Donald Trump’s Muslim registry: If one group is marked, we are all marked

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Remember a couple years ago, when #WeAreN went viral and the letter ن started popping up in profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter?

That was because ISIS was going door to door in Mosul, Iraq, marking the homes of Christians with the Arabic letter ن (n) for “Nazarene.”  Christians in America adopted the letter as a sign of solidarity with persecuted Christians in Iraq.

Now that Donald Trump is pursuing the idea of a Muslim registry, there are two things you should know:

(1) This is exactly what ISIS did to Christians in Iraq.

There is no difference between the actions of ISIS toward Christians in Mosul and the proposed actions of Donald Trump toward Muslims in America—or in their desired effect.

When ISIS marked Christian homes in Iraq, the intended message was clear to everyone who saw it: The people who live here—they’re not us. They don’t belong. 

The goal was to intimidate, so that Christians would leave. And they did.

That is the sole purpose of Donald Trump’s proposed registry. To set Muslims apart. To identify them as “other.” It is a thinly veiled pretext for saying to millions of Americans: You don’t belong.

(2) Also, that #WeAreN hashtag? That movement to show solidarity with persecuted Christians in Iraq?

That began with MUSLIMS.

Long before it was coopted by Christians in America to show solidarity with people they perceived to be “their own,” #WeAreN was a statement of solidarity across religious lines. Muslims in Iraq, who saw the persecution of their Christian sisters and brothers, were the first to voluntarily mark themselves, saying, “No. If one group is marked, we are all marked.”

Muslims, putting themselves in harm’s way to defend their persecuted Christian neighbors.

Muslims, standing up to the forces of bigotry and hatred and violence, even when someone else was the intended target.

That’s where this symbol, this self-sacrificial act of solidarity, came from. If you posted a #WeAreN profile pic or marked yourself with the Arabic letter ن, know this: a Muslim did it first.

Which leads to one big question…

Will we return the favor?

When Muslims are targeted and marked, will we stand up for them? Will we say “We are Muslim” the way they said “We are Christian” when it was our people being persecuted?

There can be only one Christian response to Donald Trump’s plan to register all Muslims. And that’s for all of us to register as Muslim. To say, “If one group is marked, we are all marked.”

Muslims did it for Christians in Iraq two years ago, in the face of an even greater threat.

Will we do the same for them when they are targeted?

As my friend and colleague Jeremy (who made #WeAreN go viral two years ago) writes, if you’re not outraged by Donald Trump’s Muslim registry, if you’re not prepared to act, then you don’t get to complain about religious freedom ever again.

To be a Christian—to be a follower of Jesus—is to do one thing: love your neighbor.

Well, here’s your chance.

So what will it be? When the voices of hate turn their venom toward our Muslim neighbors, will you say #RegisterMeFirst?

Take the pledge.

Image: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

I told my daughter she can do anything. She didn’t believe me.

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Tonight before bed, my 6-year-old daughter was telling me about a boys-vs-girls competition at school today, which the girls won. I responded by saying, “Yay, girls rule!”

She cheerfully joined in at first, but then she stopped. Her expression grew more serious, and she said, “But not now, because Donald Trump rules.”

I told her Donald Trump doesn’t rule over everything, and he certainly doesn’t rule over her, and that someday a girl WILL be president.

She didn’t believe me.

She looked at me with an expression I have never seen from her before: a lack of faith.

I’m sure it can change. I’ll do everything I can to see that it does. I hope it’s enough. But right now, my daughter doesn’t believe girls rule. She doesn’t believe a girl can be president. She doesn’t believe women can do anything.

I told her there is nothing a boy can do that a girl can’t.

But she didn’t believe me.

To be clear: we haven’t talked about the election since I first broke the news to her that Donald Trump won. Our family has carried on as we normally do. And most of the time, my daughter is her same, normal, free-spirited self.

But it is there—the pain of being told that girls don’t measure up. That girls are second-class, less than, subordinate. And not just because of Tuesday’s election. I wish that’s all it were. But really, that’s just the latest thing.

My daughter is only six years old, and she’s already been told by the world around her that there are some things she can’t do, simply because she’s a girl. That she must take a backseat to the boys in her world.

This seed was planted long before a p*ssy-grabbing misogynist named Donald Trump received 60 million votes. But the lie dug itself a little deeper into my daughter’s heart this week, and it kills me.

So I did the only thing I could think of. I told her that I believe in her. That I am for her. That I will always be on her side. And that I think she’d make a wonderful president someday.

I’m with her.

Image: Charlotte Cooper / CC BY 2.0

What I told my daughter the morning after election night

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Yesterday I took my daughter with me to vote. She held my hand as we colored the circle by Hillary Clinton’s name together. As bedtime approached, I promised to wake her up so she could watch if Clinton won.

This morning I got out of bed at 5:30 and wondered what on earth I would say to her when she woke up.

She came downstairs a couple hours later. We told her about the election results; then we all stared blankly at the TV for a bit. (Cartoons, not the news. Anything but the news.) As we went back upstairs to get ready for school, I told her, “I’m sorry Hillary didn’t win.”

Then I asked if she understood what this meant. She said just two words.

“Bully president.”

I asked if she knew what else it meant that Trump had won, and she said, “He’s going to destroy the world?”

I didn’t know what to say.

To the best of my knowledge, she didn’t hear this kind of thing from my wife or me. Either she picked it up somewhere else, or she came to it entirely on her own.  Either way, my 6-year-old is now afraid for the future of the world.

Thanks for that, America.

I didn’t have the heart to tell my daughter that Clinton appears to have won the popular vote by a narrow margin, but that we have this inane, anachronistic system called the Electoral College which has thwarted democracy now for the second time in a still-young century.

I can only expose my daughter to one cruel, absurd injustice at a time.

So instead, we sat down on her bed, and I tried to explain how not everyone who voted for Trump is a bully or a racist. How some people voted for him because they were scared or angry about the way they thought the country was going.

But because Donald Trump bullies women, minorities, gays, and immigrants—there are some people now, I told her, who will think it’s OK for them to do the same. And that’s why it’s more important than ever for us to stand up to bullies, to stand up for those who are being bullied, to speak out when we see someone being mistreated.

I told her that Donald Trump has a lot of power now—a lot more than I’d ever want a man like him to have. But he doesn’t have absolute power. We still have the power to choose how we respond.

I said this partly to encourage her, partly in the hopes of convincing myself.

Then I held her, while wondering out how the hell to get on with pretending this is an ordinary day. Normally at this point, I’d be getting her school uniform ready while coaxing her out of bed. Today, I couldn’t move.

After a few moments of just sitting together, holding onto each other, she quietly got up, went to her closet, and picked out her uniform.

Our country is not worthy of her.

What I learned about male privilege the night I talked to my daughter about the election

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I thought I was prepared the other night, when I talked to my first-grade daughter about this year’s presidential election.

I was ready for her questions about Donald Trump—“the mean one,” as she describes him. At just six years old, she’s already discerned what has somehow eluded 40-45 percent of the American electorate: Donald Trump is a bully.

I was ready to talk about Hillary Clinton—how, if elected, she will be the first woman to serve as our president. “Yeah, yeah! Go girls!” my daughter shouted at one point in our conversation.

I was prepared to talk about what a big deal this year’s election is. I was prepared to talk about shattering the glass ceiling—because even at six years old, my daughter has already encountered the twisted, perverse notion that there are some things girls cannot do, simply because they are girls.

But I wasn’t prepared for her reaction when she asked me who I was going to vote for. I wasn’t prepared for the apprehension in her voice. I wasn’t prepared for the relief that swept across her face when I told her that, yes, I was going to vote for a woman to be our next president.

It was as if the world had already planted in her heart the idea that boys will only ever vote for boys.

I wonder where on earth she got that idea.

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I wasn’t ready for it to come up again later that evening, as we were saying goodnight. Still not fully convinced, she asked me, “Daddy, have you ever voted for a girl before?”

Thanks in part to Jennifer Granholm, former governor of Michigan, I at least had a decent answer to my daughter’s question.

But I still wasn’t ready for what she was about to teach me.

Next, my daughter asked what it means to be president or governor—what it means to be “in charge” of an entire country or state. (As far as bedtime stalling questions go, that was a pretty good one.)

So I began to explain, using the best 6-year-old language I could think of. And without even realizing it—without meaning to—I defaulted to masculine language.

He decides what laws will be passed.

He makes sure we have good roads and schools and things like that.

He works with the leaders of other countries, to make sure we get along.

It didn’t go unnoticed. After a few seconds, my daughter corrected me:

“Or SHE, daddy.”

(For those of you who think so-called “generic masculine” language is harmless.)

There it was. My white male privilege, on full display in front of my beloved 6-year-old daughter.

I believe the term is “busted.”

Me, a supposedly enlightened “progressive.”

Me, using language that centered myself and my gender. Language that automatically assumes people in power will look exactly like I do.

My daughter noticed. And it spoke volumes to her.

White male privilege is insidious.

This sort of language—the language I used with my daughter the other night—is an essential part of how we’ve kept marginalized groups—women, blacks, the LGBTQ community—from gaining more than a few token seats at the table, if that.

If I say “he” every time I talk about our elected officials, my daughter will grow up believing leadership is a masculine trait.

If she doesn’t see women leading our churches, running our businesses, serving in the highest offices—in other words, women being “assertive” and “ambitious” and all the other things women are told they aren’t supposed to be—then nothing, NOTHING, will ever change.

To put it another way, one female president isn’t nearly enough. Our job isn’t even close to being done until the day when there is nothing remarkable about women, people of color, or members of the LGBTQ community serving as commander-in-chief. Or running a business. Or standing in a pulpit.

Why have we made so little progress advancing the cause of women and other marginalized groups? Maybe it’s because people like me are clinging to a narrative that keeps us at the center.

When I cast my ballot tomorrow, I will take one small step toward changing that. But it won’t be the last.

Top image: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

5 Things You Need to Know About the Accusations Against World Vision’s Gaza Director

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Last week, the Israeli security agency Shin Bet accused a World Vision staffer of funneling millions to Hamas. Mohammad El Halabi, who ran World Vision’s Gaza branch, was arrested back in June.

I used to work at World Vision. For the past eight years, my wife and I have sponsored a child in Gaza. Which means it’s not just their money at stake. It’s ours. And I don’t want a penny of it falling into Hamas’ hands.

Guess what? Neither does World Vision. It would be their ultimate nightmare scenario—which is why it’s hard to imagine they’d be so careless as to allow $50 million to be stolen right under their noses.

World Vision is not perfect. They can be big and bureaucratic. They make mistakes. (Show me an NGO that doesn’t.)

But they are not stupid. One of the things I came to appreciate when I was at World Vision is just how perilous their work in Gaza is—and they know it. Not just because their staff is at risk every time there’s another war. (Though they are.) But also because even the slightest criticism of Israel’s government can lead to a backlash. It could cost them the ability to work in the Palestinian territories. They also risk antagonizing a good share of their American donor base, which is largely conservative, evangelical, and very pro-Israel.

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So, money falling into Hamas’ hands? That’s something World Vision would work very hard to avoid. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t (or didn’t) happen. But there’s big, big difference between “alleged” and “proven.”

So what about the allegations against Mohammad El Halabi? Consider the following…

1. Israel detained Halabi for 50 days before bringing any charges.

They also denied access to a lawyer for at least 21 days. During this time, Halabi was interrogated without anyone present to safeguard his interests or legal rights.

2. The security agency detaining him has a history of using torture to extract confessions.

Israeli courts prohibited the “systemic use of torture” in 1999, but Shin Bet continues to use sleep deprivation, physical violence, and other means widely viewed as torture to get information out of suspects. And by the way, if you think that’s just “Palestinian propaganda,” it’s not just Palestinians who complain of being tortured. Right-wing Israeli activists have also accused Shin Bet of torturing Jewish detainees.

3. Right after the story broke, Israeli diplomats launched a propaganda war on social media.

Wanting to turn public opinion against Halabi and World Vision before any conflicting evidence could be presented, Israel’s Foreign Ministry instructed its officials to spread the accusations far and wide, treating them as if they were already establish fact. This not-subtle attempt to have Halabi declared guilty in the court of public opinion undermines his right to a fair hearing in an actual court.

So you’ve got denying access to a lawyer, a track record of torture, and using your diplomats to try the accused on Twitter. Any one of these is evidence of a disregard for the rule of law.

But there are two more things to consider…

4. Like most reputable NGOs, World Vision has safeguards in place to keep this kind of thing from happening.

In World Vision’s case, these include a recurring audit by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC). Now, it’s true safeguards can be bypassed. But the burden of proof remains on the accuser, not the accused. It’s up to Israel to document the money trail and back up the numbers they’ve been throwing around.

Which they may not be able to do, because…

5. Israel’s numbers appear not to add up.

Israeli officials have variously claimed the following amounts were diverted to Hamas:

  • 60% of World Vision’s entire Gaza budget
  • $50 million since 2010
  • $7.2 million per year

There’s one problem. World Vision’s entire Gaza budget is reportedly $2-3 million per year. Over the past decade, they’ve allocated $22.5 million to Gaza. That’s far short of the amount Israel claims was funneled to Hamas. Even if 100% of World Vision’s budget had been diverted, it wouldn’t amount to what Israel says was stolen.

Israel also says Halabi has been diverting large sums to Hamas since at least 2010. But according to World Vision, he was only put in his current position in 2014—prior to that, he only had control over a small part of the organization’s Gaza budget.

These are big discrepancies in Israel’s story. Which begs the question: how is Halabi supposed to have diverted more of World Vision’s money than he had access to or than even exists?

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The only evidence offered by Israel so far is a confession reportedly extracted from the suspect—Halabi’s lawyer disputes Israel’s claim that he confessed. Halabi has not been allowed to present his side of the story. World Vision still has not been given evidence to corroborate Israel’s allegations.

Whatever you think about the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s handling of the case against Halabi raises more questions than answers. Accusations like these could be used as a pretext for shutting down vital humanitarian work in Gaza, one of the few remaining lifelines for people trapped there. Even if the charges are eventually discredited, the damage will have been done—for World Vision and for the people they are there to serve.

World Vision should give a full accounting—and their latest statement outlines the steps they’re taking to do just that. If any amount of money fell into Hamas’ hands, the organization should act to make sure it never happens again.

But Israel’s disregard for the rule of law and the apparent holes in their case against Halabi should give us pause. At the very least, we should not accept their version of events without careful scrutiny.

For the people of Gaza more than anyone else, there’s too much at stake.

Related: World Vision’s August 4 statement on Mohammad El Halabi’s arrest
Update: World Vision’s August 8 statement

Images (top to bottom): Zyklon Nargis, World Vision Deutschland / CC BY 3.0; ISM Palestine on Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0; Physicians for Human Rights on Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

A question for those who won’t say #BlackLivesMatter

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Two years ago, the Iraqi city of Mosul fell to ISIS. Christians living there became targets of persecution. ISIS would mark their homes and businesses with the Arabic letter ن (N, for “Nazarene”) and give them four options: leave, convert, pay a “protection” tax, or die.

The world responded—Christians and Muslims together—by saying #WeAreN. People wrote the Arabic letter ن on their hands. They changed their profile pictures on Facebook and Twitter. They stood up in solidarity with this one persecuted group in one corner of the world.

So tell me: did you object to saying #WeAreN two years ago, the way you object to saying #BlackLivesMatter today? 

Did you respond, “All lives matter!” then as you do now?

Did you argue that it’s unfair to single out one group for concern, as if saying #WeAreN somehow minimizes the value of other groups—some of whom, in the case of Iraq, arguably suffered more at the hands of ISIS than Christians? (Pro tip: google the term “Yazidi.”)

What meaningful difference is there between saying #WeAreN in solidarity with those in Iraq and saying #BlackLivesMatter in solidarity with our black sisters and brothers in America?

If none of you took #WeAreN to mean and no one else matters, why do you take #BlackLivesMatter in this way? Why do you assume it means what it categorically does not mean, and ignore all evidence to the contrary? Did you listen to those who started the movement before you drew your conclusions about it?

Is there, perhaps, another, deeper reason you don’t want to say #BlackLivesMatter?

Are you afraid of what these words will force you to acknowledge—that racism is still very much alive in this country?

That you really don’t want to give up your power and privilege? (I know I’d rather not give up mine, if I’m being honest.)

That you don’t really want to “value others above yourselves,” as the apostle Paul once put it?

That you’re not prepared to face the implications of living as if black lives truly matter to us?

If you were one of the millions who said #WeAreN two years ago, but cannot abide saying #BlackLivesMatter, how is that not the very definition of hypocrisy?

Photo: Gerry Lauzon on FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0

What if ALL we did was tell our kids the story?

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Years ago, during an ill-advised—and short—career in youth ministry, I found myself teaching a junior high Sunday school class.

The denominationally approved curriculum didn’t exactly light a fire under my kids. (Not to worry: it wasn’t an Episcopal curriculum!)

One day I realized none of them were able to say why they were Christian, despite having been baptized and confirmed in the church. None could articulate the gospel story, much less tell David from Abraham.

I felt like I was losing them a little more every week. And I came to believe that, as one evangelical leader famously said, it’s a sin to bore kids with the gospel.

So I chucked the curriculum and simply started walking us through the story of the Bible.

Read the rest on GrowChristians.org.

Image: Michelle Tribe on  Flickr / CC BY 2.0

You did this.

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You did this.

If you’ve spent these last eight years relentlessly demonizing the current occupant of the White House—questioning his religion (as if it should matter), doubting his citizenship, making thinly veiled racist jokes—you did this.

And no, this isn’t about being a partisan shill. I disagree with President Obama on a great many things.

If you only listen to voices that reinforce your existing bias—all while complaining about everyone else’s blind spots—you did this.

If you cheer for obstructionists who care little about finding common ground—whose sole objective is to torpedo the other side—you did this.

If you’ve demonized “outsiders”—immigrants, Muslims, gays—if you’ve perpetuated false stereotypes, refused to acknowledge their humanity, treated them as little more than a punch line to a crass joke—then you did this.

You may be shaking your head, wondering how we got to this point, where a misogynistic, xenophobic, neo-fascist demagogue is now the presumptive nominee of a major political party.

But you shouldn’t.

When gatekeepers grow their empires by preying on people’s fears, convincing white evangelicals—who happen to be one of the most disproportionately privileged groups to ever walk the earth—that we are under siege, then Donald Trump is what we get.

If you nurse a persecution mindset long enough, Donald Trump is what you find waiting for you at the end of the road.

When you perpetuate the rhetorical violence of the culture war—when you live and die by an “us vs. them” mentality—then Donald Trump is your future.

When you teach people to be perpetually outraged, Donald Trump is the only logical outcome.

When you encourage your followers to marginalize, stigmatize, and demean people because of where they come from or who they love—Donald Trump is your standard-bearer.

Already I hear some evangelicals asking, “How did this happen?”

Was there any other possible outcome?

As if choosing fear over love—and teaching our followers to do likewise—could ever lead to a different result?

Trump is not some strange aberration who suddenly appeared out of nowhere. He is a reflection of us.

You did this.

We did this.

God help us.

Photo: Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

ISIS, genocide, and the real test of who we love

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If you’re a politician, condemning ISIS is about as risky Lois Griffin’s “9/11 was bad” campaign speech.

Still, there is something remarkable about the resolution that passed Congress this week—one of the few things to pass Congress lately, much less with bipartisan support—and the declaration made by John Kerry, accusing ISIS of genocide.

Both statements mentioned a number of groups who’ve been persecuted by ISIS: Christians, Yazidis, Turkmen, and others.

Take Christians, to start. What ISIS has done to them is beyond horrible. The Christian community in Mosul—which goes back centuries—is no more. Some fled. Some were killed.

 

Then there are the Yazidis, a small ethno-religious minority living in the northern part of the country. Their treatment at the hands of ISIS has been, if anything, even more brutal. They weren’t given a chance to leave. There are mass graves filled with the bodies of slain Yazidis. I have friends who have seen them, who have stood over the remains of slain Yazidis and wept. In addition, thousands of Yazidi women and girls were sold as sex slaves.

Then there are Shia Muslims. They’ve been targets of ISIS, too. In fact, the majority of ISIS’ victims are Muslim.

It’s normal to be drawn toward those we most easily identify with.

But the real test of our faith is not how well we love those who are most like us, but how we love those who are least like us.

Are we able to do what the religious expert in Luke 10 could not? Are we able to see those who are different from us as our neighbor? Are we able to call them by name?

The religious expert could not even bring himself to say the name Samaritan.

Love your neighbor as yourself. Not just the neighbor who looks like you. Not just the one who shares the same faith as you. (Jews in Jesus’ day almost certainly didn’t think of Samaritans as sharing the same faith.)

The true test of our faith is how well we love “the other.”

Jesus didn’t just say, “Love your neighbor.” He said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.

In other words, the measure by which you love yourself—by which you love your own “tribe,” whoever that may be—that’s the measure by which your love of “the other” will be judged.

Do we really love “the other”? The outsider? The one we can relate to least? The one we are most likely to write off, dismiss, and marginalize?

Imagine a church that did not just speak up for the suffering of its own people, but for the suffering of those who aren’t even part of this body.

Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office / CC BY

So this is what being a “Christian blogger” means…

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Yesterday, John Pavlovitz was blocked by the Christian Bloggers Network on Facebook.

For those who don’t know, John is a popular Christian writer whose posts go viral with appalling regularity. (No, I’m not jealous at all.) The Christian Bloggers Network is, well, pretty much what the name suggests: a place where thousands of Christian writers like John and me to share our content with each other.

Facebook groups can play a big part in building an audience—every blogger’s biggest challenge (followed closely by what happens once you’ve managed to get an audience). The right group, with a little bit of timing and luck, can generate thousands of new readers for your blog. I was lucky enough to have this happen to me when the Unapologetically Episcopalian FB group shared my post on why I love the Episcopal Church. (I still owe them a cake.)

Now, these groups are not public property. Their admins are perfectly free to decide what flies and what doesn’t on their pages.

In the case of the Christian Bloggers Network, one of its two admins has shared the view that progressivism is a “self-imposed mental disability,” so it’s not surprising they don’t take kindly to some of John’s content.

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Yet, it is the Christian Bloggers Network, after all. Not the Conservative Christian Bloggers Network. Or the Evangelical Christian Bloggers Network. Or the Everyone But Progressive Christian Bloggers Network.

Interestingly, they didn’t stop at blocking John. They’ve deleted almost every post sharing his content or asking why he was blocked. (See one example below, which got taken down within minutes.) They’ve offered no explanation that I’ve seen—either publicly or privately to John.

(Update: they’ve blocked me as well. Yay!)

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Now, if you’ve read John’s blog for any length of time, you might have noticed there’s a pretty consistent theme to his writing. It might be summed up as this: Christians, don’t be jerks.

John has written about depression, doubt, what (not) to do if your kids come out, how we use the Bible as a weapon, and how we treat those who leave the church. In every case, his message is basically: be kind.

This, apparently, is anathema.

Which begs the question: what does pass as Christian, according to groups like this?

Labeling Catholics as Satan worshippers? That’s acceptably Christian, it seems.

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Peddling end-times hysteria? (Never mind Jesus’ teaching or the 0-for-who-knows-how-many-times-now record of end-times prognosticators.) You better believe that’s Christian.

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I don’t even know what this is, but apparently it’s Christian…

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Jesus wants to make you a millionaire? Oh so Christian.

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To be fair, the admins at the Christian Bloggers Network may or may not agree with any of these posts. Yet each of them was posted to their page, and none have been taken down.

But telling parents of gay kids to love their children no matter what? That’s not Christian, evidently.

Proclaiming peace to your Muslim neighbors? Not Christian.

Asking other Christians to “radiate the kindness and humility of Jesus” to those who are struggling with faith? That’s SO not Christian.

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Photo: John Pavlovitz FB page