standpoint.

First, there are the crocodile tears over the "nonchalant treatment of neighbors". Apparently to the Oregonian nonchalant treatment of some neighbors is okay. The Oregonian does not wring its hands over the losses never compensated for landowners who had the value of their property and their property rights diminished by land use policies adopted after they bought their land--sometimes decades after they bought it.

But neighbors, who might suffer a loss if authorities decide to waive land use rules rather than compensate pre-land-use-rule owners, get sympathy and regret. Give me a break. Fortunately, neither the public (who passed the measure by a 60% majority) nor the Oregon Supreme Court follow that lopsided view of just treatment.

Second, the Oregonian editorial bemoans "undermining of governmental authority". The editors obviously didn't understand the part of the Oregon Supreme Court's opinion pointing out that the people "share" legislative authority via initiative petition (like Measure 37) and referendum with the state legislature.

Actually, as I pointed out in my Tuesday post under Article I, Section 1 of the Oregon constitution, the people are the supreme authority, and government gets its power only from the people. So, saying that the people have co-equal legislative authority is a major understatement. In Oregon, the people are the source of all governmental authority. How 60% of the people speaking on a legislative matter (Measure 37) can "undermine" governmental authority is a Twister mind game beyond me.

Third, the Oregonian editors are saddened that the hard work of groups of citizen planners might be erased:

Measure 37, enacted in 2004, entitles property owners to receive payment if regulations reduce the value of their land. "In fact, not a single claim has been paid," Portland State University's Sheila A. Martin and Katie Shriver concluded last month in their study of Measure 37. As predicted, there is no money to pay claims.

Instead, it's become a giant eraser, forcing cities and counties to rub out regulations and circumvent plans that, in some cases, groups of citizens spent years developing.

One might ask the simple question of why, if their work was so good, those groups of citizens didn't plan for reasonable compensation. They had years to think about it and didn't come up with a single plan or even take baby steps towards one.

That's why Measure 37 got a 60% affirmative vote. The public saw it as a matter of basic justice and fair play. No one's property should be taken or its value diminished by state/public action without just compensation. If we want to live by certain standards, we should be willing to pay reasonable compensation for those standards.

Saying we want to have land use rules and then making a small group pay for them is like saying we want to have a first-rate public educational system and then expecting teachers and administrators to take major pay cuts because we don't have the funds to pay them. Making one class of people pay for what is instituted to benefit all is unjust and wrong. Measure 37 got that issue right. And the Oregon Supreme Court got it right in recognizing that the people of the Oregon have a right to set public policy.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Oregon Supreme Court Gets It Right: Measure 37

In a unanimous ruling released today the Oregon State Supreme Court reversed a Marion County court decision that property rights Measure 37 was unconstitutional.

In a post written October 18 "Politicizing (and Trivializing) the Oregon Constitution", I pointed out that the lower court ruling was another slap at Oregon voters and another step toward politicizing and trivializing the Oregon constitution.

The 2006 Oregon Supreme Court took a step back from the dangers courted by Marion County Judge Mary James. Chief Justice Paul J. De Muniz writing for the Court rejected James' ruling finding that her "conclusions under the state and federal constitutions were erroneous and must be reversed."

Chief Justice Muniz's opinion was careful and specific in refuting the Marion County Court ruling, but the most important "finding" related to the basis of Oregon's government.

In our view, the trial court misunderstood the nature of the plenary legislative power. In Oregon, the Legislative Assembly and the people, acting through the initiative or referendum processes, share in exercising legislative power. See Or Const, Art IV, §§ 1(1), (2)(a), (3)(a) (vesting in both bodies the power to propose, enact, and reject laws).

Judge James got it wrong because she did not understand the political and constitutional philosophy behind the "Oregon System" (initiative, referendum and recall). Simply stated it is that political authority, including legislative authority, comes through the people.

This political philosophy is clearly stated in Article I, Section 1 of the Oregon State Constitution:

Section 1. Natural rights inherent in people. We declare that all men, when they form a social compact are equal in right: that all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; and they have at all times a right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.–

It is just at this point that the courts have gone astray. Judge James' opinion was only one in a string of judicial rulings that have forgotten that there is a legislature behind the state legislature--the people of Oregon. The state legislature does not have power that springs out of itself--or even out of the state constitution.

The power of the constitution comes from the people. That's why the people can amend it or even replace it at will.

Similarly the power of the legislature comes from the people. Normally the people exercise that power by electing government officials to represent them. But, when the people speak through initiative petition or referendum, the source of the state legislature's authority has spoken.

In this decision the Oregon State Supreme Court has taken a real step towards understanding "the nature of the plenary legislative power" in Oregon.

Respecting the authority of the people in the initiative process is essential both to faithful implementation of Oregon's political system and to saving the state constitution from being the primary field of play for political decisions.

Monday, February 13, 2006

White House Press Corps--No Wonder the Press Has Low Honesty/Ethics Ratings

It was funny today to hear all the hullabaloo among the White House Press corps as they grilled Scott McClellan over Vice President Dick Cheney's hunting accident. One would think this was Watergate. Over and over again the question was asked to Scott McClellan "When did you know?", "When did the President know?" As though this were 9/11 or something the armed services or National Guard should be called out on. McClellan's answer on questions about details was to check with (SURPRISE!) the source--the Vice President's office.

Why the reporters didn't think of that says something about their lack of professionalism and their political agenda.

Then the White House Press Corps was upset that the news of the accident was told to the local press by the owner of the ranch where the man accidentally shot. Horrors! A local newspaper got the scoop over these big time reporters. Maybe if they travelled with the Vice President or at least sent a pool reporter, they would find these things out first hand. However, even if they did, White House reporters don't seem to get that this is merely a special interest story--not something that should be leading the news. Here's NBC's David Gregory:

GREGORY: The vice president of the United States shoots a man, and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell a local Corpus Christi newspaper, not the White House press corps at large or notify the public in a national way.

All that's lacking is for David Gregory to call for a 9/11-type investigation. Get a grip David!

No wonder reporters keep getting low scores on honesty and ethics. They rate lower than funeral directors, bankers and accountants.

Honesty and Ethical Ratings of People in Different Professions,
2005 Gallup Poll

...............% Very high/...................% Low/
...................High.........% Average......Very Low
High school.....64...............27..................7
Real estate........20..............58.................20
Labor union......16..............43.................35
Car salesmen.......8...............41................49

[emphasis mine]

What's interesting in this poll is not only where the Press placed but the percentage of low/very low evaluations they got--27%. Their favorable rating was 28%--only 1% higher!

With the White House press corps performance today, journalists can only bolster their well-earned reputation as basically untrustworthy. Not to mention incompetent when their political agenda shows even on such minor issues as a hunting accident. They obviously have no idea how their anger and pettiness plays to the American public. They need to read their polls at least as closely as they read the President's.

Friday, February 03, 2006

The Right Stuff: Randy Alcorn and Jason Janz on "End of the Spear"

In a long statement, Randy Alcorn has taken Pastor Jason Janz to task for how Janz faulted the producers of End of the Spear. The producers made an error in judgment in offering the role of martyred missionary Nate Saint to a gay activist. After discovering their error, they followed through and hired him anyway. The producers then encouraged pastors to promote the film without letting the pastors know there was a problem.

Alcorn’s main point of criticism was stated succinctly:

My main reason for writing this relates to the issue of slander and false witness, and the Christian community's participation in these matters, which I consider to be wrong, dishonoring to Christ and nonnegotiable.

Before getting to the substance of his criticism, Alcorn goes into a lengthy discussion on how difficult it was for the producers to find a good way to handle their mistake in hiring a homosexual activist.

There are three major problems with Alcorn's critique.

1. The first problem regards Alcorn's position on how to deal with a mistake.

My opinion, which I've shared with Mart, is that if ETE wants the evangelical community to be their core audience, they will need to do what they can to avoid this kind of controversy. I'm confident they know that. But this is much easier said than done, isn't it? They can't make absolute guarantees—even we in churches and ministries can hire staff and find out later it was a very poor choice, even though we thought we took reasonable steps. And when working with nonchristians in Hollywood...clearly many people will have moral problems. It comes with the territory!

Alcorn's discussion of hiring errors centers on the truism that most everybody makes them at one time or another. But he never drops the other shoe to say what should be done to correct a hiring error. What Alcorn imiplies is that if you make a mistake in hiring the wrong person (or an offer to hire, in this case), the proper way to proceed is to go ahead with it and ignore the consequences. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is paying a huge price for following a pattern just like that in the past.

No sound counsel would recommend that churches (or anyone else) who make a mistake in hiring should just ignore that mistake and merely tighten up their procedures for the future. No. The way to handle a mistake is to fix it when you first learn about it. If you don’t, then there are usually negative consequences. The longer you let the mistake stand the worse the consequences are.

That's what happened to ETE. If they had reacted correctly to their mistake at the beginning, the damage would have been slight--maybe even non-existent. But waiting until the end of the project and, even worse, not admitting the mistake until forced to, they have wounded their final product and many who promoted the film without being told about the problems.

2. Alcorn's second problem involves how to treat those who find a mistake and point it out.

One of the consequences of making a mistake and not fixing it is that when people learn about your mistake and that you did nothing to correct it, they usually are upset. Randy Alcorn blames the people who are upset rather than the producers who did nothing to correct their mistake.

Perhaps if ETE had it to do over again they would find some way to release this information for the prior evaluation of the Christian community. I don't know. This is certainly a worthy notion in theory, though the way we Christians tend to respond to these situations suggests it would have gotten very ugly. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine it getting uglier than it has now.

The people Alcorn blames for the ugliness are the critics. This is like those who blame Right-to-Life people for ugliness in the abortion debate. But maybe, just maybe, it’s the failure to right a wrong that is the really ugly thing not the criticism of the wrong.

3. Alcorn's third problem is that he does some of the same things he rails at the critics of End of the Spear for doing.

Randy Alcorn's main charge is that the critics are guilty of slander and false witness.

His secondary charge is that Pastor Jason Janz, the primary critic, did not check sources by interviewing the primary people involved before he published.

But did Alcorn himself do something similar? A perhaps understandable lapse is Alcorn’s public judgment that Chad Allen is not a Christian.

I know that Steve and Mart were both very concerned for Chad Allen, who they desire to come to know Jesus. (Which would of course require repentance, as it does for all of us.) They feared the message that a public announcement would send to him, and how he would be treated by the Christian community, and how that would affect him and others.

. . .

And also pray for Chad Allen that he would be brought to the end of himself (as all of us need to be, regardless of which sins we happen to embrace and advocate). And that Chad may be drawn into a real relationship with Jesus Christ. How I would love to one day embrace him as my brother.

Chad Allen has said he is a Christian. Christianity Today quotes Allen:

Allen, who says he's a Christian and attends Pasadena's gay-friendly All Saints Church, says he doesn't know what those plans might be. "But," he says, "I know God does have great plans for me. And I ask him every single morning to reveal those plans to me."

Allen may not be a Christian, but is it wise (not to mention maybe a "false witness") to say he is not a Christian without putting forth very real proof of that? Did Alcorn talk with Allen before making the judgment about Allen’s spiritual condition? Did he talk to Allen about repenting of his homosexual lifestyle before implying that Allen needs to repent?

This is the same issue that Alcorn takes Pastor Janz and others to task for:

Unfortunately—and I do not question his motives, as I've told him personally—Jason Janz believed and repeated, in his online publication, charges against these men without going to them personally. They were given no opportunity to respond to the accusations before they were published and widely circulated.

This is a violation of Scripture. Matthew 18 says, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over." The passage goes on to make clear that the next step is to come with a few brothers, making two or three total, so it is still private. Then we are to take nothing public unless our brothers are clearly, as determined by more than just ourselves, both guilty and unrepentant.

Mart Green and Steve Saint, and a few others, have been accused of sinning against the Christian community. Over 100 pastors joined with the article's writer to call on them to repent. Yet none of those pastors, as far as I know—and certainly not the one who wrote the article—went to those men to "go and show him his fault, just between the two of you."

Alcorn may very well be right in his judgment as to Chad Allen’s lack of relationship with Christ. There are lots of people who make spiritual judgments based on another’s actions. Views about President Clinton’s Christianity come to mind. But, I don’t think that is a wise course of action in any context, and especially not in the context of calling Jason Janz to account for supposedly doing something similar.

Even more to the point is the view Alcorn presents of Jason Janz both directly and by implication. One would think from Alcorn’s intense response that Janz was inflammatory and vicious in his criticism of the producers for going ahead and hiring Allen and for wooing pastors to promote the film without telling them relevant details about Allen's public role in challenging the Christian view of homosexuality.

But, Janz's response seems balanced--even mild. Here is Janz's conclusion to his original post:

5. What Christians should do

1. Communicate with Every Tribe Entertainment and let them know of your disappointment with their decision. Whatever you say, do it with meekness (Galatians 6:1).

2. Explain to your congregation the dangers of this choice so that they are aware of the issue regardless of whether or not they attend the movie or rent it later on.

3. Forward this article to as many people as possible so that they are made aware of the issue.

4. Have your pastor email me at to sign his name to the following letter I am sending to Mart Green and Every Tribe Entertainment. If your church has assistant pastors, I will add them to the list as well.

Dear Mart Green and Every Tribe Entertainment,

We are writing to you to express our deep disappointment in your selection of a gay activist to play the role of Nate Saint in the movie, The End of the Spear. We believe it is our biblical responsibility to confront a fellow believer when he makes a mistake.

We have been asked over the last several months to aggressively promote this film to our congregations, however, we cannot do so because of this issue.

We look forward to hearing how you plan to rectify this unfortunate situation.

In Him,

Sound radical? Defamatory? Over the limit? Actually, it sounds like Janz was doing the best he could to follow Matthew 18 and encourage pastors to do the same.

Though Janz got some of his facts wrong (which he later corrected) his call to action was fair and does not seem either unreasonable or unchristian even in the light of the factual corrections. Look at his word choice: "disappointment", "meekness", "mistake", "unfortunate situation".

Janz clearly pointed out that:

- the producers made a big mistake that they did not choose to correct

- that mistake ended up being hurtful to their product and to those who were asked to promote their product without being told relevant facts about it

Nothing wrong with that critique.

Janz has shown himself to be a man of maturity both in his presentation of the case and in admitting his few errors. I hope that Randy Alcorn shows himself as being made of that same kind of right stuff.