Are You Being Persecuted This Christmas? Here’s A Helpful Chart

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It’s that time again.

Last week, Fox News host Bill O’Reillylaunched his annual offensive against the alleged “War On Christmas.”

For some conservative Christians like O’Reilly, changing “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” is a sign that it is somehow becoming harder for Christians to practice their faith openly in America.

In response, Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans boiled down the controversy into a simple flow chart.

Are You Being Persecuted This Christmas? Here’s A Helpful Chart

Carol Kuruvilla  The Huffington Post 12/08/14 02:07 PM ET

It’s that time again.

Last week, Fox News host Bill O’Reillylaunched his annual offensive against the alleged “War On Christmas.”

For some conservative Christians like O’Reilly, changing “Merry Christmas” to “Happy Holidays” is a sign that it is somehow becoming harder for Christians to practice their faith openly in America.

In response, Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans boiled down the controversy into a simple flow chart.

There is real religious persecution happening in the world every day —houses of worship are being destroyedpeople face job discrimination at work, and some are even killed because of their religion.

Evans claims being wished “happy holidays” by a stranger doesn’t amount to persecution because there is no way that God can be kept out of Christmas.

The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up—not with a parade but with the whimper of a baby, not among the powerful but among the marginalized, not to the demanding but to the humble. From Advent to Easter, the story of Jesus should teach us that God doesn’t need a mention in our pledge or on our money or over the loudspeaker at the mall to be present, and when we fight like spoiled children to “keep” God in those things, we are fighting for idols. We’re chasing wind.

According to the Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans said they wanted stores to greet customers with “Merry Christmas,” while 46 percent said it doesn’t matter. About 12 percent preferred “Happy Holidays.”

Huffington Post’s Executive Editor Rev. Paul Raushenbush suggested that the rise of “Happy Holidays” reflects a willingness to embrace America’s increasing diversity.

For a long, long time Christianity was dominant in the United States and represented the civic religion of the country. But America is about the people who are here now, and that is a much more diverse group. And that’s good! It is time to stop insisting that everything revolves around us. Instead, let’s join the wider circle of the many traditions that make up our country. Besides, any Christian knows that Christmas is not about displays in shopping malls, or capitols, or schools, it is about a spiritual event that we honor most in our families and our homes.

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How to talk to your Tea Party relatives about healthcare during Thanksgiving.

As your family gathers around the table this Thanksgiving, the conversation may get a little heated if your right-wing relatives bring up President Obama’s signature health law. The Affordable Care Act remains both unpopular and misunderstood among the American public — a combination that makes it likely fodder for holiday conflicts.

So, if your Tea Party uncle, or aunt, or cousin, or dad starts making wild assertions about the Affordable Care Act, here are some key points that will help keep your conversation on track:

Obamacare is not causing premiums to skyrocket.

Since the rollout of Obamacare last year, GOP lawmakers have predicted that premiums would continue to escalate for the millions of Americans purchasing health insurance on the marketplaces. However, according to a recent Center for American Progress analysis, the premium rates for individual market in states with federally-run marketplaces will increase by an average of less than 4 percent between 2014 and 2015. Compare that to the the years before the passage of the Affordable Care Act, when average health care premiums increased more than 10 percentannually.

Plus, more of the nation’s largest insurerswill participate in the exchanges for the first time this year, which will increase competition and ultimately lower rates for Americans shopping for plans. While rates remain high in some rural regions of the United States — including Tennessee andWest Virginia — those areas have had low competition among insurers historically. And recent report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said that premiums in those states too will likely decrease under the health care law.

“The dark predictions of widespread, quickly escalating premiums appear not to have materialized for 2015,” that reportedconcluded.

Jonathan Gruber did not expose the “real truth” about the law.

The controversy surrounding Obamacareintensified earlier this month, after videos surfaced of health care economist Jonathan Gruber attributing the law’s success to “the stupidity of the American voter.” Gruber — who’s often credited as an “architect” of the health law, even though some Democratic lawmakers take issue with that assessment — suggested that Obamacare would not have passed if more people realized that its individual mandate is essentially a tax, or that it requires healthy people to subsidize care for sicker people.

But, despite the headlines about “GruberGate,” this controversy hasn’t actually revealed a fundamental truth about the Affordable Care Act. As the legislation moved through Congress, the debate over Obamacare thoroughly addressed the aspects of the policy that Gruber claims lawmakers were hiding. The Congressional Budget Office did score the individual mandate as a mechanism to increase revenue, and President Obama was openabout the fact that young and healthy people are necessary to balance out the cost of providing coverage for older and sicker people.

The website was a disaster last year, but it’s actually working better this time around.

The ongoing controversy over Gruber’s comments has largely obscured the fact that open enrollment is going much more smoothly than it did when Obamacare’s marketplaces first launched last year. During the first enrollment period, catastrophic website glitches prevented people from signing up, and the rocky rollout made a lot of people rightfully skeptical about whether the new marketplaces were ready for business. But, as the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month, the second enrollment period opened to “largely positive reviews,” and people were able to sign up for plans in just minutes. Although some people havereported issues with the site, it’s going much better.

Over the past few weeks, there’s been a lot less coverage of HealthCare.gov’s successful operations that there was about its glitches — probably because a functioning website makes for a pretty boring story.

Obamacare has successfully lowered the uninsured rate.

While nearly half of the respondents in Kaiser Family Foundation’s recent tracking poll said they have an unfavorable opinion about Obamacare, there’s one positive effect of the landmark legislation that’s hard to argue with. Millions of the poor, people of color, women, and those with preexisting conditions were able to attain coverage for the first time when the market places opened last year.

The effects since then have been significant. The number of uninsured people fell by at least 10 million, according to data compiled by Commonwealth Fund. In low-income communities, the uninsurance rate dropped nearly 10 percentage points. There’s no doubt that newly insured people are putting their coverage to use. Another Commonwealth Fund study in July found that 60 percent of enrollees have used their new insurance to seek services.

And Obamacare has the potential to drive the uninsured rate down even further. If every state accepted Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion — a policy that 20 GOP-led states continue to block — the national rate of uninsured people would be two percentage points lower, according to a recent New York Times analysis.

Businesses are not cutting back on workers’ hours or coverage because of Obamacare.

Obamacare is not creating a “part time economy.” The vast majority of employers say the law has had no impact on their workers’ hours. An analysis released by the Urban Institute and the Robert Johnson Wood Foundation last month found that number of part-time jobs have increased since 2011 because of the slow economic recovery, while the availability of benefits to part-time workers has only slightly changed. And according to a survey of employer benefits conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the portion of businesses that offer health benefits to their part-time workers has remained stable over the last 15 years, increasing by three percentage points.

If businesses are saying that the law is forcing them to cut back hours and drop coverage, they’re probably just using Obamacare as a convenient scapegoat. Employers have a long history of shifting health care costs onto their employees and cutting back on coverage to help their bottom lines. This practice continues under the Affordable Care Act. According to a survey conducted earlier this year, one in six employers are still providing skimpy plans to their workers to save money.

“American dream” is now a myth: How bad Republican-born policies and worse ideology ruined us

Over the past few years of economic torpor and social despair there’s been a lot of discussion about the death of the American dream. This shouldn’t be surprising. In a time when people feel they can’t keep up or are falling behind, it’s hard to have faith in the idea that everyone can achieve a base level of security and provide for their kids to do better than they did. That was always the deal for working-class Americans, immigrants and middle-class alike.

Generally, people agree that the lack of social and economic mobility we see today — necessities for the achievement of the American dream — is a result of the dramatic income inequality that’s grown dramatically over the last couple of decades. There’s even a name for this phenomenon called the Great Gatsby Curve, which simply shows that the more income inequality there is, the less social mobility there is. As Tim Noah of the New Republic explained:

Economists have long suspected that you can’t really experience ever-growing income inequality without experiencing a decline in Horatio Alger-style upward mobility because (to use a frequently-employed metaphor) it’s harder to climb a ladder when the rungs are farther apart. [Economist Alan] Krueger calculates based on the Gatsby curve (admittedly, somewhat speculatively) that “the persistence in the advantages and disadvantages of income passed from parents to the children” will “rise by about a quarter for the next generation as a result of the rise in inequality that the U.S. has seen in the last 25 years

It’s doubtful that more than a handful of average Americans have heard of the Great Gatsby Curve but they do know that they aren’t getting ahead at the same pace as their parents did. Earlier generations started out with much less (there was less to have!), but the level of advancement over the course of a lifetime for average working people, whether factory workers or teachers or small business owners, was measurable and real. People who never thought of going to college had all their children graduate from university. Couples whose parents always lived in small urban dwellings bought big houses in the suburbs and retired from their jobs knowing they could live comfortably in their old age. Each generation did a bit better than the last, gaining more opportunity and living with more financial security. It wasn’t sexy but it was solid.

According to polling, including this latest one by the Public Religion Research Institute, the bottom has fallen out of the American dream for a whole lot of people. Only 42 percent of Americans still believe in it today and it’s not getting better:

Other polling has shown similar results.  That’s a sad comment on our country.

Oddly, that same poll shows that far more Republicans than Democrats believe the American dream is still operative, 55 percent to 32 percent. If you wonder why that is, perhaps it’s because many Republicans have a completely different definition of the American dream.  They don’t see it as a middle-class goal at all, much of it made possible by the promise of a decent education and secure retirement, guaranteed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.  No, they believe that the American dream is getting filthy rich. It’s not much different than winning the lottery or getting a slot on the Real Housewives of Galt’s Gulch.

Here’s a good example of how Republicans explain it to the rubes, in a piece called “In Defense of the Wealthy and the American Dream”:

The United States has 422 billionaires, nearly four times that of 2nd place China. We have a 15.3 trillion dollar economy. We have a standard of living that is the envy of the world. Why?

We have the American Dream and other countries don’t. This American Dream exists because we are free to pursue unlimited prosperity. What fuels the desire to pursue the American Dream is the right to keep the wealth you produce. Property rights are fundamental to the existence of the American Dream and to the continued success of our nation. It was intentional. Our founding fathers built a nation around individual liberty and individual property rights. Without these rights, there would be no 422 billionaires, no 15.3 trillion dollar economy, no high standard of living. These rights are the very foundation of America. Liberty and the right to keep your property (wealth) have, for generations, separated America from the rest of the world. It is the reason America has been considered by so many around the world as “the land of opportunity”.

He calls these 422 billionaires the “American Dream Achievers.” And if you too want to be an American Dream Achiever you must agree not to tax them or regulate their businesses or in any other way try to reduce the wealth inequality we know is causing virtually everyone else to stagnate economically. But have no fear, you can totally do it! Why, if you just work hard you can be the 423rd billionaire — out of 313 million Americans!

A few months ago David Leonhardt of the New York Times published a story that showed exactly where the real American dream — enough opportunity and security to live a decent life and make it possible for your kids to succeed — is in the most trouble. And ironically, it turns out that one specific group of people is being scammed by this absurd con game more than any other: Southern Republicans.

The results of this week’s poll on Americans’ pessimism about the American dream doesn’t break the data out by region. It does break it out by race and class, however, and it’s perhaps unsurprising that the most pessimistic, by a long shot, are the white working class and African-Americans. It’s fair to guess that an awful lot of those working-class whites and African-Americans hail from that red area on the map where their futures and their children’s futures really are grim.

And that’s largely thanks to the policies put in place by GOP politicians who are intent upon delivering for those rare “American Dream Achievers” — and nobody else. You can’t blame the African-Americans.  They know the score and don’t vote for these dream killers. The Southern white working class is another story. They’re participating in their own demise.

Did Jesus Really Condemn Same-Sex Marriage?

It is a claim I’ve run into often in church debates. Earnest opponents of marriage equality stand up and declare, “Jesus condemns same-sex marriage in Matthew 19, and so as a committed Christian I couldn’t possibly support it.”

I am all for Christians following the Bible, but in this particular case, peoples’ good intentions are leading them astray. The claim that Jesus condemns same-sex marriage is a false one.

Matthew 19 in fact records an occasion when Jesus references the Bible story about God’s creation of Adam and Eve. Quoting Genesis, Jesus says,

Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. (Mat. 19:4-6, New Revised Standard Translation)

Opponents of marriage equality claim that Jesus here confers his own stamp of approval on marriage between a man and a woman, and in so doing rules out the possibility of faithful, loving same-sex partnerships among his followers.

There are multiple problems with this claim.

In the first place, the claim is based on a logical fallacy. Jesus without question speaks approvingly of heterosexual marriage. But does that mean he automatically condemns same-sex relationships? If I go to a restaurant with a group of friends and speak approvingly of the Bavarian triple-chocolate layer cake, does that mean I automatically condemn anyone who orders the cherry cheesecake for dessert instead? Of course it doesn’t!

It makes no sense to say that because Jesus approves of heterosexual marriage, he necessarily condemns alternative patterns of life. If that logic were true, we would also have to say that Jesus condemns people who choose to remain single, which is yet another alternative to heterosexual marriage. But in that case Jesus would be condemning himself, because Jesus chose to remain unmarried!

The problems with the anti-equality interpretation of this passage don’t end there. If we read the passage in context, we discover that Jesus isn’t discussing sexual orientation here at all; he is talking about divorce. The whole point of his Genesis quote is that God wants married people to stay together: “What God has joined together, let no one separate.”

It is highly ironic that people use this passage to condemn same-sex marriage, because in doing so they completely ignore the strict teaching against divorce which the passage does contain, and instead read into it a condemnation of same-sex marriage that it does not contain.

This hesitancy to embrace the actual message of the passage is understandable. Jesus’ uncompromising teaching about divorce here can be a bit alarming. A false interpretation that condemns people who are different from me is much more comfortable than an accurate interpretation that might call my own life into question!

If we take the time to read further in the passage’s context, however, we discover we are not alone in our discomfort with Jesus’ teaching about divorce. Jesus’ own disciples found the teaching disturbing, too. Hearing him speak, they responded that getting married wouldn’t be worth the risk if divorce resulted in our automatic alienation from God (v. 10). Jesus responds by softening the application of his teaching. He says, “Not everyone can accept this teaching… Let anyone accept this who can” (vv. 11, 12).

This combination of a strict teaching and a softened application actually makes good sense. No loving parent wants to see a beloved child go through the pain of a divorce. I have been part of the wedding celebrations for my two daughters, and I fervently hope and pray that their marriages will be happy, fulfilling and lasting. This is the strict part of my own feelings about divorce — I care about my children deeply, and this means I absolutely despise the thought that they would have to go through a divorce one day. But if disaster were to strike and one of their marriages should fail, that same deep caring means I would continue to love and support my children. The “application” of my fervent desire that they not have to experience a divorce is softened by my love for them, which continues through good times and bad. So it is with God’s love for us.

But this combination of a strict teaching and a softened application disappears from the Matthew 19 passage entirely when people use it to condemn same-sex relationships. The anti-equality interpretation falsely portrays Jesus as condemning same-sex marriage strictly and without qualification. The softening effects of divine love vanish from the scene.

In sum, the claim that Jesus condemns same-sex marriage in Matthew 19 fails on at least three counts:

• It depends on a logical fallacy

• It ignores the actual subject of Jesus’ teaching in favor of a foreign agenda.

• It contradicts Jesus’ own direction on how his teaching should be applied.

This damaging and misguided interpretation vividly illustrates of how our understanding of Scripture can go astray when we read biblical fragments out of context and without any reference to the Bible’s overall message of God’s love.

Unfortunately such errors of interpretation are more than a mere academic problem; they are doing positive harm in the lives of a great many people. It is time for committed Christians to set aside the errors and misinterpretations that lead LGBT people to feel like second-class citizens in the household of God. In my recent book I show how a faithful and responsible reading of the Bible’s message reveals God’s fervent desire to bless everyone’s marriages, both gay and straight alike.