Tuesday, August 31, 2004
The New York Times ran a story on the CNP last Saturday entitled, "Club of the Most Powerful Gathers in Strictest Privacy." A few months ago, ABC news did a story on a "Vast, Right-Wing Cabal." These stories give some valuable information about the organization, but, as is usual in stories by the secular media, they focus on the most easily recognizable personalities and overlook some people that Baptists would find interesting. Most interesting was the Baptist CNP member that Bill Moyers tried to question on camera, Paul Pressler, who refused to answer his questions and walked out of the interview (See the video "God and Politics: The Battle for the Bible")
A good resource for research on the CNP is a little known book by Russ Bellent called The Coors Connection. Bellent himself says little about Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler, but he provides early lists of CNP members. His lists reveal the prominence that Pressler had within the group. As though he were being rewarded for a job well-done, Pressler was elected President of the organization in 1989 -- the year the takeover of the SBC was complete.
Online lists of CNP membership can be found here and here. Besides Pressler and Patterson, other Southern Baptist CNP members include Jerry Falwell, Ed McAteer and Rick Scarborough (if anyone recognizes a Southern Baptist listed that I have missed, please let me know). Scarborough was formerly pastor in Pearland, Texas and once was the Fundamentalist's approved candidate for President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (soundly defeated by Mainstream Baptists in Texas). He is now working for Vision America preaching "revivals" around the country in Southern Baptist churches mustering votes for "Christian values," promoting ten commandments rally's for Judge Roy Moore, and organizing speaking events for Jerry Falwell.
Another influential member of the CNP whose profile with the public is low was R. J. Rushdoony, the founder of the Christian Reconstructionism (See Moyer's Video "God and Politics: On Earth as it is in Heaven;" see also "Prophets of a Biblical America" in the April 12, 1989 issue of the Wall Street Journal and "Democracy as Heresy" in the February 20, 1987 issue of Christianity Today).
The CNP is one of the places where the former editor of the Daily Oklahoman came into contact with Rushdoony. The influence that Reconstructionism's founder wielded is evident from the prominence given to the editor's eulogy of Rushdoony when he died. It appeared in the first column of the editorial page of the Daily Oklahoman. Rushdoony's son-in-law, Gary North, whose radio interview with Paul Pressler first revealed the Fundamentalist's scheme to takeover the SBC, is also a member of the CNP.
BeliefNet has posted a story from Jerry Falwell in which he says "The GOP is not a Church." Falwell also says,
In the complex game of politics, we must work with people who have conflicting viewpoints on momentous issues in order to secure the greater good for the nation. While we must never compromise our Bible-based values in our churches, most conservative people of faith realize that we must work with a sense of cooperation in the political realm.
It is truly astounds me whenever Falwell sounds reasonable. If he can recognize the value of living and working together with people of "conflicting viewpoints," why can't he recognize the value of the First Amendment? All the First Amendment does is recognize the value of living and working together with people of "conflicting worldviews" in order to secure the greater good for the nation.
That Falwell's reasonableness is apparent, rather than real, is revealed when he says, "as long as the Republican leadership remains chiefly pro-family, pro-life and pro-traditional marriage, we will continue to favor the party." In other words, he is saying, "l'll value diversity as long as it assists me in forcing my 'worldview' on everyone else."
If Falwell was really concerned about spreading "Christian values," he would get out of politics and focus on "the foolishness of preaching." For him, however, that would merely be "a correct premise. In reality, it doesn't work out that way." (See Episode 1 of the PBS Video, "With God on Our Side")
Monday, August 30, 2004
The latest edition of the American Family Association's Journal has a story about the increased momentum among Southern Baptists to leave the public schools. Though T. C. Pinkney's resolution failed to be approved at the Southern Baptist Convention as it met in June, the Exodus Mandate movement appears to be growing.
Now we are being told that removing your child from public schools and placing them in a private Christian school is not enough. We must learn to distinguish "between Christian schools and 'truly' Christian schools." "Truly" Christian schools are identified by their rejection of "secular" education and approval of religious indoctrination.
Such schools are vitally important because, as E. Roy Moore says, "If we save our children, we may save our churches. And having saved our churches, we still, at this late hour, may have saved our nation. So we feel this is an agenda for revival and renewal and the re-Christianization of America."
It appears to me that these Baptists are proclaiming a salvation by indoctrination. Whatever became of the gospel that was shared "by the foolishness of preaching?"
Friday, August 27, 2004
Ethics Daily has posted a RNS news report about a new political organization of African-American clergy that has endorsed President Bush. Appropriately, they call themselves the "National Faith Based Initiatives Coalition" identifying both the issue and the source of revenues that this administration has used to woo their votes.
I applaud the creation of political organizations of clergy -- as long as they don't claim any tax-exemptions for their political organization and they don't carry their endorsements into the pulpits of their churches. Clergy, like people in any other industry, have a right to organize and lobby for handouts and special favors from the government.
Clergy have as much right as any other citizen in this country to be involved in the political processes of our country. It is good for clergy to find ways to voice their political opinions and it be understood by everyone that they are speaking as private citizens and not as spokespersons for their churches.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Jesus said, "When you see 'the abomination that causes desolation's standing where it does not belong -- let the reader understand -- then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains." (Mark 13:14)
Never have those words meant more to Mainstream Baptists than they do today. Our seminaries ceased to be temples of learning long ago. It has always been painful to watch once fine institutions of higher learning gradually become indoctrination centers, but the chapel service at Southwestern Seminary yesterday made it clear that their desolation is utterly complete.
Baptist Press reports that, after the chair of the county Republican Party Chair spoke, Jerry Falwell endorsed a candidate for President during a chapel service at Southwestern Seminary. He is quoted as saying, "The press is here today expecting me to get into politics, which I'm not going to do, except to tell you to vote for the Bush of your choice." After Falwell spoke, Seminary President Paige Patterson advised students that voter registration tables would be set up at the door of the chapel all week.
B.H Carroll, L.R. Scarborough and all the other deceased presidents of the Seminary must be spinning in their graves. If ever there was a Baptist equivalent to the tables of money changers at the Jerusalem temple, voter registration tables at the door of a chapel service preaching partisan politics must be it. Nothing could make it clearer that our Baptist birthright as champions for separation of church and state is being exchanged for a bowl of pottage.
Baptists are advised to flee the Southern Baptist Convention. It's name should be changed to "Ichabod" ("the glory has departed," 1 Samuel 4:21).
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Kudo's to Raymond Bailey, pastor of Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas for his guest editorial on "Would Jesus Win an Election?" It deserves wide circulation. Here are some quotes and a link to the entire editorial:
Could Jesus win a national election in a nation so many like to identify as “Christian”? I suspect he would have trouble being elected mayor of our fair city, let alone president of these sovereign United States.
Can you imagine a platform with a point calling us to love our enemies, or for some cheek-turning to insults, let alone slaps across the proud jaw of Uncle Sam? What would Cal Thomas, the voice of Christian conservatives, who recently defended the humiliation and torture of prisoners, have to say about this “loving,” “blessing” and “turning the cheek” business?
The doctrine that the end justifies any means has been used to justify cruel and inhuman actions by Christians for a thousand years. One would be hard put to find in the New Testament any words or actions of Jesus to justify pre-emptive strikes or barbaric treatment of prisoners of war. Jesus might not be committed enough to a philosophy of "America, right or wrong.”
Maybe we could get Jesus to do what the disciples couldn’t — to rain down fire on Samaritans, Iraqis or whomever. A promise to put the Left Behind guys in charge of the military might overcome the concessionary policies expressed in the Sermon of the Mount. Perhaps they could persuade Jesus to get the Armageddon thing going to get the big war on and over.
. . .
The truth is that those who want to wed church and state prefer Old Testament warrior kings to the Prince of Peace. They want “Christian values” to influence certain policies but not those with regard to the expenditure of public funds for health, education or the relief of poverty.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Thanks to Carlos Stouffer of the Jesus Politics blog for his thoughtful comment on yesterday’s post. These thoughts led me to reflect on the values that are being reflected by the religious rhetoric of both parties:
Many Christians appear to be persuaded that the Republican party represents better their Christian values. . . . Should Democrats imitate Republicans and shape a religious language that would serve their purposes?
Many Christians seem to look at politics in religious terms. So when the Republicans use religious language they will get their support. What is needed is political and religious education for Christians. This way Christians could challenge the easy assumptions of the Christian Right which are more interested in worldly political power than in following the message of Jesus.
In my personal experience, I don’t find the left reluctant to talk about religious values. I hear the left speaking about “universal” values and I hear the right speaking about “exclusive” values. Universal values are values that can be shared without being diminished. For example, mutual respect and concern for others does not diminish as it is shared, it grows. Exclusive values are values that diminish when shared. For example, if I have ten dollars and the government takes one from me and redistributes it to feed, educate and house those who have nothing, 10% of my wealth has been stolen from me. If the same government takes a dollar from me and redistributes it to wealthy industrialists to wage perpetual wars, my wealth (an exclusive value) has still been reduced by 10%, but that is a necessary expense for the “defense of property rights” (another exclusive value).
For most people, Democrats and Republicans alike, the value of mutual respect and concern for others is most certainly motivated by religion. These values however, are not exclusively Christian and in our society only “Christian values” get credit for being religious. The “exclusive” “Christian Right,” searching for a corner in the market for virtue, has chosen to deride most universal values as “bleeding heart liberalism” while championing tax-cuts for the wealthy and “the defense of property rights” as “Christian values.”
The niche the “Christian Right” has created for itself is, at its best, based on the most elemental values, and, at its worst, blesses the vice of greed and the sin of miserliness.
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Someone asked, in an e-mail that I’ve lost, if the TFN conference was overtly partisan. Media coverage emphasized that James C. Moore announced that “Jesus was the original Democrat” and received applause. Moore did say that. He did receive applause. It would be grossly inaccurate, however, to view that one statement and response as characteristic of the conference. Moore had a small part in a very large conference. There was a lot of criticism of both the media and of the policies of the current administration at the conference, but Moore was the only speaker who was overtly partisan – and there was a feeling that he crossed the line when he did so.
Undoubtedly, some of Moore’s remarks were ill advised. I did not applaud or approve of his comment about Jesus and the applause he received from others came with a laugh of surprise. It was neither loud nor sustained. Other statements he made – comments that were not overtly partisan – did receive loud and sustained applause. Overall, his speech was well-crafted, very insightful and highly entertaining. He also made one statement that fell completely flat. He said something to the effect that Democrats should be talking about God as much as the Republicans. I groaned "No" at that statement and so did several others.
Moore’s remark about “Jesus being a Democrat” was both inaccurate and out-of-place in my opinion. He was not, however, making a statement as a representative of TFN. He was speaking to TFN. Neither was he speaking as the leader of a non-profit. He was speaking for himself, a journalist.
Friday, August 20, 2004
Newsday reported that Jerry Falwell is integrating his faith into the law school at Liberty University:
"We want to infiltrate the culture with men and women of God who are skilled in the legal profession," Falwell said in a telephone interview Tuesday with The Associated Press. "We'll be as far to the right as Harvard is to the left."
Lawyers as "infiltrators." Is this more "Holy war" rhetoric? Merriam-Webster's Dictionary offers a couple definitions of "infiltrate" that may be pertinent: "to pass (troops) singly or in small groups through gaps in the enemy line" or "to enter or become established in gradually or unobtrusively usually for subversive purposes."
First Pat Robertson created a Law School at Regents University to train 'Dominionist' judges and lawyers. Now Falwell wants a Law School of his own. Could Falwell be jealous of the success that Regents University graduates have had at finding placement at high level civil service positions and appointments in Washington, D.C. and in government offices around the country?
Those who understand the role of "magistrates" in "Dominionist" theology might have reason for some concern.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
Baptist Press reports that the Barna Group's research reveals that 32% of the American public are in favor of "a constitutional amendment to establish Christianity as the official religion of the United States."
Two hundred and fifteen years after the First Amendment prohibited the establishment of religion and guaranteed that people of all faiths and people of no faith would be equal citizens in the U.S., 32% of the population think the founding fathers made a mistake. Despite prodigious evidence that the U.S. is one of the most religious nations on the planet, 32% of the public think that the "lively experiment" to see whether a nation founded on respect for the religious convictions of minority faiths will flourish has been a failure. 32% of the American public are fully prepared to return to the established churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and risk fighting another 30 years war to determine which religion will finally get to "unify" our culture and civilization.
Now I understand why President Bush seems so eager to engage in a clash of civilizations. He's just solidifying his base.
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Helen Thomas was a tough act to follow, but the second day of the Texas Freedom Network's Conference on Religion and the Media truly was as good as the first. There were many pleasant surprises at the forum on "How would Jesus Vote?" Evan Smith, editor of Texas Monthly Magazine, moderated the discussion.
Diane Connolly, editor of ReligionLink, spoke first and mentioned the irony that Baptists, who in the 1960's worried that Catholic politicians would be under the thumb of the Pope, are now cheering Catholic Bishops for trying to influence Catholic politicians by denying them communion.
James Moore, author of Bush's War for Reelection, admitted that he voted twice for G.W. Bush to be Governor of Texas and once to be President, but described himself now as a "politically angry man." He said Bush governed as a moderate when he was in Texas. He's angry because Bush as President is not governing as a moderate and because he did not fulfill his campaign promises to not be involved in nation building, to not send troops into harm's way without an exit strategy, and to not run up the deficit. He contended that, "If ever there was a bleeding heart liberal, it was Jesus Christ."
John Moyers, editor of TomPaine.com, quoted his good friend and mentor, James Dunn, as saying, "The media are so cowed by this (President's) Administration that you can hear them moo." He also quoted James Forbes as saying, "God will not revitalize America by a religious crusade. It will be an interfaith movement." He advised progressives to take back morality from the religious right and asserted that, "morality does not equal sexuality." He offered Micah 6:8 as the definition of morality.
Kudos again to Samantha Smoot and her team at the Texas Freedom Network. Every workshop, forum, session and speaker at the conference was top notch.
Monday, August 16, 2004
Kudos to Samantha Smoot and her colleagues at the Texas Freedom Network for putting on a great conference.
Dr. Stewart Hoover kicked the conference off with an outstanding presentation on religion and the media. The author of Religion in the News spoke to the subject "The Apocalypse will be Televised: Religion in the Media Age." Most valuable were his suggestions for how moderate and progressive religionists should respond to the media. His first suggestion is that we insist on a separation between religion and government. He contends that religion should have a prophetic, not a collusive relationship with government.
I talked with Dr. Hoover after his presentation. Look for interviews with him and with Samantha Smoot on the "Religious Talk" radio program in the near future.
The highlight of the conference was Helen Thomas' speech. She pulls no punches. Her critique of the failures of journalists over the past two and one half years is unflinching. Her response to a question at the end of her speech was most revealing. When a man lamented that the Republican Party has been the subject of a "right wing religious right" and paused, Helen finished his sentence for him with a word that Mainstream Baptists understand well -- "takeover."
Sunday, August 15, 2004
I'll be doing a little "Event Blogging" for the next two days from Austin at the "Religion and the Media" Conference sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network.
I've signed up for Dr. William Martin's workshop on the "History of the Religious Right and the Press." Dr. Martin is professor of Sociology at Rice University and author of one of the definitive books on the religious right. His book, With God on Our Side, is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the rise of the religious right in America. A companion six episode video series by PBS provides additional information that is very valuable.
I'll post more after I've attended some sessions.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Thanks to Ethics Daily for calling my attention to a book being sold in the SBC's LifeWay Christian Stores. More than anything else, the book tries to scare Christians into the ballot box. According to the authors, if Christians don't vote, or if they don't vote right, "we may well behold God's heavy hand a judgment crashing down upon our nation in ways we have never imagined before."
The more you are around Fundamentalist Christians, the more you see that they only have one arrow in their quiver. There are a number of reasons why Christians should be informed about political issues, be engaged in civic processes, and cast their votes in general elections, but fear of Divine retribution ranks so low that it is not worth mentioning.
The more you are around politically active Fundamentalists, the more you see that there is only one thing that concerns them. Why they are so fixated on biological processes related to reproduction deserves some thoughtful analysis and interpretation. At times, I see more similarities between them and the Taliban, as depicted in the film Osama, than differences.
Kudo's to Ken Hall, President of Buckner Baptist Benevolences, for declining to seek a second term as President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
"It's time to enlarge the tent," Hall says. "We need to make space for more diversity in our highest office. Hispanics, African Americans, other ethnic groups, women and laypersons need the opportunity to have the honor to serve and to exert leadership."
This is truly a breath of fresh air for Baptists.
It's a shame such magnanimous leadership suffocates in the SBC. Imagine what could have happened over the last twenty-five years if those elected as SBC presidents had a spirit like Ken's.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
In a BP story yesterday Ken Hemphill says "EKG (Empowering Kingdom Growth) is a process of spiritual renewal," not a program. I find that hard to believe.
Hemphill is the official "strategist" for the SBC's EKG. "Programs" need strategists who create a "vision" and work to implement them. Spiritual renewal, on the other hand, depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit, like the wind, "blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes." (John 3:8)
Perhaps SBC leaders wouldn't feel so abandoned spiritually if they had not turned a deaf ear to God's Holy Spirit. In the 2000 BF&M Southern Baptists presumed to tell God how the wind of His Spirit should blow, where it must come from, where it ought to go, and that it better sound masculine.
Differences over the ethics of stem cell research is becoming one of the major issues in this presidential election. ABP is reporting that the Kerry campaign is focusing on their candidate's support for embryonic stem cell research. AP is reporting that our nation's First Lady is bashing Kerry for his stem cell stance.
Southern Baptists have already weighed in on this issue, though most do not realize it. The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message says Baptists should "contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death" and supports the view that fertilized human eggs are "Children, from the moment of conception."
What SBC leaders have not done is reveal the full implications of their doctrine. Consistently applied it would also prohibit Baptists from using birth control pills because, at times, this form of contraception prevents fertilized human ova from implanting in a uterus.
More troublesome are the implications of this doctrine for our understanding of God. As Robert Francoeur, a Roman Catholic embryologist and theologian wrote,
“If every human egg fertilized is immediately a ‘fetus’, ‘baby’ and ‘person’, then God and nature play a mean trick on us. Scientists estimate that in the five-six days following union of egg and sperm, between one-third and one-half of all ‘persons’ spontaneously degenerate and are reabsorbed or expelled. In the second week, 42 percent of the implanted ‘persons’ abort. In the fetal period one-third of the remaining fetuses spontaneously miscarry. Thus out of every 1000 ‘persons’ ‘conceived’, only 120 to 160 survive to be reborn!” (Christian Ethics Today, April 2000, p. 26.)
God declared all his creative work to be “very good.” (Gen. 1:31) Would He do that if the natural process for conception itself was wasteful of human life and potential?
Ruth Murray Brown, formerly professor of political science and sociology at Oklahoma University, wrote a book that is essential reading for Oklahoma AU activists. In 2002 Prometheus Press published Brown’s history of the religious right under the title For a “Christian America”. The title is apt.
The book summarizes three decades of interviews with and observations of religious right leaders — mostly Oklahomans. As Brown tells the story, the tap root nurturing the rise of the religious right in America was planted in Oklahoma.
She traces the rise of the religious right to evangelical women in Oklahoma who were opposed to the ERA. Oklahoma’s anti-ERA activists were the first group to lead a successful campaign to defeat its ratification in their state. “After Oklahoma women showed the way,” Brown wrote, “women all over the country, most of them with no previous experience in politics, did what no one thought possible — stopped the Equal Rights Amendment cold.”
After this initial success, Brown traces the growth of grassroots activism by the religious right through the decades of the 1980’s and 1990’s. While the issues changed from decade to decade and from administration to administration, the theme uniting all of their political efforts is the religious right’s unwavering support for a “Christian America.” Christian, that is, as defined and legislated by conservative evangelicals.
Brown makes it clear that dissolving church/state separation is the central goal of the religious right.
The glaring lacuna in Brown’s research concerns Christian Reconstructionism and its theocratic agenda. Though Dominionists are politically active in Oklahoma and very influential in right wing circles throughout the nation, she totally ignored them.
Apologies to the Kerry Campaign and thanks to ABP for their story clarifying whether the new religious liaison was encouraged to resign.
The actions of the former liaison still leave me mystified. Any chef that signed up to make a salad out of faith groups in this election should have expected Bush supporters to turn the heat up in Kerry's kitchen.
Kerry's campaign is beginning to look like an old episode of Keystone Cops on the issue of religion. First his campaign hired a religion advisor to help it appeal to religious people. Now she has resigned because religious conservatives don't like her stance on the "under God" loyalty oath in the pledge of allegiance.
The Democratic party acts more like the SBC every day. With the Republican party acting more like the Massachusetts Bay Colony every day, where will people who believe in separating church and state go?
For the record, I agree with Kerry's old religion advisor on this issue. The Ceremonial Deism that permits Americans to trot Divinity out as though he were our national mascot violates the commandment to not take God's name in vain. Why aren't those "conservative" ten commandments advocates up in arms about this?
In stark contrast to the rhetoric of Holy War against all Muslims that has been streaming from the mouths of Southern Baptist leaders for the past two and a half years, Progressive National Baptists are encouraging the U.S. to intervene in Sudan on behalf of Black Muslims.
Kudos to Major Jemison, pastor of St. John's Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, for the prophetic voice that he raises on behalf of both American soldiers and Sudanese Muslims. Such voices were conspicuously absent on the platforms of both the Southern Baptist Convention and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship this summer.
The first time Wallis left me disappointed was in April 1996. Memory of that disappointment counts double because my leaving Houston and going to Waco to a conference gathering key evangelical leaders to discuss the implications of welfare reform and "Charitable Choice" left my wife deeply disappointed with me. The conference was held on her birthday. By conference end, it was apparent that Jim Wallis was virtually alone in his support of "Charitable Choice." The conference ended with Wallis saying, "I'm not worried about separation of church and state, I'm worried about the poor. I'll leave it to you to worry about separation of church and state."
The second time Wallis left me disappointed was in the fall of 1999. He came to Oklahoma City to speak and I arranged to have him as a guest on my radio program. During the radio interview we discussed "Charitable Choice" and I raised most of the standard objections (here's a link to an article by Melissa Rogers that I think expresses those concerns most succinctly). It was obvious that Wallis had prepared an answer to all the standard objections. He gave plausible arguments against some concerns and deflected the most cogent arguments with humor. So, after discussing with him the need for the Church to provide a prophetic voice that challenges social injustice (a core value of Call to Renewal), I asked him, "What could undermine the integrity of the Church's witness more than easy money and loose accountability." Wallis was speechless.
"Easy money and loose accountability," that is what faith-based initiatives are, in essence. If the devil himself designed a government program to encourage corruption and undermine the integrity of the church's witness, could he devise a more effective plan?
Barbara McGraw in her recent book, Rediscovering America’s Sacred Ground: Public Religion and Pursuit of the Good in a Pluralistic America, does a magnificent job of explaining the morality underlying the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
She traces the roots of religious liberty back to John Locke, uncovers his theology, highlights the value of social contract theory, underscores the role of individual conscience, and emphasizes the need to find “just bounds” between religion and the state. She provides a much needed corrective to the thought of Alsdair MacIntyre and others who view Locke’s thought, and the First Amendment, as products of “autonomous individualism” and an outmoded “enlightenment rationalism.” McGraw’s critique of the thought of church-state accomodationists like Stephen Carter is equally valuable.
Most valuable is her conception of a two-tiered public forum and the distinction she makes between civic and conscientious morality. The morality of the civic public forum preserves by force of law the “sacred ground” that is necessary to preserve a just and equitable pluralistic society with religious liberty for all. The morality of the conscientious public forum is preserved by persuasion, not by force of law, as diverse individuals and groups promote their competing visions of the common good.
The book’s shortcomings derive from neglect of religious liberty advocacy prior to Locke, mostly Baptist, which probably influenced him. Neither Roger Williams’ and John Clarke’s acquisition of religious liberty for Rhode Island nor John Leland and Virginia Baptists role in securing the First Amendment were mentioned. Much is there that could strengthen valuable arguments she made relying on other sources.
I heartily recommend McGraw's book. She explains Locke's influence on our nation's founding fathers, as well as the step beyond Locke that they took when they granted religious liberty to atheists, better than any author I know.
Monday, August 09, 2004
I listened to the Democratic presidential nominee’s acceptance speech last night. Since the political pundits said the speech was supposed to reach out to the undecided middle, I looked for evidence of the most central Mainstream Baptist civic value – separation of church and state. Here’s as close as he got: “I will appoint an Attorney General who actually upholds the Constitution of the United States.”
When reaching out to people of faith, he was careful not to claim the Divine seal of approval:
And let me say it plainly: in that cause, and in this campaign, we welcome people of faith. America is not us and them. I think of what Ron Reagan said of his father a few weeks ago, and I want to say this to you tonight: I don't wear my own faith on my sleeve. But faith has given me values and hope to live by, from Vietnam to this day, from Sunday to Sunday. I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side. And whatever our faith, one belief should bind us all: The measure of our character is our willingness to give of ourselves for others and for our country.
He missed his best opportunity to clearly affirm the value of church-state separation. He asked, “Where is the conscience of our country?” and then responded with the diffused imagery of rural towns, urban neighborhoods, and suburban streets. He would have done better had he explained the importance of the first sixteen words of the First Amendment to the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
Those sixteen words secure religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all persons. The First Amendment is a principle of respect for people whose convictions, beliefs and "worldviews" differ from your own.
Our country won't find its conscience again until the people in rural towns, urban neighborhoods, and suburban streets reaffirm this principle and let it govern their actions toward people worshipping in different houses of worship.
Thanks to Robert Cunningham for sending me the link to Public Theology that called my attention to an article that was in Tuesday’s Washington Post. Howell Raines, the former executive editor of the New York Times, had some very interesting things to say about the PR war going on to win votes to elect a President. Here’s what he had to say about the war to win Southern Baptist hearts and minds:
The Republicans’ new cultural populism has created an odd couple of a different sort. In their heart of heart, the party’s leadership in Washington and the conservative think tanks disdain the social rigidity and common tastes of the party’s NASCAR wing. They worry a bit that George W. Bush seems to have a genuine liking for the slumming required of a self-created cultural populist. But GOP strategists and think-tankers are able to stifle these concerns, because there’s been no one since Ronald Reagan so good at getting votes from Southern Baptists trying to raise families on 40 grand a year.
Raines has helped me see two things: 1) I now know how to define “family values” – it’s a Southern Baptist trying to raise a family on 40 grand a year. 2) I also discovered how I got so out-of-step with the Southern Baptist worldview. I’ve never been to a NASCAR race.
The last time I felt so out-of-place was when I was informed that over 60% of Americans watch professional wrestling at least once a week.
Thanks to Baptists Today for providing a link to an article in today's Casper, Wyoming Star Tribune. It looks like Wyoming is cracking down on schools that provide fake credentials to people looking for a shortcut to the benefits of an education. Appropriately, the law only applies to secular degrees and not to religious or theological degrees. The First Amendment protects the right of all religions to grant worthless diplomas.
There were a number of people who started seminary with me who were merely looking for credentials and a shortcut to a comfortable pastorate. Few of them made it through the degree program in those days. Some did find their way to a pastorate and they were often seen manning the buses that led to the Fundamentalist takeover of the SBC.
In the end, they proved their point. They didn't need an education to pastor a Southern Baptist church. All they needed to know is in the footnotes of the Scoffield Reference Bible and the Criswell Study Bible. It's too bad that they decided to turn six seminaries, once fine institutions of higher learning, into indoctrination centers and diploma mills to prove their point.
Yesterday Ethics Daily reminded us that Baptist speakers would dominate at the Democratic National Convention -- Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Al Gore are all Baptists. Then I found an article that was in the paper last week in Enid, Oklahoma. The article says that 22% of the delegates registered at the Democratic Convention in Boston are Baptists. More than any other religious group. The Enid article also quotes Jay Parmley, chair of the Oklahoma Democractic Party, who I know to be a member of First Baptist Church in Norman, Oklahoma. Parmley was instrumental in helping to elect another moderate Baptist, Brad Henry, Governor of Oklahoma a couple years ago.
I'm confused. Today's Washington Times says "white evangelicals" are supposed to be flocking to the GOP.
Ethics Daily has posted a RNS news story about the Federal Bureau of Prisons taking steps to prevent "religious extremism." The story says "more than a dozen changes" have been made "in its selection and supervision of Muslim religious services." Apparently the Justice Department's office of the Inspector General advocated the changes "to increase security and prevent the potential spread of anti-American ideology."
I am absolutely amazed that the Justice Department has discovered that it has the authority to determine whether certain Islamic beliefs and convictions are "anti-American." Federal prisons have been breeding grounds for a Neo-Nazi, White Supremecist, Christian Identity ideology for decades and the Justice Department never claimed the authority to determine whether their beliefs and convictions are "anti-American" -- even after "Christian" ideologues killed 168 people blowing up the federal building in Oklahoma City.
The Justice Department's actions make perfect sense if you believe that America is a "Christian Nation" and that the First Amendment applies only to "Christian" sects. How long will it be before the Justice Department decides that church-state separationists are a "potential" threat to national security because we spread an "anti-American ideology" about the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion to everyone -- to people of all faiths and to people of no faith?
Kudos to Dr. Welton Gaddy and the Interfaith Alliance for initiating dialogue with Presidential candidates about eliminating the faith-based office. They are doing our country and our constitution a great service by calling for a return to a government that is benevolently neutral toward religion.
There is evidence that the faith-based office in Oklahoma began with the intention of serving majoritarian faith groups while neglecting those of minority faiths. The Oklahoma office has been plagued with bad advice and muddled thinking from the beginning. The federal office is equally as ill-advised.
The truth is, faith-based offices are little more than inefficient, paper pushing bureaucracies siphoning away resources that used to go directly to aid the poor (in Oklahoma funding came from Temporary Assistance to Needy Families [TANF] funds). Their chief accomplishment is to drive a bulldozer through the wall separating church and state.
Some unsightly eruptions have appeared on Baptist preachers in the last few weeks. Last week a splotch appeared on Jerry Falwell after he endorsed President Bush in an e-mail to his followers and urged them to send money to a political action committee that endorses Republican candidates. Yesterday a blemish appeared on Ronnie Floyd, a leader of SBC Fundamentalists in Arkansas, who endorsed President Bush in a July 4th sermon.
Both of these Baptist preachers, and who knows how many others, seem to have responded rather rashly to unprecedented efforts from President Bush's re-election campaign to enlist churches to drum up support for his campaign efforts.
It is sad to see Baptist preachers getting sidetracked into politics. Baptist preachers used to stay focused on the kind of changes that came about by "the foolishness of preaching," but that was before the definition of "revival" changed. When I was growing up, the word "revival" referred to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform hearts and change lives. Change began within an individual and spread from one person to another. Then, revival was a spiritual movement. Modern Fundamentalists like Falwell redefined the word "revival" to mean the power of a social movement to change the culture.
For modern Fundamentalists, "revivals" begin with an election and spread from one institution to another. As Falwell said on the PBS Series "With God on Our Side", effecting change by individual spiritual transformation is “a correct premise. In reality, it doesn’t work out that way.” For modern Fundamentalists, a real revival is a political movement.
With this kind of theology, why does Falwell call himself "evangelical?"
North Carolina's Biblical Recorder reports that the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) has decided that all groups working with the IMB must approve the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M). Henceforth only members of Southern Baptist churches that have endorsed the 2000 BF&M can participate in overseas mission trips involving the IMB.
First the Fundamentalists lied and said they weren't trying to create a creed. Then they lied and said that the 2000 BF&M was a confession, not a creed. Then they lied and said that career missionaries would not have to sign the new creed. Then they said adoption of the 2000 BF&M would have no effect on the local church. Now denominational agencies are refusing to work with churches that refuse to adopt the creed.
In September 2000 Mainstream Baptists in Oklahoma organized forums to warn Oklahoma Baptists about the 2000 BF&M. At those forums, we warned Baptists that the 2000 BF&M was the mechanism by which Fundamentalists intended to takeover their churches. Affirming their creed is like handing the keys to your church over to Paige Patterson and Jerry Falwell. Pious, apolitical moderates in the crowd routinely belittled the idea that there was any way the 2000 BF&M could be imposed on them and their churches.
Where are those pious, apolitical moderates now?
Thanks, to Ethics Daily, for calling my attention to Jim Wallis' essay about his recent NPR debate with Jerry Falwell. It won't surprise many Mainstream readers to hear that Falwell objects to Christians who vote for Democrats calling themselves evangelicals. He's been officiating over the marriage of the Baptist church and the Republican party for twenty-five years.
During their debate Falwell said, “Jim Wallis likes to go under the evangelical flag, but he’s about as evangelical as an oak tree.” Amidst the debate Wallis responded with, “Jerry, you’re an ideological name caller.” After the debate Wallis spoke with Tony Campolo and they agreed that “the next time either of us is in a debate with Falwell, we will name him for what he really is, a fundamentalist who has stolen the word evangelical.”
I'm thankful that people like Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo are working to articulate the "whole gospel" and the full range of values that are of concern to "born again" evangelical Christians. Count me among the many evangelical Christians who are "pro-family without being anti-gay" and among the many who believe that "a deep commitment to the sacredness of human life requires a consistent ethic of life, which also regards the destruction of war, the death penalty, and the scandal of global poverty as deeply moral concerns, not just abortion.”
Ethics Daily reports that the National Council of Churches has issued a guide listing ten principles for evaluating political candidates. Here's the first principle:
1. War is contrary to the will of God. While the use of violent force may, at times, be a necessity of last resort, Christ pronounces his blessing on the peacemakers. We look for political leaders who will make peace with justice a top priority and who will actively seek nonviolent solutions to conflict.
All ten are good principles, as far as they go, but I am afraid the first one is not strong enough for the present moment. Our current President has made the practice of pre-emptive war an explicit doctrine of our nation's foreign policy and the major candidate opposing him in our
national elections says he too is willing to launch pre-emptive strikes against "terrorists" if he has "sufficient intelligence." (See Ken Guggenheim's, July 17, 2004 AP report "Kerry supports pre-emption in principle")
Instead of hinting at the problem with American foreign policy, somebody needs to state clearly and explicitly that the entire notion of "pre-emptive" strikes is immoral and unjust. It violates all principles of just war theory. If the quotations I've seen are accurate, President Eisenhower expressed these concerns most succinctly in 1953 when he said, "Pre-emptive war was invented by Adolf Hitler. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn't take anyone who came up with such a thing
Sometimes you have to have the wisdom of Solomon and the mind of an attorney to sort through church-state legislation. Dealing with the Workplace Religious Freedom Act (WRFA) is one of those issues. The organizations I generally trust for guidance on such matters are divided. Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) are against the act. The Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (BJC) and The Interfaith Alliance (TIA) are in favor of the act.
WRFA would change Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to require that employers comply with the religious needs of their workers unless the accommodation would cause "significant difficulty or expense." AU and the ACLU think WRFA, in its current form, could undermine civil rights laws and employer nondiscrimination policies and harm the health and safety of people seeking medical care or other needed services. They propose amending the bill to limit the scope of its provisions to make accommodation only for religiously prescribed dress, grooming and time off. Their concern is that an "overly broad" interpretation of religious accommodation could be used to justify religiously motivated harassment of homosexuals at the workplace, allow police officers to leave abortion clinics unguarded, and permit medical personnel to refuse to perform medically necessary reproductive health care.
BJC and TIA, along with a broad and diverse coalition of more than forty religious groups, do not believe that the bill permits any broader interpretation on those specific issues than does current legislation and legal precedent. They believe the legislation is needed, at a time of increasing religious diversity, to deal with the increasing indifference of some employers to the vital importance of faith in the lives of their employees. Their concern is that limiting the scope of religious accommodation would make civil liberties divisible and allow the government to pick and choose the level of protection it accords a fundamental right based on whether society or the government viewed the content of the belief with favor or disfavor.
I'm still scratching my head on this one.
Wednesday, August 04, 2004
Since the SBC approved the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message (BF&M) that elevated the Bible above Jesus and turned a deaf ear to the Holy Spirit, it has become increasingly apparent that the SBC is proclaiming a new gospel.
In essence, the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) has been reinterpreted to read, "And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to you. Go therefore and make converts of all the nations, baptizing them on the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all the "biblical worldview" of the 2000 BF&M, and lo, the Holman Christian Standard Bible is with you always, even to the end of the age.'"
Didn't the apostle Paul say something about people who preach a different gospel being cursed? (Galatians 1:8)
Ethics Daily is reporting that Barna Research has concluded that Mel Gibson's film "The Passion" had little impact on evangelism. One third of all Americans have seen the film, but fewer than one half of one percent of those who viewed the film said they accepted Christ as a result of seeing the film. Another one half of one percent said the movie influenced them to share their faith with others.
While it is worthwhile when even one person makes a decision for Christ and even one person begins to share their faith, the movie clearly failed as a tool for evangelism. That failure certainly had nothing to do with the cinematography, the quality of the acting, the emotional impact of the story, or the historical realism of the subject being portrayed. Perhaps the failure is due to the nature of the medium that delivered the message.
Our Lord commanded us to deliver the message in person -- not in film. Passion plays have their place and films have an impact, but both are poor substitutes for living, breathing disciples of Jesus who are willing to embody the good news and able to share it in person. Pictures may be worth a thousand words and motion pictures may be worth more still, but one disciple who will meet people face to face and show them the love of Jesus is best of all.
In his book The Great Unraveling, Paul Krugman lists some rules for interpreting news related to revolutionary powers. They are:
1) Don't assume that policy proposals make sense in terms of their stated goals. Revolutionary powers know what they want and make whatever argument advances their goal. They have no compunction about lying or misrepresenting their goals.
2) Do some homework to discover the real goals. The true goal is usually in the public domain. You just have to look at what the revolutionaries said before they were trying to sell it to the broader public.
3) Don't assume that the usual rules of politics apply. Revolutionary powers don't feel obligated to play by the rules.
4) Expect a revolutionary power to respond to criticism by attacking. They don't accept the right of others to criticize their actions. Those who raise questions should expect a no-holds-barred counterattack. Revolutionary powers always feel threatened. Absolute security can only be guaranteed by neutralizing all opponents.
5) Don't think that there's a limit to a revolutionary power's objectives. As Kissinger said in the quote below, revolutionary powers are willing and eager to push their principles to their ultimate conclusion.
It's the last rule that made the deepest impression on me. How many times have we deluded ourselves into believing that the Fundamentalists would moderate and start handling the institutions and agencies of the SBC with respect and begin to treat the people within them with dignity? Krugman is right. There's no limit to their objectives.
Paul Krugman, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, in his book The Great Unraveling: Losing Our Way in the New Century calls attention to some valuable analyses of how stable institutions respond to powers that do not accept the system's legitimacy. The analysis comes from Henry Kissinger's doctoral dissertation, A World Restored, about the reconstruction of Europe after the battle of Waterloo. Here's a quote from Kissinger:
Lulled by a period of stability which had seemed permanent, they find it nearly impossible to take at face value the assertion of the revolutionary power that it means to smash the existing framework. The defenders of the status quo therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions. Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstances are considered balanced and sane. . . . But it is the essence of revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion.
Krugman likens the revolutionary power that Kissinger describes to the contemporary right-wing movement in America. To anyone who knows the history of fundamentalism in Baptist life, it is a nearly perfect description of the takeover of the SBC. I've ordered a copy of Kissinger's book. It should be interesting reading.
It’s a good thing that the Baptist denomination is not a basketball team. If we were a basketball team it would be obvious that we have forgotten the point of the game.
Nearly a hundred years ago Baptists around the world allied together to form a team, but the biggest player on our team got sidetracked. This big prima donna has been standing at the sideline stripe dribbling the ball instead of driving to the basket for the last twenty-five years. He is convinced that members of his own team stepped over the boundary line when they had the ball and he’s upset that the referee didn’t blow a whistle and call them out.
So, he’s taken matters into his own hand. First, he insists that an inerrant rule book authorizes teammates to call each other out whenever the referee is late with a whistle. Second, he pushed the purportedly offending teammate off the court. Finally, when the other members of the Baptist team decided to let the purported offender back on the court, he chided the team for its lack of discipline, walked off the court and took the ball with him.
Now, just as the Baptist team was about to pick up another ball and start driving to the hoop, yet another voice is drawing attention to the sidelines. Are we ever going to make baskets again?
I'll be away from my computer for a couple days, so I thought it might be good to give Mainstreamers some background on the debate over the Baptist Manifesto. Here's a link to a recent version of the Baptist Manifesto. (Note that many of the signatories of the Baptist Manifesto are encouraging the use of creeds at BWA)
My experience with the Baptist Manifesto dates back to the fall of 1996 when Dr. Freeman, then professor at Houston Baptist University, asked me if I would like to add my signature to the document. After a lively phone conversation in which I expressed my concerns about aspects of the Manifesto, I wrote Dr. Freeman a letter documenting those concerns. A few weeks later I was invited to attend a conference at Baylor University on the Manifesto. I attended the conference expecting to hear some thoughtful review and critique of the document, instead, literally all of the presentations were given by proponents of the document and little time was given to permit questions about it (Remember this as you read the statement in the Manifesto that says, "When all exercise their gifts and callings, when every voice is heard and weighed, when no one is silenced or privileged, the Spirit leads communities to read wisely and to practice faithfully the direction of the gospel.")
Weary of the task of criticism, I decided to offer some constructive alternatives. My first brief attempt was in a devotional entitled "The Baptist Distinctive of Personal Integrity" given at a meeting of the coordinating council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. A little longer attempt was in a statement called "Reaffirming Baptist Identity" that was printed along with the Baptist Manifesto in the June 25, 1997 issue of Baptists Today.
The most thorough assessment of the Manifesto, of which I am aware, is a paper called "The Baptist Identity and the Baptist Manifesto" written by Dr. Walter Shurden.
One symptom of life in post-modernity is that few people get the respect they think they deserve. Rodney Dangerfield's comedy strikes a nerve deeper than many realize.
Unfortunately, not everyone can handle disrespect with a sense of humor. Baptist educators, some of whom have been the targets of covert operations to record unguarded statements for use in heresy complaints, have ample reason to take challenges to their authority seriously. Their skin is thin because it has been rubbed raw by contact with the Fundamentalism that pervades Baptist life.
Weary from incessant challenges to the legitimacy of their scholarship, some of our educators think all will be well if Baptists stop championing liberty of conscience and start creating a disciplined community (See the June 25, 1997 issue of Baptists Today).
Having once served a different community (the city of Albuquerque, NM) as an agent of discipline (police officer), I know by experience that all external authorities are poor substitutes for the internal guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Fundamentalists are not the only creedalists within the Baptist camp. Even before SBC leaders accused the Baptist World Alliance of a "liberal drift," some moderate Baptist fingers were twitching to create a creed of their own. Now the resolutions committee of the Baptist World Alliance has announced that it is drafting "a significant statement on Baptist identity."
We've been through this before (See the June 25, 1997 issue of Baptists Today). The apostle's creed ought to be sufficient to confirm our Christian orthodoxy. Re-affirming liberty of conscience should more than suffice to confirm our Baptist identity.
I am beginning to understand why Roger Williams gave up on Baptists.
Whatever Became of Liberty of Conscience?
There seems to be a lot of self-conscious searching for the spiritual these days. Most of these efforts leave me puzzled.
The spiritual realm is the world in which we live and move and have our being. Spirit is not something that is looked upon from the standpoint of a spectator. Without spirit we are like fish without water.
Instead of emulating fish leaping out of water for an instant at a time, it seems to me that our conscious efforts might best be directed to searching for ways to address the spirits that are polluting the environment where we have to live.
Since the days of William Carey, moderate, Mainstream Baptists have tried to engage in dialogue and fellowship with other Christians. In the past, those leading such efforts always had to run a gauntlet of opposition from the exclusivist, Fundamentalist wing within the denomination.
One unexpected consequence of the schism within the Southern Baptist Convention, which has now spilled over into the Baptist World Alliance, is that moderate, Mainstream efforts to link Baptists with other Christians can now proceed without hinderance.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's participation in "Christian Churches Together," an ecumenical organization, may well be a portent that a Spirit of renewal is moving within the entire Christian community in America.
Twenty-five years of ceaseless practice has made Paige Patterson a master at painting adversaries with colorful brush strokes that clash with the truth. Nothing demonstrated his artistry more than the picture of the Baptist World Alliance that he painted at the Southern Baptist Convention.
Thankfully, for Baptists who appreciate realistic portraiture more than ideological caricature, Bob Setzer offered the public a different picture of the Baptist World Alliance at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's General Assembly.
Today opinions among Baptists about the value of these two works of art may be a matter of taste. A day is coming when the Master Creator will be judging the value of each man and each woman's work. Every Baptist knows that the Master left no doubt about the true standards for the way we bear witness of one another (Exodus 20:16).
Over the past 25 years the plague of Fundamentalism has undermined every antibody that previous generations of Baptists used to inoculate their churches from spiritual disease.
Liberty of conscience has given way to creedalism, local church autonomy has succumbed to hierarchy, soul competency has morphed into church competency, the Bible has been elevated above Jesus, and our proud legacy as champions of religious liberty for all is rapidly being replaced by the cancerous lunacy of dominion theology.
All Baptists should heed warnings to boost their immune systems by injecting strong doses of historic Baptist principles and keeping their congregations isolated from contact with the Southern Baptist Convention.