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What is Barack Obama’s religion?

A Lutheran response to birthers

I received a comment at Birther Report from a “Guest” who said:

Guest: as a Lutheran, you are bearing false witness. You are complicit in Obama’s forgery as you are guilty of original sin. Since you claim you’re religion, then the same condemns you, as your ELCA also allows homosexuality. What does GOD say about homosexuality? What does GOD say about bearing false witness. Laugh now Dr Con, you’ll be with the goats soon, and whenever you look into the mirror you’ll know that your words have convicted you for eternity.

I replied at length, and not wanting to waste the effort just on a comment at Birther Report that will be lost among other old comments soon enough, I’ll repeat it here. The material is not very different from my Open Letter to Nathan Bickel, linked later on.


Dr. Conspiracy: On the contrary. It is partly because of my religion that I spend so much time telling the truth here and on my blog. My personal take on birtherism is informed in particular by my Lutheran background. This is from Martin Luther’s Small Catechism’s teaching on the Ten Commandments:

The Eighth Commandment

You must not tell lies about your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16 )
What does this mean? We must fear and love God, so that we will not deceive by lying, betraying, slandering or ruining our neighbor’s reputation, but will defend him, say good things about him, and see the best side of everything he does.

I think any objective observer would say that [Birther Report] exists, both in content and comments, to say bad things about and to present in the worst possible light everything that Barack Obama does and by extension to me, the “Obots” and progressives in general. There is a difference between fair criticism and slander. I strive for the former and this site presents the latter.

As scripture says:

So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.
(RSV) 1 Peter 2:1

I do not hold myself up as without sin. I lose my temper and I say harsh things. But I also take considerable care not to stretch the truth when I criticize, and I try not to make sweeping generalizations in my articles. I try not to call people a liar when there is some other possible explanation. Obviously when you visit my site you cannot read all of the things I chose not to say, but there is a lot of it. I have refrained from calling all birthers racists. I have tried to couch birther actions in terms of the normal error of thinking common to everybody, except perhaps more exaggerated in their case. I don’t call birthers barking mad as often as I think it.

I care about moderation and fairness, and I work at it. I don’t always succeed, but I am trying. When I fail, I feel bad about it. I have a conscience.

God, according to Moses in the Bible, says the same thing about homosexuality as about eating shrimp. “Abomination” is the word. St. Paul says the same thing about homosexuality as about a man with long hair. “Degrading” is the word. That is a longer topic than I can cover here. The Lutheran Church, not without considerable controversy, no longer requires our clergy who are gay to be celibate. Our understanding of homosexuality has advanced, as has our understanding of shellfish. hair styles, slavery, the value of Pi and other things in the Bible. And despite the irresponsible remarks made [at Birther Report], I am neither a Communist, nor gay.

But don’t try to tag me with “false witness.” It doesn’t fit.

For more on this, see my Open Letter to Nathan Bickel, a Lutheran Pastor (not ELCA).

Somebody could go over my 3,600 articles and pick out the worst and most extreme examples out of everything I’ve said, pile it up ignoring every moderate thing I’ve ever said, and call me a hypocrite. This is exactly what the 8th Commandment prohibits, putting someone in the worst possible light.

Dr. Conspiracy to birther: You need to go to church

I don’t bring up religion much here or on birther sites, but I did yesterday at Birther Report. “Charles Mountain”1 was speaking, and directed this reply to me more or less out of nowhere:

charlesmountain: Yo’ what up, sniveling faggot, soul-less maggot…

Are you getting ready to pull a verified Selective Service Card with a two digit year stamp out of your azz…?

I’m sure we can arrange a neon pink noose for ya…

So I offered an invitation:

Dr. Conspiracy: How about you come to church with me next Sunday instead?

And this is how it ended:

charlesmountain: Church…! LOL! You need to hang!

X D

Only a soul-less maggot can look at himself in the mirror everyday knowing he’s intentionally decieving (sic) millions of Americans…

Dr. Conspiracy: Only, I am not intentionally deceiving anyone. Really, you need to go to church. You’ve got too much hate.

I don’t know anything about “mountain’s” religious views, or those of most of the birthers, except Nathan Bickel and some others who have a religious vocation. But there are some principles of the Christian religion that I value, that I find mostly lacking in birtherism, and those are:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ‘ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(ESV) Matthew 5:43-48


You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor:I am the Lord.
(ESV) Leviticus 19:16


“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself:I am the Lord.
(ESV) Leviticus 19:17-18


Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.
(ESV) Titus 3:1-2

I would be hypocritical if I claimed to always follow those principles I value, and in particular I am not all that proud of some of the remarks I made towards RS1_ which were inarguably quarrelsome, and far from gentle. Nevertheless, I care and the birthers seem to think that they are justified acting contrary to these principles.


1I had assumed that “charlesmountain” was Charles Kerchner, someone who has gone under the pseudonym of “mountain goat” but he says not, so I have updated the article to remove the association.

I believe that the commandment against false witness not only requires that one speak the truth as they know it, but take some care to get things right, which I failed to do in this case. Being hasty is one of my personal shortcomings.

The war on Islam

This title was carefully selected and I hope readers will get the point from what follows.

Barack Obama didn’t release his birth certificate in 2008 to prove he was not born in Kenya; he released it to counter the equally silly claim that his middle name was Mohammed amid stories that he was Muslim. Since that time and up to the present video from Wayne Allyn Root, the claim has been leveled against Barack Obama that he is Muslim and not Christian.

While Obama doesn’t wear his religion on his sleeve, it’s no secret that he attended a Christian church. At an Easter prayer breakfast in 2011 [link to entire remarks]:

I wanted to host this breakfast for a simple reason — because as busy as we are, as many tasks as pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection — something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ, that puts everything else in perspective

I know about the text because it was quoted by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America presiding bishop Mark Hanson. That, and what accompanied it, did not sound like it came from a Muslim. To Muslims, Jesus was a prophet, not divine. Continue Reading →

The moral dimension of birtherism

The reason that I have so much motivation to combat birtherism is that I consider it immoral, and not just immoral in and of itself, but a movement that promotes immorality and encourages others to act badly, and not only does birtherism encourage birthers to be immoral, it also entices its opponents to act badly as well.

The scripture text for today’s sermon comes from St. Paul’s letter to Rome:

And as they didn’t keep God steadily in mind, God left them to their unsteadiness of mind to do things that decency forbids, filled as they were with all kinds of unlawfulness, meanness, greed, and evil, rampant with envy, murder, discord, treachery, and disorderly conduct: rumormongers, character assassins, God-haters, criminals, haughty, boastful, fabricators of evil stories, disobedient to parents, with no comprehension, no cohesion, no affection, no compassion.

Gaus, Andy (1991-01-01). The Unvarnished New Testament (New Translation from the Original Greek) (Kindle Locations 5157-5161). Red Wheel Weiser. Kindle Edition.

While several items from the indecent list fit things I see in the birther movement, the one that I think most characterizes it is “character assassins.” (I could have picked the closely-allied “fabricators of evil stories.”) What is the birther movement, after all, but an attempt to find something bad about Barack Obama, initially to keep him from being elected president, and later to try to make him fail in office, or to get him out of office? Birtherism springs from and promotes a visceral dislike of Barack Obama, whether it is because he beat out Hillary Clinton, or that he is black, or urbane, or progressive, or has an Arabic-sounding middle name.

Birtherism has had its consequences, and I can think of no greater waste than former Army physician Terry Lakin, who ruined his career, lost his medical license, and lost his pension because of birtherism. On the other side consider Adam Cox who was convicted of threatening Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Would he ever have done this if not enraged by the character assassination of the birthers?

It is important to try to distinguish those who make up stories and market them from those who just spread the stories. At the top of the food chain we have folks like Joseph Farah, Jerome Corsi, Bob Unruh and Jack Cashill. They make money stirring up ill will. While folks like that deserve greater condemnation, still people who spread stories (like, for example, Donald Trump), the “rumormongers,” bear responsibility for not checking out stories before they pass them on.

Web sites such as Birther Report are noted for the “meanness” of the comments as much as their misleading stories. And when I see meanness and “haughty,” “boastful” fabricators of evil stories, it makes me angry and under that influence I can sometimes be mean too (that’s why I gave up BR for Lent).

Birtherism is not just wrong; it is indecent.

An open letter to Nathan Bickel

[Nathan Bickel describes himself as “pastor emeritus,” I think of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. He publishes the web site, Moral Matters, and is a birther.]

So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.
(RSV) 1 Peter 2:1

I keep a copy of Luther’s Small Catechism at hand, a paper copy in the drawer at my elbow and an electronic copy on my portable devices. I draw the reader’s attention to the entry on the Eighth Commandment:

The Eighth Commandment

You must not tell lies about your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16 )

What does this mean? We must fear and love God, so that we will not deceive by lying, betraying, slandering or ruining our neighbor’s reputation, but will defend him, say good things about him, and see the best side of everything he does.

I see this teaching as a demand for affirmative responsibility when speaking about someone else. It requires not only that the truth be spoken, but that the truth be honestly and objectively sought, that negative claims be responsibly evaluated before speaking, and that a thing is not claimed to be worse than it is. This principle is the moral underpinning of what I try to do (and I am by no means perfect) on this web site. Debunking is largely an attack on slander1.

There is a difference between disagreement and slander; and there is a difference between resisting slander and support of the person being slandered. These distinctions seem lost on Nathan Bickel based on his online comments asking how I can support Obama. There is a difference between saying Obama’s policies are disastrous and saying Obama committed ID fraud.

My experience with the “birther” movement has been the very antithesis  of the Eighth Commandment. Birtherism is at its core an attempt to put the worst possible spin on everything President Obama does, even his facial expressions are labeled as malevolent. Birtherism takes dirty politics and makes it a personal passion with the fervor usually reserved for a religion.

It started with a rumor that Obama was born in Kenya, not evidence of that. The first stories were accompanied by no reason to believe them, but they were believed. For over five years birthers have sought to find evidence to justify their initial slander.

Slander is sin, and repeated attempts to justify slander is a sinful pursuit that leads those who participate over time in it deeper and deeper in to a web of deception, deceit and depravity. Instead of righteous anger, it breeds hatred, verbal brutality and the desire for vengeance. Birthers have clung to criminals like Larry Sinclair (27 year criminal record including crimes of deceit) and Lucas Smith (multiple convictions including forgery). They have made heroes of other criminals like Walter Fitzpatrick and Terry Lakin. They look the other way when other birthers committed identity theft to steal Obama’s records.

They have inflated the resumes of countless self-appointed experts that claim things they know nothing about. Birthers say that every expert who has reported on Obama’s birth certificate says it’s a forgery, when not one of these “experts” has ever examined a forgery before in their lives2—and birthers lie when omitting the fact that that several real experts have said it’s not a fake (including Mike Zatkovich, and Neal Krawetz). Like a dog to its vomit, birthers eat at the table of cranks, con men and swindlers, while turning away from the wholesome food of credible sources, unbiased investigation and scientific methodology.

Birthers engage in a virtual orgy of slander, not even respecting the dead (like devout Christian and humanitarian Loretta Fuddy). They slander judges, Obama family members, federal agency heads, and the Hawaii Department of Health. They even have to attack a nobody like me, calling me a “paid shill” or a “traitor”—they demonize everyone that disagrees with them. Bickel even argued on Twitter that I wasn’t qualified to have an opinion because I use a profile photo of myself on the blog and Twitter instead of a front view (and of course there are front-view photos of me on the site).

image

Even though a birther may believe nonsense conspiracy theories about Obama, they are still condemned by the Eighth Commandment against false witness because they are irresponsibly lazy in not doing diligence to check the falsehoods they spread. They don’t demand consistency in the stories they repeat, confirmation of speculation, nor credentials from sources. No story seems too far out and fantastical for at least some of the birthers.

The chief investigator for the birthers, Mike Zullo, has a total of 5 years experience as a policeman on a small-town police force, and that a couple of decades ago, yet he has been promoted to “Lieutenant” and his experience selling used cars tallied with his brief police career to give total years in law enforcement. Zullo has been caught lying and fabricating evidence, yet in their lust for slandering Obama, birthers brush these inconvenient facts aside in order to put Obama in the worst possible light.

Birtherism is evil and those who spread it are slanderers, and that includes Nathan Bickel.

Partial list of slanders published by Nathan Bickel in the last two months:


1I use the word “slander” in the informal sense including both spoken and written speech.

2This excludes Reed Hayes, who has not made his report public.

Obama calls Christian evangelicals #1 “extremists”?

This article refers primarily to events from 2012 and 2013. It is included here for reference.

If you listened to InfoWars, WorldNetDaily, Fox News Radio, The Blaze, The Washington Times, the Free Republic or a host of other conservative-oriented news sources, you might think so.

Wake up you fool. nobama hates our Military and Christians, but he loves morons like you that believe his every word.

– Terry Ford
– Comment at Google+ (November 2013)

If you don’t frequent those sources, you may not have heard about it.

What actually happened was the the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups in the US, provided a training presentation on extremism  for use in National Guard, presented in Pennsylvania in 2012. In that presentation, a list of religious groups (see page 24), including Catholics, Christian evangelicals, Muslim extremists and the Ku Klux Klan, indicating that some members of those groups are extreme. The text that goes with the list says:

Extremism is a complex phenomenon; it is defined as beliefs, attitudes, feelings, actions, or strategies of a character far removed from the “ordinary.” Because “ordinary” is subjective, no religious group would label itself extreme or its doctrine “extremism.” However, religious extremism is not limited to any single religion, ethnic group, or region of the world; every religion has some followers that believe that their beliefs, customs and traditions are the only “right way” and that all others are practicing their faith the “wrong way,” seeing and believing that their faith/religion superior to all others.

In December 2013, a coalition of religious leaders wrote a letter to the Secretary of Defense complaining about religious discrimination in the military, including this SPLC presentation, and apparently the conservative media finally got the story.

Some conservative commentators have objected to listing the Klan as a “religious group” but at least historically the Klan was associated with Protestantism. Today the Klan is so fractured that I don’t what they believe.

The best web coverage of the issue I found came from the Christian News Service, which is a good source of information on topics with a religious link.

The SPLC seems to this writer to get a little extreme sometimes too; however, in the presentation in question, they are specific in listing 25 hate groups (page 32 in the presentation) in Pennsylvania, including 3 labeled Catholic.

The Defense Department is reviewing the materials.

Read more: