This image has hit me like a ton of bricks this week, and I can’t shake it.
I’m not big on praying, but this has brought me to the point of wanting to pray, to pray for an end to stories like this.
This is 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh. Omran and his family live in Aleppo, Syria, one of the most war-torn places on the planet. Yesterday, a government airstrike hit his home in a part of the city controlled by rebels. Omran and his family were buried in the rubble. Fortunately, they all survived, with minor injuries.
Omran was pulled from the rubble, and carried to the back of an ambulance. In the midst of so much noise, he was silent, most likely suffering from shock. He had a cut on his head, and the blood was running down his face. As he sat, he reached up and wiped at his face. Seeing blood on his hand, he tried to wipe it on the seat.
Omran reminds me of my son, Julian, who will soon be four and looks a lot like Omran. Julian, fortunately, lives in middle class Tulsa Oklahoma. The chances that his home will be hit with an airstrike any time soon are nil. There will likely never be a picture like this taken of my son.
But they are so alike. All that separates them is half a world. I imagine if they met, they would likely get along. Omran appears to have some cartoon character on his shirt, and Julian would surely know who it is and they would have lots to talk about. Omran probably likes soccer, and so does Julian, so that is another commonality.
But, while Julian’s life has been serene and safe, Omran has spent all of his five short years living in terror, even if he didn’t know it, of this exact thing happening. Omran’s life expectancy is so much shorter than Julian’s because he lives in Aleppo. And, Omran’s chances of escaping the terror he lives with are small to none, because much of the western world that can help has decided Syrian victims like Omran who become refugees are much too dangerous to give a safe home to.
In my own country, for instance, one of our major presidential candidates has gone so far as to say that Omran, if he were to come here, would immediately be suspect of being a perpetrator of terror, and would need to be detained and then sent back to Aleppo, to the bombs and planes and terrors he was fleeing.
And, all the while, Julian will play and grow and not know fear or need or terror. Julian will almost certainly grow into a well-adjusted, carefree man. Omran’s chances of that are minuscule. Because the world has decided there is nothing to be done for him. He is collateral damage. The leader of his country will continue to target him and his family for violence, and the rebel’s supposedly fighting for his freedom will continue to use him as a human shield.
And meanwhile, the world will stand by, because 13 years ago, we were all incredibly short-sighted and selfish and irresponsible and decided to enter into a war in a country neighboring Syria that we did not need to enter into. And because that war was such a debacle, violence and terror was spawned across the entire region, and the ability of the world to intervene and act in a credible way in that part of the world was hampered and hindered for decades to come. And so Omran becomes another casualty of the mistake that was the Iraq War, and more importantly, of our Western hubris.
And so all of this brings me back to looking at that picture, and having a question pop into my mind:
What is so damn important that Omran has to suffer?
What have we all decided, in our collective insanity, is so much more important than this little boy’s life and happiness and safety? More important than his ability to just be a 5 year old little boy who likes cartoons and soccer?
When and why did we all decide that Julian, as much as I love and cherish him, has more worth than Omran.
What are we all fighting for that has more worth than Omran?
Please enlighten me. Because I can’t think of a damn thing.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve written a lot about Donald Trump here. And in doing so, I keep getting some push back from folks about it. Usually, it’s something along the lines of “why do you only pick on the Donald? Why not Hillary too, she’s corrupt?” Which then turns into, “well, you must be a Democratic Party operative using religion to get people to vote for your political agenda.” So, I just want to take a moment to address why, exactly, I write so much about Donald Trump, but almost none at all about Hillary Clinton.
First, let me be clear: yes, I used to work for the Democratic Party. Yes, I was a political science major, and have worked multiple campaigns for Democrats in Oklahoma and Kansas. I am very open about this on my bio you can find right here on this website.
So, I know for some, that is a complete disqualification. I am forever stained with the Democratic stink. I will always be a shill for the party, with whatever justification I can find. That’s fine if you want to think that about me. I’ll live.
They key thing to understand about me, however, is that I used to be a Democratic party operative. Used to be. Let me tell my story a little bit. I got interested in politics in 2007, as Barack Obama began his presidential campaign. I was blown away by this guy who spoke so movingly and was addressing these things that resonated with me, like opposition to the war in Iraq and respect and dignity for all people (Even gay and Muslim ones).
Following his election, I decided to pursue a degree in political science. At Oklahoma City University, while earning this degree, I was involved with Young Democrats, with student government, with Oklahoma Intercollegiate Legislature. I worked in the summer between my junior and senior years as full-time staff for Jari Askins, the Democratic nominee for governor.
After graduation, I worked in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, for the House Democratic Caucus. I also, for a short time, ran as a Democrat for a House seat. In 2014, I became the Executive Director of the Sedgwick County (KS) Democratic Party, a post I held all the way through the midterms.
I went into politics for some very specific reasons. I had so many interests growing up, I couldn’t settle on one thing to study. But I knew this: I wanted to do something to help people, and to make the world a better place. I wanted to improve people’s lives and help people achieve their liberation. Democratic Party politics appealed to me, because of it’s concern for the working people, it’s support for policies like universal health care, a strong social safety net, equal rights for gays, minorities, and all religions, and it’s strong embrace of public policy as a positive good. In fact, at OCU, while getting my poli sci degree, I focused on public policy, and specifically, health care policy, which I wrote my senior thesis over. Policy work was what I loved; the political game was fun on the side.
Looking back, I now regard myself politically as an Obama Democrat. I was inspired by Barack Obama to go into politics, to work to make the world a better place. As President Obama’s term has neared it’s end, and other actors have taken center stage in America’s political drama, I have found myself losing interest in politics. It now frustrates me, and infuriates me, and disgusts me. And I don’t just mean conservatives; I have a favorite moniker for those who bug me the most: “MSNBC liberals.” I’ve just gotten to the point where I can’t stand the game. I still follow politics, but much more privately, and in smaller doses.
My waning political interests coincided with the call I felt into ministry. So, that’s the career path I have turned to. But, many of the same motivations that drove me into politics have also spurred me into this arena. I still want to make the world a better place. I want to improve lives, help work for liberation, and cultivate love, respect and dignity for my fellow humans. But now, I feel called to do those things with a theological underpinning.
It’s not a political call masquerading as religion. It is a call to work for God’s kingdom, first and foremost. It just so happens that I see God’s justice encompassing things such as equality, the meeting of basic needs, the lifting up of the poor. Where those goals coincide with any political goal is a happy coincidence; I don’t work any longer for the goal of passing this bill or that bill; I work, in any arena necessary, for the goals of justice, mercy, compassion, love, and liberation.
I’ve gotten to where I see the political party system for what it is: the pursuit of temporal power. Parties are groups of people with shared interests trying to work together to gain control of the levers of worldly power. And they serve an important purpose! They signal to your average voter, who does not have the time or the desire to consume massive amounts of political news and posturing, what a candidate stands for. If you go into a polling booth, and see a “D” next to a candidate’s name, you can be fairly certain of where that person stands on the issues, and vote accordingly. This is a very good thing. The myth of the ultimately informed electorate is a wonderful idea, but it is just that: a myth. Parties serve reality beautifully. Speaking from the political science major in me, I am strongly supportive of the political parties and the important role they play in American politics.
But, again, they are pursuing temporal power. And that is not the duty or the calling of the Church. The Church, we who make it up as committed followers of the Way of Jesus, have a historical duty to stand outside the structures of power, and speak prophetically to it’s wayward ways. We can’t become identified with power, lest we become compromised and lose our moral authority.
We do this because it is what Jesus did. Jesus did not stand with the party factions of his time, whether they be Pharisees or Sadducees or Zealots, against the imperial menace. And he surely paid for that refusal; he must have seemed terribly unpatriotic in his refusal to join in the System! But Jesus understood that temporal power is fleeting and ultimately hollow. Real change, lasting and infused with justice, comes from outside the ways of the world.
Now, don’t take this to mean that, as a Christian, you should completely disengage with the political process. Absolutely not. Be involved. Join a party. Work for candidates and causes you believe in. But, remember, that work happens in a different place than your Christian identity. You values can and should influence that work, but keep it in perspective, that this work is temporal, and be aware that real change comes from another place.
This is what fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity has seemingly forgotten in America. Instead of operating as an outside, prophetic voice, right-wing Christians have decided, over the course of the last thirty years, to marry themselves to a political party and ideological movement. I’m sure their initial goals were pure and well-intentioned. But, the association with and wielding of political power has corrupted this portion of the Church. It has come to believe that the pursuit of power for the sake of power is the calling of the Church. It has come to see Power as the way to impose their view of the world on others. Rather than changing hearts and minds the Jesus way – namely, with love and respect and compassion – they see an easier path in top-down power assertion.
This movement has come to a head this year with the rise of Donald Trump, and the rush of American evangelical leadership to abase themselves at his feet and kiss his ring. And Trump has done everything he can to encourage this, making awkward and obviously unfamiliar attempts to demonstrate his religious bona fides that fall flat when he show shows his obvious unfamiliarity with religious language or thought.
American evangelicals have done this because they see their power waning in an increasingly diverse and secular America. Instead of listening to what Americans in 2016 are saying about religion and Christianity and what they need from the Church, they have decided to double down on the 1980’s era playbook, attaching themselves to Trump in the hope that, if he wins, they can again impose their way on America, and thus grow their ranks artificially, rather than organically.
This is why I write about Trump so much: there is only one candidate, and one party, so intensely enmeshed with American Christianity and faux religious language. There is only one candidate and one party willing to skirt the edges of blasphemy and turning off an entire generation of seekers for the sake of power. There is only one party attempting to justify capitalism and bigotry and violence through the guise of Jesus. There is only one candidate and one party claiming the mantel of Christianity and denying it to those who look, think, or believe differently than them.
Trust me, the minute Hillary and the Democrats begin to appropriate Christianity in the name of anti-Christian initiatives, I will be all over them. But the Democratic Party, for all it’s many faults, has certainly proven itself willing to cultivate true religious freedom, in the form of the ability of people of all or no faiths to practice their beliefs as they choose, as long as that practice doesn’t infringe on the rights of others.
The Republican Party, and their leader Donald J. Trump, on the other hand, are fair game, because they want to be seen as the Party of Christian America. Thus, they open themselves to the full range of criticism and attention from Christian bloggers like myself. It’s not because I am a Democrat or Hillary backer trying to electorally defeat Trump; it’s because I am a Christian who cares about the way that the message of Jesus is portrayed in the world, and as such, I only see one American party besmirching that name and image. So, I write extensively about Donald Trump. And I will continue to do so, as long as he persists on appropriating my faith for this own secular, unjust and hate-filled ends.