Friday, December 31, 2004

A New Year's Resolution

Frederick Clarkson and Max Blumenthal have written some sobering blogs about the theocratic ideas that have come into prominence in America as we ring in the new year. What they are saying won't give Mainstream Baptists anything to cheer about, but it could provide some good grist for a New Year's Resolution.

This year, I resolve to stop remaining silent whenever I hear Christians talk about our country being a "Christian Nation." Nations can't be Christian. Genuine faith requires an individual, voluntary, personal commitment.


Baptists of the Year

Ethics Daily has posted a story about Baptists of the year.

I commend Robert Parham for venturing to offer such a list. I am sure that everyone knows someone that Robert omitted that they think should have been on the list.

I encourage anyone who wishes to add their nominees and the reasons for their nomination in the comments section below this post.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

SBC's Sacred Cow Losing Its Halo

A recent report by ABP makes it clear that the Cooperative Program, the Southern Baptist Convention's sacred cash cow, has lost its halo. In a move he called "astounding and regrettable," SBC executive Morris Chapman whined, "former leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have come out of retirement to ask churches to give to the BWA, a request they never would have made when they were SBC leaders, leading organizations that were dependent largely upon Cooperative Program gifts."

The truth is, when Duke McCall and Mainstream Baptists were leading SBC organizations, Southern Baptists were Cooperative Baptists who worked with Baptists around the world without trying to dictate their theology and control how they spend their money. Today Southern Baptist leaders are autocratic bureaucrats who twist the truth to justify the bullying they do to all who oppose their theological dictates and heavy handed micromanaging.

McCall aptly summarized the SBC takeover leaders by saying, "This new gang plays rough and twists the truth into lies."

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Brethren Leaders Feel a Draft

Ethics Daily is reporting that the Selective Service made an unannounced visit to the Brethren Service Center in New Windsor, Md. The Selective Service denied that the visit had anything to do with plans for reinstating the military draft. Nevertheless, church leaders were left with a chill from the visit. The Church of the Brethren is one of the historic peace churches.

Few Baptists have been pacifists. In the past, we've been fairly "realistic" in supporting the use of force by legitimate authorities for "just wars." In my eyes, the current war in Iraq has put this "Christian realism" to the test. All the "just war" arguments I've heard are just fig leaves in this conflict.

It makes me wonder whether the Mennonites and Brethren haven't been right about the use of force all along.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Mean Cities

The National Coalition for the Homeless has issued a report about American cities criminalizing homelessness. They rank cities around the country according to how harshly they treat the homeless.

Little Rock, Arkansas ranked as the meanest city in America toward the homeless. Atlanta, Georgia ranked second. The state of Texas had three cities on the list -- Austin ranked tenth, Dallas fifteenth, and San Antonio was seventeenth.

There are a lot of Baptists in all these cities. In fact, Baptists have a significant presence in all twenty of the meanest cities in America. We need to start taking an interest in the homeless people in the cities in which we live.

Click here for a link to the NCH's full report. Click here for narrative about the meanest cities. Click here for narrative about how the homeless are treated in cities in your area.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Concerned About Concerned Women

Today's LA Times is running a story about Concerned Women for America -- the political action committee organized decades ago by Beverly LaHaye to derail the Equal Rights Amendment. The article is aptly named, "They Won't Stand on Common Ground."

The truth is, the right-wing movement taking over our country got its original impetus to organize from opposition to Equal Rights for women. They succeeded in defeating the ERA Amendment and then expanded their agenda. Meanwhile, American society has acted as though the Equal Rights Amendment passed. Business and government has been opening many doors for women that were previously closed.

Women should not take the advances that they have gained for granted. Doors that are now open can quickly close. A good example is the status of women in the Southern Baptist Convention. In the 1970's, when the Equal Rights Amendment was being debated, Baptist women were graduating from Southern Baptist seminaries, being ordained as chaplains, and on occassion serving as pastors of churches. Twenty-five years later, allies of Concerned Women for America are in control of the SBC and now, by official policy and decree, women can no longer be ordained as chaplains or serve as pastors of Southern Baptist Churches.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Gospel that is Too Hot to Handle

AlterNet has posted an essay by Jeanette Batz Cooperman that is the most insightful discussion of the banned UCC ad to date. Here's a link:

The Compassion of Christ.

Another Uncomfortable Christmas

Kudos to Ethics Daily for posting Miguel De La Torre's devotional on Advent and War.

Peace truly is "the great desire of nations" -- but there is no peace.

Peace is also the great desire of every human heart -- but there is not much peace there either.

Since March 2003 I have discovered that I can no longer find peace with God in my heart when I bite my tongue around those who are comfortable with what our nation is doing in the world.

Now when I am most at peace with God, some of my relatives and many of my friends find it most uncomfortable to be with me.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

No Theocrats on the Right ?

In 1996 Michael Lind wrote a book called Up From Conservatism in which he told the story of his conversion from the political right to the political center. In brief, Lind said he left conservatism because he could not remain in a movement that could see "no enemies on the right." He said the conservative movement was very careful to not offend and was openly wooing racists, theocrats, religious cultists, and neo-fascists.

A good example of what Lind was talking about is in a story posted on AlterNet today, Throw Down Your Cross. It is a story about the political influence of Sun Myung Moon and a movement he launched to remove crosses from churches.

In the past couple weeks, I've heard a lot on the radio about businesses taking Christ out of Christmas at the mall, I've read about churches not being permitted to enter floats in parades and I've been grilled on TV about schools taking nativity scenes out of their school plays, but this is the first thing I've seen about a movement to take crosses down from churches. Astonishingly, this story is being told by the left-wing press -- the AlterNet -- because the right-wing media hasn't yet found it newsworthy.

I suspect it's because too many Christians can see "no theocrats on the right." Moon's right on all the issues that matter most to them -- he supports right-wing candidates, he hates homosexuals and he opposes gay marriage. In their eyes, it's the secularists and church-state separationists who are truly dangerous.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Dominionist Press Publishes Book by Southern Baptist

Those who think the links between Southern Baptists and theocratic Christian Reconstructionists are tenuous need to look inside the front cover of the current issue of the Chalcedon Report. There the chief publishing house for Dominionist thought, Chalcedon, announces that it has published Bruce Shortt's book, The Harsh Truth About Public Education. Bruce Shortt, along with T.C. Pinckney, leads the movement against public schools within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Pinckney, who led SBC Fundamentalists to leave the moderately controlled Baptist state convention in Virginia, wrote a forward to Shortt's book. Paul Pressler and Paige Patterson, who organized the Fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, endorsed Shortt's book.

We've read this script before. First they attack the schools, then they organize a movement to take them over, and then they take them over. They did that in the Southern Baptist Convention.

Now they are taking on the public schools. When they are done, we will have a system of religious schools and home schools, paid-for at public expense, that will dutifully indoctrinate children in their theocratic ways.

For all those school teachers who are fed-up with the bureaucracy in public schools, you are going to love working for these autocrats.

For all those moderate realists and pragmatists who think this scenario is a little far-fetched, all but a few Baptists thought the same thing about the SBC twenty-five years ago.

Monday, December 20, 2004

FOX News Quotes Interview

I just got an irate e-mail from a right-winger that linked to a FOX news story.

FOX has reframed a quote from my interview last Friday and put it out with stories from other places around the country -- but there's not a word about the original context of the interview --Mustang, OK.

Here's a link:

http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,141920,00.html


Laughable Theocrats?

Baptist Press just posted an editorial from John Yeats about taking offense at hearing "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas" when he shops at Christmas. Yeats is editor of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma's state newspaper.

When did Southern Baptists decide that the mission of the church was to "save the culture" and convert people to our "worldview?" Whatever became of sharing the gospel one-on-one and persuading people (not culture) to follow Jesus (not a worldview) by "the foolishness of preaching" (not by legislation, adjudication, or indoctrination)?

Why does Yeats minimize the theocratic impulse among right-wing evangelicals? He says it is "laughable and borders on the absurd." Yet, his own thinking is either clearly theocratic or else Dominionist themes resonate so thoroughly in his mind that he cannot see the similarity. For example, just two paragraphs before he laughs at the idea of evangelical theocrats, Yeats says,


"Tolerance now means the acceptance and equalization of every lifestyle philosophy, except for evangelical Christianity."
What's the difference between what Yeats is saying and what Rousas J. Rushdoony said when he denounced democracy as heresy because,

“In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions.”

It seems to me that all Yeats does is disguise the same apology for intolerance by framing it in the mythology about evangelical Christians being persecuted. As I've said before, this mythology is really about Christians not being able to dominate the stage or takeover the public square.

The Mind of a Fundamentalist

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for sending me the link to Rachael Kohn's interviews entitled "The Mind of a Fundamentalist." About midway through the interview Shahid Najeeb makes an interesting observation:

The mind of fundamentalism proliferates like a cancer, without regard for anything other than its own scriptures. It lives and feeds only on these scriptures, which are fundamental inscriptions of personal aspirations. The devout believe their devotion and nothing else. Dictators believe their own propaganda. So one can’t help but wonder about the driven nature of these beliefs.

It’s as if the fundamentalist’s very life depends on the fierce way the beliefs are grasped. And there might actually be a lot of truth to this, for it might be that at heart, the forcible and persistent insistence of the fundamentalist’s truth at the heart of it, lies an unconscious feeling of the truth that may be, just maybe, he is quite mistaken. It might be that he knows at some level that he is hanging on to a container that has no content, and if this container’s devoid of any content, then the fundamentalist is hanging over a schism or a chasm, I beg your pardon, of meaninglessness and insignificance which is absolutely terrifying.


Saturday, December 18, 2004

Clarification

From responses I'm seeing to the blog about my radio interview yesterday, I can see that I did not make it clear that the text in bold type approximates what was said on air. The regular type text is what I was prepared to say, but did not manage to get in on air.

I've made some revisions to yesterday's blog to make that clearer.

One thing I learned is that I missed an opportunity to make the point that seems to resonate the most with readers of this blog. If I ever get another opportunity to speak on an issue like this again, I'm going to make sure I get this line in:

We need to dispel the myth that Christians are being persecuted in our public schools. Most of the instances I hear about Christians being persecuted are really examples of Christians no longer being permitted to dominate the stage at school or takeover the public square.


Friday, December 17, 2004

Christmas with Mustang's Angry Christians

{Revised 12-19-04. Separated TV comments (bold type) from prepared comments (regular typed)}

I just finished my first interview on National TV news. FOX News asked me to comment on the uproar in Mustang, Oklahoma over the removal of the "live" Nativity scene from a public elementary school's Christmas play.

Christians in Mustang are suing the school district for discrimination because the play mentioned Kwanzaa and displayed a Menorah while the nativity scene was removed. Right-wing religious rabble rousers are complaining that, "political correctness" and a pervasive "secularism" is taking Christ out of Christmas. To show that they are not going to take it any more, residents of the city took it out on their kids education. They voted down a school bond issue.

The interview went so fast that I cannot remember the sequence of questions and answers. Frankly, until I get some more practice at this, I'm finding it much more comfortable to speak into a microphone and listen through a headset in the radio studio than to speak to a camera and listen through an ear plug at a TV studio.

I did get something from three of the four points that I wanted make on camera. In bold print below is an approximation of what was said on the air. Some of the bold is what I had prepared to say (who knows what I actually said? I can't remember and I did not manage to get the program recorded). The interview was conducted live at 10:30 AM CST. Though it was slated to be part of FOX's series about Christ being taken out of Christmas, it did not air in later segments of that series. They substituted a different story out of Florida.

The News anchor (Bridgette __?__) introduced the topic and asked the other guest what he thought was happening in Mustang. That guest replied something to the effect that there was a "systematic" effort across the country to remove Christ and Christian symbols from Christmas.

Then the news anchor asked me something about whether I was hearing a lot about such controversies. I said something to the effect that we were hearing a lot complaints this year and then launched into the major point I was trying to make:

"We need to dispel the myth that Christ was expelled from the public school Christmas program in Mustang, Oklahoma. The children sang "Silent Night" which repeats twice that "Christ, the Savior is born" and repeats twice "Jesus, Lord at his birth.

The people in Mustang are complaining because their children could not stage a dramatic visual climax to a play that was designed to give dramatic emphasis to one faith -- the Christian religion."

Then the news anchor asked me, "If the school can display Menorahs, what's wrong with a nativity scene?

I responded, "The children were acting-it-out. They were role-playing the nativity scene. That would have been too much for a public school."

Our constitution does not permit the government or its agencies, and public schools are agencies of the government, to elevate one faith above another or treat people of minority faith as though they were second-class citizens.

Then the news anchor said, somewhat exasperatedly, "This is not the issue we wanted to talk about. . . . It's Christmas. I just think it's natural to conclude with a nativity scene."

In regular type below is the full text of the comments I hoped to make on the air. There were four points that I was trying to make:


1. We need to dispel the myth that Christ was expelled from the public school Christmas program in Mustang, Oklahoma. The children sang "Silent Night" which repeats twice that "Christ, the Savior is born" and repeats twice "Jesus, Lord at his birth."

Frankly, those are affirmations that I hold, but it is not the mission of public schools to teach children the doctrines of the Christian faith. It is the responsibility of the churches to be teaching the articles of faith. Mustang has more than twenty churches. The Christians there need to focus on providing religious education in their churches rather than expecting the public schools to do it for them.

2. We need to dispel the myth that Christians are being persecuted in our public schools. Most of the instances I hear about Christians being persecuted are really examples about Christians no longer being permitted to dominated the stage and school or takeover the public square.

In Mustang, people are complaining because their children could not stage a dramatic visual climax to a play that was designed to give dramatic emphasis to one faith -- the Christian religion.

If public schools are going to talk about religion, they need to see that each faith gets faith and equal treatment. They cannot give token mention of minority faiths while providing catechisms and Sunday School lessons for the majority faith.

3. The First Amendment was designed to protect the rights of minorities.

Our constitution does not permit the government or its agencies, and public schools are agencies of the government, to elevate one faith above another or treat people of minority faith as though they were second-class citizens.

4. We need to practice the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Some statement of the Golden Rule, either positively or negatively, is common to all faiths. It is not a controversial value. If everybody would practice it, we could put an end to about 90% of these church-state cases.

I'm a Baptist preacher. I am a "born again" evangelical Christian, but it is high time that evangelical Christians start practicing the Golden Rule and living our faith instead of trying to make a show of it and forcing everyone else to play a role in our show.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Midst of a Culture War

Ethics Daily is running several stories about the latest skirmishes in the culture wars. One article talks about a Judge in Alabama who presumed to preside over his court while wearing a robe that had the ten commandments embroidered on it. Another article talks about conservative "evangelicals" fighting what they call Christmas "censorship." Still another story talks about a sociology Instructor at a state school who is being investigated for suggesting that people should buy AK-47's and shoot all the religious values voters.

It is obvious that the passions associated with different visions for American life that surfaced during the recent presidential election are not going away. In the recent past, the advocates of violence have been concentrated on the extreme right. Now the extreme left is beginning to use the rhetoric of violence.

Those of us who are in the Mainstream need to step up, be more visible and vocal, and inject more balanced rhetoric and reasoning in the public square before real bullets start flying. Once bullets start flying, those in the middle will be caught in the crossfire from both sides.

Better Off in 2004 ?

The Drum Major Institute, a left-wing think tank chaired by former ambassador Andrew Young, has released a 2004 Year in Review report. The report includes a section on the best public policy and the worst public policy of the year 2004. Here's a paragraph about policy proposals that escaped my attention until I saw it listed as the worst policy proposal of 2004:

BUSH GIVES WORKING-CLASS NO CREDIT

A major theme of President Bush's re-election campaign was his "ownership society" agenda, a focus on policies to empower Americans to buy their own home, start their own business and carve out a place in the middle class. Key to achieving that goal is the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), which requires banks with assets of more than $250 million to provide banking services, loans and investments to low- and middle-income residents in the communities in which they are situated. In October, a set of proposals by Bush administration appointees threatened to raise the minimum asset level of banks before they are required to participate to $1 billion, up from $250 million, freeing nearly 90 percent of all banks from complying with CRA. For leaving working-class Americans completely on their own, this proposal earns a place in this year's "Worst of Public Policy."

Policies like this raise a red flag in my mind. It reminds me of a very unpleasant experience I had trying to sell my first house.

My wife and I bought our first house when I was in Seminary working on a Ph.D. We bought a home in a neighborhood that was integrating racially. White people were moving out and African-Americans were moving in. When we were buying the house, our realtor did her best to talk us out of moving into that neighborhood. We thought that prejudice was all that was informing the advice she was giving us. We were not threatened by African-Americans and we were happy to do something to stem the tide of white flight.

We lived in that house for eight years. We never had any problem with vandalism, burglary, theft, noise, nosey neighbors or nit-picking neighborhood associations. We had fine neighbors and good friends who lived in stable, loving families -- some of them in marriages of mixed race. It was a delightful place to live.

When I graduated from Seminary and was called to pastor a church in Houston, we put our house on the market. We were satisfied with an appraisal that showed the value of the house had only increased by 50%, knowing that values had declined to that level from the nearly 66% increase that houses in the neighborhood (next door) had sold for a couple years before.

Over the next year we had several contracts from people who wanted to buy the house -- all of them African-American couples. None of them, however, could qualify for a loan to buy the house -- no matter how much the price was lowered.

Finally, after fifteen months, we gave the house to the first real estate speculator we could find who would take over the payments and get the loan out of our name. Otherwise, we could not qualify to buy a home in Houston.

Later, we learned about a bank practice called "red lining" where certain people (mostly African-American) and certain neighborhoods (mostly African-American) are excluded from credit by bank policy. At one time, we passed laws to prohibit such practices, but that was before we were told that all government regulation is just bureaucratic red tape that causes a drag on our economy.

If you can't trust American bankers to treat people fairly and look out for the common good of their comunities, who can you trust?


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Baptists Weighing in Against Decalogue Displays

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has filed a friend of the court brief before the Supreme Court opposing government displays of the 10 commandments. The BJC is a nearly seventy year old organization that officially represents nearly all Baptists except Southern Baptists (and represents many of them unofficially).

In a press release K. Hollyn Hollman, BJC general counsel, said, “It’s inconceivable that a freestanding, six-foot monument in the shadow of the state capitol building is not an endorsement of the message ‘I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.’

Associated Baptist Press reports that the Interfaith Alliance is joining the BJC in arguing against the decalogue display.

This case may prove to be more significant than most people think. Baptists and others are challenging the notion that "common law" is based solely on "biblical law," -- an argument popular in Christian Reconstructionist circles.

For Dominionists, posting ten commandments monuments on public property is a symbolic act identifying the United States as a Christian Nation. Once the courts accept the symbols of "establishment," they'll be working step-by-step to insure that the constitution is strictly interpreted to accord with a literal interpretation of Mosaic law.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Director of Faith-Based Office Insults Mainstream Baptists

ABP reports that Jim Towey, Director of the White House office of Faith-based Initiatives, said he expected there to be "continued outcry from the secular extremists" against President Bush's faith-based initiatives. His statement was designed to leave the impression that only "secular extremists" oppose the faith-based initiatives.

After enduring years of slander from Fundamentalists in the SBC, name calling doesn't make much of an impression on us. We do object, however, to politicians trying to skew the debate over government funding of religion in a way that would by-pass and ignore the objections to faith-based initiatives that come from within the community of faith.

Mr. Towey knows that many religious people object to his office's fudging over the line separating church and state. He should also know that we are not "extremists" either.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

IRD irked by UCC ad

A group affiliated with the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) is asking the United Church of Christ (UCC) to pull their television commerical welcoming all people to their church. The IRD and its affiliate, the Association for Church Renewal, are irked by the lack of doctrinal definition in the ads. They conclude, "While the UCC commercial emphasizes the denomination’s inclusiveness, there is no attempt to define what the denomination believes or promotes, other than inclusiveness itself."

Fred Clarkson's blog provides valuable insights about the IRD's well-funded and organized attempts to foment Fundamentalist takeovers of mainline denominations -- takeovers modeled after the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Those interested in additional information about the IRD's efforts to disrupt America's mainstream Protestant churches should read Lewis C. Daly's, A Moment to Decide: The Crisis of Mainstream Presbyterianism and Leon Howell's, United Methodism at Risk: A Wake-Up Call.

The last time American churches were so thoroughly divided was in the 1840's and 1850's. This time the Mason-Dixon line is running through the middle of churches in both the north and the south.

Friday, December 10, 2004

No "Fellowship" for Democrats in FCA

Ethics Daily is reporting that a student at Carson-Newman College, a Baptist college in Tennessee, was removed from FCA's leadership after he told the chapter president that he would vote for Kerry. FCA leaders say the matter had nothing to do with politics.

Seems like I've heard reports like this before. Since the Fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, denominational politics has had nothing to do with the removal of moderate denominational executives, professors and missionaries from positions of leadership either.

On Disponsibilité

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to Martin Marty's Commencement Address at Eastern Mennonite University. Speaking about the French philosopher Gabriel Marcel's idea of disponsibilité, Marty gives one of the best explanations of the term that I've seen in print. Here it is:

A Marcel scholar (Seymour Cain) says that it is easiest to define disponibilité by looking at its opposites: "unavailability," "a holding-back, self-adherence, closed-in-ness," Kierkegaard's Indesluttedhed (in Danish), or "shut-in-ness." The "disposable" person opens freely and gives herself unreservedly in a mutuality of presence, "the indisposable person is self-preoccupied, encumbered, self-enclosed, incapable of giving himself, of opening up, of giving out. If he listens to me, he gives me only his ear, the outward attitude, but he refuses me himself, for he cannot 'make room' for anyone else in himself."

Being available is thus not only a habit of expression but a deep focus on personal philosophy. It is not only a matter of psychology or bodily posture, but of the spiritual life. Marcel sometimes used a kind of economic metaphor, "opening a line of credit" for someone else. "I put myself at the disposal of, or again I make a fundamental engagement which bears not only on what I have, but on what I am." You give credit to another, and you are giving a gift to yourself. Marcel: "To be unavailable is to be in some manner, not only occupied, but encumbered by the self."

A theological or ethical dimension appears: Marcel speaks of "self-presence:" "the portion of creation which is in me, the gift which from all eternity has been given me of participating in the universal drama, of working, for example, to humanize the Earth, or on the contrary to make it more uninhabitable." And "from the very beginning there must be a sense of stewardship: something has been entrusted to us," and we are responsible to the Giver of the trust, the "Other," God. What is the whole drama of God visiting the world in Israel and the prophets and, finally, in the divine Son, in the life and death and resurrection of a Jesus who "condescends" and is a "com-presence," a shaper of community, available to us and through us, in prayer and work.

In three brief paragraphs Marty has provided a very good introduction to a key idea in the thought of a very neglected and overlooked philosopher, Gabriel Marcel. For those interested in learning more, here's a link to the best book from which to understand Marcel's thought, Creative Fidelity.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Mohler in the Lap of Politico's

As soon as Richard Land began to lumber down from his place as loyal lapdog for right-wing politicians, Al Mohler jumped up to take his place.

Right-wing politicians have been "talking Jesus" and "walking corporations" for at least a quarter-century. All along the way, right-wing evangelicals have been voting their "moral values" to oppose abortion and "biological Darwinism" while "walking loyally" with the "social Darwinism" of right-wing politicians. After more than two decades of loyal efforts as well as credit for securing the winning margin in the last election, you'd think that the politicians would throw a bone to their pet pit bulls and put a moral issue like abortion at the top of their agenda.

That, however, is not in the cards. Economic conservatives like Grover Norquist are still setting the agenda and social conservatives are still making excuses for their political masters. Richard Land has started to show a little independence. Al Mohler, however, seems more than willing to keep wagging his tail for right-wing politicians. The game in Washington remains the same, the only thing that changes is the name of the dog in the lap of the politicians.

Liberating Louisiana College

For the information of anyone who has been out of the Baptist loop, Louisiana College, a Baptist college in Pineville, La. is nearing a nuclear meltdown. Fundamentalists tookover the board of trustees, began censoring books such as Scott Peck's Road Less Travelled, and prompted the resignation of the school's president.

Recently the board tried to hire a Fundamentalist to be president but, after a much publicized coronation, he turned them down. Now the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an accrediting agency, has placed the school on probation.

A week ago I heard a rumor that Jerry Falwell advised the Fundamentalists that there is no need for them to be concerned about accreditation because he could get them accredited through Liberty University. Wouldn't that be remarkable? Twenty-five years ago, who could have foreseen that any respectable Southern Baptist liberal arts college would even be rumored to be getting a seal of approval from an Independent Fundamental Baptist like Jerry Falwell?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

On the Dialogical Unity of Religions

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for sending me the link to Walter Kasper's speech "Disarming Terror: A Role for Believers." Kasper's comments shine a bright light on some very dark issues. Here's his conclusion:

Religions must wake up and galvanize their own spiritual resources of resistance to terrorist violence. Such a clear and public disassociation from terrorism is what many expect specifically from Islam. The profound nihilist characteristic of terrorism can only be overcome through the affirmation of the essential attitude of all religions – profound respect.This means both the self-critical review/correction of one's own history as the preaching not of hatred but of tolerance and respect for others' beliefs, as well as the consequent condemnation of all forms of violence. Religions must tear off the religious mask from the face of the terrorists to unmask them and show them for what they really are, namely, nihilists who reject all the values and ideals of humanity.

The "clash of civilizations" can be avoided only through the dialogue of cultures and religions. Dialogue presupposes respect for the common heritage of all religions and profound respect for the sacred, but dialogue in no way means syncretism and the renunciation of one's own identity; rather, dialogue can be conducted only by interlocutors who each has his own identity, an identity that they know [and] esteem and by which they commit themselves through the arms of the spirit.

This dialogical unity of religions, which condemns physical conflict but is not afraid of spiritual confrontation, is the only way for peace in the world.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Did the Nazi's Separate Church and State?

Thanks to Bob Allen for calling my attention to Thom Hartmann's essay about Supreme Court Justice Scalia's speech at an Orthodox Jewish Synagogue in New York. Scalia blames church/state separation for the holocaust.

Scalia, like most theocrats, persists in revising history to fit his ideology. Hartmann does a masterful job of giving the highlights of the Nazi takeover of the German state church and Hitler's use of it for his political purposes. The link he provides to photos of the Nazi's with various religious leaders tells the story in images stronger than words can provide.

The truth is, one of the biggest reasons why Europe is so much more secular than America today is because the church failed so dismally in facing the Nazi menace. It's not hard to project the same result for this nation once people perceive the tragic effects of the unholy alliance between the evangelical theocrats and the neo-conservative empire builders who are forming our current foreign policy.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

America's First Prophetic Voice

Thanks to Barbara McGraw, Barbara & Tom Boyd and Tom Burns for a conversation yesterday that prompted further reflection on an issue which has been churning in the back of mind since I began wrestling with the thought of Baptist re-envisioners (See my 7-9-04 Blog on Baptist Identity). The question is “What is conscience?”

A few years ago I wrote an essay with that title in which I defined conscience as the ability to put yourself in the place of others (in technical terms, sympathetic imagination) and look at yourself through the eyes of an Other (in technical terms, reflexive self-consciousness). I derived this definition from my exegesis for a sermon I gave on what some think is the central biblical text for an understanding of conscience -- 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.

Then I began to read the early Baptists to see if I could find evidence of these two components -- sympathetic imagination and reflexive self-consciousness -- in their discussions of conscience. I’ve not had much time to devote to this research, but I found it easy to find evidence of both components in the thought of Roger Williams (1603-83) – the great champion of “liberty of conscience” and religious liberty.

Williams studied the language and customs of the indigenous peoples of North America and published the first text on a Native American language -- a task requiring no small extension and exercise of the first component -- sympathetic imagination. The second component -- reflexive self-consciousness -- is apparent in a number of passages in William’s book, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution. Many are found within the context of his concern for the integrity of the Christian witness as it was shared cross-culturally. Here is one of the clearest expressions of a socially constructed conscience in William's thought:

Two mountains of crying guilt lie heavy upon the backs of all men that name the name of Christ, in the eyes of Jews, Turks, and pagans.

First, the blasphemies of their idolatrous inventions, superstitions, and most unchristian conversations.

Secondly, the bloody, irreligious, and inhuman oppressions and destructions under the mask or veil of the name of Christ, etc. (Bloudy Tenent, page 8)

In the little bit of research that I’ve done into the understandings of conscience put forward by contemporaries of Williams and thinkers who followed him, it has been hard to find evidence of both components. It is much easier to find them in more recent discussions by philosophers and social scientists talking about the social construction of conscience.

In the current political climate, if securing the first colonial charter in history granting full religious liberty to people of all faiths no longer suffices to earn Williams recognition as America’s first prophetic voice, perhaps he deserves the distinction for his understanding of conscience.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Uncle Sam Doling Out to Churches

Now that evangelical voter's values are in ascendancy, we are discovering that free market principles are fine for families of workers whose jobs have been outsourced overseas but not for religious institutions. As it cuts funding to assist elderly and disabled people and reduces temporary assistance for needy families, congress is finding heaps of new money for elderly, decaying and needy churches.

For the past 215 years Americans have thought that church and state should be separate because genuine faith could sustain itself in the free marketplace of ideas. That, however, was when faith was strong and vibrant. Today it is weak and puny and needs the help of government to renovate and restore its decaying edifices.

Thankfully, organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State still believe that faith needs to have the vitality to sustain itself. They are filing a lawsuit challenging those who would let lazy religious institutions depend on handouts from the government.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

On Tacitly Established Religion

The United Church of Christ (UCC) has developed an nationwide ad campaign to show that all people (including homosexuals) are welcome at their churches. In a press release yesterday the UCC revealed that CBS and NBC have refused to air their ads because, "the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."

No matter what your position is on the morality of homosexuality, when TV Executives are screening the messages of mainline Christian denominations for conformity with White House initiatives, it is obvious that some form of government sanctioned religion is being tacitly "established." Frederick Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy, makes the implications clear:

There are 1.3 million members of the UCC and tens of millions more who are members of Christian denominations, and other religious traditions that will recognize that if CBS can turn down an ad because they are afraid the White House won't like it, the First Amendment protection of religious freedom is in jeopardy.
Here's a link where you can see the UCC's ad over the internet. (NOTE: All the links to the UCC site are running extremely slow today. Right now, thousands of people around the world are trying to go to the same links.)