Thursday, June 30, 2005

Are We Going to War With Iran?

On March 14th I posted a blog that linked to an interview with Scott Ritter, the former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq. In that interview Ritter said the U.S. was preparing for a war with Iran.

A couple days ago I read a story that quoted Scott Ritter as saying the U.S. war with Iran has already begun. At the time, it did not seem credible to me.

After reading today's headlines, I am beginning to worry that Ritter may be right.

Inhofe vs. the Insurance Industry

A few months ago, Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe, chair of the Senate Committe on the Environment and Public Works, said global warming is "the second largest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people."

The insurance industry doesn't think Inhoff knows what he's talking about. Yesterday, the Financial Times ran a story entitled, "Insurers sound the alarm on climate change." Here's a quote:
Nick Starling, the ABI's director of general insurance, urged the leaders of the Group of Eight industrialised nations to take action on greenhouse gas emissions when they meet to discuss climate change next week.

"Governments now have a chance to make rational choices for the future, before it is too late," he said. Making the right decisions based on assessment of the costs of climate change "will ensure lower costs for the public in future."

Inhofe is also wrong about what he thinks is a larger hoax -- separation of church and state.

Live from the Gaylord Texan

I'm posting from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly meeting in Grapevine, Texas at the Gaylord Texan Convention Center.

For those unfamiliar with CBF, it is a group of Moderate Baptists that left the SBC in 1990 (after the Fundamentalist takeover of the SBC) and formed their own denominational organization. Jimmy Carter is the most prominent member of CBF.

For those unfamiliar with the Gaylord Texan, it is the Texas version of the Gaylord Hotel at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.

Gaylord Hotels could be described as the convention go-ers version of Disneyland. They are literally a world unto themselves.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Baptist Press Criticized by Right and Left

Ethics Daily has posted a story about the SBC's Education resolution sponsor faulting coverage of the resolution by Baptist Press.

Most interesting is to learn that he is "linking to some stories from EthicsDaily.com."

Since Baptist Press has been tightly controlled by the Executive Committee, as it has been since the mid- 1980s, all the news gets the official spin of the EC and truth is sacrificed.

That's why free presses like Ethics Daily and Associated Baptist Press serve the best interests of all Baptists.

On Judicial Glossolalia

Danny Westneat at the Seattle Times has a very interesting take on the recent Supreme Court rulings on the Ten Commandments.

He said, "But its like the Supremes were speaking in tongues!"

Later in the article he issues his own ruling:

"I find, therefore, that Everett's monument is not a government endorsement of religion. It is government endorsing bad taste as it sells out to a Hollywood conglomerate on a marketing campaign.

"And what, in the end, could be more American than that?

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Blog Anniversary

Today marks the first anniversary for the Mainstream Baptist blog.

A year ago I decided it was time that I try and discover why blogging was considered the cutting edge of the internet.

Frankly, I never expected it to displace the work I was doing on the Mainstream Baptists website. Now I know that it is both easier and more time consuming than maintaining a website.

I'll try to capture some metrics for traffic late tonight. Though none of the traffic counters have been on this site for more than six months, they can serve as some rough benchmarks for the increase or decrease in this weblog's outreach.

Ethics Daily Cites Blog

Ethics Daily ran a story yesterday about our blog on the SBC's school resolution.

We will monitor news reports of gay bashing that are associated with the SBC's encouragment of increased activism opposing the tolerance of homosexuals in public schools.

Southern Baptists need to develop a conscience on this issue before another Matthew Shepherd gets beaten and left hanging on a fence post to die.

Bob Allen's story at Ethics Daily is a good place to start. The best way to develop a conscience in this area is for Baptists to look at themselves through the eyes of Matthew Shepherd. Combining sympathetic imagination with reflexive self-consciousness is something that every Christian concerned to fulfill the Great Commission needs to develop.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Peter Ludlow's 95 Theses on the Religious Right

Thanks to R.D. Brown for calling my attention to the Leiter Report's blog about philosopher Peter Ludlow's 95 theses on the Religious Right.

It is exceedingly hard to pick out a single thesis as an example. They are all good. Here's one that I think stands out as particularly insightful:
24. While the Bible asks that we be slow to anger, the Religious Right is quick to anger -- indeed it appears to revel in anger and in fanning the flames of anger in others.

SCOTUS Rules For Government Neutrality on Religion

The first of two expected rulings on ten commandment displays was delivered by the Supreme Court this morning. It affirms the government's neutrality in matters of religion. Here's a quote from Justice Souter:

"The touchstone for our analysis is the principle that the First Amendment mandates government neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion," Justice David H. Souter wrote for the majority.

"When the government acts with the ostensible and predominant purpose of advancing religion, it violates tha central Establishment clause value of official religious neutrality," he said.

On God's Own "Evangelical" Party

E. J. Dionne has written an outstanding essay about the debate over Wisconsin Congressman David Obey's amendment to the military appropriations bill that called for a plan to end religious discrimination at the Air Force Academy.

During the debate Indiana Congressman John Hostettler accused Obey, a Catholic, of being part of a "long war against Christianity in America." Obey demanded that Hostettler's words be stricken from the record and, eventually, they were.
Obey said that when he first came to Congress, "there would have been universal condemnation of Hostettler by both parties." In this case, Obey said he was approached afterward by a single sympathetic Republican. Obey was comforted that Jewish House members "appreciated that a Christian would speak out."

The problems at the Air Force Academy are serious. The Academy's former Superintendant admitted that the problems were severe. Dionne ably summarized the issues:
Let's be clear: the academy's brass are not in trouble because they allowed evangelical Christian cadets to speak of their faith to other cadets. That is their right. The issue is whether officers higher in the chain of command used their positions of authority to promote their faith. That is coercion, and it is neither right nor just. It is also about whether evangelical Christian students were allowed to create an atmosphere in which students who did not share their faith were, to be charitable, marginalized. (One father of a cadet said his son was called "a filthy Jew.") Since Jews, Hindus, Muslims and atheists -- not to mention Christians who are not evangelicals -- all proudly serve in the armed forces of the United States, there are few institutions in which the imperative for religious liberty is more important.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

An Egregious Abuse of Power

Leonard Pitts has written an outstanding article about Jeb Bush's shameful vendetta against Michael Schiavo.

The ordeal that Jeb Bush and the Religious Right have put Michael Schiavo through is so disgusting that it makes me ill. This is the clearest case of religious persecution in America.

On a Roll

Greg at the Parish blog has been on a roll with his blogging lately. I recommend his blogs about the Peace of Christ? and Plessy vs. Ferguson Redux.

And while your in the neighborhood of the Oklahoma blogosphere, you ought to visit Tim at the Anabaptist Monk blog (who has also been on a roll blogging).

On White Privilege

Thanks to Natalie at the panta-ta-ethne blog for calling my attention to Peggy McIntosh's essay on White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Here are a couple quotes:

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was "meant" to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.
. . .
For me white privilege has turned out to be an elusive and fugitive subject. The pressure to avoid it is great, for in facing it I must give up the myth of meritocracy. If these things are true, this is not such a free country; one's life is not what one makes it; many doors open for certain people through no virtues of their own.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

The War Denomination

Paul Krugman has written an insightful essay about the significance of the decreasing popularity of America's War President. Here's a quote:
In a Gallup poll taken in early April - that is, before the release of the Downing Street Memo - 50 percent of those polled agreed with the proposition that the administration "deliberately misled the American public" about Iraq's W.M.D. In a new Rasmussen poll, 49 percent said that Mr. Bush was more responsible for the war than Saddam Hussein, versus 44 percent who blamed Saddam.

Once the media catch up with the public, we'll be able to start talking seriously about how to get out of Iraq.
As America tires of its "War President" it might not be surprising to see it also grow weary of its "War Denomination." The Library of Congress has been recording the cheerleading of SBC leadership to go into this war for all time and history.

On Southern Baptists and Theologians

Thanks to anonymous for calling my attention to a thoughtful post about Theologians in the SBC by Michael Spencer at Internet Monk. Here's one quote from an essay that is full of good insights:
Watch the theologians attempt to move the focus of Southern Baptists to issues such as creationism, the role of women, courtship, marriage and motherhood, homeschooling, cultural persecution of evangelicals, media, ecumenism and politics. (Note how theological concerns pushed the SBC to a confessional position on women in ministry, and also precipitated withdrawal from the BWA. Public schools will be the next issue on the docket, then opposition to Hillary, then young earth creationism.)

Friday, June 24, 2005

The Chauffeur's Dilemma

Tom Paine has posted an outstanding essay by UC Berkeley Sociology Professor Arlie Hochschild entitled "Bush's Empathy Squeeze" that is well worth reading. Here's a quote:

Tougher times have led, in turn, to an "empathy squeeze." That is, many people responded to this crisis by withdrawing into their own communities, their own families, themselves. If a man gets fired or demoted, if he can't make his house payments, if his wife is leaving him, or if his son is failing in school, he feels like he's got enough on his hands. He can't afford to feel sorry for so many other people. He's trying to be a good father, a helpful neighbor, and friend to people he knows who themselves need more help. He localizes empathy. He narrows his circle of empathy in a way that coincides with George W. Bush's hourglass America. Pay a tax to help a homeless mother in another city? Forget it. Charity begins at home.

Moderates Starting to Leave GOP

A good weather vane for ill winds blowing through political parties is the sight of candidates switching parties.

It looks like a gale may be brewing in North Carolina. Raw Story has posted a story about a Republican candidate for Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court who is switching parties and burning bridges behind her.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

SBC Encourages Gay-bashing in Public Schools

Yesterday the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution that cited concerns about programs that teach tolerance of homosexuals and called for Baptist parents to "investigate diligently the curricula, textbooks and programs in our community schools and to demand discontinuation of offensive material and programs."

Apparently the letter that PFLAG sent SBC President Bobby Welch imploring Baptists to not hinder their efforts to discourage harassment of homosexuals at public schools fell of deaf ears. Here's a quote from the PFLAG letter:
Studies show that 84 percent of gay students are verbally harassed, 39 percent are physically harassed and that this climate of abuse seriously impacts their ability to learn. We earnestly hope that you agree that no child deserves to be harassed or abused at school -- whether or not the attack is motivated by a child's religious beliefs, race or sexual orientation.

In his high school, Brent Wimmer, a student from Sand Springs, Oklahoma, was physically beaten by classmates. They also vandalized his car with large rocks and eggs eight times in the school parking lot. What did Brent, a young man from a fundamentalist Christian family active in his local church and Fellowship of Christian Athletes, do to deserve this cruelty? He wrote an article in his school newspaper about the importance of respecting all people, including gay students, as God's children.

At this point, Southern Baptists have merely endorsed a position that will be perceived as leading to bigotry, prejudice and hate. You don't have to be a prophet to predict that incidents like the one in Sand Springs will soon become more widespread and frequent.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Busy Day

I haven't had time to blog today. I spent the day with a film crew that is doing a documentary on Brittany Spears' childhood. I was suppose to give them some perspective on Southern Baptist beliefs about women and the family. They asked about a lot more than that.

The crew took more than six hours to shoot 2 hours of video. There's no way to tell what will end up in the documentary.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

American Baptists Approaching Crossroad

The Christian Century has posted a story entitled "American Baptists face breakup threats" about encroaching creedalism among American Baptists.
In a nutshell, many conservative churches are seeking rules "with teeth" that would rid the ABCUSA of congregations that welcome gay and lesbian participants, sometimes ordaining gay pastors and celebrating same-sex unions. Many liberal-to-moderate churches hope to retain organizational havens for disfellowshiped congregations in keeping with Baptist traditions of "soul freedom" and aversion to creeds.

The rules "with teeth" that conservatives within the ABC are seeking may begin by holding a firm line against homosexuality, but it will not end there. Sooner or later conservative Baptists are going to have to decide whether their mission and calling is to be the morals police for the world or whether it is to fulfill the Great Commission.

Monday, June 20, 2005

What Baptist Pendulum?

Robert Parham in his essay SBC Moves Right says, "Within fundamentalist circles, the pendulum of leadership succession always swings rightward. "

The pendulum metaphor has oft been applied to Baptist life. In the early 1980's many Baptist educators and administrators used the metaphor to discourage moderates from organizing politically to oppose the fundamentalists who were taking over the SBC. "The pendulum always swings back to the center," they counselled. Twenty-five years later, many Southern Baptists are still waiting for the pendulum to swing back.

Moderate Baptists decided long ago that the pendulum wasn't going to swing back. Some said the Baptist pendulum was broke. Others said it had been nailed to the wall. Actually, the leadership of the Convention moved to the right and Baptist people are still following their lead. If Parham is correct (and I think he is), that the leadership of the convention is moving further to the right, then where are Baptists headed?

Here's a link to a chart that I made to describe the changes in Baptist life over the last 25 years to college students. I made the chart to show why the pendulum wasn't swinging. It could give an indication of where Southern Baptists are headed when they move further to the right.

British Foreign Office Calls Bombing Raids "Illegal"

Britain's Sunday Times published a story yesterday about the pre-war pressure on Iraq under the title, "British bombing raids were illegal, says Foreign Office." The British bombing raids were carried out in conjunction with American bombing raids.

Here's a quote:
The increased attacks on Iraqi installations, which senior US officers admitted were designed to "degrade" Iraqi air defences, began six months before the UN passed resolution 1441, which the allies claim authorised military action. The war finally started in March 2003.

This weekend the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Goodhart, vice-president of the International Commission of Jurists and a world authority on international law, said the intensified raids were illegal if they were meant to pressurise the regime.

SBC Moving Farther Right

Robert Parham at Ethics Daily has written a prescient essay entitled the "SBC Moves Right." I concur with his conclusion:
Within fundamentalist circles, the pendulum of leadership succession always swings rightward. Successors must inevitably prove that they are more theologically and culturally conservative than their predecessors, creating a firewall of protection against charges of liberalism from laity disgruntled with new leadership. This dynamic ensures that the SBC will move further to the right.

No amount of political arm-twisting and denominational spin control will redirect the course of the Southern Baptist Convention away from the outer edges of American life.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

AP Highlights Downing Street Memo

Among the most popular and widely read stories on Yahoo News today is the Associated Press's story about "Memos Show British Fretting Over Iraq War."

The information in the story is old news to people who widely read news reports from outside the U.S. This is a story that the mainstream media in the U.S. has been slow to report.

The betrayal of trust that the Downing Street Memo and other British information discloses about this administration's policy on Iraq is more serious and of greater consequence than the discovery of a burglary of Democratic headquarters in Watergate.

How the Religious Right responds to these disclosures will reveal whether the passion for truth and the rule of law that they expressed during the Monica Lewinsky scandal was real or was merely more momentary partisan political rhetoric.

Moderate Christian Republican Speaks Out

The Nw York Times published an op-ed by former Republican Senator from Missouri, John Danforth. In an article entitled, "Onward, Moderate Christian Soldiers" Danford writes:
For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.

In the decade since I left the Senate, American politics has been characterized by two phenomena: the increased activism of the Christian right, especially in the Republican Party, and the collapse of bipartisan collegiality. I do not think it is a stretch to suggest a relationship between the two. To assert that I am on God's side and you are not, that I know God's will and you do not, and that I will use the power of government to advance my understanding of God's kingdom is certain to produce hostility.

By contrast, moderate Christians see ourselves, literally, as moderators. Far from claiming to possess God's truth, we claim only to be imperfect seekers of the truth. We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base. We believe it is God's work to practice humility, to wear tolerance on our sleeves, to reach out to those with whom we disagree, and to overcome the meanness we see in today's politics.

Danforth, an Episcopal minister, is what many on the Religious Right would deride as being a RINO (Republican in name only). Republican office holders who hold convictions similar to his have been targeted for defeat in GOP primaries. That's why so few Republicans who hold elective office express opinions like Danforth's today. Moderate Republicans have been marginalized in their own party.

Those familiar with the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention will recognize themes in Danoforth's essay that almost exactly parallel the appeals made by moderates in the SBC before they left the SBC and formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

On Churches and Political Organizing

Fred Clarkson has posted a couple blogs (here and here) at the Talk to Action Site that gives some in depth analysis of the legal boundaries that are being pushed by Christian Right organizing in Ohio. Here's a quote:


In any case, the Ohio Restoration Project plan as written is fraught with the likelihood that churches or other tax exempt organizations could stray well over the lines drawn by the IRS. It may very well be that this is intentional. There is a similar effort underway in Texas to recruit and mobilize "patriot pastors." Interestingly, Focus on the Family is promoting this effort, and an article in its magazine suggests possible collusion with the Republican Party.

"Internal data from the Republican National Committee shows that an estimated 40 percent of Christians -- that?s about 24 million people -- are not registered to vote. Considering that just over 100,000 votes enabled four pro-choice candidates for the U.S. Senate to defeat pro-life candidates, church voter registration is a key force in changing our nation?s future."

Christian Right attorney Matt Staver is quoted in the article claiming that no church has ever lost its 501(c)(3) tax status over electoral work. While this is not so, available evidence suggests that this election cycle will see a further pushing the envelope of non-profit tax abuse by Christian Right groups fronting for Republican candidates for office.
These kinds of blatant breaches of the wall separating church and state may begin spreading to the Democratic party. I've heard one Democrat in Oklahoma, worried that Republicans are organizing within evangelical churches in his district, talk about organizing churches himself. His suggestion was not well received by the audience to which I heard him speak. There is no way of knowing how his proposal will be received at other venues or even how it will be received at the same venue at another time.

Democrats are currently in the same situation that moderate Baptists faced in the early 1980's. Though they deplored political organizing within the Convention, they decided they either had to organize themselves or give the convention to the Fundamentalists without opposition. Baptists Committed and eventually the Mainstream Baptist Network grew out of the decision to organize.

The stakes were high in the SBC, but not as high as they will be for our country. Moderate Baptists were free to leave the SBC and find fellowship in a new organization of Baptists. Few Democrats contemplate leaving the USA. Should religious ideologies be infused into the politics of both parties, our religious animosities will increase, conflicts will broaden, and resolving differences will become more bitter than anything this country has witnessed since the civil war.

This is precisely what the First Amendment was designed to prevent.

States Looking Into Depleted Uranium

Concerned about the collateral damage that depleted uranium may cause to the health of veterans serving in Iraq, states are increasingly calling for testing of their returning soldiers.

Here's a quote from an article that appeared in the Vermont Guardian:
Louisiana last week became the first state to require returning troops to be tested for exposure to depleted uranium. And, like both the Louisiana House and Senate, the Connecticut House unanimously passed similar legislation earlier this month. That bill, which has broad bipartisan co-sponsorship, is now before the state's Senate. Lawmakers from at least seven other states interested in drafting similar legislation have contacted Rep. Patricia Dillon, D-New Haven, the Connecticut author of the bill.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Mohler Against Public Schools

Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary and architect of the 2000 Baptist Creed (BF&M), has weighed in with the Dominionists clamoring for Christians to pull their children out of public schools. Here's a quote:
I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools. This strategy would affirm the basic and ultimate responsibility of Christian parents to take charge of the education of their own children. The strategy would also affirm the responsibility of churches to equip parents, support families, and offer alternatives.
Those who know the history of the Religious Right might well perceive this as a logical outcome of a takeover movement that began simultaneously with the Religious Right's reaction to a 1978 IRS decision to deny tax exemptions to segregated Christian schools.

Bill Martin, in his book With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, documented an interview with Paul Weyrich, a key organizer of the Religious Right:
Paul Weyrich emphatically asserted that "what galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA. I am living witness to that because I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation." . . . The IRS threat "enraged the Christian community and they looked upon it as interference from the government, and suddenly it dawned on them that they were not going to be left alone to teach their children as they pleased. It was at that moment that conservatives made the linkage between their opposition to government interference and the interests of the evangelical movement, which now saw itself on the defensive and under attack by the government. That was what brought those people into the political process. It was not the other things."
Martin added corroboration from an interview with the son of another Religious Right organizer who said,
"If the Christian schools were to lose their tax-exempt status, Billings explained, "their tuition could conceivably double. When it becomes not just a moral or a conservative/liberal issue, but a pocketbook issue, you definitely take an interest. And they did. I don't know if I was really surprised. I knew that somewhere there was going to be something that would jolt these people into action. We'd been trying to encourage that."
Perhaps the SBC's attack on public schools will help jolt some more Baptists out of their lethargy about confronting the takeover of the Convention. It was never "just a preacher fight," it has always had undertones that can be traced back to the fundamentalists' disatisfaction with the leadership of SBC moderates during the civil rights era.

It is not hard to discern the ultimate goal behind SBC takeover leaders' criticism of the public schools. The intention is to replace the public schools with a balkanized system of private, religious schools funded at taxpayer expense. The threat to democracy posed by such a system has long been recognized. In 1952 James Conant, then president of Harvard University, said:
A dual system of schools with tax money going in some form to private schools, would be harmful to our democratic traditions. Some critics of the public schools are not honest in their attacks -- they want to weaken public school education and sponsor privately controlled schools. We do not have and never had an established church. To my mind, our schools should serve all creeds. The greater the proportion of our youth who attend independent schools, the greater the threat to our democratic unity. Therefore, to use taxpayers' money to assist such a move is, for me, to suggest that American society use its own hands to destroy itself.
Using "our own hands" to destroy democracy, that is precisely what SBC Dominionists desire. To them, democracy is heresy. They are trying to create a Christian theocracy.

Bobby Welch: Disciples or Statistics?

Associated Baptist Press is reporting that SBC President Bobby Welch is planning to launch a major effort to get Southern Baptists to baptize one million people in one year. Welch admits that the twenty-five year campaign to purge moderates from the convention has not made the SBC more effective in sharing the gospel.

I applaud Welch for trying to get Southern Baptists focused on the real mission of the church. For the past twenty-five years Southern Baptists have been focused on politics both within the denomination and in what used to be called the secular political arena (now the playground of SBC leadership). Welch's evangelistic emphasis comes as the Dominionist forces within the convention are pressing Southern Baptists to disrupt and abandon the public schools.

Welch's crusade is reminiscent of "Bold Mission Thrust," the attempt moderates made in the late 1970's and early 1980's to refocus Baptists' attention on mission rather than on politics. Moderate's attempt failed. Then as now, most fundamentalists would rather point fingers at sinners, name scapegoats, and fight than witness.

Welch certainly has his work cut out for him. We wish him well. We also pray that his efforts will encourage Baptists to engage in the kind of personal, relational evangelism among the unchurched that promotes a measure of sensitivity in the witness and produces faithful, mature disciples. If all Southern Baptists do is re-baptize those that their educators deride as "unregenerate members," they will only succeed in spinning their wheels.

Religious Right Unrepentant

Barry Lynn, head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says the Religious Right owes the entire country an apology for politicizing the death of Terri Schiavo.

Schiavo's autopsy conclusively proved that she was severely brain damaged with no hope of recovery. Except for motor functions, her brain was dead.

Ethics Daily has posted a story today quoting Religious Right leaders who remain unrepentant about the furor they caused over the court order to remove her feeding tube and let the rest of her body die.

It is becoming clear that many leaders of the Religious Right are proving themselves to be disciples of Machiavelli more than of Jesus. They can't admit they made a mistake.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Rural Republicans Uphold Public Schools in Texas

The Christian Supremecist machine that has taken over the GOP in the large metropolitan areas of Texas did not expect to face resistance from their party's own legislators in rural areas, but that is what is happening.

The Speaker of the Texas House, Tom Craddick (R-Midland) was confident that he could deliver a pilot school voucher plan for his affluent Christian Supremecist backers in the last legislative session. His train was derailed by rural legislators from his own party who do not want to see already scarce funds siphoned off from their public schools.

How they defeated the proposal is most enlightening. They amended the bill to place the pilot program in the districts of the legislators who sponsored the proposal.

Obviously, vouchers must be the answer to problems with everybody's public schools but your own. The teachers at your own public school have names and faces and they are doing more than should be reasonably expected with the inadequate resources they've been given.

Red Cross Targeted for Cuts

Senate Republicans want to cut funding for the International Red Cross because it has been critical of us for the way we treat detainees.
The ICRC is the only organization mandated by international treaty to monitor the observance of the Geneva Convention governing the treatment of prisoners, and it has the right to visit prisoners. But the GOP report charges that the group has exceeded the bounds of its mission by trying to "reinterpret and expand international law" in favor of terrorists and insurgents; lobbying for arms-control issues that are not within its mandate, such as a ban on the use of land mines; and "inaccurately and unfairly" accusing U.S. officials of not adhering to the Geneva Convention.

I get it. Shoot the messengers whenever they say things you don't want to hear. Eventually, you'll hear only what you want to hear.

I think they learned this from Southern Baptists.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Scarborough Encourages Roy Moore's Gubernatorial Bid

Southern Baptist of Texas pastor, Rick Scarborough, is leading cheers for former Judge Roy Moore to run for Governor of Alabama. Both Scarborough and Moore are Christian Supremecists whose judicial and political philosophies display remarkable parallels with Christian Reconstructionism.

Scarborough is a former official fundamentalist candidate for president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) and an activist in the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. After moderate Baptists in Texas persistently defeated candidates like Scarborough that ran for president of the Texas convention, Scarborough and other fundamentalists left the BGCT and began a separate convention called the Southern Baptists of Texas. Relations between the national Southern Baptist Convention and the Baptist General Convention of Texas have been strained ever since. The SBC now selects all of its officers and trustees from the ranks of the Southern Baptists of Texas.

Texas is the best place to observe the stark differences between the Moderate-Conservative Baptists that used to lead the SBC as opposed to the Fundamentalist-Dominionist Baptists that now lead the SBC.

Corroboration for Downing Street Memo

The Los Angeles Times ran a story yesterday that gave corroborating evidence of allegations made in the Downing Street Memo that the current administration had a determined policy to change the regime in Iraq shortly after 9/11. That fact has a great deal of bearing on perceptions of whether the intelligence that was used to lead this country to war in Iraq can be credibly considered reliable or whether it may have been slanted to achieve a preconceived objective.

The article speaks for itself.

Meanwhile, the GOP is now refusing to allow Congressman John Conyers to hold any more "forums" on Capitol Hill.

On Being Wary When Left and Right Meet

Today's Washington Post has an article about Rob Schenck and David Saperstein finding some common ground on the issue of homosexuality. The article says that Schenck is prepared to say that homosexuality is a "predisposition" that is "deeply rooted" in some people and not necessarily a choice. Schenck retains his strident opposition to abortion.

If Schenck's statements are sincere, and not merely a ploy, it would be a remarkable development. He would be one of the first Christian Reconstructionists to challenge the prevailing biblical view of homosexuality. He would also be one of the first to abandon the idea of applying the whole of the Mosaic law to modern society. That will be perceived as the first step on a slippery slope that would undermine the entire Reconstructionist agenda.

Personally, I am skeptical of Schenck's sincerity. He has long been identified with the most militant wing of the Christian Reconstructionists -- those who applaud the bombing of abortion clinics and the assassination of abortion providers. In those circles, their "ends" have justified even the most violent "means." For information more about Schenck and his cohorts see, Jerry Reiter's Live from the Gates of Hell: An Insider's Look at the Anti-Abortion Movement.

The Washington Post quotes Schenck enough to discern his concern to craft a message that will appeal to young people. The article says,
Schenck, who is president of Faith and Action, an evangelical organization on Capitol Hill, said that a willingness to reach across partisan lines is attractive, particularly to young people. . . .

Schenck outlined his limits: "There is no room for compromise on the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage and the public acknowledgement of God." But he said that when he preaches at the Creation Festival, a four-day Christian music event in Mount Union, Pa., he will say that the Bible forbids homosexual acts but that evangelicals are wrong to insist that sexual orientation is a matter of choice.

"As far as affirming that there may be people in our midst who have this as their nature, that will be radical within evangelical circles, because we want to see this purely as an act of will, like breaking and entering," he said. "And it just isn't that. It is so much more complex. If young people hear Christian leaders like me say that, I think they'll be interested in hearing what more we have to say."

There is little doubt that Christian Reconstructionism's message about homosexuality is one of its least attractive features. Christian Reconstructionism would re-apply the Mosaic law to all of ancient Israel's capital offenses. Homosexuality was a capital offense in ancient Israel. So was apostacy, blasphemy, incorrigibility in children, murder, rape, Sabbath breaking, and witchcraft.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

On Christian Identity

Most people are not familiar with the thinking and mythology behind the Christian Identity movement.

I led a discussion about the movement a few years ago and developed a brief outline of Christian Identity thought as a basis for discussion. Here's a link to that outline.

Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols and other White Supremecists have long been well versed in this mindset and philosophy.

FBI Neglecting Domestic Terrorism

Amy Goodman at Democracy Now recently interviewed Mike German, a former FBI agent who resigned in protest over the way the FBI was neglecting domestic terrorism. White Supremecists don't wear sheets and hoods any more. Today many work at blending in and acting like good ole boys. Mike German, however, says, "You know, once you're kind of attuned to their language and their codes and their symbols, I see that kind of stuff everywhere I go."

Personally, I know exactly what German means. Before I read Michael Barkun's Religion and the Racist Right: The Origins of the Christian Identity Movement, I could not make sense of much of what a few of my more "conservative" church members in Houston were saying. After I read Barkun's book and learned some of their language, codes, symbols and mythology, I have seen that kind of stuff in a lot of expected and unexpected places.

Monday, June 13, 2005

In Vitro Fertilization and Stem Cells

Sherri at the Sherri Votes blog has posted some valuable information about the ordeal hopeful parents must go through trying to have a child by In Vitro Fertilization. After describing the process, she writes:
I go into this level of detail because, despite all that effort, none of those embryos ever turned into a real, live baby. So perhaps you'll understand why I can't agree with the "life begins at conception" crowd. If conception were all it took, I'd have more than one child today. Those collections of cells had the possibility of becoming a human being if a lot of things went right, but most of the time, something doesn't go perfectly, and the embryos fall to implant. Or they implant in the wrong place. Or they implant but fail to continue to develop. Or you can even end up in a kind of limbo for a month, with some indication that maybe something is happening, only to find a month later when an ultrasound can be done that whatever was happening in there, it wasn't a baby growing in the uterus.

So, yes, I'm in favor of stem cell research using left-over, unused IVF embryos. There's enormous potential to save the lives of actual, living human beings, at the cost of embryos which, yes, have some potential to become human beings, but are very unlikely to do so. The alternative is to throw away those unused embryos.

I have a hard time understanding why some people are opposed to using these unused embryos, unless they are also opposed to IVF in general. Maybe they just weren't aware of how IVF worked; maybe IVF will be their next target. I have read some comments expressing unease about IVF once people learned how the process worked. I think one important factor to keep in mind is that in nature, in unaided conception, this process happens regularly, too. That is, not every fertilized egg implants, not every embryo survives, and often this happens without any awareness that there was ever a fertilized egg.

Predictably, Sherry found opposition to IVP. In a more recent blog she writes,
The rhetoric opposing the stem cell bill essentially equated these left-over embryos with real human beings, as if there's no difference between an 8-cell embryo and you or I. It's an interesting definition of a human being, I suppose, but not a very realistic or practical one. Why stop at fertilization? Why not treat sperm and eggs as real live human beings? 8-cell embryos aren't really much closer to a human being than an unfertilized egg.

An 8 cell embryo is like a lottery ticket. Just like a lottery ticket gives you a chance at a pile of cash, an embryo gives you a chance at a human being. But an embryo is no more a human being than a lottery ticket is a pile of cash.

Right Wing Coalition Unraveling

The right wing coalition between Neo-Conservatives and Religious Supremecists is beginning to unravel. Both sides have long been using the other to achieve political power. Now both sides are jockeying to blame the other for the backlash that is building against their joint leadership. Recent polls reveal that support for the right wing leadership of both the administration and congress has fallen through the floor.

The Neo-Conservatives overreached in pursuit of their objectives by attacking the third rail of American politics -- social security.

Religious Supremecists overreached in pursuit of their goals by politicizing the tragic circumstances around the death of Terri Schiavo and by their campaign to end the filibuster in the Senate.

Now that support for the war in Iraq is declining, the Religious Supremecists who took the lead in generating support for the war in Iraq, are beginning to peel away from the Neo-Conservatives who crafted the policy and plans for the war. The key figure in this latest split is Walter Jones. He says he will offer legislation next week to set a timetable for our withdrawal from Iraq.

Religious Supremecists are clearly beginning to distance themselves from the failed policies of the Neo-conservatives and moving on with their own agenda. Jones is still working hard to legalize the politicization of churches and Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Texas Governor Rick Perry are already openly leading Religious Supremecist organizing efforts in their key electoral states.

On Universal Healthcare

Paul Krugman at the New York Times has written an informative essay about the need for universal healthcare. He suggests describing it at "Medicare for all." I prefer to call it "universal healthcare."

Whatever you call it, it is well over due. The monthly premiums for health insurance for my healthy family of four exceeded my monthly mortgage payment in the late 1980's. Self-employed Baptist ministers in moderate and small sized churches were among the first to be saddled with health insurance costs that exceeded their ability to pay.

Since that time the relentless rise in the cost of health insurance has priced more and more working people out of the market. Today more than 47 million people in our country have no health insurance and each year the number increases. Those who do have health insurance are now paying ever escalating premiums to cover the emergency healthcare expenses of the uninsured.

Our system of paying for healthcare is broken. It desperately needs to be fixed.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

On Theological Affinity

Thanks to Dr. Mike Kear at the Emmaus blog for calling my attention to the theological quiz at this link. Today I came out with a theology closest to that of Jurgen Moltmann. Tomorrow I could get up on a different side of the bed.

Here are my results:


You scored as Jürgen Moltmann. The problem of evil is central to your thought, and only a crucified God can show that God is not indifferent to human suffering. Christian discipleship means identifying with suffering but also anticipating the new creation of all things that God will bring about.

Jürgen Moltmann

73%

Martin Luther

60%

Friedrich Schleiermacher

60%

Anselm

60%

Charles Finney

53%

John Calvin

47%

Karl Barth

47%

Paul Tillich

47%

Augustine

33%

Jonathan Edwards

7%

Which theologian are you?
created with QuizFarm.com

Moderate Republican Writes Manifesto

Dennis at the Moderate Republican blog has written a two part manifesto (part 1 and part 2) about his political convictions.

It is good to find a Republican that still believes in separating church and state. Dennis writes:
Centrist Republicans respect and honor religion. They also honor the long standing tradition of separation of church and state.Republicans and conservatives in general, respect religion. The church is seen as one of those important institutions that help make a society stable. Republicans also believe that people should not have to leave their faith, whatever that may be, at the door when they enter the public square. We understand that faith is an important aspect, no, it shapes a person's life. It can't simply be hidden under a bushel, but freely expressed, as the Constitution guarantees.

But our Constitution also guaratees, that there is not be a merging of church and state. It's one thing when a religion advocates on a particular issue, it's another when it starts to run the show. The current GOP leadership seems a little too cozy with one particular variant of Christianity. In a country that is religiously diverse as we are, we can't afford to only pick one religion. We must be a place where one can worship freely and where one religion can't use government to enforce it's agenda.

Separation of Church and State ought to be a bi-partisan issue. All Americans should be standing side-by-side in the choir and sing together on this. That used to be the case.

My father-in-law was a lifelong Republican and, being a Baptist minister, he was also a strong and vocal advocate for separation of church and state. My father is a lifelong Democrat, and being a public school teacher, he knew that it would be a violation of public trust for him to try to pray with or proselytize the impressionable young children from religiously diverse backgrounds who came to his classroom. My father and my father-in-law didn't agree much on politics, but at least they could agree on the value of the First Amendment.

Today there are not enough people familiar with the First Amendment to realize that we are being lied to, manipulated and misled on this issue by people who have been entrusted with positions of great power and grave responsibility.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Roy Moore on the Treaty of Tripoli

Yesterday's episode of NOW with David Brancaccio did a good job of describing Dominionism. First, Brancaccio interviewed Chris Hedges who accurately described Dominionism as a "militant biblicism" that declares the U.S. to be a "Christian Nation" and seeks to make "biblical law" the law of the land. Then he interviewed a Dominionist -- former Alabama Judge Roy Moore.

Transcripts of the interviews and online video of the broadcast should be up next week. If you missed the broadcast yesterday, I encourage you to read the interviews or watch the broadcast.

Everyone ought to see Roy Moore's more than creative explanation of the denial that "the United States of America was not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion" in Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli (1797). He said something to the effect that all the treaty meant was that the U.S. was not the kind of Christian Nation that would engage in crusades.

Friday, June 10, 2005

On Threatening Geezers

Considering how much of the federal budget is consumed by defense and how little is allocated to the rest of the federal government and its' services (see previous post), it is interesting to find William Greider talking about the mainstream media's coverage of "The Geezer Threat."

The aging of the baby-boomers is only a "threat" to the fiscal health of this country if the purpose of federal government is perceived to be the never ending expansion of the "defense" budget.

Our federal government was solvent and running surpluses until the current administration started cutting taxes for the wealthy and waging needless wars.

Valuing Defense

Tom Paine has posted a revealing essay by an economics professor and an MBA student at Augusta State University in Georgia.

Their discussion of how defense expenditures have been divided into separate budget categories reminds me of how some churches juggle allocations in church budgets to disguise levels of staff salaries and benefits. Anyone who has ever looked closely at such church budgets should have little difficulty grasping the point that Jurgen Brauer and Nicholas Anglewicz are making about the actual percentage of the federal budget that is consumed by defense spending.

I am certain that if more people realized that the average American pays $217.08 a month for defense while only $103.83 a month goes for all the other services of the federal government, that many would call for a change in spending priorities. I, for one, would support a movement that worked to reverse the allocations. 32% of the budget should be sufficient for defense. 68% is way out of line.

Treaty of Tripoli Anniversary

Thanks to the Texas Freedom Network for calling may attention to the lead story on D.C.'s Political Report Site. Here's an excerpt:

The Anniversary of the Treaty of Tripoli: Two hundred and eight years ago today, President John Adams (F-MA) signed the Treaty of Tripoli. Three days earlier the U.S. Senate had unanimously approved the treaty. Why is this important today? Because Article XI of the treaty was a proclamation that the "Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselman (Muslims)." Upon signing the treaty Adams issued a statement which said, "Now be it known, That I, John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said Treaty do, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, accept, ratify, and confirm the same, and every clause and article hereof."

Click here to see former Alabama Judge Roy Moore's more than creative way of explaining away this treaty.

On the Excess of Certitude

Thanks to David Currie at Texas Baptists Committed for calling my attention to an essay by George Will on "The Oddness of Everything." George Will does not rank high on my list of pundits, so I don't go out of my way to read what he says, but this essay is outstanding. Particularly what he has to say in the last two paragraphs:
This is so because the greatest threat to civility -- and ultimately to civilization -- is an excess of certitude. The world is much menaced just now by people who think that the world and their duties in it are clear and simple. They are certain that they know what -- who -- created the universe and what this creator wants them to do to make our little speck in the universe perfect, even if extreme measures -- even violence -- are required.

America is currently awash in an unpleasant surplus of clanging, clashing certitudes. That is why there is a rhetorical bitterness absurdly disproportionate to our real differences. It has been well said that the spirit of liberty is the spirit of not being too sure that you are right. One way to immunize ourselves against misplaced certitude is to contemplate -- even to savor -- the unfathomable strangeness of everything, including ourselves.

History and Housewives

AlterNet has posted an essay by Rebecca Solnit about "The Housewife Theory of History." It gives a remarkable review of the way ordinary women have altered history. Here's a quote about the secret to their success:
This might be the secret of the housewife theory of history: These women take the qualities that are supposed to render them irrelevant and use them defiantly as well as strategically. Starting with what they love, they cut straight through the quicksand of motives and purposes to point out that harm has been done and should be stopped. In some sense, they depoliticize politics, which is what makes them so politically potent.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Progressive Evangelicals Highlighted

MSNBC has posted an article about progressive evangelicals that quotes Jimmy Carter, Tony Campolo, Daniel Vestal and Ron Sider. Here's a little of what Daniel Vestal, Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, had to say:
"The more conservative wing of the evangelical movement has already had an impact ... particularly centered around same-sex marriage and abortion," Vestal said in an interview. While he said "it's a good thing that people of evangelical faith" are part of the public debate, "I think it's bad in that sometimes people other than evangelical Christians identify evangelical Christians only by those issues."

Controversy Brewing over Downing Street Memo

A controversy is brewing about official responses that are being given to the information disclosed in the Downing Street Memo.

Yesterday, at a press conference, a reporter asked President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the memo. The reporter asked whether, as the Downing Street memo alleges, "intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military action."

Blair's response ignored the question about whether the "policy" to go to war had already been fixed at the time of the memo and responded as if the question was about whether the "facts" were being fixed. He said,
"Well, I can respond to that very easily. No, the facts were not being fixed in any shape or form at all. And let me remind you that that memorandum was written before we then went to the United Nations."

Raw Story has posted information that suggests that media reports may have been edited to give the appearance that Blair answered the reporter's question.

Rob's Blog has posted a blog that highlights the fact that retired Gen. Colin Powell also dodged the question about the "policy" when he was asked about the Downing Street memo on the Daily Show.

Buzz Flash has posted an interview with Congressman John Conyers who has called the memo "a smoking gun" that proves the duplicity of the current administration.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

On the Value of Private Property

Thanks to the Texas Freedom Network for calling my attention to an unusual responsive reading about private property that was posted by the slacktivist blog.

The reading was inspired by a comment from mega-church pastor, Ted Haggard, that was quoted in the article "Soldiers of Christ" by Jeff Sharlet in the May 2005 issue of Harper's Magazine. You'll find the quote in slactivist's responsive reading. Here's the fuller context in which the quote appeared:

"There was," Pastor Ted said one afternoon in his office, "a significant influence exerted on the last election by Colorado Springs." He was meeting with me and another reporter, an Australian from a financial paper.

"You mean," the Australian asked, "almost like a force going out from Colorado Springs?"

A force? Pastor Ted liked that. He smiled and offered other examples. His favorite was the Ukraine, where, he claimed, a sister church to New Life had led the protests that helped sweep the pro-Western candidate into power. Kiev is, in fact, home to Europe's largest evangelical church, and over the last dozen years the Ukrainian evangelical population has grown more than tenfold, from 250,000 to 3 million. According to Ted, it was this army of Christian capitalists that took to the streets. "They're pro-free markets, they're pro-private property," he said. "That's what evangelical stands for."

In Pastor Ted's book Dog Training, Fly Fishing, & Sharing Christ in the 21st Century, he describes the church he thinks good Christians want. "I want my finances in order, my kids trained, and my wife to love life. I want good friends who are a delight and who provide protection for my family and me should life become difficult someday . . . I don't want surprises, scandals, or secrets . . . I want stability and, at the same time, steady, forward movement. I want the church to help me live life well, not exhaust me with endless "worthwhile" projects." By "worthwhile projects" Ted means building funds and soup kitchens alike. It's not that he opposes these; it's just that he is sick of hearing about them and believes that other Christians are, too. He knows that for Christianity to prosper in the free market, it needs more than "moral values" -- it needs customer value.

New Lifers, Pastor Ted writes with evident pride, "like the benefits, risks, and maybe above all, the excitement of a free-market society." They like the stimulation of a new brand. "Have you ever switched your toothpaste brand, just for the fun of it?" Pastor Ted asks. Admit it, he insists. All the way home, you felt a "secret little thrill," as excited questions ran through your mind: "Will it make my teeth whiter? My breath fresher?" This is the sensation Ted wants pastors to bring to the Christian experience. He believes it is time "to harness the forces of free-market capitalism in our ministry." Once a pastor does that, his flock can start organizing itself according to each member's abilities and tastes.

Signs of a Bubble Economy

I'm not an economist. In fact, I've never even taken a course in economics, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that the housing market is in a bubble when banks are giving "interest-only mortgages."

Perhaps we should give attention to Princeton economics professor Paul Krugman's warning to "Beware the real estate bubble."

On Healthy Religion

Walter Shurden wrote an interesting essay about healthy religion for Mercer's Baptist Studies Bulletin a few months ago. Entitled "The Supreme Religious Challenge" it recast statements from Charles Kimball's best selling book "When Religion Becomes Evil" under the title "When Religion Becomes Healthy."

After highlighting the historic Baptist principles comprising a healthy faith, Shurden asked, "Do you understand why I once told Charles Kimball that I thought he was unaware of how Baptist a book he had written?"

Voluntary religion, separation of church and state, liberty of conscience, the priesthood of all believers, a voice for everyone, free inquiry and open debate. These historic Baptist principles are still the hallmarks of healthy religion.

It's a shame that so many Baptists are abandoning these principles and embracing ones that are sure to make them weak and sickly.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Another Blow to Masculine Pride

First, Newton informed men that the earth revolved around the sun and that our world was not the center of God's universe.

Then, Darwin suggested that primates might be in man's ancestral family tree.

Then, Freud contended that man's mind was mainly motivated by sex.

Now, scientists are telling us that genes have as much to do with female orgasms as does the prowess of her mate.

I'm beginning to understand why so many modern neanderthals find science so threatening.

On Shocking Revelations

Joan Chittister of the National Catholic Reporter has an outstanding essay on "The Shock of Being Shocked" by the recent Amnesty International report.

Her essay reminded me of the method Jesus often used to reveal truth to minds that were already made up, closed to the truth, and resistant to the revelation that he had to offer. In a variety of ways, Jesus would say something or do something that would "shock" or "jolt" people enough to get their attention and thereby enable them, if just for an instant, to get a glimpse of the different way of viewing reality that he was trying to reveal to them. After that, how they responded to what he revealed to them was up to them. They could either snap their minds shut again and turn back to their old view of the world, or they could open themselves to his new revelation and explore the new view of the world that he was revealing to them.

Eternal destinies were determined, one by one, by the way people responded to such "shocks."

What's the Matter with Ogle?

Some people just don't get it. The war in Iraq was supposed to be against "terrorists" not Islam, but the mainstream media in Oklahoma can't keep the two groups separate.

A case in point is Kelly Ogle, the anchor for the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City, who issues editorial opinions three times each day during local news coverage.

Yesterday Ogle gave his opinion about Amnesty International's allegation that Guantanamo Bay is like a Gulag. Predictably, Ogle thought the charge was "ridiculous" and asserted that we should not forget that "we're trying to win a war, not a popularity contest."

Ogle, however, couldn't pass up an opportunity to try to discredit Islam by inferring that it was her religious beliefs that prompted Irene Khan of Amnesty International to issue such an "intentionally incendiary attack on the United States."

Mentioning Khan's faith was totally superflous and irrelevant to the issue being discussed -- unless Ogle's words were designed as an "intentionally incendiary attack" on Islam.

Presumably Ogle would not expect people to discredit his opinions because he happens to be a Christian. Neither should he seek to discredit the opinions of others because they happen to profess a different faith.

There are Christians and Muslims on both sides of the controversy over Amnesty International's "Gulag" statement.

Scapegoats, Whistleblowers, and Bystanders

USA Today has an insightful article by Jonathan Turley, Professor of Law at Georgetown University, about what "may be the U.S. military's longest unbroken tradition" -- offering scapegoats from the lower ranks to atone for the sins of their superiors.

The military offers its scapegoats in the antiseptic setting of the courtroom. The same cannot be said about how whistleblowers at national laboratories are treated. AP is currently reporting -- complete with gruesome pictures -- the beating of a whistleblower at the national lab in Los Alamos who was scheduled to testify before Congress soon.

I used to read about incidents like these in history books and shake my head at the corruption of the powerful in previous generations. My generation, however, witnessed the resignation of a President who acted like he was above the law. If even Presidents submit to the rule of law, surely corruption is under control.

Our system of checks and balances seemed to be working fine thirty years ago. Now the old "law and order" crowd and the new "religious values" crowd are working overtime to dismantle what remains of the system of checks and balances that was designed to correct the corrupting influence of power.

When the powerful finish with the whistleblowers and scapegoats they'll start picking on the bystanders. Bystanders think they'll escape the attention of bullies and tyrants, but all they really do is ensure greater abuses at a later time or for another generation.

Centrist Christians Challenge Texas Governor

Christians for Change are asking Texas Governor Rick Perry to call a special session of the Texas State Legislature to solve the public school financing crisis in that state.

Anyone interested in observing what happens to a state when religious supremecists are ascendant should watch politics in Texas closely. Religious supremecists are not friends of public schools.

Christians First

Greg Horton posted a great blog yesterday about Christians being "Christians" first rather than being "Republicans" or "Democrats," or, for that matter "Conservatives" or "Liberals" first.

Here's a quote from Greg:
"I expect Christians to speak out when leaders lie and dissemble and obfuscate. I expect them to do it when there is a Republican or a Democrat in the White House. I expect them to be people of honesty and integrity so that the world will once again know what a prophetic voice sounds like. . . . it is time that the Church started being the Church and stopped being a tool of the administration. That applies equally to left and right."

CNP's Crusade

Miguel De Torre has an essay on Ethics Daily about the Council for National Policy's "Crusade for National Power." It is good to see others writing about this truly worrisome organization.

I wrote about the links between SBC takeover leaders and the CNP in a previous post. Here's a link.

The Bride and Groom

Mr. & Mrs. Joshua T. Clark

Monday, June 06, 2005

Father of the Bride


Candice Prescott got married Saturday. She married her sweetheart for five years, Joshua Clark. Candi and Josh were stunning in their roles as bride and groom, as were all the bridesmaids, groomsmen, the flower girl, and the ring bearers. I was the father of the bride -- a role that proved to be more difficult and emotional than I ever expected.

Walking Candi down the aisle and giving her away was a cake walk. Those two were born for each other. It was the bride's dance with the father at their reception that hit me like a ton of bricks. It didn't help that she picked the song, "Wind Beneath My Wings."

Having never aspired to be a patriarch exercising rule over a family or clan, I never expected Candi's marriage to make that much difference. I didn't realize how difficult it would be for me to relinquish my role as her earthly provider and protector. That dance was the first time I looked at my daughter and saw her for the woman she has already been for quite some time -- fully grown, mature, independent -- and now, securely entrusted to the loving care and protection of her husband.

Dobson's Political Organization Growing

AP has reported that Dobson's overtly political organization, "Focus Action," has received about $50,000 a day ($8.8 million) during its first six months of existence. The funds are being used to generate support for Dobson's public policy proposals and for political candidates.

Unlike his "Focus on the Family" organization which is tax exempt, contributions to "Focus Action" are not deductible from the contributor's federal and state income taxes. That means that the organization is operating legally within the political arena.

I applaud Dobson for giving up the desire for preferential treatment and deciding to operate within fair and impartial tax laws. All other political organizations are not considered to be "charitable" organizations and contributions to them are not tax deductible. For more than a decade Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition broke the law, claimed "charitable" status, and offered tax deductibility for contributions that were being used for similar overtly political work.

This should make it perfectly clear that Dobson's "Focus Action" organization has little to do with religious values and much to do with power politics. It is just another special interest group seeking preferential treatment for its own limited constituency. Their goals are not concerned with the "common good" that charitable institutions serve. Their objective is to accumulate sufficient power to enact legislation and/or appoint judges that will extend special privileges to the constituents of one special interest group while denying the same privileges in equal measure to other groups.

The political values of special interest groups wax and wan. The spectacle of leaders abandoning the Great Commission to become political lobbyists is a sure sign that the spiritual influence of evangelical Christianity has reached its apex and is declining in America.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Air Force Academy Admits Religious Intolerance

The Air Force has taken a step forward toward solving the problem of religious intolerance that permeates the atmosphere at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. It has admitted that it has a problem.

Lt. Gen. John Rosa, Jr., Superintendant of the Air Force Academy said, "As a commander, I know I have problems in my cadet wing. . . . I have issues in my staff, and I have issues in my faculty -- and that's my whole organization."

But then, the Air Force took a step back from solving the problem. Rosa also said, "If everything goes well, it's probably going to take six years to fix it."

Six years to get the people at the Air Force's most prestigous institution to abide by the Constitution of the United States?

If you can't do better than that, I say clean out the house and start over.

On Human Trafficking

Kudos to Condi Rice and the administration for speaking out against human trafficking.

Civilized nations do not permit the exploitation and trafficking of human beings.

Global Women have been highlighting the trafficking of women in the third world for years.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Southern Baptists for Blasphemy

Reuters reported yesterday that a village in Holland has enacted a ban against blasphemy. The village's ordinance quotes one of the ten commandments:

"Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain," Exodus 20:7.

The Dutch association against swearing is also running a national billboard campaign to advise people that the Bible outlaws swearing.

Swearing, obviously, is understood to take God's name in vain -- i.e., to invoke God's name lightly; naming God without intention to speak seriously about him; to use God's name without theological impact or meaning.

I seriously doubt that America's religious supremecists are preparing to enact laws against blasphemy, but if they should, it would be interesting to see if our nation's second national motto passes muster (the first motto was E Pluribus Unum). An appeals court in Virginia recently ruled that the motto, "In God We Trust" is constitutional.

As approvingly, if not gleefully, reported by the Southern Baptist Press -- here's the logic of the court's ruling:
The Fourth Circuit has "heretofore characterized the phrase, 'In God We Trust,' when used as the national motto on coins and currency, as a 'patriotic and ceremonial motto' with 'no theological or ritualistic impact.'"

Thursday, June 02, 2005

On Ohio's Religious Supremecists

Ken Blackwell, the Secretary of State in Ohio who oversaw the highly questionable 2004 electoral process in that state, is being featured in 30 radio second ads endorsing the agenda of a Ohio religious supremecist group.

Here is the text of a letter to the editor printed in the Cleveland Plains Dealer from the Rev. John Lentz, a Presbyterian clergyman in that city:

A member of my church gave to me a copy of the Ohio Restoration Project. This project is led by so-called Christians who have a plan for Ohio. The project will target 2,000 pastors throughout the state to become "patriot pastors." These patriot pastors will be briefed on a specific political agenda and asked to submit names of their parishioners in order to increase a database to 300,000 names. These pastors will be asked to place voter guides in their church pews.

Ken Blackwell, Ohio's secretary of state and a governor hopeful, is named throughout the document. Blackwell will be featured on 30-second radio ads promoting this group's agenda and supporting the "Ohio for Jesus" rally set for the spring of 2006. At the end of the document are the words, "America has a mission to share a living savior with a dying world."

This is not America's mission. This is frightening, diabolical stuff for non-Christians and Christians alike. It is blasphemous to claim that any earthly kingdom is God's kingdom. The theological foundations of this movement are vacuous. They are set on the sands of opportunism, self-righteousness and greed.

It is time for the citizens of Ohio to wake up. This group and those like it will stop at nothing in making America a theocracy shaped by one very limited interpretation of scripture.

The media must investigate and show this movement for what it is. Courageous preachers must help their congregations understand what is at stake. Silence is not an option.

Thank you Rev. Lentz for raising a hue and cry against this groups' truly alarming project.

The Dominionist group that tookover the Republican Party in Harris County (Houston) Texas also claimed to be "Restorationists." They claimed to be "Restoring America" and distributed video tapes about "How You Can Impact Civil Government" which was a primer on how to takeover your Republican Party precinct meeting.

Speakin' & Writin' 'bout Theocracy

Fred Clarkson has posted a blog about "Readin' & Writin' 'bout Theocracy." It is well worth reading.

When Fred's book, Eternal Hostility, came out in 1997 he was nearly alone in recognizing the growing influence of Christian Reconstructionism. By that time I had already spent seven years witnessing the takeover of the Republican Party in Harris County (Houston) Texas by Stephen Hotze and a group of Dominionist Christians. I moved to Oklahoma in 1998 and could easily spot politicians who were spouting Dominionist themes on the floor of the State Capitol. Then, when R. J. Rushdoony died in March 2001, proof of Reconstructionism's influence in the state became undeniable when the Daily Oklahoman eulogized the founder of the movement on its editorial page.

In April 2002, when I gave a speech about the movement, even among Interfaith Alliance members there was skepticism that this movement would have much influence on the country. As late as October 2004, when I mentioned Dominionism in a sermon to a congregation of progressive-minded people, there was a measure of strong disbelief that the movement had so profoundly influenced the religious right.

Since the elections last November and the ascendancy of the so-called "values voters" and a daily diet of their extremist agenda, every progressive-minded person that I have met has been aroused from their complacency about the future of democracy in America.

Too many moderates, however, are still asleep. Last Sunday I attended a discussion about church-state issues at a widely known "Moderate" Baptist church in Oklahoma City. One of the featured speakers, a layman at the church, espoused Dominionist platitudes and beliefs without the slightest realization that the source of his ideas came from 20th Century Dominionists instead of from the "Founding Fathers" of our country. Apparently, his "moderate" pastor is either unaware of this or is unconcerned about it. He said little himself to challenge his contention that the U.S. Constitution was "inspired by God," founded on "biblical law," and "presupposed" adherence to the "Christian religion." The speaker who did challenge the Dominionist's thought, another layman at the church, has already been publicly derided several times by the pastor as being part of a supposedly left-wing extremist group (Americans United).

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Will Courts Decide "Mainstream" Religion?

Recently an Indianapolis court ordered some Wiccans to protect their 9-year-old son from their "non-mainstream religious beliefs and rituals."

The parents enlisted the help of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. They are appealing on the grounds that the court's order is unconstitutionally vague because it does not define "mainstream" religion.

As long as the First Amendment retains its historic meaning, the court order should be ruled unconstitutional. Whenever a court assumes the responsibility to define "mainstream" religion and its definition is ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court, then we will have a form of religion that has been established by the courts and all others will lose the full right to freely exercise their religion.

When the U.S. Constitution was drafted, Baptists were clearly out of the "mainstream." That is why Baptists were the strongest proponents for separating church and state in the colonies.

Now that Baptists have acquired the numbers to be considered "mainstream," they are prepared to deny others the constitutional rights that they were granted.

Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists are now leading the movement to stack the courts with judges who will establish Christianity and thereby deny others the full right to freely and openly exercise a different religion. All Baptists should be ashamed.

Some of us are ashamed, but shame is not enough. More Baptists need to stand up, speak out against, and actively oppose the religious tyranny into which Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists are trying to lead this country.

On Stem Cell Mendacity

Kudos to Robert Parham for highlighting the mendacity of the President's position on stem cells and the in vitro fertilization of adopted embryos. Many embryo's do not successfully implant and mature in the process of in vitro fertilization. Parham cogently asks:

What is the moral difference between the sacrifice of multiple embryos to ensure successful embryonic adoption of a few and the use of discarded embryos for medical research?

SBC Double Standard Exposed

Kudos to Bob Allen and Ethics Daily for highlighting the difference in the way SBC leaders treated Jerry Vines when he insulted Mohammed and the way SBC leaders recently responded to a North Carolina pastor when he insulted the Koran.

Undeniably, a double standard exists in the SBC. Megachurch pastors are free to say things that inflame Muslims. Small church pastors can't.

God may not be a respecter of persons, but SBC leaders follow a fairly obvious pecking order. Even when missionary lives are at stake.