Monday, February 13, 2017

265. Johnson Amendment should be sacred

President Trump wants to repeal the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits churches and other non-profits from specifically endorsing political candidates. Separating religion and politics is manifested in the constitutional separation of church and state. In exchange, churches and non-profits, do not have to pay taxes.

Jeremy W. Peter, of the New York Times, explains, “It is one of the brightest lines in the legal separation between religion and politics. Under the provision, which was made in 1954, tax-exempt entities like churches and charitable organizations are unable to directly or indirectly participate in any political campaign on behalf of, or in opposition to, any candidate. Specifically, ministers are restricted from endorsing or opposing candidates from the pulpit. If they do, they risk losing their tax-exempt status.”

There are major concerns that come with churches endorsing candidates for political office.

Churches are supposed to be led by trusted members of society. But considering that they have breached this trust on many occasions, do we really want to add additional temptation and put their congregation up for sale to the deep pockets of politicians and special interest groups? Church members should be able to apply religious teaching to the candidates on their own without their leaders holding their hands. If they can’t, then maybe church leaders are not good job in their religious teachings.

It is also about integrity. If the preachers just preach, there is no concern that teachings are being directed by political donations. Their mission is to lead church member in the examination and commitment to their religion, not to steer beliefs toward a financial incentive. And don’t think for a second that it doesn’t make a difference, I watched church leaders, in a hypothetical situation, gear their mission toward grant money.

Even though churches already suggest their political interests to members and, due to public outcry,  the IRS has essentially stopped enforcing church-led politics, it should not be legalized and open the door to political money—the same political money that is already ruining fair elections. Church leaders can and do offer their influence, because they can always make their political feelings known outside of church activities.

In addition, it is not a popular idea. Scott McConnell, executive director of LifeWay Research, found that 79 percent of Americans thought it is inappropriate for churches to endorse political candidates. “Americans already argue about politics enough outside the church,” said McConnell. “They don’t want pastors bringing those arguments into worship.”

In that manner, it could also hurt the church attendance and financial support from the membership if they become divided over politics. Politics are increasingly being woven into society, and those who take sides, whether it is actors, athletes or business owners, risk losing or dividing their support. It may even prompt a church split, which unfortunately is already too common in the religious community.

The proposed repeal is noticeably political. In the spirit that nothing is sacred or constitutional anymore, churches are generally a stronghold of the Republican party, uniting the strange relationship between fiscal conservatives and social conservatives. Thus, Republicans have a partisan interest in churches endorsing candidates.

Ironically, if the Johnson Amendment is repealed, it could backfire on Trump in 2020.  As I have mentioned many times, it is difficult for a moral Christian to justify or reconcile the ethics and values of their religion with voting for Trump and his transgressions.

264. From seeds to grizzly bears

When most people think of the significance of climate change, they are concerned with the human consequences of melting ice, rising sea levels and changing weather patterns—sometimes resulting in prolonged droughts and severe storms. However, climate change also affects ecosystems as the slightest variation can have a domino effect on the organisms within the system.  Ecosystems that include plants, animals, microorganisms and non-living components, such as air, water, temperature and minerals, can be vulnerable to even minor disturbances.

One example, the Mountain pine beetle, only measures approximately five millimeters, but it is wreaking havoc on large Whitebark pines and the mighty Grizzly bear that rely on them.

According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, “(The) Whitebark pine is typically found in cold, windy, high elevation or high latitude sites in western North America and as a result, many stands are geographically isolated.  It is a stress-tolerant pine and its hardiness allows it to grow where other conifer species cannot.” It is also considered “. . . a keystone species because it regulates runoff by slowing the progress of snowmelt, reduces soil erosion by initiating early succession after fires and other disturbances, and provides seeds that are a high-energy food source for some birds and mammals.”

Rising temperatures have allowed the beetle to move into higher elevations where the Whitebark pine used to thrive. Research by Evan Esch showed that “climate change was causing temperatures to rise in the cold mountain elevations where the whitebark pine grow, creating ripe conditions for the destructive beetle to spread.”

And because ecosystems can be complex, the impact on species are not always easy for scientists to predict.

In a Whitebark Pine Ecosystem Foundation (WPEF) climate change white paper, Keane et al, writes, “While there is little debate that atmospheric C02, is increasing and this increase will cause major changes in the climate, there is a great deal of uncertainty about the magnitude and rate of change.”

Grizzly bears rely on the seed because they are large, easy to eat and provide valuable calories. There is also evidence that the seeds of Whitebark pines increase the reproductive success of the bears—resulting in reproducing at a younger age with larger litters.

Thus, if we connect the dots, the small increase in temperature caused by climate change moves the tiny beetle north into the forests of Whitebark pines, whose seeds both feed and help Grizzly bears reproduce.

“While it is true that whitebark pine forest are likely to become more vulnerable under warming climates, the same is true for all ecosystems from prairie grasslands to arctic tundra,” the WPEF white paper warned.

Climate change is happening now; it is not going to wait four to eight years until we elect an educated president.  It should not be a political debate in which Republicans deny its existence to preserve corporate profits. Myron Ebell, advisor to the Trump transition team, recently said, “The environmental movement is, in my view, the greatest threat to freedom and prosperity in the modern world.” It’s a shortsighted, anti-science perspective—whose consequence may be irreversible ecological harm.  This year was the warmest year on record for the third straight year.

To make matters worse, Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA. Pruitt is a climate change denier who has sued the EPA 14 times. Talk about putting the fox in charge of the hen house.