FISA, the Russia investigation, and our justice system

For a while now I’ve been pondering (i.e., getting frustrated at political pundits on both sides) how the events of the Russia investigation relate to broader issues in our justice system. Given the recent IG memo on FISA applications, I’ll offer 4 quick thoughts:

1. Law enforcement and justice work are really hard. Preventing/punishing crime while simultaneously respecting civil rights is not easy, especially given how few cops there are compared to the number of bad guys out there.

2. Many of the shortcomings of our justice system were apparent in the Russia investigation. Detention in solitary confinement while awaiting trial, unfathomable legal bills for innocent people who might happen to have relevant info, invasive/aggressive tactics, overly-harsh prison sentences/guidelines.

3. I don’t see any reason to believe that the Russia investigation was an aberration. This is how our system works. It wasn’t a witch-hunt where they broke all the usual rules. It also wasn’t immune to the larger issues that plague our system.

4. Overall, I believe our justice system is fairer than what’s usually been seen throughout time and throughout the world. But we also have a lot of problems. The US currently locks up more people per capita than anyone else in the world.

A Guide to Persuading Those Who Already Agree (Or, Why I Hate Reading the Opinion Section)

So you want to be a political pundit.

Before I teach you techniques, you must understand the job of a pundit.

Political pundits do not try to persuade. That is too much work. So don’t worry about winning over any [libs OR conservatives].

Your one job is to rile up your base. Life is much easier that way. And you’ll get a much bigger paycheck.

That’s why I’ve created the non-partisan guide to riling up your base like a pro.

Political Punditry 101: A 3-Step Guide

Step 1: Find the most outrageous [lib OR conservative] you can who has spoken about your topic. Quote them, and then say something like, “Can you believe the [libs OR conservatives] actually believe this?”

(Never mind that not all [libs OR conservatives] believe the same thing, and most of them aren’t saying anything as outrageous as the example you provided.)

Bonus tip: It helps to only read nontraditional media outlets on the [left OR right] that employ minimal editorial oversight. Stay away from [the New Yorker OR the National Review]. [1,2]

Step 2: Introduce a simple fact that is definitely true and supports your side, even if this fact is of secondary concern to the broader argument. Be sure to say that all of the [lib OR conservative] media is ignoring this fact. Even if the fact was widely reported across [lib OR conservative] outlets, your audience doesn’t consume [lib OR conservative] media, so they’ll just take your word for it.

For example, point out that the [Republican OR Democratic] presidential nominee has more experience in government than the [Democrat OR Republican]. Or that the [Democrat OR Republican] is supported by [George Soros OR Charles Koch].

(Never mind that you’ve never been persuaded to drop your support for a politician you liked just because you found out an unpopular rich person also supported them.)

Step 3: Point out how hypocritical the [libs OR conservatives] are by reminding your audience of an example where a [lib OR conservative] commentator complained about a [conservative OR progressive] politician doing whatever you described in Step 2.

This will help to distract from the reality that your fact from Step 2 may be of secondary importance.

For example, point out that a [lib OR conservative] commentator recently complained that some [Republican OR Democrat] received money from [Charles Koch OR George Soros]. Or that four years ago (back when your own candidate had less experience) the [libs OR conservatives] argued that more experience as a politician was a good thing.

(Never mind that you’re also being hypocritical since you didn’t care about experience in government four years ago, yet now you’re arguing it matters.)

Bonus tip: You can easily point out hypocrisy among [libs OR conservatives] even if individual commentators have maintained consistency. Remember, your audience will assume that one [lib OR conservative] commentator speaks for the views of ALL [libs OR conservatives]. So if you need to, just find one [lib OR conservative] commentator who said in 2013 that government shutdowns are the fault of [Congress OR the President], and find a different [lib OR conservative] commentator who blamed [the President OR Congress] in 2018.


[1] Bonus bonus tip: Focus on the name of the media outlet rather than the name of the individual author. For example, say “A recent [Daily Kos OR Breitbart] article said…” rather than “Jane Doe said…” This will help to subtly lead your audience toward the conclusion that all [libs OR conservatives] believe whatever was said. Focusing on the media outlet will also remind your audience that they believe there is a grand conspiracy of [lib OR conservative] organizations hellbent on destroying everything good in America.

[2] Bonus bonus bonus tip: NEVER point out the distinction between the opinion section and the reporting section of a newspaper or TV station. You don’t want to draw attention to the fact that the [New York Times OR Wall Street Journal] has high journalistic standards even though their opinion section is run by a bunch of highly-partisan [libs OR conservatives].

Reasons to Hope (Even If Trump Is President)

By the time I went to bed last night, I was pretty sure that Donald J. Trump would be my next president. When my body awoke early this morning (I had no idea the time), I pondered whether to turn over and allow myself to check my phone. It seemed unlikely I would fall back asleep with any ease, so I decided to see whether Trump had sealed his victory or if some miracle had occurred.

Like many, I am scared. Not because a Republican has won the White House but because Trump was no ordinary Republican candidate. I’m worried about international affairs and potential wars and nuclear threats. I’m worried about what it means for our diverse nation that a man so associated with bigotry and resentment and ignorance has won the presidency. I’m worried that Trump won’t respect the law or basic principles of our democracy that allow it to function as well as it does.

During the last several months, I have allowed myself to believe that a Trump presidency was indeed a real possibility. As I pondered this, I found that I needed to hope. I suspect some other people out there need a little hope right now too. So I thought I’d share the list of reasons for hope under a Trump presidency that I’ve been working on.

My tone will probably be more optimistic than some can handle at this moment (it will probably be more optimistic than I currently feel). All of us are experiencing this election differently, and I don’t pretend that my reaction is the right one for everyone. But perhaps these words will be encouraging to some.

1. My faith

Politics is not a good place to put your hope. Most of us find something else to hope in. For me, part of that something else is a belief in a God who—eventually, somehow—will ensure that justice and goodness and peace will ultimately win. Every government and every political system is deeply flawed. The question is when—not if—politics will take a dark turn. We must find something else to hope in when these moments come.

2. Our resilience

As a nation, we’ve lived through plenty of dark moments. We fled from our nation’s capital as the British set it ablaze. We pointed our guns toward one another and literally split in two as we fought to preserve our separate visions of who we were as a people. We ran to the banks and found that our deposits were gone forever. We listened on the radio to the news that the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor. We saw smoke rise above our cities as racial strife erupted in flames. We stared at our TV screens and witnessed the plane that hit the second tower. Throughout our history, we have seen exactly four presidents be shot and killed.

Somehow, we have always survived.

I’m one of the least patriotic people I know, and believing in my country should be more difficult for me right now than ever before. In many ways, it is. But today I know that I am proud to be an American. And I believe that spirit of patriotism is more important now than it ever has been before in my lifetime. I will not run from my country in the face of adversity. My country needs me now, and I will stand with it. We will survive this together. We will find a way. That’s what we do.

3. The federal bureaucracy

There are many, many fine women and men serving our country, in and out of uniform. They are talented. They are informed. They have great responsibility. The functions of government are far too vast for any one man (or one man and his close associates) to comprehend every detail. Yes, the president wields great power. But he is forced to rely on the expertise, the procedures, and the efforts of the federal bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is incredibly complex. It is not easy to change. It plays a major role in providing information to the president. I suspect many reckless decisions will be avoided because our bureaucracy will have a say in what happens.

4. The law

Laws are not perfectly respected in any society. We’ve seen presidents push the boundaries of their constitutional authority. But we’ve also consistently seen forces push back against overreach (though not always as strongly as we would wish). Compared to many countries, there is great respect for the law in this country, and that means that the president’s power is not unchecked. Trump may push the boundaries, but he will meet resistance. Traditions of press freedom, democratic transition of authority, and respecting the rights of personal and political enemies will not easily be destroyed. When Hillary Clinton was the alternative, many Republicans (elected officials and voters) came to Trump’s side. But I do not believe that means they will tolerate the dissolution of our most deeply-held democratic norms.

5. New awareness

I believe that the rhetoric and substance of Trump’s campaign has worsened certain problems in our society. But it has also served to reveal many pre-existing problems that were largely being ignored (for a variety of reasons) by much of society. In the last few years, we have finally again devoted substantial attention to issues of racism in our society. In recent months, the Trump candidacy has begun spawning important discussions about rural poverty, racial resentment, and intergenerational hopelessness. Despite the Internet allowing us to connect instantly with people in almost any part of the world, we’ve been so disconnected from one another at home that many have been struggling to understand what a Trump supporter even looks like. We can only hope to address our society’s issues if we are aware of them. Trump’s political success has been a major wakeup call to me and many others.

This presidential campaign has both exposed and created deep divisions in our society. There are many wounds in need of healing. Regardless of the outcome, picking up the pieces and trying to move forward as a nation after this election was never going to be an easy task. Many (including people I know and love) are relieved by last night’s results. Many (such as myself) are terrified. I don’t know what our future will look like. But we—you and I—will play a role in it. It’s our job—each of ours—to push forward and face the problems confronting our world. That was true on Monday, and it’s still true today. We have a lot of work to do.

A Culture Worth Celebrating

Yesterday I read an article that talked about an incident at a California public school where some students were not allowed to wear American flag shirts during a Cinco de Mayo celebration.

Understandably, some people are pretty upset about potential free speech issues associated with what happened. The whole situation is really messy (with some students threatening violence against the kids sporting American flags), and there are certainly complex constitutional issues worth discussing. But the legal issues are not what I want to talk about right now.

Two things really bothered me about the incident and the article that I read.

First, reading the details of the incident (as retold in a 9th Circuit court decision) makes it pretty obvious that some of the students in this school were not being at all accepting of the Mexican-American students and their culture. During Cinco de Mayo the previous year, “Some students hung a makeshift American flag on one of the trees on campus, and as they did, the group of Caucasian students began clapping and chanting ‘USA'” (9th Circuit court decision). Think about how bizarre it would be to bring an American flag to an Irish pub on St. Patrick’s Day (or to a Synagogue on Yom Kippur) and start chanting “USA!” How is one supposed to interpret that as anything other than opposition to St. Patrick’s Day and–ultimately–to Irish culture in the US?

Of course, there’s no popular perception that Irish people “aren’t assimilating” in the US today (though there almost certainly once was), so it’s hard to picture such an anti-Irish protest actually happening. The wearing of American flags to a Cinco de Mayo celebration happened in a context where many people (including some people I know and love) are truly concerned about Latino-American culture and how it may impact the US. I’ll say more on that in a minute. For now, I just want you to consider how unwelcoming it might feel to have other students provocatively proclaiming their patriotism to the US on a day that is supposed to celebrate the unique culture and experiences of you and your family.

A second thing that bothered me was that the article said “the 9th Circuit upheld the rights of Mexican students celebrating a foreign holiday over those of our own exercising their speech rights.” It’s certainly accurate to note that the court privileged other concerns over free speech rights. But notice the language that’s used in this sentence. It casts things in such stark us-versus-them terms: “the rights of Mexican students celebrating a foreign holiday over those of our own exercising their speech rights” (emphasis added). The wording implies that students of Mexican birth or descent who take offense at students wearing American flags to a Cinco de Mayo celebration are not part of “our own”–not part of the American identity. Even labeling Cinco de Mayo as a “foreign holiday” (despite the fact that it’s probably celebrated more in the US than in Mexico) communicates an assumption about what it means for something to be American. Why can’t a celebration of Mexican-American culture be an American holiday?

Just to be clear, I’m not in any way trying to argue that responding with violence or threats of violence is appropriate. And I’m not trying to make a statement about whether or not school officials responded in an appropriate manner.

What I am saying is that it’s a real tragedy when kids are told by others that their culture is not one worth celebrating.

That’s a recipe for producing shame. Today, I read some powerful words from a Latina woman named Noemi Vega:

I grew up wrestling with the model minority identity, as I would hear statistics about my Latino people that caused me to internalize shame. I felt embarrassed for my people who got pregnant before graduating high school or when my friends would ask why my lunch was a burrito instead of the cafeteria food. In order to overcome all of these negative stereotypes, I tried to be the “best Latina” that I could and earn the best grades that I could, but I never felt like my best was “enough.” Shame prevented me from seeing the beauty of my culture and of who God made me to be. (

For most people, freedom isn’t found in shedding the cultural identity that they inherited. Freedom is found in learning to see the beauty in who they are. Noemi Vega continues:

As I started to learn about God’s intentionality in designing our cultures, I began to see the beauty in being a Latina. We have a joyful style of worship that celebrates God’s role in our lives and a strong value for familia that helps us be welcoming Bible study members. I have also found that the more I am aware of the gifts from my culture, the more I am able to connect with my familia; instead of shame about our immigrant background or our economic status or our acculturation, I am able to feel embraced by my God who once was shamed on the cross and shamed by being born in the most humble of places. Jesus, who was supremely rejected, supremely welcomes us and calls us friend, brother, sister. We are his familia. (

Latino culture isn’t ruining America. It’s part of America.

I don’t think we always realize the power that our words can have to slice. When we talk about people needing to speak English or integrate into American society, others hear us saying that there’s something inadequate about who they are. They hear us saying that they need to be more like us. That who we are is better than who they are.

I’ll close by sharing a really powerful article by another Latina woman about the day she gave up her Mexican last name. I highly recommend that you go read the whole thing here, but I’ll also post a short excerpt:

It was sometime in fifth or sixth grade that I started looking for ways to mask my Mexican-ness. I mimicked clothing choices of the preppy white girls, attempted to play sports and tried out to be a cheerleader, got competitive with academics, and tried to maneuver social circles to prove to everyone I wasn’t like those “other Mexicans.” It worked to some extent; I was told multiple times throughout junior high and high school that “Oh, you’re not really Mexican, you’re white,” which I wore like a badge of honor. Because Mexicans got pregnant in high school, Mexicans did drugs and dropped out, Mexicans didn’t go to college, and I was not one of them.

But it didn’t matter what I was or what I wasn’t, because my last name wasn’t something I could hide on an application or a résumé. Years of striving to be different from a stereotype didn’t matter. The minute someone read or heard the name “Rodriguez” they made assumptions – that I’m not educated, that I’m poor, that I’m promiscuous, that I’m unable to write well, and that I’m someone who can’t be trusted. . . .

So when push came to shove, I changed my name to Angela Prilliman.

I saw the opportunity to appear “more white” and finally receive some of the advantages that come along with that change.

And I immediately was disappointed with myself.


Domineering, But Not Disqualified from Ministry?

This is not a post about what kind of a guy I think Mark Driscoll is. There are already far too many of those.

This post is about church leadership. And power. And disqualification.

I starting thinking about these issues as I read this statement released by the Mars Hill Board of Overseers that addresses Mark Driscoll’s recent resignation.

What stood out to me from the statement were the following two points:

  1. We concluded that Pastor Mark has, at times, been guilty of arrogance, responding to conflict with a quick temper and harsh speech, and leading the staff and elders in a domineering manner. While we believe Mark needs to continue to address these areas in his life, we do not believe him to be disqualified from pastoral ministry.
  2. Pastor Mark has never been charged with any immorality, illegality or heresy. Most of the charges involved attitudes and behaviors reflected by a domineering style of leadership.

Two things made me uneasy. First, it strikes me as odd that the board says Mark has never been charged with “immorality” even though he has displayed arrogance, a quick temper, and domineering leadership. Those characteristics strike me as ones that—at least within a Christian worldview—are clearly immoral. Then again, perhaps their use of the term “immorality” is meant to refer specifically to sexual immorality (maybe such usage is common in some circles). Even so, I wonder why they single out “immorality, illegality or heresy” as three (apparently important) categories of improper behavior to explicitly address. It makes me wonder if the board views those three types of behavior as the primarily ones that would result in disqualification for a minister?

Which leads me to the second thing that made me uncomfortable. In this statement, the board deems a man who has (at times) been quick-tempered and domineering in his leadership to be qualified for a position of pastoral authority. This idea concerns me. Now, I’m sure the board has given a lot of thought to this situation and has reasons why they believe this conclusion is appropriate. There are few details contained in this statement, so I can’t discern what the board has concluded regarding how recently and frequently Mark has been guilty of these offences. And the board doesn’t tell me what they believe would suffice to disqualify a man or woman from pastoral leadership.

In my mind, one of the first reasons you would remove someone from a position of authority is if that person sometimes uses their authority in an destructive fashion—in a manner that disregards and undermines those around them. This is a congregational offense. If you leave domineering people in positions of power, you keep enabling them.

Now, that doesn’t mean that someone who has acted in a domineering fashion can never be put in a position of authority again. But if someone has exhibited a repeated pattern of improper leadership, they almost certainly need to step out of their authority role until they get to a healthier place. They’re not qualified for leadership until that problem is addressed.

In discussing how church leaders are to be chosen, Titus 1:7 (ESV) says that

He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain

Again, it’s hard for me to know exactly what the board concluded regarding Mark’s behavior. But it’s troubling to me that two of the words used in Titus to describe who should not be a leader (arrogant, quick-tempered) show up in the board’s description of how Mark has transgressed. The most favorable explanation I can come up with is that perhaps the board doesn’t believe that arrogance and quick-temperedness are traits consistently exhibited by Mark, even though Mark has sometimes displayed them.

Stepping back a bit, I’ve heard too many stories of domineering Christian leaders. I hope more Christians will recognize the need to seriously confront instances of inappropriate exercise of authority within the church. When we stand by and allow leaders to use their power in ways that silence others or promote their own gain, we enable them to continue their destructive practices. We allow them to leave behind a hidden trail of bruised and broken victims of their recklessness. Nothing excuses this. It doesn’t matter how inspiring their vision is, how great their teaching is, how many people they attract.

And it shouldn’t take a sex scandal for us to put a stop to it. It’s all too easy to focus on only the more easily measurable commands: don’t commit adultery, don’t be a drunkard, don’t be violent. But let us not fool ourselves into thinking that these are the only things that disqualify a church leader. Or else we may be surprised by the trail of destruction we eventually find.

Love Your Neighbor

29 But the lawyer, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 Jesus replied, “An Israeli man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he drove by on the other side. 32 So likewise an aid worker, when he came to the place and saw him, drove by on the other side. 33 But a Palestinian, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, cleaning them carefully. Then he carried the injured man to his own car and drove him to a health clinic and stayed by his side for the whole night. 35 And the next day he took out two hundred dollars and gave them to the nurse, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”


[Adapted from Luke 10:29-37, English Standard Version.]

A Premature Response to the Michael Brown shooting?

I’ve read a lot of people saying that the protests in Ferguson are premature, that people need to wait for an investigation and learn all the facts surrounding the shooting of Mike Brown before they react. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know all the facts surrounding the shooting. But I don’t think the people in Ferguson are just reacting to what happened in this one event. They’re frustrated with a police force that’s been mistreating residents for years. So I can understand why they aren’t exactly willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to the police in this one case. The shooting of Michael Brown was just the spark that lit a much bigger fuse.

This is a police force that arrested two journalists who were working in a McDonald’s, and during the arrest, one of the officers “slammed [the journalist’s] head against the glass purposefully on the way out of McDonald’s and then sarcastically apologized for it.” [1]

This is a police force that arrested the wrong guy and then locked him up anyway for “getting his blood on their uniforms” (the arrested man claims he was beaten by the police). Then, the officers offered contradictory statements under oath regarding whether blood ever got on their uniforms:

however lax the department’s system and however contradictory the officers’ testimony, a federal magistrate ruled that the apparent perjury about the “property damage” charges was too minor to constitute a violation of due process and that Davis’ injuries were de minimis—too minor to warrant a finding of excessive force. Never mind that a CAT scan taken after the incident confirmed that he had suffered a concussion. [2]

Of course, every institution has its bad apples. But institutional practices appear to have played a role in allowing such behavior to exist:

“On September 20th, 2009, was there any way to identify any officers that were subject of one or more citizens’ complaints?” he asked.

“Not to my knowledge,” [former police chief] Moonier said.

“Was there any way to identify any officers who had completed several use-of-force reports?”

“I don’t recall.” [2]

I know I’m angry. And I don’t even live in Ferguson.

Something’s got to change.