Tag Archives: showing mercy

Proven Innocent But Still Locked Up: Our Broken Criminal Justice System

God Wants Justice and Mercy, Not Religion,

and We’re Falling Short

by Pastor Paul J. Bern (Isaiah 58)

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For this week’s message I have been inspired to write about the true meaning of the twin brothers of the Spirit of the Lord known as justice and mercy. I saw an item of general human interest on the evening news on one of the local channels here in Atlanta about a man, one Sonny Bharadia, who has been locked up for 17 years for a crime he did not commit. It has only recently come to light that the DNA evidence in his case points to another man who is already serving a life sentence for murder in a separate case. And yet the state prison system here in Georgia is refusing to hear the evidence and release the man (to view the whole story, click here). This is injustice at its absolute worst! So I took this to the Lord in prayer, as I often do, and inquired as to what part of the Scriptures I should use to deliver a message condemning the State of Georgia’s refusal to hear the evidence that would exonerate this man. The result of my communication with the Lord will be a message on Isaiah chapter 58, and I will begin at verse 5.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58, verses 5-7)

Fasting, from a Biblical standpoint, is the voluntary abstention from all food and drink except for plain water. This usually means abstinence from sexual relations as well, and for a certain period of time, usually for anywhere from 24 hours up to an entire week or more. So, when God defined fasting through his prophet Isaiah, he meant different kinds of fasting besides simply doing without food. What can we compare this to today? In the first place, what we call ‘dieting’ today is what used to be called ‘fasting’. When we’re dieting we’re still eating, but a lot less of it. But when we’re fasting, we’re doing without everything all at once. By doing this, we rely on the Lord for our sustenance and him alone. That’s why fasting brings us closer to God. Although my fasts are of the 24 hour variety because I have medical issues, I find even little fasts like those can bring me into closer union and harmony with God.

False humility will not cut it before the Lord either. Go ahead and give your unwanted clothing and chattel furnishings to the charity of your choice, tithe your 10% to the church of your choice, and when you attend your charity gala’s, be sure to be there to see and be seen. Those are the people who gladly humble themselves when everyone is looking at them, but when they are out of sight they turn into ravenous beasts of prey. But we know who they are, don’t we? But then the Lord corrects us in verse 6: “Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and …. to set the oppressed free and to break every yoke?” To me at least, ‘loosing the chains of injustice’ would include the injustice that has been committed against men and women like Sonny Bharadia. Although the Bill of Rights contained in our still-beloved Constitution says we are all innocent until proven guilty, oftentimes in today’s American criminal in-justice system the defendants in these cases are considered guilty right from the start, which is clearly unconstitutional. This is apparently what happened to Mr. Baradia.

To “set the oppressed free” in today’s world means, to me as an American, normalizing relations between Native Americans, other minorities and people of color with the remaining majority white Anglo/Caucasian population. To ‘set the oppressed free’, then, should be defined as normalizing race relations in America. As we have seen from the police shootings of unarmed Blacks, not to mention Rosanne Barr’s racist tweets and Neo-Nazi’s openly running for political office in states like Illinois and Virginia, my country has a long way to go towards ‘setting the oppressed free’. What about this, people? Please, we have to do something about America’s race problem immediately! Otherwise, our ‘Christian faith’ becomes little more than a Sunday morning social club.

What about “breaking every yoke”? This would presumably mean yokes of bondage. Nearly 2 ½ millennia ago when these words were written, ‘bondage’ meant being sold into slavery, or living one’s life as a slave. Although human slavery still flourishes here in the 21st century, the number one form of bondage in modern times is debt, the second is very low wages and the third is taxes. Never mind the latter two – I have already written expensively on the need for a $15.00 per hour minimum wage, and I outlined a simple way to overhaul the tax system in chapter 9 of my 2011 book, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, which is still available in its third edition on Amazon from here. Debt is a topic for yet another day.

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” What happens today when somebody sees a homeless person rummaging through their trash, or when a vagrant camps out on the porch of a vacant house on their street? Does anybody share food or offer any warm, dry shelter? No, they call 911 and watch triumphantly through their windows while the cops haul the homeless guy off to jail for trespassing. Provided, of course, the homeless guy survives being arrested. There are even people being put out of whole families – banished, actually – for reasons real and imaginary. The reason this condition exists to the extent that it does in American society today is because forgiveness is no longer being taught in the home. How can we expect our children to learn forgiveness and loving kindness when many of us are lacking in these qualities ourselves? One thing is for sure – this is a time of reckoning by a lot of people. It is a time of reckoning and taking stock of ourselves and the world in which we live. And when we have done these things, only then can the repair work begin. Now let’s finish up this week’s message starting at verse 9.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I’. If you do away with the yoke of oppression; with the pointing finger and the malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.” (Isaiah 58, verses 9-11)

Those who practice true justice and mercy, those who show compassion and empathy, those who put others before themselves, they are the ones who, when they cry out to God for help, their prayers get answered. So, if you’re crying out to God for help and it seems he’s not listening, try doing something really nice for some people. Bake them a cake, mow their grass, babysit their child, you get the idea. Whatever you do will come back to you. But as the prophet went on to say, “If you do away with the yoke of oppression; with the pointing finger and the malicious talk….” It’s time for America to pack up her outdated and mean-spirited racial prejudices and carry them to the curb. It’s also time to clamp down hard on human trafficking – too many women and children have become sex slaves for the rich and powerful, and not enough people are talking about this. Well, I am one who is, and I want to know why there aren’t more joining with me in exposing this distasteful business! In the meantime, these same people maliciously point their fingers at others and judge them for perceived wrongs real or imagined. As you judge, so you will be judged. Never forget that.

“…. if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday.” Notice that Isaiah wrote “spend yourselves”, not ‘spend your money’. How is this accomplished? By devoting our bodies to a little work, maybe get a little sweaty, or giving our precious time to a cause greater than ourselves, such as helping the survivors of a natural disaster. You can even make a career out of this kind of work, people do it every day. “The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs….” But, mind you all, only if you walk in His ways instead of your own. I know, I know, this seems counter-intuitive on the surface of things. God gave us a brain, it’s our own responsibility to use the darn thing. So making our own decisions based on our own best judgments is the responsible thing to do, and that’s right. Except, our minds can sometimes play tricks on us, causing us to see or hear things differently than they actually are, creating what we perceive as audio or visual distortions. Our emotions often give us even bigger problems than that. So consequently we take the wrong actions. Whether this is purposeful or not is besides the point when it still turns out to be wrong.

“…. he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden….” There are hidden benefits – more like bonuses, actually – to consulting with God prior to putting our plans into action. Are our plans congruent with God’s? Better yet, does that work both ways as well? Because if it does, God doesn’t just reward us. He reinforces us in ways that we cannot do ourselves. God can and will give us an overhaul – sometimes whether we ask for it or not! Trust me, I’ve been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt. But God doesn’t allow us to go through these things to be hard on us, or to be mean to us. He does it to build us up and to strengthen our character. So cheer up! Life isn’t so hard. You’re just like a well-watered garden when you consult God first. Who else would know any better except for your Maker?

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Justice, mercy, and the ending of the West Virginia teacher’s strike

Progressive Christianity, Worker’s Rights and Social Justice

by pastor Paul J. Bern

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The recent settlement of the West Virginia teacher’s strike, which resulted in a 5% pay raise after lasting for nearly two weeks, will soon echo across the landscape of American labor, and hopefully for the entire world as well. People everywhere – and I mean globally – are literally starving for a pay raise. Today’s labor market – not just in America but globally – already has within it the seeds of revolution, and the people are most definitely ready to rise up, if only I could get you all to turn off your damned televisions and gaming consoles!! This isn’t about religion, this is about justice and equality, and the Bible has plenty to say about both. So, for those of you who may think the Bible is some antiquated rule book that has lost its relevance, allow me to set the record straight.

In Psalm 106 verse 3, it says, “Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.” In Proverbs 29 verse 4, it says, “By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down.” Come to think of it, I’m going to send that Bible verse to every member of Congress in Washington, D.C.! The prophet Isaiah lamented the lack of justice in his own time – so this problem is not new – when he wrote, “So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, and honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice.” Here’s one more sample of the mind of Almighty God: “And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts, do not think evil of each other’.” All of the above truths were brought sharply into focus most recently by the West Virginia teacher’s strike. The ugly truth we all must face is this – if our net take-home pay won’t even cover the most basic of living expenses, we are economic slaves! Rather than elaborate here, allow me to post an excerpt of my first book from 2011, now in its third updated edition. Enjoy!

The Ongoing Battle for Worker’s Rights Across America

(excerpt from, “The Middle and Working Class Manifesto”, by Rev. Paul J. Bern)

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America has become a ticking time bomb of inequality and lack of opportunity. The rights of US workers have been trampled underfoot by the rich multinational corporations and the top 1% elite, who have outsourced all our jobs overseas as they leave us high and dry on the island of minimum wage jobs with no futures. There are also a growing number of employed people who, despite having a job, are still living in poverty. There are at least 19 million US workers who now fall into this rapidly growing category. The median US income of $35,000.00 a year is not going to get you far in today’s economy, and half of the country is making less than that. The reason we struggle with these things is because the Economic Elite have robbed us all through the systematic confiscation of middle class wealth, security and prosperity. This has caused tremendous suffering among workers throughout the world, it is no less than a criminal act, and it is the result of the largest single transfer of wealth in all of human history from the world’s middle classes to the rich.

 

 

The first thing on any list of worker’s rights is that of a fair and realistic minimum wage, and more fundamentally, the basic human right to a decent livelihood. Unemployment as we have previously known it must now come to an end forever. This does not mean unemployment will be eliminated, but periods of unemployment can and should be converted to times of retraining to acquire new skills or to even completely change careers. What gives any wealthy corporate 1%’er CEO or their subordinates the right to tell anybody, “Sorry, you are not needed around here anymore. Your skills, experience, and your work ethic no longer matter here. Our company’s bottom line and the interests of our shareholders are far more important than that of our workers.” This is the essence of what it means to be fired. In my view, this is demeaning to the point of being abusive, and it is therefore an abuse of authority.

 

This brings me to the point that I wish to make. In today’s world, if the net take-home pay of any given individual does not meet, or just barely meets, that same individual’s daily cost of living, then that is tantamount to economic slavery. Let me say that again because this point simply cannot be overemphasized. If your take-home pay won’t even take you home, you are a slave. Oh, you are free to move around and to come and go as you choose and take care of business, that is true. But if after you go to the grocery store, pay the light bill (assuming you are fortunate enough to be able to do that), put gas in your tank (assuming you are lucky enough to still own a car) and set some money aside for this month’s rent or mortgage (if you’re not already on the street or living with relatives) – and then, after all that you peek into your wallet and realize that you have $7.00 left to live on for the whole stinking’ week, that’s when you know you are a slave! What happens to the people whose incomes are at or below minimum wage? They go hungry and are often homeless. Many of these newly homeless, formerly middle class people also have kids who have fallen into poverty along with their parents. As I write this, it is profoundly sad to report that 1 in every 5 American kids will be homeless at some point in their childhoods. And this is happening in the United States of America, supposedly the richest country in the world? This is a moral outrage, a social injustice, and it is economic discrimination of the worst kind!

Since it is an issue of economic discrimination (regardless of race or religion), it also becomes a 21st century civil rights issue creating a demand for fundamental change in the way our economy works and the way our government works. This too, then, is cause for protests, demonstrations, boycotts, occupations, general strikes and other forms of peaceful civil disobedience. On this point alone, there are enough issues on the collective dinner plate of the American people to foster open revolt throughout the land. Never mind everything else that I have written about. Think about it for a minute. How does it feel to be a slave? Makes you feel kind of angry, doesn’t it? Maybe even violated on a certain level, like we’ve been raped? The time to rise up and say, “No more!” has arrived. It’s time for all of us to get out from in front of out TV’s and our gaming consoles and computers and to get our backsides out in the streets and start protesting – a lot! And that’s just for this issue alone. Now allow me to point out a couple of subcategories.

 

The first sub-category under worker’s rights is the right to better and more comprehensive unemployment insurance, and to also allow some independent contractors to draw unemployment provided certain conditions are met (subject to future legislation or referendum). Any worker who has lost his or her job through no fault of their own will be entitled to up to 52 weeks of unemployment compensation instead of the current maximum of 26 weeks due to a continued turnover in the job markets of most developed countries, starting with the US. Besides their job search, at any time during the worker’s period of unemployment he or she should have two other options available to them to assist in the development of their careers. The first should be the ability to sign up for public works projects to obtain immediate employment if it is needed. (The worker’s second option will be reeducation, and I will touch on that one next so please bear with me). Workers will be required to choose one of the above to qualify for benefits. We have been needing massive public works projects to repair America’s crumbling infrastructure for decades. I would conservatively estimate that anywhere from 1-3 million people could be employed this way as contract laborers, salaried employees, or subcontractors, depending on the need. The fact of the matter is that we need jobs, we need lots of them, and we need them right now! Seven twenty five an hour won’t work either. Let’s strike and protest for action while we engage in other methods of passive resistance on this matter. We might as well, because things are going to continue to get worse until we do.

 

The next sub-category of worker’s rights is the right to free vocational retraining for life. Period, end of story. Anybody can go back to school and get retrained at will, up to and including a 2 year degree (with a 4-year available for some additional cost) at little or no cost. Large, wealthy corporations with robust cash flows, as well as millionaires and the super-rich, will supply the necessary funding through what I call in my book “the excess wealth tax” (you can buy the book on Amazon from right here). Since corporate America made the decision to send their factories and all the jobs those factories provided overseas to lower their labor costs, and since this action has caused the obliteration of millions of American careers, it will be corporate America who will shoulder the expense of retraining these people whose careers evaporated through no fault of their own. If they take your job away, or if they export or downsize your career out of existence like I experienced myself, then it is those same corporate henchmen who must pay for your reeducation. Higher public education is a basic, fundamental human right. It is not a privilege! As of today, higher education, and the fundamental right to improve and enrich ourselves, is an essential human right that must be had by all without qualification!

 

Now I know what at least some of you are thinking right now – “who’s gonna pay for all this?” That is a perfectly valid question. Let me put all this into perspective for you. If your US government took all the money that was spent in a single day on the twin occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, plus the clandestine and illegal wars and “black ops” in Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Syria and elsewhere and set it aside in an enormous savings account, there would be enough money to send every American school age kid from the first grade through high school and upwards to any public college, state university, or vocational or technical school to earn their degree of choice with the tuition fully paid for, plus the cost of all their books and supplies, their meals during school hours, Internet access, new computers, and with access to public transportation covered for those who need it.

So, for those who say we can’t afford to send everyone to public or community colleges with most if not all of their expenses fully paid, or that the money to accomplish this just isn’t there, either doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or they are elitists and bigots who can’t stand to see middle and working class and minority students getting ahead. Access to higher education – and looking after the children of those who are retraining – is an American civil right that should be equally available to all without qualification, not just to those who can afford the ‘tuition’. Would you like to see test scores improve in our nation’s schools? Tell all those kids that they are all going to public college at taxpayer expense, and watch their grades shoot up like rockets at Cape Canaveral. Give them an incentive to do better and our kids will rise to the challenge every time!

 

The right to family and sick leave, which must include maternity leave for women, is the final right I have listed for all workers and independent contractors. Every other country in the developed world from Europe to Canada to Japan has paid family and sick leave for its workers – all except for the US. It’s way past time for Congress and President Trump to bring our country up to speed with the rest of the world. Moreover, medical, family and maternity leave should be allowed for up to 3 months per calendar year, and it must be made illegal to fire someone from his or her job because that employee needed to take family or sick leave. The right of all individuals to have medical, family or maternity leave must be had by all, without interference or fear of retribution, for the strengthening of our families and the nurturing of our children. The fundamental rights of workers must be honored and acknowledged by rule of law, and by a culture change that puts people before profits, which goes hand in hand with Progressive Christianity. As the old ways of greed-based capitalism continue to die of old age, this is the new reality we must all embrace if we are to thrive in the 21st century.

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To All My Haters, This Bud’s For You

My Open Letter to All Offended “Christians”

by Rev. Paul J. Bern

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Dear Offended Christians,

 

All of my regular weekly readers know by now that I can – and have – posted commentaries on my blogs, my website, and social media that has been sharply critical of the mainstream churches – both Protestant and Catholic – here in the US. While I have received praise from many of my readers for these postings, I have also been on the receiving end of no small amount of vehement condemnation from numerous ‘religious’ individuals, combined with weathering criticism from many (but not all) atheists. I’ve been told I’m going to hell when I die, I’ve been accused of voluntary stupidity, I’ve been verbally assaulted and abused on social media, and I’ve even had my personal safety threatened. So far, nobody has made good on any of those threats, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Still in all, I’m terribly sorry that I hurt your feelings. None of us likes to be criticized, so I totally get it. I feel badly about that. I know I’ve said some pretty hard words to many of you “Christian” folks, and maybe I’ve been somewhat less than gentle in my delivery, but that happens when you’re tired. And I am really freaking tired! Allow me to list all of the ways I am fed up to here with the hypocrisy shown by so many ‘religious’ people!

[1] You wrap yourselves up in the cross, your piety is second to none, and yet you have seemingly forgotten to read the Book you proclaim to set your moral compass to. I’m tired of hearing you telling gay people that they can’t simultaneously be both gay and followers of Christ. You quote Romans chapter 1, verses 26-27 and Levitical law when you condemn gay people, but you forget the counsel of the apostle James when he wrote: “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2: 12-13) Instead of judging gay people, why not show them some mercy and compassion? Moreover, I’m tired of you regularly dispensing damnation on the queer community, and then offering empty “thoughts and prayers” before resuming your normal schedule.

[2] I’m tired of arrogant pulpit bullies who believe they’re entitled to tell people where they can pee, who they can marry, and whether they really love Jesus or not. I’m particularly tired of your demands for 10% of my income. You’re not going to get one stinking penny from me! After all, you preachers spend much of your churches’ proceeds on yourselves and your wicked and vain desires. You buy luxury cars for yourselves and your wives and live in extravagant homes while people sleep in their cars as they and their children go hungry. Rest assured that your punishment is coming, and it will be most severe!!

[3] I’m tired of you being more outraged by red coffee cups at Starbucks, or school and department store restrooms, than by poverty, racism and America’s crumbling school systems. Ditto for the hypocrisy of your homophobia, all that institutionalized racism, and the anti-science sentiments of many Christian groups. God gave you a brain! Try using the damn thing once in a while! You’d be surprised at how well it works. Thinking with your emotions instead of your brain always ends badly for you anyway. If you were using your head, you would be able to remember that.

[4] I am thoroughly exasperated with your simultaneous condemnation of abortion while you beat your war drums. The US military has killed 2 million people in the Vietnam War and 1 million more innocent civilians in Iraq. The fact that all those dead Iraqis were Muslim is besides the point. Have you forgotten what Jesus said at the Sermon On the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God”? (Matt. 5: 9) Yes, it’s true, there are roughly 50,000 abortions performed each year in the US alone, not counting the rest of the world. While I am by no means pro-abortion, I refuse to condemn those women who have abortions for the same reasons as #1 above. Why? Because there are two main reasons why women are having abortions. First, the last time I checked, a month’s supply of birth control pills costs many hundreds of dollars here in America thanks to our greed-based medical care system. Second, if America’s employers paid a living wage, a lot more women could afford to use birth control, hence fewer abortions. Oh that’s right – America doesn’t have any more jobs that pay a living wage because our brilliant leaders outsourced all the good-paying jobs overseas for pennies on the dollar so they could make a whole lot more money!!

Please excuse me, I just realized I probably hurt your feelings yet again, Mr. and Mrs. Churchperson. So I really do get that your feelings are hurt. I understand that you’re offended, and that’s not my intention. The thing is, if you’re going to tell an entire segment of the population that they’re going to Hell simply for existing, and if you’re going to continually target those people through the Church and the Law and your social media accounts, don’t get angry with me when I tell you you’re being hateful and judgmental and ignorant. It could be worse. At least I’m not damning you for all eternity. You know, like you do to others every day of the year?

Sincerely,

A Very Tired Christian

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