Sunday, July 31, 2005

Carter Blasts Guantanamo and Iraq War at BWA

A big THANK YOU and Amen! to former U.S. President Jimmy Carter for publicly speaking out against the abuse or prisoners at Guantanamo Bay at a forum before evangelical Christians.

Carter denounced both the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the war in Iraq as unjust at the centenary anniversary meeting of the Baptist World Alliance.

America's war denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, was conspicuously absent from this meeting. They left the Baptist World Alliance a year ago because it admitted the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into its membership. Jimmy Carter is the most prominent public figure who is member of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Southern Baptists also criticized BWA for voicing criticisms of American foreign policy.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Help Keep This Weblog Online

Yesterday what I thought was a jokester posted a comment on my blog maligning me for having a button soliciting contributions on my blog. I deleted his entry and did not expect to hear from him again.

Today he has posted an entry on his own blog, the Millhollin blog, accusing me of "soliciting funds under false pretenses."

Frankly, I didn't post the contribution button expecting to make money. The "Help Keep This Weblog Online" line was boilerplate from what I've seen on other websites.

A few minutes ago, I left Michael a comment on his website indicating that I thought some people might think that the time and thought that goes into this blog is worth a contribution. To make my point, I told him that if I don't receive any contributions in the next three days, I'll pull the entire blog off the internet.

Michael might be doing me a favor. This blog does take up a lot of time and energy. Perhaps I should do what Michael suggested in his original comment on my blog -- "Get a real job!"

What do you think? On this one you'll have to vote (or not vote) with your pocketbook.

For those who would like to vote but don't have a paypal account, you can send a check in the mail made out to "Mainstream Baptist Blog" P.O. Box 6371 Norman, OK 73070. Just post a comment below by Tuesday to let me know that your check is in the mail.

I'm not looking for large contributions. I promise to put anything I receive into something that will improve this blog -- software, artwork, images, books to read and review, etc.

Also, note that these contributions ARE NOT tax deductible. This is a personal weblog. I am not expressing official opinions of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists or of the Mainstream Bapist Network on this blog.

Those who would like to make a tax deductible donation to the official work I do at my current "real job" can contribute through the Mainstream Baptists website -- which does cost money to operate. Those without a paypal account can send checks to the above address made out to "Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists."

For the record, other than posting a contribute button, this is the first time that I have ever solicited funds for this blog. I DO NOT forsee any need to do this again.

I'll post an entry recording the total amount of any contributions I receive, if any, on Wednesday morning.

On Rebellions of Conscience and Good Sense

Yesterday, the Washington Post published an editorial entitled "The Truth About Abu Ghraib" which described legislation proposed by Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham as a "rebellion of conscience and good sense." Their legislation was an amendment to the defense operations bill that would put an end to the abusive interrogation techniques being used at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. Before the administration pulled the bill to stop a vote, six Republicans Senators supported the bill.

This is one of the most damning reports I've ever seen. The Religious Right's publicly endorsed "values" President -- a man who boasts of his Christian faith before the whole world -- has his underlings working overtime to oppose the efforts of the last six Senators in his own party that still have a "conscience and good sense."

This hypocrisy is worse than the hypocrisy that Jesus denounced in the harshest terms.

When will Bobby Welch, Morris Chapman, Al Mohler, Richard Land, Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, Gary Bauer, and all the other politically prominent ministers in this country develop a conscience and some good sense and start speaking out and using their influence to guarantee that the torture and abuse of prisoners ends?

Some day a lot of currently prominent preachers will be asking, "Lord, when did we see you naked and abused and in prison and didn't do anything to minister to you? Didn't we perform miracles in your name getting-out-the-votes to for those "strict constuctionist" judges?" And they will surely hear, "Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it unto me." (Matthew 25:31-46)

Friday, July 29, 2005

Best Coverage of BWA

I've been extremely busy this week and have not had much opportunity to keep up with what's been going on at the Centenary Anniversary of the Baptist World Alliance.

Now that I've had opportunity to do some checking, the Baptist World Alliance and Associated Baptist Press and Ethics Daily all have extensive coverage. Baptists Today gives links to stories in the secular press. Tony Cartledge's Editor's Journal at the Biblical Recorder has the best blog that I've seen.

On Christian Credentials

I never cease to be amazed at how so many Christians are gullible and naive whenever people use their faith as a credential for their character. In my experience, nearly every scam man and con artist in the country has used that trick. That's why I always refuse listings in "Christian Yellow Pages" and avoid doing business with anyone who advertises their faith along with their product or service.

Every day you can read another story about a charming "Christian" who has duped someone into believing that faith made them virtuous. Few examples, however, are as daring or as lucrative as the one published in yesterday's Washington Post. Below is a description of a hotel event planner who, from an office in her small two bedroom apartment, managed to land a no-bid sub-contract for nine months of homeland security work. She billed the government for $24 million dollars and managed to pocket $5.4 million dollars for herself.

Former Eclipse associates interviewed by The Post in recent weeks described Sims as bright, charming and capable. Her friends dismissed the possibility of impropriety, saying she and Sullivan are both devout Christians who would never take advantage of the government for personal gain.

Shaking North Carolina's Biblical Foundations

Faithful Progressive is on vacation and celebrating a birthday this week. He asked me to write a guest blog for him. That blog, "Shaking the Biblical Foundations," is now posted on the Christian Alliance for Progress website.

While you are in the vicinity, don't miss Jerry Falwell's attack on the Christian Alliance -- and be sure to submit your own comments.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

SBC Empowering Kingdom Growth -- Biologically

Al Mohler's article "Deliberate childlessness & moral rebellion" reveals how far Southern Baptists have come toward adopting the Roman Catholic view that sex is only for procreation. Mohler, the President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes:
The Scripture does not even envision married couples who choose not to have children. The shocking reality is that some Christians have bought into this lifestyle and claim childlessness as a legitimate option. The rise of modern contraceptives has made this technologically possible. But the fact remains that though childlessness may be made possible by the contraceptive revolution, it remains a form of rebellion against God's design and order.

He goes on to repudiate efforts "to separate the pleasure of sex from the power of procreation" and denounces those who "want to have the joys of sex and marital companionship without the responsibilities of parenthood." Worst of all, "To demand that marriage means sex -- but not children -- is to defraud the creator of His joy and pleasure in seeing the saints raising His children."

Why has Mohler suddenly become so concerned about couples who think the world's population will continue to grow astronomically without their participation?

I suspect that he and other Southern Baptists are preparing to blame the declining growth in membership of the denomination on declining birthrates among Baptists. He insists that, "Parenthood is not a hobby, but represents one of the most crucial opportunities for the making of saints found in this life."

The truth is, Mohler's rigidly procreative understanding of sex and marriage owes more to Augustine and Aquinas than it does to the Bible.

What moral and procreative difference is there between the Apostle Paul's saying, "I wish that all were as I myself am [celibate and childless]" (1 Corinthians 7:7) and any missionary couple who might say, "We have decided to not have children in order to serve God more freely"?

Military Lawyers Warned that Interrogation Techniques were Illegal

Today's New York Times has published a story documenting the firm dissent that military lawyers registered against the interrogation techniques that this administration's civilian lawyers were approving for use at Guantanamo Bay.

Here are a few paragraphs from an article that is nauseatingly full of evidence of criminal malfeasance:

The documents include one written by the deputy judge advocate general of the Air Force, Maj. Gen. Jack L. Rives, advising the task force that several of the "more extreme interrogation techniques, on their face, amount to violations of domestic criminal law" as well as military law.

General Rives added that many other countries were likely to disagree with the reasoning used by Justice Department lawyers about immunity from prosecution. Instead, he said, the use of many of the interrogation techniques "puts the interrogators and the chain of command at risk of criminal accusations abroad."

. . .

Rear Adm. Michael F. Lohr, the Navy's chief lawyer, wrote on Feb. 6, 2003, that while detainees at Guantánamo Bay might not qualify for international protections, "Will the American people find we have missed the forest for the treesby condoning practices that, while technically legal, are inconsistent with our most fundamental values?"

Brig. Gen. Kevin M. Sandkuhler, a senior Marine lawyer, said in a Feb. 27, 2003, memorandum that all the military lawyers believed the harsh interrogation regime could have adverse consequences for American service members. General Sandkuhler said that the Justice Department "does not represent the services; thus, understandably, concern for service members is not reflected in their opinion."

Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Romig, the Army's top-ranking uniformed lawyer, said in a March 3, 2003, memorandum that the approach recommended by the Justice Department "will open us up to criticism that the U.S. is a law unto itself."

Top lawyers from all four branches of the military objected to the proposed interrogation techniques. What more would be necessary for civilians to recognize they were crossing a moral and legal boundary?

Why aren't the people who approved the illegal techniques used at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graihb being brought to justice?

The silence on this issue from the "values" voting Religious Right is deafening.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Baptist World Alliance Advances Without Southern Baptists

Associated Baptist Press is reporting that moderate and progressive Baptist churches in North America have donated $500,000 to the Baptist World Alliance to offset the $450,000 that the Southern Baptist Convention took from them when they pulled out last year. The SBC pulled out when BWA admitted the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship into its membership.

BWA is currently holding its 100th anniversary meeting. This year it admitted two moderate state conventions -- the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Baptist General Convention of Virginia -- into its membership. It also approved a budget increase of more than 18%.

Clearly, the departure of the SBC from BWA has served to strengthen, rather than weaken the BWA. Moderate Baptists suspect that in the future Texas, Virginia, CBF and the American Baptist Churches will increasingly be working with the BWA to strategically coordinate efforts and strengthen partnerships in missions, evangelism and education throughout the Americas.

Nationalism Dividing Church

Associated Baptist Press has published a story about how nationalism is becoming an increasingly prominent point of contention in America's culture wars. Terry York, Professor of Christian Ministry and Church Music at Baylor University and Truett Seminary, sees Christians within all denominations dividing into two camps:
"Those who want to try to re-establish Christendom and those who refuse to wrap the cross in the flag."

He predicts that these divisions will be deeper than the divisions caused by changing worship styles. He says,
"Fighting over what songs we sing pales beside the clash of kingdoms, and this is a kingdom clash."

Kudos to York for clearly articulating the most essential decision in Christian discipleship for our place and time. Count me among those opposed to the equation of Church and state. I stand firmly with those who resist all demands for uncritical, idolatrous allegiance to the state.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Blackaby's Thoroughly Domesticated Spirituality

Thanks to Bob Allen at Ethics Today for highlighting the contradictions inherent in the teachings of Henry Blackaby. Blackaby, a Southern Baptist, will be speaking at the 100th Anniversary of the Baptist World Alliance. A meeting that Southern Baptists have boycotted by pulling out of BWA for admitting the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Allen underscores Blackaby's acclaim of American CEO's shortly before the Enron and Worldcom scandals, his strange doctrine of spiritual map reading (-- a topic I discussed in a blog on January 26th), and his declaration of the justice of a "pre-emptive" strike against Iraq before its alleged weapons of mass destruction could be used by terrorists.

It's hard to find a better example of a spirituality that has so thoroughly mistaken uncritical nationalism, the pious posturings of self-serving politicians and SBC dominionism for the voice of God.

Neo-Cons Condoning Torture

Kudos to Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and John Warner for sponsoring and supporting legislation that sets clear rules for the treatment and interrogation of terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. The legislation comes in the form of amendments to a bill that sets Defense Department policy.

Vice President Cheney is leading the current administration's opposition to this legislation. Shame on him and anyone else in this administration who refuses to accept responsibility for
making it clear to the world that the policies that led to the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Graihb will not be condoned.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Neo-Con Plan to Help the Military

The New York Times published an article yesterday, "All Quiet on the Home Front, and Some Soldiers are Asking Why," that has a paragraph revealing the neo-conservative's plan to assist the military fulfill its mission in Iraq. Here it is:

In an interview, Douglas J. Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy, said that discussions had begun on a program to seek commitments from bankers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, electricians, plumbers and solid-waste disposal experts to deploy to conflict zones for months at a time on reconstruction assignments, to relieve pressure on the military.

It will be interesting to see how the bankers and lawyers and doctors and engineers in Oklahoma respond to this call for support. If they can't sell their program here, they can't sell it anywhere.

The last poll I saw had about 50% of Oklahomans thinking this war was a mistake. Who wants to be the last man or woman to die for a mistake?

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Neo-Cons Undermining our Military

The Miami Herald has published a story by Joseph Galloway entitled "Why Generals Wont Ask for More Troops" that is an eye-opener.

I've read how German generals were afraid to tell their civilian leaders the truth in WWII. I never thought the same would ever be said about the generals in our own military.

Ample evidence of the incompetence of the civilian "geniuses" commanding our military makes frontpage news every day.

How many more "truth-telling" generals can we afford to lose?

The neo-conservative ideologues at the highest levels of the current administration are undermining our military and ultimately, putting our nation at risk.

Christians and the Gaza Pullout

In Israel there is intense internal conflict over the government's decision to pull Israeli settlers out of Gaza and hand it over to the Palestinians. Settlers and their supporters have been protesting the pull out and they have been courting the support of American Christians for their efforts.

The issues involved are complex. The Christians most likely to support the settlers hold to a dispensational form of theology that reads the book of revelation as if it were this morning's newspaper written in a secret code.

Slate Magazine has been running a series of stories entitled "Among the Believers" about current events in Israel. They are well worth reading. Here are the links: Full House at the King of Kings Assembly, Looking Beyond the Gaza Withdrawal, and Jesus and Jerusalem.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

On the Letter and the Spirit

"For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory . . . For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory." (2 Corinthians 3:9-11)

The Old Covenant was a covenant of the law. Its letters were engraved on tablets made of stone. The Old Covenant had its glory, but it was a transient glory that cast a pale and fading reflection of God's glory. It could point to God's nature, but it could not embody his character.

The New Covenant is a covenant of Spirit. It is inscribed on the hearts of men. The New Covenant has its own glory. It is a permanent glory that projects a vivid impression of divine glory. It does more than point to God's character, it makes holiness manifest in the flesh.

The ministry of condemnation provides no more than a background on which the glory of righteousness can be highlighted. The brilliance of God's righteousness is most visible when men open their hearts and the dead letters of the law are replaced by the life and liberty of the Spirit.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Dell Computer Update

Thanks to Dell Customer Service Manager Barry Egbert for solving my problem getting software that I ordered with my Dell Computer.

Barry explained that the problem was a glitch in their "just in time" delivery system. A software vendor contracting with Dell was unable to deliver their software on time.

Egbert made me a satisfied customer by issuing a generous rebate on my computer and delivering the program most critical to my operation until the full software package could be delivered.

The full software package finally arrived by courier yesterday.

Valerie Plame Facing "Gang of Bullies"

A colleague of the treasonously outed covert CIA operative Valerie Plame will voluntarily testify today in Congress on her behalf. Raw Story has posted an advance copy Larry Johnson's statement. Johnson begins his statement by saying:
I am speaking up because I was raised to stop bullies. In the case of Valerie Plame she is facing a gang of bullies that is being directed by the Republican National Committee.

It will be interesting to see whether any of the mainstream media manage to give Jonhson's testimony any coverage.

Is China Taking Away Our Credit Card?

My favorite economist, Paul Krugman, has a memorable metaphor for what the unpegging of the Chinese Yuan to the dollar means. In today's New York Times he wrote:

In the short run, some people would win, but others would lose. And I suspect that the losers would greatly outnumber the winners.

And what about the strategic effects? Right now America is a superpower living on credit - something I don't think has happened since Philip II ruled Spain. What will happen to our stature if and when China takes away our credit card?

This story is still in its early days. On the first day of the new policy, the yuan rose only 2 percent, not enough to make any noticeable difference. But one of these days Chinese dollar purchases will trail off, and we'll find ourselves living in interesting times.

Setting CBF's Record Straight

Kudos to Richard Dunn, of the Sojourning Pilgrim blog and pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Enid, for responding to the negatively biased Baptist Press propaganda that recently made the pages of the Enid News and Eagle. He set the record straight about the recent changes to CBF's "purpose" statement.

Dr. Mike Kear, of the Emmaus Theory and Outside the Camp blogs and a member of Cornerstone Church, has also made some valuable comments on this entry.

The presence of Dunn, Kear and others at Cornerstone makes Enid one of the brightest spots in Oklahoma for moderate, mainstream Baptists.

Meanwhile, CBF now says it will reconsider the changes that it made to the purpose statement.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Inflation Coming -- Big Time!

With the price of gasoline soaring, announcing that inflation is coming is nothing new, but we ain't seen nothin' yet.

China just began to value the yuan against a basket of currencies instead of against the dollar. That means that the devaluation of the dollar has just begun. The price of everything we buy from overseas is about to go up and up and up.

We can cut imports on everything but oil.

The abysmal "cut taxes and spend" fiscal policies of this administration are about to catch up to us.

You don't have to be an economist to know that "happy days" are over economically.

Real TV Dads Coming

Kudos to Jan Turrentine at the Acacia Tree blog. She's been on a roll lately writing a lot of interesting and insightful blogs. Her blog Monday about Eric Rudolph, "Motivated by Love," was very thoughtful and yesterday's blog "Grounded in Reality" caught my attention.

Jan talks about the "reality" TV show "Meet Mr. Mom" which will premier in August. Like Jan, I'm not much of a fan of "reality" TV, but it is good to see producers develop a show that begins to deal with real world problems. As Jan says, managing households, children, cooking, schedules, etc. IS reality for single parents.

It might be enlightening for those of us in happy, stable marital relationships to observe the challenges and struggles of single parenthood. It could be really valuable if the producers would make the Dads do everything on the salary of the average single mother.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Stephen Carter Knocks Down Straw Man

Stephen Carter, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale University Law School, ought to be more professional than to resort to an old school-boy trick of setting up an easily toppled straw man to misrepresent an adversary's position, but that is what he does in an essay posted this morning at Christian Today.

In an article entitled "First Things First," Carter creates a straw man caricature of those who challenge the tax-exempt status of churches whose preachers engage in political electioneering from the pulpit. He says,

Suffice it to say that the framers would have been astonished to learn how many of today's civil libertarians read the First Amendment. They say the amendment -- originally meant to safeguard the freedom and independence of the churches -- not only allows but even requires the federal government to punish churches (by taking away their special tax status) for speaking up about any issues they believe the Lord is leading them to discuss.

The state has no right to tell the church what to say. The idea that a government benefit -- such as a church's tax-exempt status -- might be conditioned on speaking the right words from the pulpit is odious. Christians everywhere should protest any attempt by the state to shut down anybody's religious speech, especially a pastor's.

The truth is, "civil libertarian" organizations like Americans United for Separation of Church and State have never challenged the right of any preacher to speak on political issues from the pulpit. They have challenged the legality and fairness of granting tax exemptions to any non-profit corporation that endorses political candidates or political parties.

As I said in my October 14, 2004 blog "Kerry Crosses the Line:"
Ministers who insist that they need to endorse candidates and parties from the pulpit should also be prepared to operate under the same rules that apply to every other partisan political organization. That would require that they give up the federal tax exemption for contributions to their organization. Contributions to partisan political organizations are not deductible from federal income taxes. Otherwise, some partisans would be subsidized by taxpayers in their political activities while others were not.

Americans United Opposes Roberts Nomination

Americans United for Separation of Church and State just issued a press release opposing the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Here's the conclusion:

"Roberts' judicial demeanor and the technical quality of his writings are not at issue, nor is his pleasant personality. An understanding and concern for religious minorities and fundamental civil and human rights is what is missing from his record of government service. Just because a candidate is well liked does not make him qualified to serve on a tribunal that is often the last great protector of the rights of the people."

Roberts: Champion for Majoritarian Religious Privilege

The President has nominated John Roberts to serve on the Supreme Court.

Most of the media attention is directed toward his opinion on the Roe v. Wade decision. My own concerns are with his opinions in regard to the First Amendment of the Constitution.

If the report from People for the American Way is reliable, then Roberts is clearly an advocate for the government to extend special privileges and endorsements of majoritarian religious expression.

Roberts was co-author of a brief in the landmark Lee v. Weisman decision that argued in favor of prayers at public high school graduations. He argued that graduates opposed to religious exercises were free to voluntarily skip participating in their graduation exercises. SCOTUS ruled against Roberts opinion in that decision.

Roberts has also argued that the "Lemon test" should be jettisoned. The "Lemon test" is the standard that SCOTUS set forth in the landmark "Lemon v. Kurtzman" decision that gave guidance on how government legislation on religion could be considered constitutional. The "Lemon test" says the government's action must have 1) a legitimate secular purpose, 2) it must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and 3) it must not result in an "excessive entanglement" of government and religion.

In my opinion, Roberts opinions demonstrate extreme insensitivity toward the rights of religious minorities. When the hubris that demands special privilege is coupled with the obsequity that grants it, it inevitably creates enough outrage at such injustice that the privileged become despised and the privileges are rejected.

Those who think justices like Roberts will be good for the church are mistaken. To paraphrase the words of Jesus, "Those who wish to save their way of life shall lose it, but whoever loses his way of life for Christ's sake shall find it." (Matthew 16:25)

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Real Issue in 'Plamegate'

Jim Lobe in an article titled "'Plamegate' is Hardly a Summer Squall" identifies the core issue involved in the outing of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame in two succinct paragraphs:
The case may also prove to be one more string -- albeit a very central one -- that, if pulled with sufficient determination, could well unravel a very tangled ball of yarn, and one that would confirm recent revelations in the British press -- the so-called Downing Street memo -- that the Bush administration was "fixing the facts" about the alleged threat posed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in order to grease the rails to war.

It may also expose how a close-knit group of neo-conservatives and Republican activists both inside and outside the administration also waged war against professionals in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the State Department in the run-up to war precisely because, as experts, they repeatedly came up with new "facts" that contradicted the propaganda of both the White House and its backers. Facts that somehow either had to be "fixed" or discredited.

The president will soon nominate a candidate for the Supreme Court and media attention will be diverted away from "Plamegate." The central issue -- whether facts were "fixed" to lead the country to war -- is not going to go away. Hopefully, Fitzgerald's indictments will help lead the country to a moment of moral clarity on this issue.

On Common Education Standards

Yesterday the governors of 45 states agreed to adopt a common formula to calculate high school graduation rates. Three of our country's most populous states -- California, Texas, Florida -- along with Maryland and Wyoming have not agreed to the common formula.

This common formula is significant. In 45 states it will prohibit the sleight-of-hand statistical fudging that created an illusion of success at the Houston Idependent School District when Rod Paige was Superintendant. Paige brought his "No Child Left Behind" program to Washington when he became the U.S. Secretary of Education during George W. Bush's first term.

Today the "Houston miracle" is known to have been a fraud, Paige is no longer Secretary of Education, and the unrealistic, unfunded mandate of "No Child Left Behind" legislation is still the law of the land.

We would do much better job educating children if we made the governor's common formula the law of the land and scrapped Bush's "No Child Left Behind" legislation.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Hal Lindsay Issues Ultimatum to Muslims

Hal Lindsay, author of The Late, Great Planet Earth whose TV program is broadcast by TBN to over 5,000 stations around the world, has issued an ultimatum to the adherents of Islam entitled "Friendly Advice to Peaceful Muslims."

I wonder what kind of reception the same ultimatum, with a few pertinent changes, would receive if it had been written by an internationally prominent Fundamentalist Muslim and addressed as "Friendly advice to peaceful Christians"?

Would moderate and progressive Christians suddenly find themselves empowered to stand up to theocratic fundamentalists and Dominionist Christians or would the letter actually serve to undermine any efforts that mainstream Christians were making?

Martin Marty on the Naked Public Square

Tikkun Magazine has published an interview with Martin Marty that talks about the boundary between religion and politics. Marty provides a number of insightful comments about how the Religious Right steps over the boundary. Here's one:
Paul Ricoeur once said that history's dirty secret is violence. The best instrument you have against it is the human invention of politics, which assures that nobody gets everything. But through give and take, through rhetoric, through lobbying, and through fundraising, you get some measure of human good. This gets complex in our republic when some group aspires to run the whole show, which is what we're seeing right now.

The current danger is that they're not trying to get their share of politics, they're trying to dominate by using the sacred book, which changes the rules of the game and goes beyond the Constitution.

My favorite quote references the infamous allegation made by Richard John Neuhaus about America's Naked Public Square. Marty says,
Our public square is not naked; it's festooned with religion. It's just that there are about fifty square yards in this city that shouldn't have a privileged religious symbol on them. You have 30,000 lawns in a town where you can put Mary and Jesus and a Menorah and all the rest. We're not a secular society.

GOP Leader Admits Party's Racism

Thanks to Robert Parham at Ethics Daily for calling attention to calling attention to Ken Mehlman's remarks at a recent NAACP meeting. Mehlman, the Chairman of the Republican National Committee, said:
Some Republicans gave up on winning the African-American vote, looking the other way or trying to benefit politically from racial polarization. I am here today as the Republican Chairman to tell you we were wrong.

Mehlman went on to accuse Democrats of benefitting from the racial polarization that Republicans caused. Parham is correct to criticize Mehlman's flawed logic.

I just want to commend Mehlman for openly admitting what has been obvious to anyone who lived through the civil rights era and paid attention to politics. I'm praying that more Republicans will begin to openly distance themselves and the GOP from people like Rush Limbaugh and the "angry right."

Sunday, July 17, 2005

On Loving Enemies

Jesus said, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:44-45)

Human logic tells us to love our neighbor and hate our enemy. God's logic tells us to love even our enemies. Such a request stretches beyond the limits set by reason and prudence.

All love is a risk. To love is to open oneself to the possibility of sorrow and pain. Loving an enemy is an invitation to suffer. Everyone has experienced enough pain trying to love friends and neighbors to know better than to invest love in an enemy.

But the Lord's words are more than a request. They are a command. We have no other option if we are to show ourselves to be sons of the heavenly Father.

God demands a lot. But, he always gives more than he asks of us. Loving an enemy is nothing less than what God has done for us. "When we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son." (Rom. 5:10 NIV)

Such love is not reasonable or effortless but it is redemptive.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

On Science and Prayer

Detroit News has posted an interesting article about a study that says music and touch may be more beneficial to coronary healing than prayer.

Sooner or later it was inevitable that some studies would cast doubt on the efficacy of prayer. The law of averages guaranteed it.

A few years ago a friend of mine asked me to speak on "Science and Prayer and Healing" to an association of nurses. He suggested that I read some journal articles that seemed to prove that prayer had beneficial treatment effects. The more I studied the issue and reflected on it, the more uncomfortable I became with the suggestion that science could either prove or disprove the efficacy of a spiritual exercise. Here are a couple thoughts from the conclusion of the speech I gave those nurses:
Ultimately, God and his ways are mysterious. I think it foolish to attempt to predict how God would answer our prayers for healing. I would also hesitate to devise an experiment that even hints at measuring how receptive God is to prayer. No man or woman, not even a scientist, can put God to the test. . . .

There is a lot about the human mind and body that is still a mystery to medical science. It is the role of medical science to probe this natural unknown and reduce the size of nature's mystery. I believe that God gave us minds with the power to penetrate the mysteries of the physical and psychical world and he expects us to use them. Scientists are most faithful to God when they are skeptical about supernatural explanations for healing. It is the task of science to search for natural explanations. The world of nature can be controlled and manipulated to create treatments and remedies that can be beneficial to mankind. God, on the other hand, cannot and will not be controlled and manipulated by us -- no matter how good our intentions.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Dispatches from America's Culture War

The first of six articles that I am writing for the Baptist Studies Bulletin from the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University was posted today. These essays will be brief dispatches from the frontlines of America's culture war and the first one is about the battle to secure respect for the religious liberty of everyone at the United States Air Force Academy.

An institution created to train those sworn to secure the rights and liberties of the free people of the United States might be the last place that you would expect to find a struggle over constitutionally protected liberties, but that is the case. Officers denied equal rights to a free thinker who wanted to attend off campus meetings and hold meetings on campus, cadets and professors of minority faith complained of religious discrimination, and a senior officer led cheers designed to encourage evangelicals to aggressively proselytize cadets who had been singled out for "heathen flights."

Meanwhile, the Task Force created to investigate these problems concluded that the problems at the Academy were a matter of "religious insensitivity" rather than "religious discrimination."

I seriously doubt that we have heard the last word from this front in America's culture war.

On Discriminating Against Catholics

Thanks to Raw Story for posting a link to a story in the Clarion-Ledger about the "Christian" adoption agency in Mississippi that refuses to place children with Catholics. The agency receives funds from the state of Mississippi's "Choose Life" automobile license plates.

This is another good example of why it is wrong to grant faith-based organizations receiving government money an exemption from civil rights laws.

Regarding Criminal Benefactors

Kudos to Robert Parham at Ethics Daily for his thought provoking essay on "Baptist Leaders Ignore Ebbers $11 Billion Scandal, Act as Character Witnesses." Bernie Ebbers, the perpetrator of "the worst business fraud in history" -- in excess of $11 billion dollars -- was a well-respected Baptist who donated generously to Baptist causes and served on the boards of Baptist institutions. Several Mississippi Baptist leaders wrote letters and testified as character witnesses on his behalf at his trial after he was convicted.

No one expects Baptist leaders to heap coals of condemnation upon Ebbers head. We could expect some laments at the failure of the Baptist denomination to provide guidance on business ethics for our membership. We might even expect that someone in a Baptist building somewhere would decide that it was imperative to get serious about addressing the need for faith to be openly related to the business practices and systemic pressures of the capitalist marketplace.

Lately, Baptists have spent an inordinate amount of time talking about putting religious values into politics and culture. Except for the value of the "work ethic," Baptists have been virtually silent about putting religious values into the economic system.

Someone needs to fill that void with a voice that resonates with the Word of God.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why Bush Won't Fire Rove

This morning Joseph Wilson, former Ambassador to Iraq, said President Bush should fire White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove for an "abuse of power." Rove blew the cover of Wilson's wife, an undercover CIA operative working on weapons of mass destruction, by leaking information about her to the press. Wilson claims the leak was retaliation for his challenging assertions about Iraq's WMD program as the administration was leading the country to war with Iraq.

Rove clearly abused his power. He ought to be fired.

It is unlikely that the President will do so. James Moore, co-author of Bush's Brain, explains why:
Bush cannot function without Rove. And the GOP is equally invested in his skills. I expect that, if the pressure gets too great, the president will move Rove out of the White House so he can continue to use his brain on congressional matters like Social Security and tort reform while not having to suffer quite as much politically with Rove still sitting in the West Wing. But I don't think Bush will make such a move, if he can avoid it. His Achilles heel is his loyalty to his friends and it always has been. Bush will stick with Rove long past the point that he ought to have cut his losses and he will endure significant political harm.

Bush could be forced to fire Rove if he were indicted, but Moore doesn't expect Rove to face jail time even if he were convicted:
If Rove does get indicted, I can see the president pardoning him and saying we need to put this all behind us in a time of war and move on together as a nation. The only real question in all of this for me is how much political damage is going to be done before the president has to make some kind of move to get Rove out of the White House.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Meeting with Arun Gandhi

I just attended a meeting with Arun Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and founder of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence, who came to Oklahoma City to speak about non-violence. Gandhi, the past Chairman of The Interfaith Alliance (TIA) national Executive Board, met briefly with members of the Executive Board and Advisory Board of the Oklahoma Chapter of TIA (-- I'm on the Advisory Board).

After a brief speech, Gandhi received questions. I asked him to comment on Russell Moore's essay about his teaching his children to be violent from his "blessedly violent" Bible. His remarks were prefaced by a statement that too often he thought TIA was simply reacting to what the Religious Right was doing and had thereby let them set our agenda. He hoped that TIA would become more pro-active and positive in what it did.

Gandhi answered my question by citing his grandfather as an example. He noted that the Hindu scriptures are filled with stories of battles and wars and he admitted that fundamentalists in his own faith have used these stories to justify and perpetuate violence. He said Mahatma Gandhi applied a psychological hermeneutic. He interpreted the stories of war to be about inner struggles against the desire for revenge and the impulse toward violence.

Blessedly Violent?

Kudos to the Howie Luvzus blog for calling attention to the child rearing practices of current Southern Baptist leaders. In his blog "Do Some Baptist Beliefs Promote Violence?" he mentions an essay by Russell D. Moore, Dean of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, on "Why I'm Raising Violent 4 Year-Olds."

Moore's description of the Bible caught my attention. He reads "the Holy Scriptures" to his boys because it is "the most blessedly violent bedtime stories they hear every day."

I wonder what a person of any other faith living across the street from Southern Seminary thinks when they read an essay like this. Would they find the gospel attractive or threatening?

I also wonder what Southern Baptists would be saying if Moore's essay had been penned by a person of any other faith whose children attended their children's school?

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Reclaiming America's Real Religious History

Kudos to Marci Hamilton at AlterNet for her outstanding article on "The Wages of Intolerance."

She does an outstanding job of reclaiming America's real religious history from the revisionists who want to make our country a theocracy. Here's an excerpt:
This country was not founded on a single religious viewpoint, as the far right would have it, but rather on a wide diversity of religious beliefs. The current far right believers are reminiscent of the Puritans who settled what would become Massachusetts and who established their religion as the religion of the colony (and then the state). The Puritans believed in the right to believe whatever one wanted, so long as dissenters left their cities and communities. They believed in a religious culture controlled by the majority. Rhode Island was founded because of the Puritans' rank intolerance.

Many of the dissenting Christians in Massachusetts were Baptists, whose charismatic preachers, including the Revs. Isaac Backus and John Leland, preached the separation of church and state. Backus declared that the "notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever" while Leland called established religions, "all of them, anti-Christocracies."

Yet, far right Christians today, many of them Baptists, have no respect for disestablishment principles. They are intent on removing barriers between government and religion, and, in fact, making government the servant to religion. They want their religious messages on courthouse walls, their theology in the science classrooms, their prayers in public schools, and their values to mandate constitutional policy. They even argue that Protestants are a majority and therefore have the right to have the government deliver their religious messages. This is their agenda for the next Supreme Court Justice.

Evangelicals as Military Chaplains

The New York Times has an interesting article about the "growing force" of evangelicals in the military chaplain corps. Ironically, as the military grows increasingly diverse, the military chaplain corp is becoming increasingly evangelical.

The article picks up a theme from the recent report of a task force that discovered "religious insensitivity" at the Air Force Academy. That report seemed to suggest that the problem arose because of the increase in the number of evangelicals in the chaplain corp.

Does blaming the increase in the number of evangelical chaplains address the issue of "insensitive" chaplains or does it merely explain it away? In the past, thousands of "born again" Baptists have served as chaplains in the military without creating such problems. Insensitivity is not a trait peculiar to evangelicals. In fact, the article cites an instance where a liturgical chaplain rudely and insensitively took over an evangelical chaplain's worship service.

I suggest that the problem has less to do with the growth in the number of evangelicals than it has to do with growth of intolerance within the chaplain corp. The article addressed this most clearly when it discussed the case of Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, of the Evangelical Episcopal Church, whose chaplain contract was not renewed due to his aggressive proselytizing.

"The Navy wants to impose its religion on me," he said. "Religious pluralism is a religion. It's a theology all by itself."
What's changed most is the increasing proportion of chaplains, officers and soldiers who are no longer willing to tolerate religious pluralism within the military. Reports from the Air Force Academy indicate that some of the "insensitive" officers at the school recently attended seminars teaching such intolerance on duty hours.

The military is right to decide that the kind of intolerance that Kilingenschmitt expresses is intolerable. When acting in an official capacity, chaplains must be required to be tolerant of and sensitive to the religious convictions of all the soldiers that serve of our country.

It shouldn't be that hard to find chaplains who are tolerant. All they have to do is find people who believe in and practice the golden rule -- "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." In some form, that principle is common to most faiths.

Monday, July 11, 2005

U.S. Troops May Withdraw in 2006

Associated Press is reporting that the U.S. may begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in 2006.

George Washington advised us of our responsibility to those who serve our country. He said:
"The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive how the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation."

The Denver Post recently reported that the Veterans Administration is woefully underfunded to meet the needs of current casualties:
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs - blasted by Congress last week for underestimating the cost of veterans' health care by as much as $2.7 billion through 2006 - faces growing patient loads and stretched services as troops return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

About 103,000 veterans from the wars will have used VA medical care by the end of September - four times what the agency predicted when it budgeted for 2005. And with about 145,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq and 16,700 in Afghanistan, thousands more veterans can be expected to need medical care.

Watching the Religious Right

Kudos to Scott Isebrand for launching his valuable Religious Right Watch blog.

In just two days, this blog is already proving to be a valuable resource for those interested in sharing information about what the Religious Right has been saying and doing. Here's a good example:
In the final version of the Declaration, which is devoid of all mention of Christianity, Jesus, the Bible, etc., there is a reference to "Nature's God." It is capitalized. It is a proper noun; it denotes an entirety. Not "the Christian God," not "Jesus' Father," not "Our Heavenly Father," not even "mankind's God," or "our God," but rather the words used are and the single concept is: "Nature's God." The words appeal to and evoke neither Christianity nor the Bible. So un-Christian is it that if we playfully, anachronistically, view the terminology "Nature's God" through the lens of American culture today, we'd likely see (dismiss?) the term as "New Age."

Iraq Imploding

The former interim Prime Minister in Iraq says his country is on the verge of civil war.

Britain is reported to have secret plans to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq in three months.

The war in Iraq has not made the world a safer place. It has made it more dangerous.

How long will it be before American troops are withdrawn?

Podcast: Peak Oil

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 7/10/05 Religious Talk radio interview of Oklahoma City Petroleum Geologist Bob Stephenson. Stephenson talks about "Peak Oil," the escalating price of gasoline, the impact of China on demand for oil, and the critical need for our country to develop an energy policy (openly, not secretly) that will reduce our dependence on oil.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

On Original Intent

Thanks to Nathan at the Moral Contradictions blog for his report about the comments of D. James Kennedy and Richard Land on a recently televised Coral Ridge Hour. Here's Nathan's record of Land's closing remarks:
He claimed that this country is now ruled "by the judges" and "for the judges" who got rid of school prayer, 10 commandments, and determined "Under God" is unconstitutional. (I'll be posting an entry about my view of the Constitution's relationship with God later). He said that all of these decisions were made behind the "guise of Separation of Church and State" and was against our Founding Father's intention.

Nathan does a good job of pointing out the contradictions between what Land says and what he does. I, for one, am praying that God will give him the stomach to keep watching the Coral Ridge Hour and pointing out the contradictions that he finds expressed there.

Those interested in discerning for themselves the Founding Fathers intention can read the following links:

Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom
James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance
Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association
Early Advocates for Separation of Church & State
Early Advocates for Separation of Church and State (Part 2)
Early Advocates for Separation of Church and State (Part 3)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

On Tomlinson's Secret Report

Kudos to Max Blumenthal for exposing the hack report by Fred Mann that Corporation for Public Broadcasting Chairman Kenneth Tomlinson used to hound Bill Moyers into retirement. In an essay entitled "M is for Moronic" posted by Nation Magazine, Blumenthal dissects the secret report about liberal bias at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Here are some quotes:
The Mann report reads as if dictated by Cookie Monster while chewing on a mouthful of lead paint chips. Names of famous political figures and celebrities are chronically misspelled. PBS guests are categorized by labels--"anti-DeLay," "neutral," "x"--for often bewildering reasons. Mann appears to have spent endless hours monitoring programs with no political content, gathering such insights as that Ray Charles was blind.
. . .
Who is Fred Mann? For all we know, he could be a werewolf with supersensitive hearing that detects liberal bias inaudible to the average human's ear. But since he and Tomlinson have not provided the same level of accountability they are demanding from others, it is impossible to know. Reporters who have attempted to locate him, including NPR, have all failed. Perhaps only Van Helsing could uncover Mann's tracks. What is known is that in 1980, Mann worked on the senatorial campaign of Dan Quayle. Then, during Reagan's second term, Mann went to work at the Virginia-based National Journalism Center as its job bank and alumni director until he retired last year. The National Journalism Center is directed by M. Stanton Evans, a former editor of the conservative Indianapolis News, and a founder in 1960 of the right-wing youth group Young Americans for Freedom. Through the center, Evans nurtured movement activists like Mann and trained aspiring young media players, including Ann Coulter and Maggie Gallagher, the conservative Catholic columnist who took federal money from the Bush Administration to promote its policies.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Courts Endorse Bible in North Carolina

North Carolina's Baptist newspaper, the Biblical Recorder, has posted a story about a North Carolina legal opinion that denies Muslims the right to swear to tell the truth in court on the Quran. The law requires witnesses to give oaths with a hand on "Holy Scriptures."

A couple years ago Syidah Mateenasked if she could use a Quran instead when called on to testify in a domestic violence protective order hearing. The judge asked for an opinion on whether that was permissible.

Guilford Senior Resident Superior Court Judge W. Douglas Albright, who sets policy for the county's nine Superior Court courtrooms, said "An oath on the Quran is not a lawful oath under our law."

It is hard not to conclude that North Carolina has endorsed the "Holy Scriptures" of Christians to the exclusion of the "Holy Scriptures" of Muslims. This clearly violates the intent of the first clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

Michael Schiavo Cleared Again

The state prosecutor that Florida Governor Jeb Bush asked to investigate Michael Schiavo has cleared Schiavo of any wrongdoing. Bush contended that Schiavo slow to call for help when his wife, Terri, fell into a coma 15 years ago.

Hopefully this will end the unconscionable persecution and legal harassment of Michael Schiavo.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Rove to Be Indicted?

Joshua Frank has posted a story that suggests Karl Rove, deputy chief of staff at the White House, may soon be indicted.

The Center for American Progress has posted a report that most accurately describes the unanswered questions and importance of "Plamegate."

On Suicide Bombings

For good reason the Apostle Paul said, "And if I deliver my body to be burned, . . . but do not have love, it profits me nothing." (1 Corinthians13:3)

At times, suffering and dying for God would be easier than living for him. For some, exchanging earthly existence for heavenly life would be a bargain. Christians, however, seek no escape from the rigors of living and loving in a fallen world. They know that, in this world, only love willing to live sacrificially has the power to demonstrate faith and effect lasting change.

Sacrifical love can never be calculating. Those who desire a profit from suffering and martyrdom will find no reward in the kingdom of heaven. Living sacrifices, not burnt offerings, are what the Lord most desires.

Christians live to love sacrificially. They neither seek suffering nor flee martyrdom. Nothing less is a worthy response to the love of the Lord who died to redeem us and and then rose from the dead to give us eternal life.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Village Voice Cites Blog

Thanks to Fred Clarkson for calling attention to a Village Voice article on the Religious Right that references my June 17, 2005 blog "Mohler Against Public Schools" and quotes from my December 21, 2004 blog "Dominionist Press Publishes Book by Southern Baptist." Here's an excerpt from James Ridgeway's June 28th article, "Under the Revival Tent."
Mohler, referred to in the press as the "reigning intellectual of the evangelical movement in the U.S.," wants Southern Baptists to lead the exodus. "I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools," he has written.

If Mohler succeeds, critics like Baptist critic Bruce Prescott foresee "a system of religious and home schools paid for out of public monies that will indoctrinate children in theocratic ways."

On Radical Personal Discipleship

Thanks to Fred Clarkson for calling attention to Dr. Roy Medley's Address to the American Baptist Convention. Here's an excerpt:
From the beginning Baptists have held principles taken from the scriptures that are essential for radical discipleship to flourish. Some today would question them, some would even scorn them, but these principles were defended with Baptist blood so that radical discipleship might be possible.

I am reminded of a statement by John Kinney a few years ago as he addressed a gathering of American Baptists. In his sermon he said, "When you don't know who you are you act like who you ain't." So tonight, I want to remind you again of who you are as American Baptists: You are radical disciples committed to radical love.

As early Baptists read scripture they saw that God's call is a personal call addressed to each one, a call that requires a personal response. Birth into a Christian tradition or culture cannot substitute for the response required of each one as we stand in the awesome solitude of Christ's invitation to follow him. Baptists knew that only in freedom could one give one's heart and life in discipleship; that only in freedom could one appropriate the witness of scripture through the Spirit; that only in freedom did scripture have authority. For only truth freely found and freely embraced stands in the court of conscience. American Baptists, don't ever forget, "For freedom Christ has set you free."

Some today set the principle of soul liberty against the principle of Biblical authority. Baptists have never understood it thus. Our deep commitment to soul liberty is because it is essential to Biblical authority in our lives. Through soul liberty we fulfill Paul's instruction to the Philippians to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Through soul liberty we recognize God's own respect for our free will. Through soul liberty we recognize that no one else can answer for us - neither priest, nor preacher, nor creeds or councils. Through soul liberty we honor the primacy of every soul's encounter with the living God. This is the very heart of what it means to be a Baptist Christian and what the priesthood of all believers means. Our commitment to biblical authority through soul freedom has been precious to us. And it is precious to us now! It doesn't make our life together easier, but it is essential for radical personal discipleship.

On Bobble Head Baptists

Dennis Rogers at the News & Observer has a colorful way of referring to the mindset of contemporary Southern Baptists. He calls them "Bobble Head Baptists." Here's a quote:
Baptist churches have traditionally expanded by acrimonious division. Let two or more folks in a congregation get ticked off and a new Baptist church was likely to be born. The very idea that edicts could be handed down to local churches from some smooth-talking preacher with perfect hair was unheard of.

That all changed a decade or so ago when my once-proud Baptists gave up their spunky independence. They became Bobble Head Baptists, nodding along when warned that Disney World was an evil place and that women should submit to their husbands at home and at church. Now they're being told to be on the lookout not only for homosexual activists, but for their allies as well.

What, in the name of all things rational, is a "homosexual ally"? Do you have to sign a treaty or something? My guess is a "homosexual ally" is anyone who thinks all American citizens should enjoy the same civil rights, not just those approved by the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention.

His Nets

CBF Oklahoma Coordinator T Thomas and his daughters Andi and Whitni are spearheading an effort to reduce malaria in Africa. They have created a non-profit organization that distributes insecticide treated mosquito nets to families in sub-Saharan Africa.

Many readers may have seen the His Nets booth at the recent CBF General Assembly.

Oklahoma Journalist Melissa Wabnitz wrote the first news story about His Nets. It was published in last Friday's Norman Transcript. Here's an excerpt from the story about the mission of His Nets:

"It was so simple. The nets are the way to prevent the spread of the disease, but so few people in the areas of need can afford them," Thomas said. "Ninety percent of the people in sub-Saharan Africa live on $1 a day or less and the nets cost $10 There's just no way people can afford them. "

"The goal was simple - put the nets guaranteed to be effective in repelling and killing mosquitoes for five years in the hands of those who need them. Working with the Baptist World Alliance, the local ministry of health and local churches, Thomas and his family set about fundraising to bring nets, and education on how to prevent malaria, to the pregnant women and children most susceptible to the disease."

"This is so easy and so exciting, providing nets to people who are hurting and in need of them," said T. Thomas.

"It is a concrete way to say, 'God loves you and so do we.'"

Earlier this month, Thomas and Andi [correction: Whitni] boarded a plane and began what they hope will become an annual event, distributing 1,800 nets to hospitals, birthing clinics and village families in south-central Ghana. For the next several weeks, Africans from neighboring areas will check on those who received the nets to ensure they are being used properly and that the education sessions about malaria were effective.

"We got to some of the places around 3 p.m. and some of the ladies had been waiting since 6 a.m. that morning," Thomas said. "They wanted the nets - they really wanted the nets."

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Debating Pluralism

Kudos to Greg Horton, a frequent commenter on this blog and host of The Parish weblog, for writing an outstanding news story that is published in the current issue of the Oklahoma Gazette. An excerpt from that article, "Public Policy Debate" is posted on the Gazette's website (You'll have to scroll down to the third headline).

Greg interviewed two of Oklahoma's most prominent Christian Reconstructionists for this story. Neither was shy about admitting the influence of R. J. Rushdoony on their thinking.

Charlie Meadows, a former talk radio host in Norman and current president of the influential Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee, boasted of being a theocrat saying,
"I very much support a theocracy, but not an ecclesiastical theocracy," he said. I don't want all Baptists or all Assembly of God. What I would like are men and women of high moral character and integrity seeking to govern according to the principles of God."
He added, "I don't think the founding fathers meant freedom of religion outside Christianity."

Bill Graves, a former State Representative who recently had to relinquish his office due to term limits, said: "One thing I got from reading Rushdoony and Russell Kirk is that the state is a religious establishment."

Oklahoma is one of the few states where theocrats are free to speak openly about their convictions. In other places they would loose support if they spoke so openly.

Memorable Speeches

I heard three memorable speeches at the CBF General Assembly in Grapevine, TX.

The first was W.C. Field's speech at the Associated Baptist Press banquet. Tony Cartledge at the North Carolina Biblical Recorder has posted a story called "Walking on the sunny side" about it.

Charles Johnson's speech at the Baptist Joint Committee luncheon was unforgettable. It was simply extraordinary. Here's the link.

Daniel Vestal's sermon at the Friday evening worship service was also outstanding. Here's a link to it from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's website.

Getting it Right on Religion

Melissa Rogers, visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University, has written the best assessment of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's influence on church/state issues that I have seen. In an article entitled, "O'Connor Got it Right on Religion" Rogers says:
Justice O'Connor understood that religion has a key role to play in public life, but that it is religious individuals and groups that must control religious expression, not the government. Importantly, she recognized that allowing the government to promote religion not only violates the rights of conscience of those who don't claim a faith, but also poses grave dangers for the faith that is favored. In McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, the Kentucky Ten Commandments decision handed down this week, Justice O'Connor wrote in a concurring opinion: "Voluntary religious belief and expression may be as threatened when government takes the mantle of religion upon itself as when government directly interferes with private religious practices. When the government associates one set of religious beliefs with the state and identifies nonadherents as outsiders, it encroaches upon the individual's decision about whether and how to worship."

Neocons: A Guild of Lying Philosophers

Shadia Drury in the introduction to the updated edition of her book, The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss, says:
I have never criticized Strauss for being elitist or anti-democratic. . . . I criticize Strauss for cultivating an arrogant, unscrupulous, and mendacious elite -- an elite that has a profound contempt for the rule of law, for morality, for ordinary people, and for veracity.

Leo Strauss, a Jewish political historian who fled Nazi Germany and taught political science at the University of Chicago and at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland is credited with being the chief thinker, if not the founder, of the neoconservative movement in American politics.

In 1988, when Drury published the first edition of her book, neocons were in prominent positions in nearly all the major universities in North America. The 2005, updated edition, is being released as Straussians occupy positions at the highest levels of government in the administration of George W. Bush.

I highly recommend Drury's analysis of Strauss' thought. Here's a link to her website. Here are links to some Recent Essays on Leo Strauss and the Neoconservatives:
"The making of a Straussian"
"Noble Lies and Perpetual War"
"Saving America"
"Film: "Hijacking Catastrophe"

Here's one more quote from the introduction to her updated book on Strauss:
Strauss endorsed Machiavellian tactics in politics -- not just lies and manipulation of public opinion, but every manner of unscrupulous conduct necessary to keep the masses in a state of heightened alert, afraid for their lives and their families, and therefore willing to sacrifice themselves for the nation. For Strauss as for Machiavelli, only the constant threat of a common enemy can save people from becoming soft, pampered, and depraved. And if no enemy can be found, one must be invented.

It should not take Christians long to realize that neoconservative philosophy is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Christ.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Quotes by Neoconservatives

Axis of Logic has posted a collection of quotes by neoconservatives called "In their own words."

Neoconservatives are the masterminds behind the current administration's war policy.

To assist readers in understanding the neoconservatives, I will be writing a few blogs about neoconservative philosophy in the coming weeks.

Neoconservative philosophy is currently the dominant political philosophy in America.

Those who read "In their own words" will get a small sample of this mindset.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

What are we fighting for?

Tony Cartledge, editor of North Carolina's Biblical Recorder, has written an outstanding editorial about President Bush's speech to the nation last week. The editorial is entitled "Better Them than Us?" Here's an excerpt:

He went on to say, as others have suggested, that America has to press the war effort in Iraq, because it's really a war on terrorism, and we must "defeat them abroad before they attack us at home."

In other words, "better you than us."

Imagine what that must sound like to Iraqi families who must risk their lives to gather at a neighborhood restaurant or stand in line at a bus stop. I suspect it sounds like "We're sorry to continue putting your family in mortal danger from these terrorists who are blowing up as many innocents as they can find, but if we don't stay and fight them in your country, they might come to our country. If we don't fight them on your streets, they might come to our streets."

That may sound logical to Americans in search of homeland security, but it can't sound very comforting to ordinary Iraqis who suspect that the continued attacks would cease if the terrorists' primary targets went home.

It's hard not to post the editorial in its entirety. This one really deserves to be read in full. I've left the best lines unquoted.

Suzi Paynter about Ralph Reed

Bill Berkowitz has written a story entitled "How the Mighty Have Fallen" about Ralph Reed. He quotes well known Moderate Baptist, Suzi Paynter, who monitors legislation for Texas Baptists' Christian Life Commission. When asked about the money Ralph Reed received from Indian gambling interests, Suzi said:
"I'm nowhere near as sophisticated a political operative as Ralph Reed is, and I know better than to go too far down the road with an unknown source of money," Paynter told the Atlanta Journal Constitution's Judd. "I do not believe somebody walks up to you with $4 million and you don't ask the question, 'Where is this money coming from?' That is just unbelievably naive."

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Newsweek May Name Karl Rove as Leaker

Editor & Publisher has posted a report that says Newsweek is working on an "It's Rove" story about the source of the leak that blew Valerie Plame's cover as a CIA operative. The leak could have compromised the national security of the United States which could legally be considered a treasonous offense.

Karl Rove, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, is the mastermind behind the political career of George W. Bush.

Valerie Plame is the wife of Joseph Wilson III, former Ambassador to Iraq. Before the war in Iraq, Wilson publicly debunked allegations that Iraq was seeking yellow-cake uranium -- an ingredient of nuclear weapons. Some have speculated that Plame's exposure was retaliation for Wilson's undermining the current administration's case for going to war with Iraq.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Why Justice O'Connor Will Be Missed

Thanks to Hollyn Hollman, General Counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee, for calling attention to this statement from Justice O'Connor's concurring opinion in the recent Kentucky Ten Commandments case:

Reasonable minds can disagree about how to apply the Religion Clauses [of the First Amendment] in a given case. But the goal of the Clauses is clear: to carry out the Founders' plan of preserving religious liberty to the fullest extent possible in a pluralistic society. By enforcing the Clauses, we have kept religion a matter for the individual conscience, not for the prosecutor or bureaucrat. At a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government, Americans may count themselves fortunate: Our regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails, while allowing private religious exercise to flourish. . . . Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?

Over the past year or two, I've heard Hollyn and Brent Walker, Executive Director of BJC, use nearly identical language to that expressed by O'Connor in their speeches. I suspect that O'Connor may have appropriated the language of some BJC briefs to the court.

War of the Worldviews Coming

Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has announced her retirement.

O'Connor was the swing vote on many recent rulings related to church-state issues.

We will soon see more fireworks related to the appointment of Supreme Court justices. The fictive conflict in Spielberg's War of the Worlds movie will not be able to compare with the real conflict we are about to witness.

Our kids and grandkids will have to live with the consequences of these decisions. It could mark the beginning of the end of America's "lively experiment" with separation of church and state.