Power Corrupts

MarcosI have just finished reading a brilliant volume on the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda, The Marcos Dynasty: The Corruption of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. I have always had an interest in Philippine history and was pleased to see that the author, expert in Southeast Asian modern history, Sterling Seagrave, took great pains to present at the very start the context and place in time of the nation: its struggles under colonial rule of Spain then the United States, its national heroes, politics and civil and foreign battles, and its strategic importance in Asia and the Pacific.

What presented an intriguing aside throughout the book was the ongoing interactions between the Filipino Leadership and American Presidents, Generals, Diplomats and Secret Service agents, especially surrounding the Japanese invasion and the aftermath of World War II. Truly, as one critic praises it, this book reads like “a fast-paced thriller” and displays “an underlay of thorough investigative work.”

Very few come out looking good.

In fact, Seagrave challenges the popular history that was largely written by the powerful figures at play in this drama and paints a picture of the corruption of the power structures of both the Philippines and the United States, and the stealth by which the CIA and its agents were involved in a multitude of critical political and business decisions in the region during the course of the 20th century. Men who were thought to be heroes, great military leaders and global freedom advocates turn out to be weak, indecisive, and abusers themselves.

The adage is true: Power corrupts, and Absolute Power corrupts absolutely.

Time and time again, the opportunity presents itself to govern wisely and compassionately, and personal gain is chosen over national interest.

  • Billions of dollars was divested from Government accounts into Swiss accounts in the name of Ferdinand, Imelda or any of the Marcos children or companies.
  • Bribes were paid by companies seeking to do business in the Philippines and this money went not to the nation but into the hands of its leaders.
  • Lucrative and over-priced government contracts were awarded to the President’s family, friends, or those who could afford to pay the necessary ‘taxes’ into the Marcos’s personal accounts. Corporations with family ties were given exclusive rights to mining, oil drilling, sugar cane and pineapple plantations and logging.
  • Family members were given plush positions of authority from ambassadorships to provincial governorships, with all the salaries and perks appropriate to such offices.
  • Extravagance was king. From Imelda’s bulletproof bras and huge shoe collection to private jumbo jets with gold fittings and personally-owned hotels, highways, casinos and clubs, no expense was spared.

But this all started as an honest attempt at being a compassionate and patriotic Filipino and having a desire to not only see the nation gain its independence from its colonial rulers but to also grow to be a world leader and influencer in the region.

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I am reminded how this follows the same pattern that many have chosen—or fallen into, not often intentionally but over time, in many small steps, and often with the best motivations.

In Government, a politician will perhaps start off as a local council member. She will delight in helping her community grow, her constituents succeed, and the residents prosper. All her time will be spent working for the people who elected her. Until she starts moving up the ladder of success to state level. Suddenly, so it seems, she is in Federal Parliament/Congress and has a large staff, huge budget and allowances, and spends little, if any, time in her constituency. Rather, lobbyists wine and dine her. Corporations start courting her vote by depositing large amounts into her election campaign. She takes extravagant first-class trips overseas (or ‘study tours’ as they are called). She starts using the nations funds to pay for private parties, flights and holidays for her family. Corporate bodies court her vote on legislation. She ends up betraying the trust of those she represents and selling out so enlarge her own profits and prospects of employment post-politics—if she makes it that far without a corruption scandal.

A young man decides to attend seminary because he is so passionate about Christian community and wants to invest his life in helping folks just like him to grow spirituality and as a community of faith, making a positive impact in their city. He graduates and secures a Youth Pastor position in a small church (often considered the first step in any ministerial career). He loves his job and the kids more than anything and sinks hours of time and immense portions of his life into nurturing and supporting them through all the ups and downs of teenage life. He marries and has a few children. By now he has accepted a call to a larger church as an Associate Pastor and, what seems like such a short time, becomes Senior Pastor. The Church starts growing in numbers and assets. He hires his friends because ‘why not?’ if they are good for the job. He slowly gets rid of the naysayers in the organisation and, before long, the board is populated with those who agree with his ‘vision’ for the church and who will rubber-stamp anything he puts forward. He starts writing books that become bestsellers. His church expands which results in a new multi-million-dollar high tech campus—or two or three. By now he is much in demand as a speaker at conferences around the world. He is at his own church perhaps half of the Sundays in a year. He buys a bigger house, better cars, spends much of his time on expensive holidays none of his parishioners could afford and, eventually justifies a private jet and commands large ‘love offerings’ wherever he speaks. He looks forward to the time he can retire—if he can keep that indiscretion quiet or that affair on the hush-hush long enough.

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In the end, the Marcos Dynasty ended in shame when, after the blatant murder of Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino (Marcos’s foremost critic) by Marcos’s henchmen, and the final corrupted election (1986) where Ninoy’s wife, Corazon, was overwhelmingly swept into power. Ferdinand, Imelda and their children were forced to flee Malacañang Palace and the Philippines under allegations of immense corruption and scandal. They took with them an estimated $5-$10 billion that rightfully belonged to the Philippine people. Corruption that occurred during the Marcos’s era of dictatorship is still evident in the nation and will continue to have a ripple effect in the region for years to come.

Whether a position of power is ‘earned’ or ‘granted,’ we must be very cautious in using it. It can just as easily turn into abuse and manipulation, a distrust of everyone as a possible usurper of our rightful authority, and a beast that will end up destroying our soul. And the question we must always remember is this: “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and  lose his own soul?”

Be Careful in Using the Bible to Prove Your Point

In a recent article proving that God is in favour of people using handguns to defend their property, a Bible teacher wrote the following:

The Lord had more to say about self-defense in Luke 11:21:
“When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.” *
Here the Lord authorized the use of arms in defense of one’s property as well as in defense of one’s self and one’s family. While the Lord was making a spiritual application from this principle, it is important to notice that He does not condemn the principle of defending one’s goods.

He also talks about Jesus’ command for the disciples to buy a sword (which was a military weapon used only on people, so the author writes.) What I see here is more critical than whether or not God approves handgun ownership. Rather, it is the intentional use of Scripture to prove that God endorses gun ownership.

This could be a summary of this article:

  • God approves the ownership and use of handguns by a property owner.
  • Here are a few verses (and parts of verses) to show that this is true.
  • And while we’re on the subject, let’s talk about how war is right.
  • If you disagree, that’s OK. We understand. But we felt we must shed some Biblical light on such an important issue.

If you’ve read the excellent book Deer Hunting With Jesus, you’ll understand how intense the whole gun ownership thing is in the United States. And this goes hand-in-hand with Americans’ view of God and the Bible.

Some of this misguided partnership is exemplified at Gunowners.org where they have gone to great lengths to prove that the Bible endorses the ownership of guns:

The wisdom of the framers of the Constitution is consistent with the lessons of the Bible. Instruments of defense should be dispersed throughout the nation, not concentrated in the hands of the central government. In a godly country, righteousness governs each man through the Holy Spirit working within. The government has no cause to want a monopoly of force; the government that desires such a monopoly is a threat to the lives, liberty and property of its citizens.

The assumption that only danger can result from people carrying guns is used to justify the government’s having a monopoly of force. The notion that the people cannot be trusted to keep and bear their own arms informs us that ours, like the time of Solomon, may be one of great riches but is also a time of peril to free people. If Christ is not our King, we shall have a dictator to rule over us, just as Samuel warned.

For those who think that God treated Israel differently from the way He will treat us today, please consider what God told the prophet Malachi: “For I am the Lord, I do not change…” (Malachi 3:6). (Read more if you wish here.)

Given the context so vividly portrayed in the Deer Hunting book, I cannot expect anything different. The history, values, and tradition of the U.S. of A. is so steeped in this way of thinking and many Americans learn that this is the way it should be from the day they enter this world. These dear folks laugh at countries like Australia where gun control laws are somewhat effective and have prevented the large-scale tragedies seen in the U.S. in recent days.

I just wish they wouldn’t quote the Bible to support their gun-toting paranoia and that they wouldn’t think God wanted it this way.

Just because a story is told in the Bible, doesn’t mean God endorses its characters or their ideas.

Just because weapons are used as pictures of ‘spiritual warfare’ does not mean God endorses their ownership in the wider community.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

“We claim that we are treating the Bible with great respect as the final arbiter of all things. What we are really doing is making our interpretation of the Bible the final arbiter of all things. Therefore what we are ultimately arguing is that WE are the final arbiter of all things. Our assertion, in other words, is not really that the Bible is inerrant and infallible, but that we are.” – from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/10/do-you-mean-the-bible-is-inerrant-or-that-you-are-inerrant.html

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

The belief in “the inerrant Bible” dares to promise certainty regarding truth about God independently of God. In other words, it dares to say we can know this truth objectively, through modern science and historiography, and we can prove it by these means! In its excess, it puts the true believer in the false position of making God and object of our own control—a truth we can know without knowing Him. – David E. Fitch, in The End of Evaneglicalism? pg. 63

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* Verse 22 continues to say, ‘ But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up his plunder.’ (NIV) If verse 21, speaking of ‘a strong man’ is so assuredly showing Jesus’ endorsement of the defense of property, is the very next verse an endorsement of taking property by force? Just asking.

Faith vs Fear and a Warning of ‘Civil War’

I was amazed (and somewhat amused) when I read how a Texas (USA) judge has warned that President Obama’s re-election could lead to a new civil war in America.

Tom Head, a county judge in Lubbock, Texas, plunged far out into the periphery of anti-President Barack Obama conspiracy theories on Monday, pushing a particularly outrageous one as justification for a tax increase in the county.

Head told FOX34 that Lubbock’s law enforcement needed extra tax dollars in order to be prepared for a full-scale uprising, which he said could be a byproduct of Obama’s reelection. According to Head, the president is seeking to sign a variety of United Nations treaties that will effectively take precedent over domestic law.

“He’s going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the U.N., and what is going to happen when that happens?” Head asked. “I’m thinking the worst. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. And we’re not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations, we’re talking Lexington, Concord, take up arms and get rid of the guy.” [Read more about this here.]

At a planning gathering for Advent in our church last night, we were talking amongst ourselves about angels and angellic visitations. Mike commented that he found it striking how it seems every time in the Bible when an angel visited, the first words were ‘Do not be afraid.’ This is continued in Jesus’ appearance walking on water and again after his resurrection.

Richard Rohr’s daily meditation for today speaks of our natural fear of God and how Jesus broke down this misconception:

The Bible can be summed up as interplay between fear and faith. In general, people are obsessed and overpowered by fears; they fear what they cannot control. God is one of our primary fears because God is totally beyond us. The good news, the Gospel, according to Luke, is that God has breached that fear and become one of us in Jesus. God says, in effect, “It’s okay. You don’t have to live in fear of me.” God not only takes away all human shame, but even identifies with that shame by changing sides from all cultures, religious and secular, and identifying with the sinner, the rejected, the prostitute, the foreigner, and the leper. (Adapted from The Good News According to Luke: Spiritual Reflections, p. 66)

Those who give in to fear–whether of governmental tyranny or of God’s own self– live a life characterised by worry, anxiety and stress. I’m not surprised that so many who claim to follow Jesus still find themselves bound up by fear. After all, this is a very human condition. God understands this. Thus, when God chooses to reveal the Divine to mortals it is always prefaced by a calming ‘Fear not.’

As the prophet writes:

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.(Isaiah 41:10 NLT)

It is not a question of whether or not God is on our side, but whether or not we have faith in God to give us the strength to overcome our fears and enjoy the peace that comes from knowing he will be with us.

The Biblical Vision of Shalom

“What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?”

Recently, I came across the website of Christian Peacemaker Teams, an Anabaptist organisation that places violence-reduction teams in crisis situations and militarised areas around the world at the invitation of local peace and human rights workers. They “embrace the vision of unarmed intervention waged by committed peacemakers ready to risk injury and death in bold attempts to transform lethal conflict through the nonviolent power of God’s truth and love.” (from CPT website)

Essentially, they begin by asking the question: “What would happen if Christians devoted the same discipline and self-sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that armies devote to war?”

Naturally, what is right and just on a global scale is just as right on a national or local scale. We as God’s People should be working actively to seek peace and reconciliation among all people, not limiting ourselves to the context of the local church or community. In his post God’s People Reconciling, Ronald J. Sider examines the Biblical concept of Shalom and how Jesus demonstrated this kingdom principle.

Acknowledging past temptations and misunderstandings is essential. But we dare not remain mired in our failures. Instead we can allow the fullness of the biblical vision of shalom to transform us into a reconciling people ready to challenge the madness of the late twentieth century.

The richness of the biblical vision of peace is conveyed in the Hebrew word “shalom”. Shalom means right relationships in every area — with God, with neighbor, and with the earth. Leviticus 26:3-6 describes the comprehensive shalom which God will give to those who walk in obedient relationship to God. The earth will yield rich harvests, wild animals will not ravage the countryside, and the sword will rest. Shalom means not only the absence of war but also a land flowing with milk and honey. It also includes just economic relationships with the neighbor. It means the fair division of land so that all families can earn their own way. It means the Jubilee and sabbatical release of debts so that great extremes of wealth and poverty do not develop among God’s people. The result of such justice, Isaiah says, is peace (32:16-17). And the psalmist reminds us that God desires that “justice and peace will kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10). If we try to separate justice and peace, we tear asunder what God has joined together.

Tragically, the people of Israel refused to walk in right relationship with God and neighbor. They ran after false gods, and they oppressed the poor. So God destroyed first Israel and then Judah. But the prophets looked beyond the tragedy of national destruction to a time when God’s Messiah, the Prince of Peace, would come to restore right relationships with God and neighbor. (e.g., Isaiah 9:2ff; 11:1ff).

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Isaiah 2:4).

Jesus, Christians believe, was the long-expected Messiah. And just as the prophets had promised, shalom was at the heart of his messianic work and message. But Jesus’ approach to peacemaking was not to lapse into passive nonresistance; it was not to withdraw to isolated solitude; it was not to teach one ethic for the private sphere and another for public life. Jesus modeled an activist challenge to the status quo, summoning the entire Jewish people to accept his nonviolent messianic strategy instead of the Zealot’s militaristic methods.

Jesus’ approach was not one of passive nonresistance. If Jesus’ call not to resist one who is evil in Matthew 5:39 was a summons to pure nonresistance and the rejection of all forms of pressure and coercion, then Jesus regularly contradicted his own teaching. He unleashed a blistering attack on the Pharisees, denouncing them as blind guides, fools, hypocrites, and snakes — surely psychological coercion of a vigorous type as is even the most loving church discipline which Jesus prescribed (Matthew 18:15ff).

Nor was Jesus nonresistant when he cleansed the temple! He engaged in aggressive resistance against evil when he marched into the temple, drove the animals out with a whip, dumped the money tables upside down, and denounced the money changers as robbers. If Matthew 5:39 means that all forms of resistance to evil are forbidden, then Jesus disobeyed his own command. Jesus certainly did not kill the money changers. Indeed, I doubt that he even used his whip on them. But he certainly resisted their evil in a dramatic act of civil disobedience.

Or consider Jesus’ response when a soldier unjustly struck him on the cheek at his trial (John 18:19-24). Instead of turning the other cheek and meekly submitting to this injustice, he protested! “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong; but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Apparently Jesus thought that protesting police brutality or engaging in civil disobedience in a nonviolent fashion was entirely consistent with his command not to resist the one who is evil.

Jesus would never have ended up on the cross if he had exemplified the isolationist pacifism of withdrawal. Nor would he have offended anyone if he had simply conformed to current values as we are often tempted to do when we abandon the pattern of isolation. Rejecting both isolation and accommodation, Jesus lived at the heart of his society challenging the status quo at every point where it was wrong.

Jesus upset men happy with the easy divorce laws that permitted them to dismiss their wives on almost any pretext. He defied the social patterns of his day that treated women as inferiors. Breaking social custom, he appeared publicly with women, taught them theology, and honored them with his first resurrection appearance.

Jesus angered political rulers, smugly satisfied with domination of their subjects with his call to servant leadership.

And he terrified the economic establishment, summoning materialists like the rich young ruler to give away their wealth, denouncing those who oppressed widows, and calling the rich to loan to the poor even if they had no hope of repayment (Luke 6:30ff). Indeed, he considered concern for the poor so important that he warned that those who do not feed the hungry and clothe the naked will go to hell.

Jesus disturbed the status quo — but not for mere love of change. It was his commitment to shalom, to the right relationships promised in messianic prophecy, that make him a disturber of an unjust peace. He brought right relationships between men and women, between rich and poor by his radical challenge to the status quo.

Repeatedly in our history, the terror of persecution and the temptation of security have lured us to retreat to the safety of isolated solitude where our radical ideas threaten no one. But that was not Jesus’ way. He challenged his society so vigorously and so forcefully that the authorities had only two choices. They had to accept his call to repentance and change or they had to get rid of him. Do we have the courage to follow in his steps?

Jesus approach was activist and vigorous, but it was not violent. A costly self-giving love, even for enemies, was central to his message. He called his followers to abandon retaliation, even the accepted “eye for an eye” of the Mosaic legal system. He said that his followers would persist in costly love even for enemies, even if those enemies never reciprocated.

It is hardly surprising that Christians have been tempted to weaken Jesus’ call to costly self-sacrifice — whether by postponing its application to the millennium, labeling it an impossible ideal, or restricting its relevance to some personal private sphere. The last is perhaps the most widespread and the most tempting. Did Jesus merely mean that although the individual Christian in his personal role should respond nonviolently to enemies, that same person as public official may kill them?

In his historical context, Jesus came as the Messiah of Israel with a plan and an ethic for the entire Jewish people. He advocated love toward political enemies as his specific political response to centuries of violence. His radical nonviolence was a conscious alternative to the contemporary Zealots‘ call for violent revolution to usher in the messianic kingdom. There is no hint that Jesus’ reason for objecting to the Zealots was that they were unauthorized individuals whose violent sword would have been legitimate if the Sanhedrin had only given the order. On the contrary, his point was that the Zealots’ whole approach to enemies, even unjust oppressive imperialists, was fundamentally wrong. The Zealots offered one political approach; Jesus offered another. But both appealed to the entire Jewish nation.

The many premonitions of national disaster in the Gospels indicate that Jesus realized that the only way to avoid destruction and attain messianic shalom was through a forthright rejection of the Zealots’ call to arms. In fact, Luke places the moving passage about Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem immediately after the triumphal entry — just after Jesus had disappointed popular hopes with his insistence on a peaceful messianic strategy. “And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace!'” (Luke 19:4ff).

Zealot violence, Jesus knew, would lead to national destruction. It was an illusion to look for peace through violence. The way of the Suffering Servant was the only way to messianic shalom. Jesus’ invitation to the entire Jewish people was to believe that the messianic kingdom was already breaking into the present. Therefore, if they would accept God’s forgiveness and follow his Messiah, they could begin now to live according to the peaceful values of the messianic age. Understood in this historical setting, Jesus’ call to love enemies can hardly be limited to the personal sphere of private life.

Furthermore, the personal-public distinction also seems to go against the most natural, literal meaning of the text. There is no hint whatsoever in the text of such a distinction. In fact, Jesus’ words are full of references to public life. “Resist not evil” applies, Jesus says, when people take you to court (Matthew 5:40) and when foreign rulers legally demand forced labor (v. 41). Indeed, the basic norm Jesus transcends (an eye for an eye) was a fundamental principle of the Mosaic legal system. We can safely assume that members of the Sanhedrin and other officials heard Jesus words. The most natural conclusion is that Jesus intended his words to be normative not just in private but also in public life. (Read the full article here.)

While serving on an active Christian Peacemaker Team may not be your “thing,” living a reconciling life–a life that demonstrates the shalom of God–is a calling for all those who claim to be followers of Jesus. May we all be open to allowing God to bring His peace in and through our lives.

Climate Change is Not Political

This is part of an email circulated to all staff at my place of employment. It is about climate change and the basis why we believe it’s a certainty (rather than just muddled speculation by ‘some’ scientists). Thanks to St Columba College’s  Head of Science for his enthusiasm and conviction which prompted this:

Science is non-political. It is evidence-based and peer reviewed. Not one scientist is flawless, so scientists work in communities to analyse and process data to come to conclusions. Results and conclusions are internationally verified, and ultimately any mistakes are fixed (and this may or may not be revealed). On rare occasions a scientist may fabricate data to suit a desired outcome. Such frauds are soon discovered and disgraced and their careers are over.

Unfortunately some people have succeeded in making climate change a political issue and this has led to a shift in the numbers of people concerned about climate change. (Note this is not about politically-driven solutions to the problem.) Since many people don’t understand the science of climate change they are relient on what scientists are saying and then this is where their trust is placed. People also place trust in their political pursuasion, so if their side of politics denies climate change, then there is a competing place in which to place their trust.

This is what has occurred in the past 4 months. For this reason, as a scientist, educator and Science Coordinator, I am duty-bound to remind people that 95% of the world’s science community is unequivical in their assessment that climate change is happening and that is is due to human activity. And, as mentioned above, this conclusion is internationally reviewed and verified.

If you are unaware of the basic causes of climate change (namely global warming), the site link below provides the basic ideas.

http://library.thinkquest.org/06aug/01529/

(This the the educator coming out in me!)

This Saturday night earth hour is on again and if possible it would be good to get behind this cause.