Charity & IRS Audits

I recently finished reading Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, which I may review later, but I thought there was an interesting anecdote in one of the last chapters, one of them relates a story of man he new that was audited by the IRS due to the amount of money he gave to the church. His point being, what if all Christians gave so much money that tax auditors had to give it a second look.

I thought, man, how much is this guy giving as a percent of his income that would make the IRS suspicious? I could imagine a situation where giving goes up dramatically in one year. Say someone started a new job with a bigger salary, or took a big promotion/made partner, or something along those lines. If you are living on the fixed budget, then you’d have more money to give. Just because you have a raise, doesn’t mean you mortgage or groceries go up.

This is actually what happened to Mrs. MMT and me. Last year(ish) we both took different positions (that were promotions) with new companies. You almost always get a bump in salary if you go to a new company or get a promotion, and we did both, the both of us, so it was kind of a double double raise. However out expenses didn’t move up in the same proportion as our income, obviously, so we were able to increase our giving rate. We also spent a little more on ourselves and dramatically increased our savings rate, but overall we felt like, when faced with the question, ‘what should we do with this nice bump in income the Lord has blessed us with?’ part of the answer has to be to give more, and not in the total amount.

Clearly, if you make $50K and your salary goes up 10% to $55K, if you are holding to a 10% giving, then your giving would go from $5K to $5.5K. But like I mentioned earlier, if you have a handle on the rest of your expenses, you should be able to give more than 10% to church and other charities. It is not like the tithe is a hard and fast rule. We, as Christians, are not bound to 10%, and we can give more. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:7 – Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

We were more convicted of this during the summer when our pastor did two sermons (Part 1 & 2) on generosity as part of a large series on Money, Sex, and Power. It is also something I had been thinking about since we started our new jobs. We know we are ‘supposed’ to give 10% and we are supposed to save 15%. But if you have a large salary increase, what would it look like if you saved 25%, but still only gave 10%? That can’t be right, right? So, that is a point that the pastor was pointing out, what do your percentages look like. But, I digress too much, maybe I should make that into another post.

So, back to the present. I filled our taxes. I like using the H&R Block Tax Software. They have a cool feature that does an audit check for you and will tell you if something is really bad or just curious. Well, we were flagged. The system told us to double check out charitable deductions, because we had given a large amount. Of course, it wasn’t actually a large amount, just relative to income, it was a percentage they thought could raise interest for an audit.

I had just finished reading that book, so it made me interested. I’m imagining what it would look like to give 20-25% or more to the church, but I’m getting flagged for barley more than 10%. Why? Well, I looked into it. The average American only gives 3% of their adjusted gross income to charity. The most recent Pew study shows that 70.6% of American’s claim Christianity. So, if we all gave 10% and everyone else gave zero (which certainly isn’t the case, 1.9% claim Judaism, another .9% claim Islam, so there are a few more with the 10% guideline. Of course it would be ridiculous to think only religious people (or only these particular religions) give money to charity), then the average charitable giving of an American should be around 7%, not adjusting for things like income and religious affiliation, etc.

Maybe not surprisingly, the more money you make, the less you actually give. This article from Fool shows giving peaking at incomes of $50-75K with 6.8%, and then declines in every bracket until your income hits one million. Forbes breaks it down in even more specifically, take a look at your income and see how you compare. People start giving $3K once they make about $65K (notice, that is less than 5%), but don’t add that extra thousand to bring their total giving to $4K until they make almost twice that, at $125K (now we are closer to 3%). If you go from making $100K to $200K, you should be double your giving, instead you are going from $3.6K to $5.6K, at this point we are down to about 2.5%.

So, two things here, not only are we not giving more as a percentage as our income goes up, we are actually giving less, but we aren’t even giving close to 10%. No wonder it is a red flag that someone would give 10%. Imagine what it would look like if all Christians about a certain income gave 10%, and then as they made more that percentage increased? If we said from our abundance, we give even more back? What affect on society? Instead from more abundance, we become even less faithful. It is almost like we can only serve one master. It also frustrates me that so many Christians oppose certain types of welfare and government safety nets, claiming that charity should support people, not the government. While I don’t necessarily disagree, it is beyond hypocritical to claim that will not even giving 10% to your own church.

Anyway, this post became longer and less coherent than I intended. It was an interesting coincidence that I was challenged by this book with the example of the guy audited, only to then have my tax software tell me I needed to double check my own numbers, to then finding out Americans give so little as a percent of the income. Maybe I’ll break out some of these ideas in later post and try better next time.

Some thoughts on Lent

Growing up Baptist, I think my first exposure to the concept of Lent, in which someone gave up something for the period of time leading up the Easter, came from the movie 40 Days and 40 Nights. That was my senior year in high school and I don’t think I actually knew a catholic until one of my roommates a few years later in college. I guess because of this, I’ve never really ‘got’ Lent.

It was amusing last week as Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, approached. Most of the people in my immediate office are Catholics. This is true now for the first time in the 10 years in which I’ve work there. So, I think there is a bit of Baptists and Beer thing going on (if you go fishing, why should you take two Baptist instead of one? They’ll both watch the other to make sure they don’t drink your beer), in which they are all watching to see who is giving up what and who went to Ash Wednesday Mass. The best part was on Friday, as they are supposed to abstain from meat, one of them had already forgotten and was called out right before he ate a chicken biscuit. This is the same guy who ate steak every night for the week leading up to Lent, because that is what he was giving up.

If you don’t know, Lent is not in the Bible. We, as Christians, are not required to participate, or to fast, or really follow any particular rules about Lent. The concept comes from the Temptation of Christ, when he spent 40 days and 40 nights in the wilderness, fasting and preparing for his ministry. As a spiritual exercise, I find it fascinating. That being said, I don’t really understand how, and almost wish that the works and rules based requirements of Catholics were actually Biblical requirements. In a sense, it would be easy to give up something for the sake of giving up something. Or skipping meat on Fridays, just because, though fish is allowed, basically because Aquinas didn’t think it tasted good. Apparently, part of the fasting and abstinence is just to give up something you enjoy.

However, if you are seeking a spiritual discipline, and want a reason for what you are giving up, it becomes more difficult. I feel like I really need a why. It doesn’t work for me to say, I’ll give up pizza, because I like pizza. I guess, ultimately, that is often the point of fasting, but as a Lenten practice, it seems odd. Maybe this is due to wanting to have a counter balance. So, I give up pizza, what am I supposed to do with that? If I just replace it with something that is also good, like burgers, what have I gained. I’ve heard from some who fast from dinner on Fridays and instead spend the time they would be cooking and eating in prayer. That seems interesting. This is why I consider myself to only have had on successful Lent.

It was years ago, and I gave up video games and decided to use the time playing them when I get home from work, to read the Gospels. This did in fact change me. I started reading more, especially studying the Bible and theology, to the point that now I have a blog about book reviews. Also, I never regained the habit of playing video games only a daily basis and actually haven’t played any in a few years, ever since Sprout was a few months old.

In this way, I do think I completed a spiritual exercise. I have up something that was pointless, and began to study the Bible. But I’ve struggled to ever replicate this again. As you start to think about things to give up, you mind if often drawn away from spiritual things. For instance, the only other time I actually gave up something was last year, and I have up alcohol. Seemed like a good idea, but then I lost a few pounds from it, so it kind of became about health; plus I never found something to replace it with, or any kind of ‘why’.

As I talk with others looking to engage in a Lenten abstinence, the same issues seem to come up. People decide to get up earlier in the morning and go to the gym, or give up red meat or sugar, to lose a few points. Those are basically New Year’s resolutions. They are good things, nothing wrong with either of them, but tying them to God seems disingenuous. Likewise, people struggling with alcoholism or lust will give up getting drunk or porn. These are already things you shouldn’t be doing.

Anyway, I guess this is just a long way of saying, I don’t know how to Lent. I’d love to hear from any of my readers as to what you’ve given up and why, either this year or in the past. Finally, any good satire type things to give up are always appreciated, probably my favorite two that I’ve heard is people giving up their Catholicism, or giving up their virginity.


It is Well

This is a little different style and song than I typically like to post. I’ve never actually heard of these guys before, but of the 10 or so version of this song I listened to on YouTube, I liked them the best.

It is Well with My Soul is a hymn written in the 1870’s by Horatio Spafford, a Chicago lawyer and Presbyterian Elder. His first son died in 1871, the same year the Great Chicago Fire also destroyed a large portion of his real estate investments. In 1873, he decides to take his wife and four daughters on a trip to England. He had to stay back for work, but planned to meet up with them later.

On November 22, their ship crashed with another. His wife survived, but all his daughters died. She sent him a message telling him what happened and he hopped a ship over to England to be with her. As he was passing the general location of the wreck, he wrote this hymn. They would eventually have three more children, but sadly lose one of them, their other son, as well.

I was thinking of this song as we drove to the doctor/hospital this past Monday. I suppose I should have had a little more hope than I did, apparently bleeding is normal during some pregnancies. Mrs. MMT knew a few people that experienced this. After 16 months of trying to get pregnant, I had mostly lost hope. I’ve always been pretty cynical as it is. It was odd driving down the road, basically trying not to think about a miscarriage, trying to hope that the doctor would tell us there was no problem, and then thinking of this song.

I wasn’t sure how to act. Was it in my head because I had read the story of Spafford in November, then sang this song one Sunday in December? I thought maybe it was a movement by the Holy Spirit to comfort me, but of course, that’s not what I wanted it to be. It retrospect, that is likely what it was. After getting home, Mrs. MMT and I discussed it, she too felt a calm, maybe even a peace about the miscarriage, despite the obvious pain and sense of loss, and the returning sense of hopelessness.

In a terrible coincidence, last November or early December, we had schedule an appointment with a fertility specialist for this coming Monday. We found out we were pregnant on Christmas Day, so instead of a fertility appointment, we set up our first sonogram appointment, as this would be the eight week mark this coming Monday. Well, turns out, they want to see you a week after a miscarriage, so we replaced our sonogram appointment with a follow up appointment to make sure Mrs. MMT is alright (physically) and to maybe give us a reason as to what might have happened.

We are not hopeful they will have an answer for us. That isn’t a knock on the doctors or nurses, it is just a fact that about one quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage. So, at this point, I don’t expect them to tell us that this was anything but a statistic. They will also let us know when they think we can start trying again.

So, for now, we are sad, hurt, disillusioned and at a loss; Mrs. MMT is still dealing with the physical after affects; and every thing just seems a little shitty over all; but we know that it is well.

John 14:27 –
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

2018 Reading Challenge

I slight exceeded my goal of 25 books last year, by reading 29 books. Now, the prior year, I had a goal of 30, but pretty well passed that, reading 52. I lowered my goal last year as I took some Counseling courses, but as I am not doing that this year, I am raising the goal back to 30. I’d love to set the goal at 48 or 52, to match my 2016, but Sprout doesn’t sleep as much as she used to (bedtime moved back and naps went from 3/4 to zero), so I don’t think that is reasonable, but in the back of my mind, I am kind of hopeful.

So, what am I reading? I have 13 books specifically planned (check out my Goodreads 2018 Shelf for a quick list). I’ll probably tack on another 12 (or less, mostly likely, as I ratchet down the number of review books I request) and then leave myself a little room for randomness in the other five. Of those five, two or three will probably be novels, and at least one will be another counseling book. The 13 I have set out already include:

Devotional – I’ve typically read a whole year devotional, such as My Utmost for His Highest (my review), but this year I’m doing something a little different. I have one, Shalom in Psalms, that goes through, well, the Psalms. This won’t take a whole year, so I have a Lenten one, From the Grave, and an Advent one, The Dawning of Indestructible Joy“, lined up. That should finish out the year, but I may have to find a 30-40 day one in addition and toss it in there. So, kind of sneaky with the numbers, typically the devotional gets me one book, this year it might net me three or four.

Biography/autobiographyA Full Life: Reflections at Ninety was on my list last year, but I didn’t make it to it, so I’ll stick it back on this list.

Non-fictionGödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, at 822 pages, this is the second biggest book on my list for this year and one of my top five lift goal, big book, non-fiction books to pick up. Unless this takes me all year, I’ll probably have another, shorter, non-fiction in this list.

FictionThe Fall of Hyperion, the sequel to one of my favorite books last year, Hyperion, and the only book I’ve already started reading. At 864 pages, Anna Karenina, will be my biggest book this year and the second longest single volume fiction book I’ve ever read. If that wasn’t enough Russian Literature, I’d also like to work through the two stories (which come packaged in one book, so I’m counting it as one) Notes from the Underground and The Grand Inquisitor. Hopefully, I’ll get to a few more in this category.

Christian-y type books – because two 800 page books won’t take me long enough, I’m also picking up two more 500+ page books. First, I want to get back into finishing Bavnick so I have Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ, on the list with the ridiculous hope that I will actually make it to the even longer (912 pages) Volume Four. Second is what I’ve heard is the best in Christian history – Church History in Plain Language. Outside of the big ones, I had Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy on my list from 2017, but also didn’t get to it, so I’ve move it to this year; Work and Our Labor in the Lord, which is also technically a review book; and finally, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. This general category will be the biggest, as I fill it out with review books and commentaries.

That is the plan for 2018, a few less books than I think I could probably handle, but a few of them probably to large. Feel free to share your goals in the comments.

2017 Reading Challenge Update

For 2017 I challenged myself to read 24 books, with 19 books called out specifically. I was successful in the number of book, with 29, but didn’t hit many of my specific books. I think this is mostly due to having less time to read, so I didn’t hit the big books (like Capital in the 21st Century) and because I ended up reading mostly review books that were sent to me by Baker Books.

This year I will likely read less review books. Originally, I would request every book they offered, because at first I wouldn’t receive many, if any, of them. Then as I did more and more reviews, they started sending every single one I requested. I had planned to read five or six, and ended up reviewing 12.

I ended up knocking out two of the three novels I had planned, reading Brave New World  (my review) and Hyperion, but not Lolita.

I read all of the required books for school, but haven’t reviewed a single one. I think I also over estimated the amount of time I’d have left to read after finishing schoolwork as well as the impact of a new job that tripled/quadrupled my commute. Throw in Sprout sleeping even less and somehow becoming even more rambunctious, I ended up with far less time than I anticipated. Just in writing this post and reviewing my reading from 2017, I’ve already downgraded my goal for 2018 from 36 to 30 books, realizing that I likely will not have time.

I’ll have that goal up in a post sometime next week. Hopefully, I’ll finish reviewing a few more books from last year and have a rundown on the ESV M’Chenney Reading Bible.

2018 is Here

It is 2018 already, well, it is the 2nd now, but I was eating and watching football all day yesterday, so I didn’t post anything. Most importantly from yesterday, Georgia won and is heading to the National Championship game next Monday here in Atlanta.

I’ll have a few post later this week or next specifically about this site, but for now Phil has the December 2017 Biblical Studies Carnival up over at his Reading Acts and my buddy David has his annual book ranking up over at his This Mortal Life.

Finally, I’ve posted a few times over the past couple of years about receiving hand me down books from my mom’s dad’s dad, who was a Church of Christ preacher, but yesterday I stopped by my other Granddad’s house. He and my grandmother are moving to assisted living/memory care tomorrow and he wanted to grab a few of his books. Along with a full volume of Matthew Henry’s commentary, I also noticed this.


On the left is The New Bible Commentary Revised edition. This commentary was published in the 50’s and revised and republished in the 70’s. It was revised, I believe, again in the 90’s and then totally revamped in the ’21st Century Edition’ in 2008, which is the one on the right (my copy). My granddad is an avid reader and taught Sunday School for something like 60 years, which he took seriously enough to buy multiple commentaries. It was cool to see I had chosen on of the same ones he used for decades, but more than 40 years after he purchased his.


Texas Church Shooting

As always, we wonder if there was any way to prevent this.

Once again, we have a mass shooting in this country. Unsurprisingly, Trump calls this a mental health issue.  Of course, earlier this year, he signed a bill into law that rolled back Obama-era regulations that made it harder for people with mental health issues to purchase guns. If we needed extreme vetting after the NYC attack, does this mean we will have extreme focus on mental health care in this country now? Some sort of ‘extreme’ funding for social services.

I don’t really know what to say. I saw on the news this morning that there was a memorial in Atl yesterday for the Las Vegas shooting. So, we didn’t even have time between the largest mass shooting in modern history and the memorial before another mass shooting. I’m not a very emotional guy, but I feel like crying watching the news stories. Mostly because nothing will happen. Some think that if we can’t talk about gun control now, we never will; but I’m not convinced. I think the ultimate nail in the coffin was 20 first graders being murdered, along with seven others (and the shooter). Just think about that over and over again. There were 20 first graders shot one morning. As a country we did absolutely nothing. If anything, by some accounts, gun control was weakened since then.

It was only 10 years ago that we thought we’d hit an unsurpassable number of 33 at Virginia Tech. We easily passed that just a year ago in Orlando, then set a new record just last month in Vegas. So, two of the five deadliest in modern history have happened over the past 35 days. I was in high school when Columbine happened, and that was a big deal then. I’m sure people thought the same thing, that if we couldn’t talk about it now…. Of course now, Columbine doesn’t even rank in the top 10 deadliest shootings anymore. If you sort that table by year, you’ll see that 12 double digit body count mass shootings have occurred since then.

I have no hope that anything will change. The NRA has an inexplicable amount of power over congress. If you wanted to be very generous and say that some of the congress members who blame mental health aren’t lying through there teeth, still nothing will change, because none of them are proposing to fund mental health counseling in this country or even adequate social services. As always, Christians remain silent and useless. We don’t want to step on anyone’s ‘rights’ regardless of the body count. I guess every couple of months they’ll be a mass shooting with 20 plus dead and we all sit around with our thumbs up our asses and wonder how we could prevent this.


500th Anniversary of the Reformation

Happy Reformation Day. This is the 500th anniversary of the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Church. A couple of things to remember, first Luther was not trying to break away from the church, that is why he (and the others) are called Reformers (and the the event is called the Reformation, not the Great Schism), because they wanted to reform the church. A huge focus was the selling of indulgences (which is still a thing), the more important impact was the ‘rediscovery’ of Grace. We also received the Five Solae (or solas for Americans), to ground us back in the Bible and Grace and away from the Church and Papal Authority.

One of the more fascinating changes that Luther brought was the weekly sermon and the singing of hymns, especially in the common language. Luther also eventually supported marriage of pastors, something all Protestant churches do today, but the Catholic Church still does not. Basically, the typical Sunday morning at church would be unrecognizable to modern protestants. There would be no sermon, basically just the ‘Mass’ or communion, and it wouldn’t be in the common language, it’d be in Latin. Even if you happen to go Advent or Easter and catch a homily (a type of sermon), it would also not be in your language. You would not sing, if there was a choir and any singing it all, it would also, you guessed it, not be in your language. The Bible, again, not in your language. The priest didn’t know Hebrew or Greek, and some of them likely didn’t know Latin. It really is hard to think about today, how far off from any type of church service you’ve ever been to, and how different it would all seem.

As Christians, this should probably be seen as the most important event/date outside of the Bible. Or at least most important since the formulation of the early creeds and confessions. However, the church had drifted so far from those early days, that this is at least on par with the early church.


That is really all I have to say. I’ll leave you with three podcasts, two articles related to the Reformation, and of course a few books to read. I don’t listen to many podcast that or focused towards Christians, because honestly, most kind of suck. Three that I do listen to are White Horse Inn, Theocast, and 5 Minutes in Church History. The first two both did a podcast each on the Five Solae that are well worth listening to for a basic theological understanding. The church history podcast (which if you listen at 1.5X like me, is more like 3:30) posted a podcast every day this month with some historical insights.

Two articles that I found interesting (there were surprisingly few out there), one is kind of a Catholic view, and the other more in the lines of ‘why I’m still protestant.’

You can also check our my review of Martin Luther in His Own Words, Martin and Katharine, and probably the best intro book into Protestantism and Reformed Theology out there.

So, that is it. Take some time and reflect before heading out to teach your kids to take candy from strangers this evening.



Hannity and Jeffress

I’ve rewritten the first sentence to this post about 10 times already, I’m just not sure where to start. I agree with all of John Fea’s points here, but I want to say a little more about the problem. Jeffress speech, and it was a speech not a sermon, was fine. It was a political speech to be sure, one that most Christians would get behind. Though, you really shouldn’t with point number 1, about the Ten Commandments. See my review of One Nation Under God for more, I don’t feel like go through it all again. Also, from the Wikipedia page on the Ten Commandments:

In the 1950s and 1960s the Fraternal Order of Eagles placed possibly thousands of Ten Commandments displays in courthouses and school rooms, including many stone monuments on courthouse property.[133] Because displaying the commandments can reflect a sectarian position if they are numbered (see above), the Eagles developed an ecumenical version that omitted the numbers, as on the monument at the Texas capitol (shown here). Hundreds of monuments were also placed by director Cecil B. DeMille as a publicity stunt to promote his 1956 film The Ten Commandments.[134] Placing the plaques and monuments to the Ten Commandments in and around government buildings was another expression of mid-twentieth century U.S. civil religion, along with adding the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.[132]

His second point on abortion is good, though I don’t think Christian’s should be single issue voters. His final point on gay marriage and the Obergefell decision is also pretty standard, though I guess here, too, we could debate the merits of government trying to legislate morality.

Everything was fine, for his speech. Nothing too dramatic or out of the ordinary for political pundits or Court Evangelicals. He gives his speech, then turns the stage over to Sean Hannity to promote his upcoming movie. All this is fine, if it had occurred on a Friday night or Saturday afternoon, really any time other than Sunday morning. His church is large, and holds an enormous audience, so it is fine to hold a big publicity event there, logistically. However, this was the regular worship service. His speech was a political message, not the Gospel of Jesus. Sunday morning and the worship service of any given church is for proclaiming Christ. It is a time for the ordinary means of grace, the preaching of the Word, taking of communion, and baptism (if you have one).

Jeffress welcomed everyone to hear the Gospel, but I didn’t hear it preached in his message. There was no call to repentance, no need for Christ explained. There was no redemptive narrative. There was only the call to vote not repent, to focus on politics no the cross, to regain power instead of humble yourself, and to make America great again not proclaim the greatness of God.

The American church, for the most part, has sold itself to political power. Events like this one on Sunday at First Baptist Dallas show where are focus is. A cable news hosting received a standing ovation for, well, being a cable news host. There was a roar of the crowd when he, the political conservative, was pitted against another cable news host, a liberal.

I don’t have much else to say about this. I just find it extremely disconcerting. Again, it is not necessarily his message, what he is saying and doing, but when and where he is doing it. This entanglement and church and politics. The movement away form the Gospel to power and control. We can easily look back now at the 1920’s-50’s and see how the ‘mainline’ churches lost focus. Inspired by the Enlightenment, there focus became humanities goodness. The focus on the Social Gospel took time and energy away from the actual Gospel, and they’ve never regained it.

I wonder if in another 50 years, we will look back and say to the 1908’s through now and say, inspired by the Moral Majority and Reagan, the ‘evangelical’ church lost their focus. We looked to political power and away from the cross. Christ tells us you can not serve two masters, and events like these make me wonder which one we are really serving.


One other note, Jeffress said government is ‘designed and instituted by God’, described it as ‘ordained and holy’ as the church. I wonder what he thought/thinks of Reagan and his message of ‘government is the problem.’ This could be a whole post to itself, so I won’t get too much into it now, but this is why I stopped being a Republican. The picking and choosing of when government is good and when it should be involved in regulating things.


Finally, I’ll also steal the idea from Dr. Fea’s other post, comparing Jeffress’ message to the one of my church. The sermon doesn’t seem to be up yet (edit – sermon), but I’ll post it when it is. My pastor gave a message on Political Power. How it is not our goal in life, and that we are called to be Christians first (not America first). I believe his sermon is in complete opposition to what Jeffress is doing. Whether explicitly or subconsciously, he is more concerned with preserving the political power of Christians than he is morality or the Gospel message.


I wrote a little about flags last summer. That post was mostly about my personal history with the Georgia and Confederate Battle Flags. I do want to do a quick hit on it and then talk about the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ and the National Anthem, mostly because Confederate images have been in the news since Charlottesville this summer, National Anthem is up again now that football is back on, and mostly because I trying to help my pastor with a sermon series he’ll be doing soon about ‘power’, which includes economic and political power.

I went through the history of the Georgia flag in my previous post, so I just want to focus/expand here on one point. In the original post I pointed out that the Confederate Battle flag gained popularity in the 40’s through the Dixiecrats and that Georgia changed their flag in 1956. I think I should expand on that a bit. It is important to remember what happened in 1954 (after the close of the Georgia Legislature Session) – Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, and the Brown II in 1955 (also after closure). I’m not going to go into great detail about what these were, if you aren’t familiar (and American) you really need to go read it and educate yourself, but basically Brown overruled an old case, Plessy vs. Ferguson, and ‘separate but equal’ and essentially ruled that school could not be segregate by law. In Brown II, the Supreme Court said that desegregation must occur with ‘all deliberate speed’. Schools have to desegregate and do it now.

So, how did the Georgia Legislature open in 1956? With this statement from the governor during the State of the  State:

There will be no mixing of the races in the public schools and college classrooms of Georgia anywhere or at any time as long as I am governor….All attempts to mix the races, whether they be in the classrooms, on the playgrounds, in public conveyances or in any other area of close personal contact on terms of equity, peril the mores of the South….the tragic decision of the United States Supreme Court on May 17, 1954, poses a threat to the unparalleled harmony and growth that we have attained here in the South for both races under the framework of established customs. Day by day, Georgia moves nearer a showdown with this Federal Supreme Court – a tyrannical court ruthlessly seeking to usurp control of state-created, state-developed, and state-financed schools and colleges….The next portent looming on the horizon is a further declaration that a State’s power to prohibit mixed marriages is unconstitutional.

This set the tone for the legislative session, one in which they voted to change the flag to include something that Dixiecrats and (recently, but not originally) the KKK had taken up as a symbol of protest. The Senate Research Report about the flag is an interesting read on the history. There is also a great reminder that another proposal that came after Brown was that the State would close all public school rather than integrate and send residents a tax refund to help them pay for private schools (which could still legally discriminate). This sounds frighteningly similar to the current attempt of a ‘voucher’ system for homeschooling (which wouldn’t become legal in Georgia until 1984).

All that to say, I think people can disagree about confederate monuments and their place in society, I’d just ask that people think seriously, especially in the historical context, about what they mean. I think statues to people are weird on their one, but most people disagree, so if a statue to a Confederate general or Colonial was put up in the 1890’s and he was also influential in his state (governor, president of a flagship university), there are legitimate reasons to have some pause about removing them. If a statue was put up, a flag redesigned, or streets renamed in the 1940’s-60’s, you should have very serious reservations about supporting them and truly question the motives behind them.

This, as always, is already longer than I had anticipated writing, so I’ll pivot quickly to the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ and then a quick thought or two on the national anthem.

Let’s start with Francis Bellamy a Christian Socialist most famous for writing the base of what would become the pledge. His version:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Fun fact – Bellamy was opposed to ‘state’s rights’ and the Federal system in general. That is the meaning behind ‘one nation, indivisible’; he, as a socialist, preferred a much more centralized, singular form of government that would make broad laws and states would not make any.  The purpose of the pledge is literally to indoctrinate people towards loyalty to the state.

In 1923 the words ‘Flag of the United States’ were added so all the immigrants knew which particular flag.  The Pledge was recognized by the Feds in 1942 and added tot he flag code. In 1943, Supreme Court said it was not compulsory to say the pledge, after a court case brought by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The last change game in 1954, when the phrase ‘under God’ was added – see my review of Kevin Kruse’s book One Nation Under God for more.

Another fun fact, the Bellamy Salute was dropped in the 40’s due to it’s similarity to Hitler salute,  and the flag code was amended to require your hand over your heart instead.

As a libertarian minded Christian, I have a problem with pledging allegiance to a symbol of the State. I only vaguely remember saying the pledge growing up. I do not think it was every day, and looking back, I’m not sure it was said every day. I have the impression that it was more or less up to a particular teacher. When we did say it in high school, many people sat or didn’t say the words, because it seemed like an odd tradition. That all changed my senior year with 9/11. Then it was said everyday all the time.

Anyway, on to the National Anthem. People are kneeling now instead of standing, and it has become such a big deal that our President tweets about it and even sends the VP as a PR stunt to leave when it happened. We can ignore, for the moment, that over six million tax payer dollars were given to billionaires for them to promote patriotism with their ‘non-profit’ over the past few years – read the Senate report here. Doing a little research, it looks like the Anthem was pretty common at sports events following WW2. However, players actually even being out on the field for the playing/singing wasn’t required until 2009. A good place to start on the history of playing the Anthem would be this article from Politifact.

I’m not even sure what I want to say about this. As Christians is this really something with which we have a problem? Do we support compulsory patriotism? Or requirements to pay tribute to the state? I don’t think so. As I mentioned with the pledge above, I’m not big on the government requiring things like this. Instead, I think the effectiveness for which it has brought attention is one reason why certain people are so mad.

It also bothers me how much some people are opposed to protesting in general. This is a peaceful, non-violent, non-disruptive way of trying to call attention to a very serious issue in America. Now, it has kind of been hijacked and is arguably more about the President and his seemingly disbelief in the right of the people to protest. I’ve heard some of the objects – I’m not opposed to them protesting, it’s how they do it – but that is straight up bullshit. I don’t believe that for a second. That is a very common sentiment people try all the time, in all aspects of life. You pretend you are alright with an idea, just not the execution, but ultimately you will oppose any tactic they take. My question for people would be, how would you like them to protest? What would be the acceptable way? Also, do you appreciate the irony that one of our greatest rights that the anthem is and this country is suppose to represent is the right to free speech and to protest?

I’ll end this by saying the official position of the Monday Morning Theologian is that anyone is should be able to protest anything they want at any time so long as the protest isn’t violent or destructive (and to a lesser extent, take traffic in to account). It is un-American to criticize the way someone protest if they follow those rules. Debating what someone protest is great, and should be happening. Instead, in this case, we are getting a bunch of faux patriotism, ‘support the troops’ bullshit that is beyond counter productive. Finally, criticizing them on the ‘how’ only proves to me that people don’t have much else to say on the substance of the protest – that is the police brutality and the treatment of black people by the police in this country. I know our President disagrees with this, but I’d much rather have him argue the merits that say ridiculous think like the players should be fired for not standing during the playing of a song. Really think about the implications of his statements, whether you agree with the players or not, and how that impacts what we view as freedom in this country.