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Jesus Creed


This “Pray for Obama” Bumper Sticker Problem

posted by Scot McKnight

PrayforOb.jpgI have been paying some attention to the bumper sticker, sound-byte that says “Pray for Obama” with a Bible verse attached: Psalm 109:8.

It’s a long Psalm, and most who read this on the back of someone’s car won’t know what Psalm 109 means, and many will think the person is simply a Christian who wants to have others pray for our President. But, a look at that Psalm creates a brooding if not depressing mood of something at work that deserves our concern. (After the jump I post the whole Psalm.)
The psalm is an imprecatory psalm, one of those psalms in our Bible that emerge from the depths of human misery and the cry to God for justice. Yes, these prayers pray for the defeat of one’s enemies. But there’s something in this psalm that makes me shudder what these Christians are suggesting:


Psalm 109 is addressed to God about the enemies of David. In other words, it is about those who despise the work of God through King David. It is about those who oppose King David, God’s anointed leader of Israel (who had his own faults, not the least of which were pride, a messy family life, adultery and murder). David turns to God to tell God what he feels.

David says his enemies return hate for love (his love for them). Are those “praying for Obama” also loving Obama (their apparent enemy)?
Then what is implicit in this sad bumper sticker is that v. 8 is applied to Obama: “May his days be few! May another take his job!” The verses are surrounded by even worse imprecations about family and that his wife might be widow. 
Here’s the sad and tragic irony: interpreters today (Goldingay, Alter) agree that vv. 6-19 are the words of the opponents, the accusers, the enemies of God’s king (David) and not the words of the man of God! I have italicized those words. In other words, these folks have clipped — probably reading the psalm mistakenly — words from the opponents of God and used for themselves.
It is probably the case that many see this bumper sticker, open the Bible to Psalm 109 and either shout “Yes!” or should “How awful!” but I wonder how many have read the Psalm carefully enough to see what it really said. If they do, they may discover they have aligned themselves with those who oppose God.
May God in his grace be merciful to each of us.

109:1 O God whom I praise, do not ignore me!

109:2 For they say cruel and deceptive things to me;

they lie to me.

109:3 They surround me and say hateful things;

they attack me for no reason.

109:4 They repay my love with accusations,

but I continue to pray.

109:5 They repay me evil for good,

and hate for love.

109:6 Appoint an evil man to testify against him!

May an accuser stand at his right side!

109:7 When he is judged, he will be found guilty!

Then his prayer will be regarded as sinful.

109:8 May his days be few!

May another take his job!

109:9 May his children be fatherless,

and his wife a widow!

109:10 May his children roam around begging,

asking for handouts as they leave their ruined home!

109:11 May the creditor seize all he owns!

May strangers loot his property!

109:12 May no one show him kindness!

May no one have compassion on his fatherless children!

109:13 May his descendants be cut off!

May the memory of them be wiped out by the time the next generation arrives!

109:14 May his ancestors’ sins be remembered by the Lord!

May his mother’s sin not be forgotten!

109:15 May the Lord be constantly aware of them,

and cut off the memory of his children from the earth!

109:16 For he never bothered to show kindness;

he harassed the oppressed and needy,

and killed the disheartened.

109:17 He loved to curse others, so those curses have come upon him.

He had no desire to b
less anyone, so he has experienced no blessings.

109:18 He made cursing a way of life,

so curses poured into his stomach like water

and seeped into his bones like oil.

109:19 May a curse attach itself to him, like a garment one puts on,

or a belt one wears continually!

109:20 May the Lord repay my accusers in this way,

those who say evil things about me!

109:21 O sovereign Lord,

intervene on my behalf for the sake of your reputation!

Because your loyal love is good, deliver me!

109:22 For I am oppressed and needy,

and my heart beats violently within me.

109:23 I am fading away like a shadow at the end of the day;

I am shaken off like a locust.

109:24 I am so starved my knees shake;

I have turned into skin and bones.

109:25 I am disdained by them.

When they see me, they shake their heads.

109:26 Help me, O Lord my God!

Because you are faithful to me, deliver me!

109:27 Then they will realize this is your work,

and that you, Lord, have accomplished it.

109:28 They curse, but you will bless.

When they attack, they will be humiliated,

but your servant will rejoice.

109:29 My accusers will be covered with shame,

and draped in humiliation as if it were a robe.

109:30 I will thank the Lord profusely,

in the middle of a crowd I will praise him,

109:31 because he stands at the right hand of the needy,

to deliver him from those who threaten his life.



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Rick Presley

posted December 4, 2009 at 6:41 am


Even if the italicized words are those of an opponent, you still have this verse:
109:20 May the Lord repay my accusers in this way,
those who say evil things about me!
v. 20 makes these accusations out to be recursive if they are from the Psalmist’s enemies. So whether the sentiment originates from an enemy or not, the author clearly wants them returned in kind.
The good thing about this is that those who read the verse are likely to be as biblically illiterate as those who display the sticker. What that means is they will just read v. 8 and see the “humor” in it and go on. A few pundits will see the next verse, beat themselves on the breast, and tut-tut the whole thing while they scrap the Bush era “Regime Change Begins At Home” sticker off their bumpers.



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RJS

posted December 4, 2009 at 6:44 am


Well, first off – I don’t think this is what Jesus meant in Matthew 5:44 as an appropriate response to powers with which one disagrees.



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RJS

posted December 4, 2009 at 6:53 am


Rick,
That particular verse is relatively innocuous out of context (I certainly have no problem with someone working toward 2012 with a goal of regime change. Nor is there a problem with a prayer for success.)
But is it ever appropriate to take a verse and use it with disregard for the context? The context is key – and that makes it a troublesome bumper sticker in light of NT teaching no matter whether these are the words of David or of his accusers.
And – I doubt that the bumper sticker is innocent with respect to context. Rather, just as we read Paul or the gospels and try to get at the meaning of a reference to scripture from the context of the “sound-bite” – such is also the case here.



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Rog

posted December 4, 2009 at 6:57 am


Didn’t anyone who voted against a sitting President (e.g., Clinton in 1996, Bush in 2004) follow this bumper sticker’s sentiment in trying to shorten a President’s days (in office) and help another take his job? (albeit without necessarily quoting or misquoting scripture)



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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:07 am


Rog, the bumper sticker is not that casual. I don’t know how it can be taken as “sentiment.”



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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:09 am

Rog

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:09 am


RJS #3: Regarding quoting a verse w/o its context, didn’t Jesus do this on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46)
In Plowshares and Pruning Hooks (p. 35), D. Brent Sandy says some still puzzle over his intent in quoting (understandably, w/o context) from Psalm 22.
Similarly, we can hardly expect much context from a bumper sticker.



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Rog

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:17 am


Scot, my point was that voting against a sitting President is not all that casual either. Do we want him to succeed (long days in office) and continue to hold his job or not?
I would make a distinction for this early in a 4-year term–what’s the point of working against the incumbent prior to a campaign where a choice is made? But would there still be a problem with this bumper sticker in 2012?



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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:19 am


Rog, I see your point but it is a long way from the point I’m making. This is Obama’s first year. This is not a casual bumper sticker and those who designed it are serious.



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RJS

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:38 am


Rog,
Seems to me that a reading of Psalm 22 is implied in the cry on the cross. The phrase is not ripped out and used w/o context. Certainly Psalm 22 is central in much early church thinking about the crucifixion is it not?
The bumper sticker is innocent if the verse is ripped from context, but is far from innocent in context – because it is accompanied by a deep hatred and desire for revenge – and more than revenge, total humiliation and defeat (body, mind, soul, family).



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joel Frederick

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:47 am


It seems people have made Romans 13 a “Blue Parakeet” then…
This sort if thing frustrates me to no end… And I am not an Obama supporter (or detractor). Personally, I like Shane Claiborne’s attitude… http://jesusforpresident.org/



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kent

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:14 am


Whether the originators of this bummber sticker were trying to be malicious or clever it is a sad reflection on how we have become as a nation, Christians included. I did not vote for the president and won’t again in 2012, but I pray for him. I do not wish him or his family harm. I hope he executes the office well.
This demonstartes the lack of maturity in our culture.



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Diane

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:15 am


I didn’t vote for Obama in the primaries. When he became a candidate, however, I supported him, going door to door and phone call to phone call asking people to vote for him. This was very unusual behavior for me–especially since my Christian conversion, I’m apolitical, But I felt, even before the stock market crash, that our country had drifted into irresponsible governance. I voted less for Obama and more for change or more precisely, to my mind, a return to the democratic principles our government was founded on. My question is: Yes, I find this bumper sticker disturbing, first, because of its content, and second, because once again, as a Christian, I will be lumped in with people who look like hypocrites wielding Christianity as a club with which to “kill” their opponents … and once again, well, you know… more apologies, more defense, more “this isn’t what Christians really think … at least not those I know” … But here is my question:
Why is Obama so hated? I’m not asking that critically or rhetorically, but because I’d like to know, why, at the grass roots level, people would want him dead? Not voted out, but dead? I can understand people in the elite, who have to get ratings for their shows to stay alive, stirring up hype, or the rich who don’t want to pay more taxes (he’s not their man), but why do some ordinary people hate him so much?



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dopderbeck

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:57 am


There are times when I just can’t take it anymore…..



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Samuel

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:58 am


Scot (or anyone else), while reading this Psalm it does not seem as if it goes from the words of David to the words of his enemies and back to him again. Not sure if I’m reading it wrong, but it seems that all these are the words of David…those concerning his heart about the matter. Am I missing something?



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JMV

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:02 am


I encourage all who are reading and posting this to join the Presidential Prayer Team (PPT) to pray for our president and nation. This group is non-denominational and non-partisan.



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Bob Young

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:03 am


I found the italics very helpful – it shows how David could have been going from what “they” say about him to quoting what they said and back to “may the Lord repay them in kind for saying that”. It makes a lot more sense. There are definitely places in other Psalms where the voice shifts like that – thanks for posting this.
Oh yeah, and I’m embarrassed that people who associate themselves with Jesus and the Bible resort to things like this bumper sticker. This is the wrong aroma being sent out there…



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Micah

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:03 am


Has anyone actually seen this bumper sticker (or shirt), or is it just an internet phenomenon?
Sidebar: Clearly, this thing is despicable, a twisting of Scripture, unChristian, etc. I’m not defending anything about it, even though I don’t particularly like our president.
I’ve been watching the incredible amount of vitriol this thing has brought out over the past couple weeks and I can’t help but wonder if this is just an internet tempest in an internet teapot. The fact that there are people out there who do offensive things isn’t news to me. But why spend time jousting with far-off windmills when there are nearer ones that deserve our attention?
When I read McLaren’s post on the subject I started to wonder if the Christian Left has become the Christian Right: continually in search of new things to be offended by.



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Your Name

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:13 am


The Bible speaks to us individually and perhaps in time the words take on another meaning than what the original author intended.
In this case perhaps they ought to be embraced for our modern day abortion loving and most corrupt admin ever.. Herod! He is certainly no David.
Belief and trust in the Lord is what counts and trust us sinners to call one another out and hold accountable to a higher goal.
This passage is a reminder of the wrath of God and if I had the power to change things I would take into the strongest consideration that it is Gods Kingdom I am living in not some secular chicken house.
God Bless and please wake up and plug the bleeding hearts for a while.



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RJS

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:14 am


Interesting question Micah. I’ve never seen one, but probably wouldn’t have paid attention if I had.



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scott eaton

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:17 am


I’m not sure I see the Psalm switching back and forth between David and his opponent. I’ve read it a few times and just don’t discern a shift. Scot, could you elaborate upon this a bit more?
With that said, I think this bumper sticker is deplorable. Whatever one thinks of President Obama, I believe Jesus is clear that we must love everyone including our enemies (I’m not saying Mr. Obama is my enemy but others apparently feel this way). It seems this should shape our praying and obviously Psalm 109:8 doesn’t keep with the command of Jesus, regardless who said it.



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Larry

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:30 am


I’m not sure I see the Psalm switching back and forth between David and his opponent. I’ve read it a few times and just don’t discern a shift. Scot, could you elaborate upon this a bit more?
Try it in the NRSV, which clearly marks the shift. I don’t know enough Hebrew to know if this a justified translation or not, unfortunately. I do know from researching NT passages the NRSV usually gets it right when other translations don’t.



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scott eaton

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:38 am


Larry #22,
Thanks for this insight. The NRSV does make it quite clear. The NRSV breaks up the text to reflect the different dialogue and inserts the words “They say,” (a reference to the Psalmists enemies) in verse six. This makes it very clear.
Thanks for the heads up.



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Jodi

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:45 am


I feel really sad about this. I just don’t get it. So many Christians loving the former administration when under those 8 years we tortured people, got into 2 wars, have evidence of dishonesty with the public on certain matters, especially as it relates to Cheney. To #19 Your Name…I hope you forgot to put your name…not fair to make such an inflammatory statement and not own it…to call people who support legal abortion “abortion lovers” is so unfair. If you think this admin. is corrupt you clearly missed the Bush era. We obviously have differing political views. I hated Bush’s presidency and most of the decisions that were made during his time in office. I think he did more to ruin America’s reputation with the world than Americans realize. (I live overseas so see things a bit differently sometimes.) And although I think my theology and way of living and thinking as a Christian are vastly different than what I think Bush’s are, I never once questioned whether or not he was a Christian. I never wanted him injured or killed. I just wanted him out of office but I also accepted that the majority of people in my country voted him in so I had to live with that until election time when I could do something about it. Yes, I often wondered how Bush could justify some of his positions as a Christian, and obviously people are free to wonder that about Obama…but friends, let’s remember that Obama confesses Christ as Lord making him your brother in Christ…whether or not you want him in our family, or you think his behavior isn’t fitting for a child of God is totally irrelevant. Jesus welcomes him. Why are some Christians so unwilling to accept that the current president is a Christian with differing views? This is what I put up with Bush. I had to ride out his years in office. I hope those of you who are against Obama can figure out a way to do this in a much more civil fashion.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:07 am


The point about whether or not this is “really” happening in a widespread way, or if it’s just been given life beyond its actual scope because of the Internet is a fair one. However, to the extent that this is happening ANYWHERE, I think we as Christians have an obligation to speak out against such hatred.
Here’s a post written by a friend of mine on the subject.
http://matthew25.org/2009/11/psalm-1098-and-violent-rhetoric/



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Dr. Russ

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:10 am


How about we actually doing what the bible says…..Pray for Obama- Romans 13:1-8.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:11 am


On the change of voices/perspectives… first, it’s a standard scholarly point of view. Second, observe the enemies in the opening and closing verses (non-italicized words) are plural; in the italicized words they are singular. This has led many to conclude the perspective and speaker have changed. I agree.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:14 am


Yes, I’ve seen the bumper sticker several times — both here and in New Orleans.



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Randy

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:15 am


Jodi- I could not agree more with your statements. Thanks for giving voice to my feelings as well.
I have never studied psalm 109 in depth before, but when looking at what Scot said, it is apparent to me that this is the right interpretation. Verses 1-5 use plural nouns to describe the one David is talking about, verses 6-19 use singular nouns, so that’s a pretty dramatic shift. And verses 1-5 seem to summarize 6-19, then verse 20 shifts back to David speaking in first person about his accusers.
Thanks for pointing out that interpretation.



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Kenton

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:32 am


I contend that this whole thing is a HUGE overreaction.
The sticker doesn’t say “Psalm 109″ it says “Psalm 109:8.” There’s no intention about wanting Obama dead, and it’s just a silly political sticker.
And here’s the irony: the folks who made this sticker up are the same folks that are routinely criticized for not contextualizing scripture. That being the case, isn’t all of the discussion of the context of this verse missing the point of contextualization? Hello? McFly!



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:33 am


I have repeatedly joked that the PCUSA General Assembly them verse should be Acts 19:32:
?Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together.?
I?ve also said that there is sound biblical evidence that God is a Republican:
?The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of a fool to the left.? (Ecl 10:2)
Or how about the liberal?s dream over the past 8 years:
?God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered.? (Jonah 4:7)
I?ve got more. Part of what makes these funny is that people know the passagaes have been lifted totally out of context. They?re puns. And it?s precisely in seeing that they are puns that it can also be realized that understanding words ? especially biblical words ? in their context is important.
I?m not an Obama fan. I hope his days are short ? that he doesn?t get a second term. I hope he is replaced by someone that would be more to my liking. Thus, ?May his days be few! May another take his job!? is a cute pun that expresses my sentiments. The context is irrelevant because it is not about the original context.
My take is that this uproar has virtually nothing to do with the biblical passage and its context, and everything to do with a leftist smear campaign. The people behind the smear know full well this is a pun and the overwhelming majority who look up the passage will read it, laugh, and move on. The idea that this belies some latent desire to KILL OBAMA as some are saying is just silly.
To a degree, I fault the creators of the sticker for not forseeing how their opponents would spin this. Maybe they just didn?t care. But the greater culpability is with the political hacks who have seized upon this to advance conservatives as the Great Satan in their echo-chamber narrative of American life.
I live in a neighborhood that votes 95% Democrat. I?ve seen a sticker that has a picture of George Bush with a Swastika on his face next to the words, ?Death to Fascism.? Another has Bush burning in effigy saying ?America needs a burning Bush.? Now a pun from the Bible emerges that requires biblical scholars to connect the original context to what conservatives really mean (ie. They want to kill Obama!) and we must wring our hands at the new depths to which politics has fallen? Ahem ? lighten up folks.
I will tell you in all honesty I would find this funny whether a liberal talking about Bush or a conservative about Obama. I love puns.
I’ll admit, I’m somewhat exasperated with the folks on this thread today … but I still love you all anyway. :-)



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Phil Atley

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:39 am


I think the bumper sticker is wrong (though the originators may have intended “days in office”).
But I can’t get exercised about it because the same people who are exercised about it were absolutely not exercised about repeated calls by Hollywood celebrities (Alec Baldwin, for instance) for the murdering of Antonin Scalia, of George W. Bush (an entire movie made about it) etc., for the gang rape of Sarah Palin and so on ad nauseum.
And please don’t dismiss this as “tu quoque.” My anger is directed at the double standard. I am not saying that the fact that Alec Baldwin called for Scalia’s family’s murder justifies this bumper sticker. It does not. But it does reveal a sickening double standard. And that’s my point.
Did Jesus Creed have threads about the movie about the assassination of George Bush? About the calls for gang raping Sarah Palin? Perhaps. I’d appreciate it if someone would tote up all the times Jesus Creed carried threads about violent vitriol from the Left.
And please don’t tell me that both sides are equally guilty. It’s Just Plain Not True. The problem is that the Left and CenterLeft folks like McLaren have a blind spot toward the vitriol from the Left, since it’s not their ox that’s being Gored.
When the people who called repeatedly for the death and raping of their political opponents come clean and admit how wrong they were about that, I’ll respect them for being angry over (what may be their misinterpretation) of this.
And when Brian McClaren consistently calls out the Left for calling for the raping of Palin and the murder of Scalia and his family, I’ll take his complaint about this seriously.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:41 am


Michael, fair enough… but I’m not so sure it is that easy to dismiss this as a pun. The pun would be fun if it were clear. There is something profoundly deceptive about this bumper sticker: it begins with the altogether clear “Pray for Obama” as if it is the duty of the American to pray for Obama, but then you are completely tricked by the reference — if one looks it up — and discovers this is an imprecatory psalm and the words haunt. That is not how puns work rhetorically; they are funny from the top down. This is a wringing twist.
I find the religious left and the religious right just as annoying; this time it’s the religious right.
I’ve seen the sticker on cars; the cars’ other stickers weren’t the sort that were having fun with a pun.



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Phil Atley

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:45 am


In light of Kenton (# 30) above, I retract my critique of the bumper sticker. If it specifies verse 8 which makes clear that it’s “days in office” that are to be few, then the double standard is even worse. The Left has misrepresented what it says (and so has this thread) while ignoring it’s own explicit calls for violence against Palin, Bush etc.
The only criticism I would make of it is, as Michael Kruse points out, it could have been anticipated that people would misrepresent it. But if people misrepresent something, who’s fault is that? I’d say, the misrepresenters, including this thread.



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Rachel H. Evams

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:58 am


This is disturbing on a lot of levels, but most of all I’m frustrated to see the Bible abused like this. The sticker is symbolic of the attitude a lot of folks take toward Scripture – that it exists so they can lift verses that they like out of context and distort them to mean whatever they want them to mean. This sticker turns a very serious passage of Scripture into a joke. It’s disrespectful.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:00 am


Phil, I’m trying to figure out which part of this bumper sticker is excusable and I find none: it’s a trick and it pretends to be marked by goodness. No one reads “Pray for Obama” as imprecation.
Furthermore, it misreads the Psalm grievously. I can look over that since it’s not an easy psalm to read.
But I do think you’re appealing to how much the Left excuses eggregious things of its own kind is a good point and at times I’ve said the same. The solution isn’t to find the same excuse-making in the other but to cease such eggregious representations and to call them for what they are. I make no claim to be perfectly balanced; I call things the way I see them so I’m balanced toward my own imbalances.
I suggested that many rolled their eyes on the Manhattan Declaration when they saw from whom it came; I defended the MD. I think it calls attention to serious moral issues of our day. I also think this bumper sticker represents something malicious in the use of a pretentious prayer to sabotage.
So I called them on it.



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Larry

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:07 am


And when Brian McClaren consistently calls out the Left for calling for the raping of Palin and the murder of Scalia and his family, I’ll take his complaint about this seriously.
The left, at least, doesn’t cloak their hatred in Biblical references. If the hateful things that you describe were coming from within Christianity, or were presented in such a way that it appeared that Christians or the Bible supported them, then I’m sure Brian would condemn that. Alec Baldwin didn’t quote scripture to justify his murderous wishes for Antonin Scalia.
Even if these bumper stickers are supposed to be humorous they are still a serious matter, as they portray a very un-Christian lack of love toward Obama (and you really can’t completely divorce verse 8 from the surrounding verses, either). It is also humor that non-Christians are unlikely to understand, what may be funny in a private conversation among Christians is likely to be misunderstood when transposed to a bumper sticker.



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RJS

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:23 am


There is an argument running through some of this discussion, an argument that defends the bumper sticker on the grounds that “the other side” does something worse. Is this really what we want to aspire to or defend?
This simply isn’t the point – in my mind anyway. A destructive statement does not justify a destructive statement in response. This doesn’t move us forward on any productive of Christian level. It simply moves backward.
So I expect mudslinging and heated rhetoric and horrible statements in our politics. From the left and from the right. I didn’t appreciate Bush – but didn’t find the offensive bumper stickers (or other comments) defensible. I don’t find this defensible either.
More importantly I do not expect any of this ever on any side to come from the church, and when it does, or when it seems to, I hope that we take a stand against it every time.



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MatthewS

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:25 am


Michael #31,
I sympathize with your statement, though I take it a little more seriously. The fact that there are people who have suggested praying imprecatory prayers for Obama makes it a little more serious in my mind. I can imagine someone using it either as silly fun or as a “wringing twist.” (love that expression)
And Christians are never excused to do tit-for-tat but it was also offensive and poor taste for people to make movies imagining the assassination of Bush (Death of a President) and that attacked his character (W). Protesters carried posters that showed pictures of a gun to Bush’s head. These sorts of things gave me the sense that there were people agitating for Bush’s assassination, which was pretty distasteful to me.
I feel a little bit of tension with this against the recent “love your enemies” bumper sticker. Some, perhaps most, people display it in good faith but let’s be honest – some who displayed it were making a particular anti-war statement against the Bush administration.
I don’t do bumper stickers anyway but if I did, I would not display one that uses an imprecatory prayer, even in jest.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:40 am


#33 Scot
I’ve lived in my Democrat neighborhood for twenty years. Almost daily I’m confronted with these types of sentiments on stickers from the Left. When I see the really extreme ones I say to myself, “There goes another one of those looney liberals.” When I get out to the suburbs I see so me some really stupid conservative stickers and say, “Give me a break.”
I know lots of people who are very far apart from me politically. They’re generally nice people who I enjoy conversation with and I enjoy occasionally tweaking their nose. They tweak right back. Most people I disagree with aren’t spawns of Satan. :-)
There are some very strident vitriolic folks out there as well. It is nearly impossible to have a conversation with them. They exist in all the various political camps. They are not the norm. I do not seek to demonize all those who differ from me via guilt by association with the most strident.
“I’ve seen the sticker on cars; the cars’ other stickers weren’t the sort that were having fun with a pun.”
To which I say, well of course. There are some things all sane and looney liberals, or all sane and looney conservatives, will get a kick out off. That a looney conservative puts this on his car does not mean that his/her other sentiments can be broadened to the wider pool of conservatives. One of the cars in my neighborhood that has an inflammatory anti-Bush sticker also has a sticker “If you want justice, work for peace” and an Obama “Hope” decal.” Shall I therefore conclude that people who support these ideas also secretly wish George Bush were dead? Isn’t suggesting that people with the Psalm 109 sticker have something sinister in mind because some other people who have also displayed the sticker had negative things on their car just guilt by association?
“… discovers this is an imprecatory psalm …”
I’m willing to bet that virtually no one who sees this sticker and then reads the verse will see this an imprecatroy psalm … or possibly even a psalm. They’ll read the words, laugh (or groan), and go about their business.
As to the “Pray for Obama” part, we’ve had people posting verses in public venues to make people curious for decades. I think of the John 3:16 guy who used to hold up his placard at sports events. There have been any number of stickers that have said things and offered a verse for people to look up. Some funny, some serious. “Pray for Obama” is the opening of the joke, the verse is the punchline.
I don’t get what is particularly new about this sticker. It is tame by other examples I’ve seen over the years. And that is what gives me pause about the uproar over this. To me it feels disingenuous and ginned up. I’m trying, and not succeeding, in seeing why some see this as so unusually offensive.



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AHH

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:50 am


What Larry #37 said with regard to the potential double standard. I am not aware of anybody on the “Christian left” who promoted the nasty stuff about Bush, Palin, etc. Maybe a few with countdown clocks (my brother had one and I found it mildly funny), bumper stickers about impeachment or a village in Texas missing its idiot, but that’s not quite the same.
If Christians went looking for everything evil in the secular world to point condemning fingers, we would never have time to do anything else. But we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and somebody with a “Pray for” sticker that cites a Psalm at least is pretending to speak from a (Judeo)-Christian standpoint. Our Biblical call to oppose sin within the church is much stronger than any call to condemn sins of those outside. The church should be calling me out on my sins, but calling out Alec Baldwin on his sins should be a much lower priority.
The point of comparison for any double-standard analysis can’t be the secular left (or the secular right). Maybe there has been nasty abuse of Scripture like this from Christians on the political left and I’m just not aware of it — but until somebody shows me an example I don’t think the “double standard” argument holds much water.



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Rachel H. Evams

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:53 am


I’m not sure how the “The Left does it too” argument is relevant to this conversation. We’re not talking about Palin or Scalia. We’re talking about this particular bumper sticker…which abuses Scripture. (To me, the deepest insult is not so much toward Obama but toward the sacred text!)



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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:56 am


Well, Michael, we’re not getting anywhere so let me see if we’re on the same page of understanding:
What I see is that you think this bumper sticker is just another bumper sticker, the words are simple political banter, the “pray for Obama” and then the psalm of imprecation (by the way, I can’t imagine anyone just picking up the Bible to that passage and not seeing the strong words around it) are just words that shouldn’t be taken too seriously … as I see it, you are saying this is political banter.
As I see the bumper sticker, yes, I can see it your way, but I don’t think that’s what’s involved. I think this is a rhetorical and vicious twist from a seemingly very nice sentiment (pray for Obama) to a lurking text (would they dare quote it in public on a bumper sticker?) to the text itself (which is imprecation). In other words, I take these words seriously as the wish of some that Obama would fall. (I don’t pretend to know or think they want him dead.) But I do think they are not praying “For” Obama but “against” Obama.



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Larry

posted December 4, 2009 at 12:00 pm


to a lurking text (would they dare quote it in public on a bumper sticker?)
I have seen such on bumper stickers. Probably on one of Michael’s (and my) Democratic neighbor’s car.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 4, 2009 at 12:03 pm


#38 RJS
I want be clear that I’m not justifying bad behavior by pointing other bad behavior. I’m saying bad behavior has gone acknowledged while this bit of pun humor has been blown way out of proportion. What is a relatively innocuous piece of humor is being transformed into this monstrous symbol of all that is evil in conservatism … and it is all being done so in the name of those who are lamenting that we have become a society in which others are demonized.



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Randy

posted December 4, 2009 at 12:10 pm


Matthew S. wrote:
“I feel a little bit of tension with this against the recent “love your enemies” bumper sticker. Some, perhaps most, people display it in good faith but let’s be honest – some who displayed it were making a particular anti-war statement against the Bush administration.”
I take your point. I posted the bumper sticker, one of two I have posted over the last 15 years. I suspect that “in good faith” could mean different things to different people. I posted it in order to honor my wife, who comes from a peace church and to note my opposition to the POLIICIES of the Bush Admin.
Given the church I attended, I hoped it would point out that one could be a Christian and oppose those policies and support loving our enemies. Personally, I have struggled with the difficulty of “loving our enemies” all the way through: The trouble is if I choose to love those others tell me should be my enemies, I then have to struggle to love those who are telling me that as well. O that I and we could accomplish both with politeness.
Peace,
Randy G.



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JMorrow

posted December 4, 2009 at 12:45 pm


Scot,
Thanks for calling a spade a spade here. On the whole, I appreciate the ways in which you continue to challenge us to authentic and reasoned Christian communication. I’m dismayed by some of the arguments in this thread which amount to “well others did it, so its ok” or this idea that “your interpretation of my words is just your problem.” What happen to us truly “owning” our words? Isn’t the job of a speaker or writer to work as much as they can to manage their speech? I continue to contend that way too many people in our society, Christian or not, feel they know how to handle hyperbole, or use sarcasm, wit, and humor when they speak or write. There is a reason why there are few professional comedians relative to the population, not just anybody can do it. I wish we would all stick to just saying what we mean and meaning what we say, and spending less time trying to be clever about it. I feel like we need to revisit the nature of true Christian communication and rhetoric.
Mike,
While I appreciate some of the humorous puns you cited (I like the PCUSA bit), I just can’t buy it that this Psalm reference is one of them. Sorry I just can’t. Maybe having lived around what sounds like some serious liberal histrionics you’ve developed some teflon when it comes to this, but I can see the problem with this Psalmic “pun” a mile away, even if it doesn’t materialize into something malicious. I know if I put this bumper sticker before my mother, an older African American woman who lived through the tumult of the 20th century, she would horrified and fearfully wonder about where this leads. That doesn’t make it so of course, but she can smell underhanded snark.



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Bob Brague

posted December 4, 2009 at 12:50 pm


The only fair thing to do is to rip Psalm 109:8 out of the pages of the Bible, prosecute anyone with the bumper sticker on his or her car, confiscate the car, and give it to the poor who deserve it so much, especially the ones in Illinois.



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ChrisB

posted December 4, 2009 at 1:10 pm


Is it legitimate to say “pray these words” out of one verse without necessarily meaning the other verses?
If not, why not?
In this case, you’re not exegeting a text out of context, you’re borrowing words that express an idea. That the next sentence expresses another idea doesn’t mean you want to invoke that sentence.
I’m not a fan of taking Bible verses out of context, but I don’t think referring to this one verse necessarily invokes the next — at least not the way many evangelicals use them.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 4, 2009 at 1:11 pm


#43 Scot
Your last paragraph helps. I’d simply suggest you may be giving more theological sophistication to the public who is processing this stuff … or to those who created the sticker (do we know where it originated?) … than they deserve. :-) Again, I don’t think most will care what the surrounding verses are, even if they read them. They aren’t part of the joke.
What I hear you saying is that what seems like a sentiment to pray for Obama turns out to be a cynical partisan attack. While it is humor that might work among Christians who know each other it diminishes the Word and gives those who aren’t in on the joke a bad taste about Christians … especially those who may be Obama fans. I can see that part. I get and appreciate the humor but also recognize it at as humor, even as I pray for Obama and all our leaders … even as I encourage my representatives to oppose some of his polices and will likely work against his reelection. I can get the humor, see it as humor, and still recognize my duty to pray for my leaders. My guess is that most who sport such a sticker can make that distinction as well but for many who aren’t Christians that nuance may be missing.
What disturbs me is the willingness to see this sticker as evidence of some secret desire to kill Obama by those who display it.
As I said above, while I like the humor, the sticker is a bad idea. As JMorrow says in #47 humor is tricky. This one is just to wide open to being misunderstood at too many levels.
It is just odd to me that after spending nearly all my adult life in neighborhoods that vote overwhelmingly Democrat and working with hierarchy of the PCUSA which is overwhelmingly populated by Left leaning folks, and hearing and reading (including bumper stickers) the venomous hatred for Bush and conservatives, that this sticker is somehow the epitome of a new low water mark of public discourse.
And to AHH #41, you need to come spend some time in my world if you think the Christian Left is somehow more restrained in their behavior. :-)



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Brad

posted December 4, 2009 at 1:19 pm


I’d say this blog could stand a lot less discussion of bumper stickers.
In all honesty, Scot, if you have a political point to make, my advice would be to just write up a post that makes it. It would be much more productive than posts like this one and the last bumper sticker one that generated similar discussion. More light and less heat that way.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 4, 2009 at 1:32 pm


#47 JMorrow
“I know if I put this bumper sticker before my mother, an older African American woman who lived through the tumult of the 20th century, she would horrified and fearfully wonder about where this leads.”
The African American perspective is actually the first things that came to mind as thought about what the downside of message might be. Without the experience long history of lynching and intimidation it is hard for non-Blacks to appreciate how anything that seems to remotely touch on these can spark deep emotional responses. That is one of the levels I could see this being interpreted though I doubt it crosses the minds of many who find humorous.



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RJS

posted December 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm


Michael,
I think that part of my problem with this is that I look at it, not from personal experience – but from US history, in a context where the things JMorrow talks about are still remembered, where in the last 10-20 years fringe groups in the name of Christianity or Christ have advocated and individuals have even carried out, acts of violence (against abortion providers, for racial purity, and against homosexuals), where some mainstream thinking would have condoned the actions 40-60 years ago.
Perhaps I shouldn’t see this undercurrent, but I do. And this undercurrent plays an unfortunate role in the caricature of Christianity at time in the University environment. An anti-Obama reference without the religious and scriptural overtones wouldn’t concern me.
I don’t see the bumper sticker as harmless, although I also don’t think that most who display the bumper sticker are advocating violence in any way, shape, or form. If they know anything of the scripture reference they are not happy with Obama and are praying for no second term.



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Randy

posted December 4, 2009 at 2:35 pm


“The African American perspective is actually the first things that came to mind as thought about what the downside of message might be. Without the experience long history of lynching and intimidation it is hard for non-Blacks to appreciate how anything that seems to remotely touch on these can spark deep emotional responses. That is one of the levels I could see this being interpreted though I doubt it crosses the minds of many who find humorous.”
This is the very first thing that I thought of when I first heard about the bumper sticker. Not only sheer hate but also unknowing or confused suspicion is alive and well out in the world.
About 13 months ago, I attended a campus ministry conference at a respected Chicago area Christian college where the chaplain convened a mandatory all campus meeting to address personal attacks and rumors that arose from students making outright ridiculous predictions things for the future of Chrisitanity in our nation merely because Obama, a black man, was elected. This demonstrated how far we have to go to understand each others’ perspectives on matters of race –including this bumper sticker — in this country. Unfortunately, Pres. Obama having beers with a police officer and his friend Henry Louis Gates Jr. doesn’t change a lot on the ground.
As this was a college that I love, I was deeply disturbed.
Peace,
Randy Gabrielse



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MattR

posted December 4, 2009 at 3:53 pm


I know I’m way down in the comments at this point, but a few thoughts…
I’ve seen this, and it deeply disturbs me.
A few reasons why…
1. History/Context
As several have already mentioned (including JMorrow, RJS & Randy above), there is a history of violence against black leaders… I’m NOT saying that was the intent of the creators or users of the sticker, but that doesn’t matter… actions have consequences.
2. This is a Biblical/Judeo-Christian reference.
If this just more heated political rhetoric, which most would agree comes from the extremes on both sides, then I would be a little upset but mostly write it off. BUT this is a Scripture reference and thus is seemingly targeted at Christians… Unacceptable!
3. Honest concern about the TYPE of speech directed at Obama by some (definitely not all) conservatives, especially if they are Christian.
This is MORE than just a liberal vs. conservative thing. Some here have already mentioned that they feel more conservative leaning Christians are being picked on. My concern, and I think this bumper sticker brings it out for many of us, is why our more conservative leaning sisters and brothers wink at very heated speech directed at Pres. Obama as a person…
You can disagree with policy, that’s fine, talk about policy, and tell us why… but that’s different then what’s out there about the Pres. as a person (ie: where he was born, divisive labels, and jokes like this about harm or physical resistance).
I strongly disagreed, as a Christian, with much of the last Pres and administration… but never directly verbally attacked the Pres as a person…
Sure, we all know that kind of language is out there, on both extremes, but why is it OK for Christians to wink at it, just because it’s Obama?… I don’t get it?!?
And, no, I rarely if ever heard it from progressive Christians during the last administration, and if I did would have called it out just as much!



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Rog

posted December 4, 2009 at 4:30 pm


I told my wife about this kerfuffle over a scripture-quoting bumper sticker and she suggested the use of an alternative scripture: Pray for (insert politician’s name here) Matthew 5:44.
Is this properly quoting scripture in context without losing a sense of humor?



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Ted M. Gossard

posted December 4, 2009 at 4:35 pm


Deeply saddening and troubling….



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Rog

posted December 4, 2009 at 4:41 pm


My wife also reminded me that Peter quoted the same verse (Psalm 109:8) and applied it to Judas. (Acts 1:20)
Was this improper use of scripture–since he applied a verse apparently thrown against (good) King David to (apostate) Judas?



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Matt K

posted December 4, 2009 at 4:55 pm


@MWK
I read your argument this way: its a harmeless joke/pun, some libs did it to Bush so chill out.
Does the fact that death threats against Obama are 400% higher than they were under the Bush administration have any role in this discussion? Aren’t these jokes somehow akin to shouting “fire” in a crowded theater?
I’ve been observing American pololtics from the moderate perspective for a long time. Without a doubt the vitriol against BHO is 10x worse than against GWB. I say this as one who disagrees plenty with Obama



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Phil Atley

posted December 4, 2009 at 5:55 pm


RJS at #38. I explicitly said I was not using “Tu quoque” to justify the Ps. 109:8 sticker. I said there is a marked double standard in the degree of umbrage. If you want to be upset about this bumper sticker, which does not call for Obama’s death (the claim that it does is itself a Leftist meme) then you need to have been equally upset about the open calls for Bush’s assassination and the gang raping of Sarah Palin.
You do apples and oranges when you say that you did not see the Christian Left promoting the attacks on Palin. That’s not the point. I’m asking for evidence of the Christian Left’s outrage over the attacks on Palin and Bush.
Equal umbrage or no umbrage. I did not see attention on this blog to the movie about assassinating Bush. I think there was a thread on some of the attacks on Palin, BUT, as I recall, some people were minimizing them, explaining them away, to some degree even blaming the victim.
If I have mischaracterized how these were treated, please correct me.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 4, 2009 at 6:59 pm


MattK #59
“I read your argument this way: its a harmeless joke/pun, some libs did it to Bush so chill out.”
No! I’m saying I have seen liberal stickers who out-and-out called for Bush’s death … no pretense, no need for connecting the dots. Here you have some folks who don’t like the Obama’s administration who are trying a cute and funny way of saying so. They are not calling for his death. They are not lunatics. What they have failed to see is the context in which others my see their attempt at humor. That mostly makes them ignorant … not evil … in my book.
My point is that after eight years of the incessant unveiled vitriolic diatribe I’ve been living with the why should this ambiguous problematic attempt at humor get all the attention it is getting?
“Without a doubt the vitriol against BHO is 10x worse than against GWB.”
I don’t know what parallel universe you’ve been living in but I see virtually no change in the vitriol. It is just more elevated in one camp and more muted in the other.
Others
Also, I’ve been trying to remember some of the bumper stickers I remember reacting to in the parking lot at a presbytery meeting a prior to the 2006 elections. (Presbytery is a regional collection of churches made up of half pastors and half elders.) I remember at least a couple of stickers had a picture of Bush and a call for “Regime change.” There were a couple with, “Not my president.” I remember another that had Bush and Cheney together that said “Deliver us from evil.” There were others which I can’t recall now.
I was also at a Presbyterian Church, USA, meeting of about 200 leaders (board members of denomination entities, presbytery executives, etc.) where during a brainstorming session someone suggested it would be interesting to convene a panel of prominent Presbyterians for a conversation about issues that confront Presbyterians as they interact with culture. The speaker rattled off four or five prominent people before listing off Condi Rice, which brought at an immediate response of groans, boos and a few catcalls.
A couple of years before that I was at a denominational meeting where there was a “talent” show for fun one evening. One guy got up and told jokes, several of them political, all derogatory toward conservatives in the church and in politics, including one in which he cursed Bush as he faked a cell phone call, to the uproarious laughter of the crowd.
With my service in the hierarchy, I frequently end up on temporary task forces or committees with others I don’t know. Usually there comes a “salute the flag” moment in the meeting. Somebody either makes a derogatory comment about Republicans/Conservatives/Bush or a praiseworthy comment about Democrats/Liberals/Obama. Then everyone piles on … “salutes the flag” if you will … showing they have allegiance to the club. I’m in other informal situations where it is just assumed I’m part of the group-think and people are completely unguarded in their contempt.
I was in Louisville at a General Assembly Mission Council meeting when the Palin-Biden debate was on. We broke that evening but left the ballroom open for people who wanted to watch the debate on big screen. About 40 attended. At least one table of folks mocked, jeered and laughed at Palin through the debate. At least of couple of folks who I know were of more conservative persuasions left halfway through to watch elsewhere.
(I think things have gotten better over the past couple of years. Maybe people are just more guarded around me but I don’t think so. I sense a growing desire by the leaders I see emerging to get beyond this stuff.)
So folks, please don’t lecture me about the civility of the religious left and how this ambiguous misguided conservative bumper sticker is an expression of some latent incivility unique to conservatives or conservative Christians. Or that this sticker somehow surpasses anything that has been going on with the left. Incivility has permeated all groups in our culture. It is a bipartisan effort.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:31 pm


The reason Richard Mouw and Os Guinness wrote their books on civility is because we have become a culture of incivility, especially (sadly) in public political opinion-making. No one’s got the goose by the neck on this one — it’s too much bad all around.
The left feasted on Palin; the right feasted on Clinton. No need to point fingers here: what we need is a Christian culture that does things well.



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Brad

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:41 pm


Matt K #59
According to the director of the Secret Service, death threats against Obama are no higher than for either of the previous two presidents at this point in their presidencies.
http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/12/03/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry5879268.shtml
It’s a bumper sticker, folks, not a theological treatise. It’s not worthy of an exegetical response any more than the left wing bumper stickers with Dick Cheney and Satan are. Like these…
http://www.beatgopgear.com/images/thumbnails/standard/cheney-satan_08_md.gif
http://www.cafepress.com/cp/moredetails.aspx?showBleed=false&ProductNo=41137674&colorNo=0&pr=F
Should we have a debate about their improper understanding of scriptures regarding Satan or just assume that they think it’s a clever way of saying “I don’t like Cheney’s politics”? I’m going with the latter. For one to assume that people who put the Pray for Obama sticker on their car are hoping for the death of the president is to unfairly attribute motives that are not in evidence. If you really want to know what the person means by having the bumper sticker, go up and ask them.



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AHH

posted December 4, 2009 at 7:50 pm


Some who are comparing with similarly negative anti-Bush sentiments (which I would not defend) are missing an important distinction. The bumper sticker in question (unlike any Bush examples that have been given) invokes prayer and the Bible in making its negative message.
Isn’t one way of “taking the Lord’s name in vain” bringing God in to support our human agendas? If somebody makes a slur against homosexuals, that is bad. But if that person says “God hates fags” (to pick a well-known example) the sin is compounded by taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Similarly, if the sticker was just “Nobama”, or even something coarse appearing to advocate the President’s political demise, comparisons with similar anti-Bush messages would be apropos. But when prayer and the Bible are invoked, even in a semi-whimsical way, then it at least approaches the territory of “God hates Obama” and I think carries at least an aspect of taking the Lord’s name in vain.



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RJS

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:03 pm


What AHH said.
And Phil, I have no clue what was or wasn’t said elsewhere because this is about the only place where I get involved in any such discussions. I am taking this one alone on its merits.



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Brad

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:05 pm


AHH #63
Would these qualify as “God hates the GOP” or approaching taking the Lord’s name in vain?
http://www.cafepress.com/cp/moredetails.aspx?showBleed=false&ProductNo=47227145&colorNo=0&pr=F
http://www.cafepress.com/cp/moredetails.aspx?showBleed=false&ProductNo=16325996&colorNo=0&pr=F
http://www.cafepress.com/cp/moredetails.aspx?showBleed=false&ProductNo=15513202&colorNo=0&pr=F
As Scot just said, it’s bad all around. If anything, it would appear that more folks here seem to be willing to criticize those on the political right than left. Is that for political reasons or spiritual ones? Scot is right. What we need is a Christian culture that does things well and cuts through the political culture, the uncivil political culture, that is so prevalent today.



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Sacred Frenzy

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:29 pm


AHH writes: “Some who are comparing with similarly negative anti-Bush sentiments (which I would not defend) are missing an important distinction. The bumper sticker in question (unlike any Bush examples that have been given) invokes prayer and the Bible in making its negative message.”
In 2006 a Christian theologian published a book with Westminster John Knox Press arguing that the Bush administration was behind 9-11: http://www.cokesbury.com/forms/ProductDetail.aspx?pid=9780664231170
Is this a sufficient example of an anti-Bush sentiment that invoked theology (or prayer or the Bible) in making its negative message?



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:42 pm


#63 and #64
I popped over to a website that offers religious left stickers. One has Jesus hanging on a cross with the sentiment, “They hated liberals 2000 years ago, too.” So if I want to take offense at this I can conclude that liberals are equating themselves to Jesus because of their political values while conservatives are people who would kill Jesus.
Other stickers “Jesus told me the Religious Right was wrong.” and “Jesus told me to vote Democrat.” Isn’t this making a mockery of prayer and the Bible?
My point is that using the Bible and religious ideas in political discourse has a long tradition that extends back generations before bumper stickers. Why is this one suddenly so offensive?



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RJS

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:48 pm


Michael,
This reaction dominated by defensiveness isn’t like you. This must strike a real nerve in your life. So I’ll just stop (white flag waving).
Peace.



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Sacred Frenzy

posted December 4, 2009 at 8:59 pm


I think Michael’s point is spot on (not defensive). It seems that there are two ways to look at the bumper sticker: it is either the product of sinister motives or awful hermeneutics. The charitable conclusion is that the creators expect people to read Ps. 109:8 as people read Jeremiah 29:11. I too wonder why this is so offensive.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 4, 2009 at 9:29 pm


#66 Sacred Frenzy
How did I forget that one? This was published by the Presbyterian Publishing Corporation three years ago. I wrote a blog post calling for a spin of the PPC from the denomination if this (along with another book) was that type of stuff they were going to print. They have since taken a different course in publications.
#68
Interesting. I don’t perceive myself so much being defensive as being insistent. Most of the people I meet here at Jesus Creed are coming from Religious Right backgrounds and have been burned by that tradition. They are sensitive to the RRs excesses and, I think, prone to see these excesses in a vacuum compared to what happens elsewhere in the church. I’ve been in the reverse environment, trying to stay connected in a denomination that (at least in its hierarchy) is captive to the Religious left.
The meme by the left is that somehow conservatism and meanness are inextricably related. Consequently, even the most innocuous statements or actions are layered with assumptions about mean-spirited intent behind them. My ears and eyes may be overly sensitive but I perceive some of this same layering going on here. That troubles me. As I’m probably in a small minority here, I suspect the intensity of my annoyance with this stuff doesn’t translate well.
The bumper sticker is an ill conceived attempt at humor but the insistence that this sticker is somehow a particularly egregious statement feels intensely familiar to the meme used by the left to minimize opponents.
I’m clearly not making my point well so I’ll sign-off.



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Phil Atley

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:36 pm


# 70, Michael Kruse.
No, you are not not making your point well. You made it quite well. You are not persuading others. That is not your fault. You are not defensive. To be heard requires ears to hear, requires critical empathy. And sometimes that’s what’s missing in action.



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Jjoe

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:36 pm


It’s well reported that death threats against Obama are much higher than against Bush. 400% higher, as I recall.
Google the different people who’ve been murdered in churches, and count for yourself how many have been liberals and how many have been conservative.
The violence of American society is a key reason I am working toward moving my family to Canada, which I believe has a much more Godly society. There is a far better balance between dog-eat-dog capitalism and the needs of the ‘least of these.’ There are far fewer murders by gun. And there is not the threat of open revolt from teabaggers who cannot abide anyone but a good old boy white male conservative in office.
God help Obama, for there are too many people in this country who right now, at the moment I type this, would like to see him dead.
When it gets to the point where Americans would like to see the President dead for proposing, for example, that all citizens ought to have life-and-death health care, then I’m not sure I want to be an American. My loyalty to God trumps my loyalty to the almighty dollar to which we pledge allegiance.
My late father-in-law, who served in WW2, Korea and Vietnam, died lamenting our society. “We used to be the good guys,” he told me.



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AHH

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:37 pm


For what it’s worth on this thread that is probably nearing its useful lifespan, I would say that the 2nd bumper sticker pointed out by Brad #65 does approach “taking the Lord’s name in vain” in the sense I was talking about. I think attacking a policy [such as government-sanctioned torture] is different than attacking a person, but it gets fuzzy when the policy is linked to the person. The 3rd seems a simple statement that no political party has a monopoly on God which is a good point.
My unscientific guess would be that “God hates Obama” style bumper stickers are about 10 times as prevalent among Christians as “God hates Bush” bumper stickers. But maybe that reflects the Christians I tend to be around. Maybe Michael and I should switch church environments for a while (even though we are in the same denomination!) to see how things look from the other side.



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Phil Atley

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:39 pm


No. 70, Michael Kruse.
No, you are not not making your point well. You made it quite well. You are not persuading others. That is not your fault. You are not defensive. To be heard requires ears to hear, requires critical empathy. Sometimes that’s what’s missing in action.



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Phil Atley

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:51 pm


No. 71: “It’s well reported that death threats against Obama are much higher than against Bush. 400% higher, as I recall.”
This is a good example of how the universes of information that people on the left and people on the right live in affect things.
It is not well reported that death threats are 400 % higher than against Bush. It’s been very badly reported. The Secret Service says that death threats against Obama are not at all higher than against previous presidents. My source: the Secret Service as reported by CBS News (no right wing toady that).
Where did you see the 400 % figure? Was it this:
http://hoffmania.com/2009/08/death-threats-against-obama-400-higher-than-bush.html
If that’s the source (and that seems to be what the Secret Service was responding to), take a look at that web site. It’s not exactly a model of objective, judicious reporting. I think you’ve been pwnd by some people purveying precisely the “conservatives are racist, mean, bigoted, hatefilled” meme.



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Phil Atley

posted December 4, 2009 at 10:58 pm


“My unscientific guess would be that “God hates Obama” style bumper stickers are about 10 times as prevalent among Christians as “God hates Bush” bumper stickers.”
Well, I can make unscientific guesses too. Funny, my unscientific guess would have been the opposite. Michael Kruse cites concrete evidence from PCUSA parking lots.
I unscientifically suggest that it might depend on which Christian parking lots one frequents as to how many God hates Sarah Palin or God hates the Religious Right compared to God hates Obama bumper stickers one sees.
And since science does tell us that we “see” subjectively, that three people can “see” the same traffic accident and report it very differently, it’s possibly that you have actually seen more “God hates Bush” bumper stickers than you realize. You may have seen them but not seen them because you weren’t looking for them but you do have an eye for the opposite.
So unscientific guesses aren’t helpful. Michael Kruse cited concrete examples. When and where have you seen “God hates Obama” bumper stickers? Scot has seen two. I’ve not seen any but then I almost never drive. I’m one of those hate-the-environment conservatives, you see. I walk or take the bus.



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Phil Atley

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:14 pm


# 72 Jjoe
“God help Obama, for there are too many people in this country who right now, at the moment I type this, would like to see him dead.”
“When it gets to the point where Americans would like to see the President dead for proposing, for example, that all citizens ought to have life-and-death health care, then I’m not sure I want to be an American.”
You know, this just really annoys me. This is a meme from the Left. There is little concrete evidence for it. But you apparently believe it lock stock and barrel.
The entire Tea Party movement was targeted at the legislation. It is remarkable in American political history for being made up mostly of people who had not previously been politically active.
Yet there was a deliberate PR move by the Democrats to paint the Tea Partiers as a mob, as violent, as entirely professionally jinned up by Republican operatives. None of this was true and the clumsy attempt to portray it this way by the Democrats was visible to anyone who looked at the phenomenon, looked at the actual people attending those rallies. One has to be pretty fully in thrall to the Democrat talking points to read it as inspired by and/or inspiring personal hatred of Obama.
It is a time-honored tactic of the Left to refuse to debate policy and to resort to ad hominems. That’s what you did here. You reduced principled opposition to policy down to personal (and implied racist) animosity. What about the possibility that they just plain think the proposed legislation will make medical care for the needy worse, not better?
I don’t think you’ll find Canada to be the paradise you fancy. I too once went to Canada, 35 years ago, seeking a pure refuge from the eeeevvvilll America that I had learned to dislike while spending time in Europe. I soon learned that Canada had its own problems but refused to face them by blaming the US for everything. That was 1975-1979. Perhaps it’s changed. But given your willingness to accept caricatures about people like me who think Obamacare is just plain bad policy in a hundred different ways, indeed, that it is bad policy precisely because it won’t help people get better health care, I fear you are living with some Canadian caricatures.



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Brad

posted December 4, 2009 at 11:44 pm


According to the director of the Secret Service, death threats against Obama are no higher than for either of the previous two presidents at this point in their presidencies.
http://www.cbsnews.com/blogs/2009/12/03/politics/politicalhotsheet/entry5879268.shtml
Scot, my comments appear to be being moderated for some reason while other don’t appear to be. If this is the case, I’d like to know why. I’ve read back through my comments and found nothing untruthful or offensive. I’ve certainly intended nothing offensive. If I’ve broken some rule of this blog or given offense in some way I’d like to know what it was so I can correct it and apologize if necessary.



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brambonius

posted December 5, 2009 at 5:48 am


I find all of this very confusing as a european… To be honest to us here Obama would be ‘right’ and the liberals that we have here are not really liberal Christians… (and the only ones who are obsessed with free market capitalism are the liberals here, but thats’s another story)
Neither your democrats nor your republicans seem to have anything to do with christ to me most of the time… Stop mingling your patriotism with something that’s supposed to be christianity… Most of it is just tradition… And your founding fathers weren’t neo-conservative evangelicals…
I’m used to atheists in the office, and I know I should pray for them. Even if they’d persecute us as Nero himself (which I cannot imagine happening here)
And Oh, the psalm 119:8 bumper sticker is just tasteless and unchristian in my opinion. It does not do anything positive for Christs Kingdom, nor is it good PR for its followers.
shalom
Bram



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RJS

posted December 5, 2009 at 6:51 am


Brad,
Comments with links – especially many links – are often held for moderation. Mine are held up on occasion.
Michael and Phil,
Is your point that we should be doing some soul searching about how we respond to bumper stickers and such where we agree with some level of the sentiment? — then I agree with your point, and it is a point well taken.
If the point is that there is nothing wrong with this particular bumper sticker – then I disagree. But we need to focus the discussion on the issue.



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Your Name

posted December 5, 2009 at 8:48 am


That makes sense on the moderation, RJS.
On this bumper sticker, I wouldn’t say that there’s nothing wrong with it. I don’t think that’s the point Michael is trying to make either.
The point I would make is that this one is not exceptional. It’s a bumper sticker, not a theological treatise. It’s not worthy of an exegetical response because…it’s a bumper sticker. No more than the left wing bumper stickers showing Dick Cheney and Satan saying “Separated at Birth” or the ones that say “Satan/Cheney ’08” are worthy of such response. Should we have a debate about how Satan/Cheney stickers display an improper understanding of scriptures regarding Satan or just assume that the people with the sticker think it’s a clever way of saying “I don’t like Cheney’s politics” and leave it at that? For one to assume that people who put the Pray for Obama sticker on their car are hoping for the death of the president, or doing anything other than expressing their displeasure with a particular elected official, is to unfairly attribute motives that are not in evidence.
I would recommend that when anyone bothered by this bumper sticker (or any other) sees it they should try to engage the person who has it on their car. Ask them if they are a Christian. Ask them if they really pray for the president. Ask them if their use of that verse means they want the president to die. Based on what I know of the views of some of my very politically conservative friends, I suspect that some folks here might be surprised by the responses and might even meet a new brother or sister in Christ in the deal. While our Christian beliefs should permeate our lives, including our politics, the body of Christ is not a monolithic unit when it comes to political particulars. I’m not sure that the fact, and it is a fact, that political conservatives can also be part of the body of Christ is always recognized here. Scot’s original post on this bumper sticker, as well as a lot of responses, seems to express an ongoing attitude of bias to a particular political view here on Jesus Creed as if it were the Christian view. To actually discuss particular individual political issues would probably be far more productive than trying to exegete bumper stickers.



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Brad

posted December 5, 2009 at 9:04 am


Your Name above is me. Not sure why it didn’t retain my name.



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Phil Atley

posted December 5, 2009 at 9:33 am


RJS:
“If the point is that there is nothing wrong with this particular bumper sticker – then I disagree. But we need to focus the discussion on the issue.”
Since this was addressed to Michael Kruse and me, I will respond.
I more than once explicitly denied this. I find it odd having it thrown in my face yet again. How many times must I deny it before I am credited with good faith in denying it?
And yes, before anyone has to ask, I have stopped beating my wife.
I am criticizing selective umbrage on the part of the Evangelical Left, of pointing out the mote in the “Religious Right’s” eye while ignoring the beam in the Religious Left’s. Michael Kruse and others provided concrete evidence of the imbalance.



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RJS

posted December 5, 2009 at 9:48 am


Phil,
Then I have never disagreed with your point – and do not consider myself either right or left because I think both are wrong. So give me the same credit and stop accusing me of denying it or even ignoring it. This is what I find most annoying about this conversation, and why I brought up a defensive reaction.
On most of these issues I am firmly on the fence and wish we actually had good as opposed to lesser evils to consider.



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MatthewS

posted December 5, 2009 at 10:24 am


the insistence that this sticker is somehow a particularly egregious statement feels intensely familiar to the meme used by the left to minimize opponents.
RJS, you and Phil and Michael are in a discussion and I don’t want to intrude but this is one of the things that Michael said that resonates with me. Someone earlier raised the issue that invoking God’s name against a political opponent can be a way of taking God’s name in vain. Some people (excluding thoughtful people like Randy above) put the “When Jesus said to love your enemies…” sticker next to “What if they had a war and nobody showed up?” and “Bush lied, people died” etc. etc. which suggests to me that they are using Jesus’ name in vain, invoking it against Bush as a political statement.
My reading of the zeitgeist here is that in general, with exceptions, many folks here read the “When Jesus said to love your enemies…” sticker as if in a vacuum, as if it were an isolated contemplative theological exercise, choosing to ignore the abuses of this statement that are more obvious to those who lean more right than left. But, bring up a misguided bumper sticker with a verse on it, and the prevailing winds suggest that the Christian left would never initiate such a miserable abuse of God’s name and his Word and that this new low from the RR just reveals what ugliness there lies. But this interpretation is a combination of accepting current talking points from the left and the worst possible interpretation of the bumper sticker.
The bumper sticker is not OK. The Love your Enemies bumper sticker is very possibly OK, so they are apples and oranges to some degree and even so, this one sticker under consideration stands or falls on its own (lack of) merit, without excuses.
But it isn’t this one sticker in isolation – there is a subtext in some of the discussion here that the sticker in question reveals an ugliness particular to the RR that the left is grateful not to share. And my reaction, and I think this in part accords with Michael and Phil, is that ugliness is ugliness but the RR, contrary to talking points on the left, does not have a corner on the market.



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MatthewS

posted December 5, 2009 at 10:31 am


I do agree with Scot that it translates as a nasty twist to say “Pray for someone” and the prayer is a chilling imprecation.



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Scot McKnight

posted December 5, 2009 at 11:10 am


Brad, most comments with links get snagged; for some reason now my school is also snagging many of the emails generated by Beliefnet to me so I don’t see all the comments as easily I was seeing them. On the “Your Name” that is only caused by not typing in your name. I think we’ll have to disagree on this being “just a bumper sticker” because slogans are used to powerful effect and folks spend their lives learning how to reduce to a slogan. I happen to think this one is powerful.
MatthewS, I appreciate your comment at #87. The only point I wish to make about the thread is that my post is about the misuse of Scripture and the twisting logic of a pretentious pray “for” Obama when the psalm is hardly that. I find the deception intolerable and so I spoke against it.
The whole Religious Right vs. Religious Left has sideswiped the discussion. I surely have no desire to debate which group uses incivility the most; I have a desire to be civil and show a better way, even if I sometimes line up with one and then other times the other.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 5, 2009 at 11:54 am


RJS #81
Yes, I think you?ve caught the gist. I think JMorrow?s observation about the perils of humor is probably key.
Imagine I?m sitting with my Friday morning group and someone says we need to be praying for our president. I respond, with a wink, ?I am. I?m praying Psalm 109:8: ?That his days will be few and another takes his leadership.?? Because of the context ? knowing each other and our views ? the statement is seen as the pun it is. Chuckles emerge and we move on into what it means to pray for our leaders. No big deal.
Bumper stickers have no context ? they?re worse than blogs in that regard. Consequently, people are going to project whatever context they are inclined to onto the bumper sticker. Thus, what is a relatively harmless pun in informal conversation becomes all sorts of things in the minds of those who are seeing the words without context.
Thus, while the pun and humor are relatively harmless, the context ? or rather absence of context ? does all sorts of destructive things. I strongly suspect that most who sport the sticker do so because of the humor they think they are communicating. They are other oblivious or indifferent to the multiple ways the communication can be interpreted. I think this is generally true with all sorts of bumper sticker communication.
But the other piece is the deeply partisan left and how they have chosen to respond to this. They take this sticker as the smoking gun for what they?ve known all along: those conservatives are bigoted, mean, hateful people ? unlike liberals who are generous, reflective and compassionate ? who secretly harbor a desire to kill Obama. This sticker is just the most unconscionable thing we have ever seen in political discourse ? and on the hyperbole goes. See McLaren?s post with the clip of Rachel Maddow show talking to Frankie Schaffer to see what I mean. So ?
Yes the sticker is ill-advised.
No, this is not some new level of uncivil discourse. (Thus the question of why it is getting all the attention.)
Yes, this is being used by lefties ? either due to genuine motives from living in their own echo-chambers or through cold calculation ? to demonize and marginalize conservative voices. It is a game of ?gottcha.? (And the cynical side of me suspects that some of those who may be promoting the sticker may be fully of aware of the sticker?s impact with lefties, that they promote it to get just the response they are getting, and then use this to pontificate about how whacky those libs are.)



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JMorrow

posted December 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm


RJS, Michael
I appreciate your abilities to capture multiple sides of this issue. An interesting anecdote about sensitivities, my mother who I mentioned in my last post lived when she was young with her grandfather, a Presbyterian pastor in Tuscaloosa, AL. He was well known for his vocal and financial support of sit-in movements in town and with that support came the intimidation of the klan and “citizens” groups. My mother will give you vivid stories of how that intimidation subtlely conveyed in word, deed, and ‘drive-bys’ were extended to her. So her radar is generally much more sensitive than mine. A generation (really two, I’m a millenial) removed from this and I let alot more pass than she ever would. My political affiliations are not strong in one end of the conservative/liberal paradigm or the other, so I tend to look at these on a case by case basis, but am fully aware that communication failures are equal opportunity in our society… hence this big mess we are in. If someone would give me a measured, on point and respectful explanation of what they think politically or theologically, I might actually be persuaded. But part of the problem is that persuasion is less on peoples minds these days than expression.
Michael, I think you hit on it with your meeting analogy. The further out our words travel from our own cliques, the more open they are to misinterpretation. Not only that, they become dangerous, like verbal or written IEDs. That’s why as a Xtian I generally try to stay away from bumper stickers. And unless I’m really in the mood to sift through my thoughts with extra care, I usually avoid what I term the “advanced rhetoric” of hyperbole, irony, sarcasm. Mostly, I stick to communication 101 with less emphasis on cleverness, which is what I wish more of us tried before we IM, twitter, bumper stick or soundbite our way into more messes. That Stackhouse post on your blog also points the same way.



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Naum

posted December 6, 2009 at 12:20 pm


@76,Phil
The “400% increase” was reported in Newsweek, UK Telegraph and proffered forth by conservative author Ron Kessler. Who also added that many threats are “kept under wraps” so I wouldn’t necessarily buy into the recent “official” “debunking”.



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Percival

posted December 6, 2009 at 11:15 pm


It is interesting to hear the conversation here comparing the bad behavior of the religious right and the religious left. I have little patience with the immature behavior of both sides. However, if anyone fails to see, as Michael has pointed out, that the poor taste and offensiveness of this bumper sticker is not extraordinary, they haven’t been paying attention. And no, the “playing field” is not level. The Right is generally judged by stricter standards (except by themselves), but as someone who is on the right side of the spectrum, I would hope that the double standard we see would not only be upheld but strengthened. I’m sick of seeing conservative evangelicals stoop towards the level of political “discourse” I hear from the left. A diet of Rush Limbaugh and Anne Coulter can desensitize us to the negative and poisonous atmosphere and make it all seem normal.



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daniel

posted December 10, 2009 at 4:29 pm


I’m grateful I have not seen the bumper sticker. But I’ve sure heard of it. If I was present at the hypothetical prayer meeting which Michael describes, I would be just as offended to hear this reference. Such a pun is not fitting the body of Christ. Fortunately, in such a setting, I would be remiss to let something like that slip by. I don’t joke about hoping someone gets fired and then in the next breath pray for God’s guidance and wisdom in their life. This attitude is at odds with the reconciliation that God displays over and over and is at the heart of the Gospel. There is no Scripture to support the malicious talk or intention towards our government or leaders. No I didnt vote for Obama, but since he is there, I feel it is my spiritual duty to support Him with prayer, not speak slanderously or gossip about him.
Our constitution does not override the Gospel or scripture. Our government gives us certain rights and priviledges that the Church should forego.. Everything is permissible for me.. but not everything is beneficial.



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daniel

posted December 10, 2009 at 5:28 pm


38 RJS: More importantly I do not expect any of this (mudslinging and heated rhetoric and horrible statements) ever on any side to come from the church, and when it does, or when it seems to, I hope that we take a stand against it every time.
Amen, Brother.
In the interest of edification, I’d like to say that this is one of the more civil blogs I’ve seen. Its encouraging to see believers dialog without getting too snippy. Which reminds me of an altered scripture which I found humorus: “Where ever 2 or more are gathered in my name … there is trouble” (Steve Brown).
I have my own collection of original T shirt and bumper sticker slogans which have yet to make it on 3 dimensional media.
“WWJB?” (what would Jesus boycott?)
> 1st Cor.13: 3&1/2 : “Although I wear a T shirt with a clever scripture reference, if I have not Love I am nothing”.



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rey

posted December 11, 2009 at 12:22 am

Phil Atley

posted December 11, 2009 at 6:05 pm


Naum @ 91
And because Newsweek reported it it’s true? I can’t believe you offered this as some kind of argument.
The claim is absurd on its face and only people who already want to believe the Leftist meme that people disagree with Obama not because of policy but because of racism or Right Wing meanness etc. It’s the cheap, ad hominem approach they have used for decades: Reagan was stupid, Bush was stupid, criticism of Obama is racist, Tea Partiers are an ignorant mob–never address the substantive policy issues that drive most conservatives, dismiss them personally instead.
And you seem to want to believe that it’s true. Do you think it’s remotely possible that most people who really truly dislike Obama’s policies do not wish him harm? Why must you believe the worst about us?
The Secret Service denied it out of the box. To say that it was “well-reported” without first googling (which would have revealed the quick denial) is indefensible. That Newsweek reported it only shows that Newsweek is gullible and credulous.



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Your Name

posted March 17, 2010 at 1:23 pm


Wow, you people need to lighten up. The bumper sticker is just a joke, hoping this yahoo doesn’t get a 2nd term. Nothing more, unless you are hyper-sensitive to criticism and paranoid, as liberals and this administration are.
Incidentally, the hatred, vitriol, and violence is on the Left. You have only to look at and listen to the thugs at PETA, Act Up, NOW, and in general the unions to know that.



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Rodney Gottier

posted June 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm


I have been reading all these comments & find it to be a lot like the early days of christianity & no one looks at it from another standpoint like I do. This is the only point I have for all of you:
How would you all feel if you were in Obama’s shoes & getting all kinds of opinions brought out by just 1 verse or even a whole psalm?
This will take you all to a new level of thinking instead of thinking of yourselves all the time. I would shutter at this all even when having to be in the public’s eye all the time. I have done it so much by seeing our society not actually knowing what it would be like to put their feet in other’s shoes before they open up their opinions of others. When taking that into consideration, I think you all will
have a different outlook on what opinions are made to be. I know all of us have opinions & we think differently, but this is not a great
thing to take lightly. If you can think the way you do, then others can attack you or make you feel just the same way our society has made
our presidents feel when in office or even the banners we fly.
Thanks!



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