Monday, October 31, 2005

AU Troubled by Alito Nomination

National Americans United has issued a statement saying the organization is troubled by the nomination of Samuel Alito to serve on the Supreme Court.

The organization is currently doing further research to determine his position on separation of church and state.

Empowering the Next Generation of Religious Liberty Advocates









Mainstream Baptists were represented well at Americans United's forum on "Empowering the Next Generation of Advocates for Church/State Separation this afternoon.

Melissa Rogers, (pictured at the podium in the picture on the left) Visiting Professor of Religion and Public Policy at Wake Forest University, gave the Keynote Address.

Holly Hollman, (pictured at the podium in the picture on the right) General Counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty gave a review of a report by Mark A. Chancey on "The Bible and Public Schools: Report on the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools."

Jim Huff, (pictured at the left end of the table in the picture on the right) Deacon at First Baptist Church in Oklahoma City and Executive Secretary of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United participated in a panel discussion.

All three did a magnificent job of suggesting ways to encourage young people and empower young adults to become effective advocates for religious liberty.

Florida Southern Baptists Leave Hurricane Victims Thirsty

Thanks to Bob Allen at Ethics Daily for calling attention to yet another silly response by Southern Baptists. Southern Baptist volunteers serving hot meals to the victims of Hurricane Wilma in Clewiston, Florida refused to give them cans of drinking water because it was donated by Anheuser-Busch, a beer distributor.

As a result, some of the victims had to travel three more miles to get water.

I'm going to pray that God will give Southern Baptists in Florida some common sense.

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Microphone kills Texas Baptist Pastor

Associated Press is reporting that Rev. Kyle Lake, pastor of University Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, was electrocuted as he reached for a microphone while baptizing a woman tonight. The woman being baptized was uninjured.

Associated Baptist Press has additional details.

Our prayers are with his family and his church.

Kiwi'd by a Tall Skinny New Zealander

Last week Andrew Jones at the TallSkinnyKiwi blog stopped in Oklahoma long enough to shake my hand and let me buy him and his family an ice cream cone.

I forgot to take my camera. He had his with him. That's why he's got a picture of my son Bill and I, while I missed my opportunity to get a picture of him. Actually, I should have taken the camera to take a picture of his wife and kids. They could grace the cover of a number of fancy magazines. On the other hand, TSK, Bill and I need less work getting ready for Halloween night.

TSK is right about the cheesy CCM stations in Oklahoma. I've been listening to KOMA (Classic Rock) since I was a kid (you can get the signal at night in Albuquerque). Bill, however, only listens to Rap, Hip Hop, Kwaito and genres that only TSK and other emergents would recognize.

On the Way to D.C.

I'm in Washington, D.C. today to attend Americans United's annual meeting.

While flying from Memphis to the Capitol I sat next to Clarence Tabb, Jr. who is a photo-journalist for the Detroit News. He was in Montgomery covering the memorial for Rosa Parks (Be sure to look at the by-line under the photograph at these links -- here, and here) and was on his way to Washington, D.C. to cover the memorial for Rosa Parks at the nation's capitol that begins this evening.

I had a very pleasant conversation with Clarence. We talked about the way that Baptist news agencies have been handling this story.

I look forward to following his coverage of the Rosa Parks memorials. Here's a link to his coverage in D.C.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Charting Dick and Don's Cabal

Ten days ago, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to General Colin Powell, revealed that a cabal of Neoconservative politicians and bureaucrats led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were responsible for making most of the disastrous foreign policy decisions of the last three years.

Tom Paine has published a helpful chart of the names and roles of the players in Dick and Don's Cabal.

It is a large chart. Click on an image and the chart will increase to a size that is readable.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Scott Ritter On Iraq

The Nation magazine has published Seymour Hersh's interview of Scott Ritter on the situation in Iraq. Ritter was a leader on the UN's weapons inspections team in Iraq.

This interview helps clarify, in my mind, why former President Bill Clinton has generally been supportive of this administration's efforts to change the regime in Iraq. Here's a sample of what Ritter has to say:

MR. RITTER: Well, I mean, I'll start off, and I want to highlight that point that Clinton wasn't so good. You know, there's a lot of talk today in the Democratically controlled judiciary committee about going after the Bush Administration for crimes, for lying to Congress, and etc. And I'm all in favor of that, bring on the indictments, but don't stop at the Bush Administration. If you want to have a truly bipartisan indictment, you indict Madeleine Albright, you indict Sandy Berger, you indict every person on the Clinton Administration that committed the exact same crime that the Bush Administration has committed today. Lying during the course of your official duty: That's a felony, that's a high crime and misdemeanor. That's language in the Constitution that triggers certain events like impeachment. So let's not just simply turn this into a Bush-bashing event. This is about a failure of not only the Bush Administration but of the United States of America, and we have to look in the mirror and recognize that, well, all the Bush Administration did is take advantage of a systemic failure on the part of the United States as a whole, a failure that not only involves the executive, but it involves the legislative branch, Congress.

Congress has abrogated its responsibilities under the Constitution, and they've abrogated it for years. Then there's the media, and, yes, we can turn this into a media-bashing event. But you know what? The media only feeds the American people the poison they're willing to swallow. And we the people of the United States of America seem to want our news in no more than three-minute chunks with sound bites of thirty seconds or less, and it can't be too complicated. So what we did is allowed ourselves during the decade of the 1990s to be pre-programmed into accepting at face value without question anything that was negative about Saddam Hussein's regime, and this made selling the war on Iraq on the basis of a lie the easiest task ever faced by the Bush Administration.

Thanks to Marty at the On the Homefront blog for calling my attention to another interview that Ritter did with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now.

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Podcast: Cathy Peterson Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 10-9-05 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Cathy Peterson, author of Flashlight Walking and Call Me in You Need Anything . . . and Other Things NOT to Say: A Guide to Helping Others through Tragedy and Grief.

Cathy's late husband, Bill, was undergoing treatment for cancer when Enron laid him off and cut off his health benefits. In this interview we talk about Cathy's practical and very helpful suggestions about what to do and what NOT to say to people facing tragedy and grief.

Missouri Convention Boots Moderate Baptists Out

The Springfield News-Leader reports that the Missouri Baptist Convention has voted to restrict membership to churches that exclusively support the Fundamentalist dominated Southern Baptist Convention.

Churches that contribute to the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship organization are no longer welcome.

Frankly, churches that give to CBF haven't been welcome for a long time. This just makes the sentiment official.

Thanks to Debbie McDaniel for calling my attention to the fact, highlight in the news story, that this action boots African-American churches as well as CBF churches out of the Missouri Baptist Convention. This is indeed another sign of how much farther Southern Baptists have to go in overcoming our history of racism.
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Thursday, October 27, 2005

On Not Being Wrong About the Right

I just got my latest issue of The Nation magazine. It has an outstanding article on "Wrong About the Right" by Jean Hardisty and Deepak Bhargava. It's a shame that it is not available online because it is essential reading for anyone concerned about promoting progressive and mainstream values in this country.

Here's a quote from a section on Fearless Politics:

The right has not been afraid to propose extreme positions, knowing they will be pushed back to more moderate ones still well to the right of the status quo. We've seen this in almost every policy fight since 1980. By boldly taking stands that are far outside the mainstream, the right has managed to pull the mainstream to the right, which is why it is now perceived as speaking for the majority. For progressives, meanwhile, timidity, ambiguity and constant compromise have not proved successful strategies; projecting a clear, principled and uncompromising voice of progressive values and policies is not only morally compelling but strategically smart.

This article alone is worth the price of a year's subscription to The Nation magazine.

Evidence Mounting on Forged Iraq WMD Information

The American Prospect has published a story claiming confirmation for an Italian news story regarding the forged documents that were used to create a sense of urgency for going to war with Iraq.

Evidence is mounting that the administration deliberately used documents that they knew were forgeries to make the case for going to war with Iraq.

That is presumed to be why, when former Ambassador Joseph Wilson went public with information about the forgeries, operatives within the White House tried to silence him by leaking information about his wife working covertly for the CIA.

Leaking information about undercover CIA operatives is illegal. In time of war, it amounts to treason. That is why Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political strategist, Lewis Libbey, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, and Vice President Cheney himself are waiting to see who will be indicted for outing Valerie Plame.

Blogging Banned

A Catholic school in New Jersey has banned their students from the blogosphere. They say that it does not infringe on the student's constitutional rights because:

"The rights of students at private schools are far different than those of public schools because administrators at public schools are agents of government," he said. "That's not the case here."

The school is right about the distinction between the officials at public schools as opposed to private schools. They are wrong, however, to ban blogging.

Banning students from blogging because it might lead to contact with predatory adults makes about as much sense as banning them from church because they might come into contact with predatory adults. All either requires is a little more parental supervision.

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Miers Withdraws

Associated Press just announced that Harriet Miers has withdrawn from her nomination to be Supreme Court justice.

The lines of division within this country are being drawn deeper and wider.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Danforth Descries Religious Right Takeover of GOP

In Little Rock today Former UN Ambassador and U.S. Senator John Danforth said, "I think that the Republican Party fairly recently has been taken over by the Christian conservatives, by the Christian right. . . it's divisive for the country." He added:

"I think the question arises when a political party becomes identified with one particular sectarian position and when religious people believe that they have the one answer, that they understand God's truth and they embody it politically," he said.

"Nothing is more dangerous than religion in politics and government when it becomes divisive," he said. "I'll give you examples: Iraq. Northern Ireland. Palestine."
Thanks, Senator Danforth, you've expressed my sentiments exactly.

Southern Baptists and Rosa Parks

Thanks to Bob Allen at Ethics Daily for reminding us how slow Southern Baptists were to embrace Rosa Parks and how little civil rights efforts are celebrated in our churches.

In 1968 I was a member of an Independent Fundamental Baptist church (the Jerry Falwell type) and their record was much worse than Southern Baptists.

Still it is jarring to read that moderates like Herschel Hobbs once labeled Martin Luther King a "rabble rouser" and "troublemaker." Even worse is the information in this quote:
By November 1968 a survey by the Home Mission Board revealed that only 11 percent of Southern Baptist churches would admit African-Americans.

All Baptists have made some strides away from the racism of the 60's, but there is still a long way to go.

White Church-goers Better Off Financially

Reuters has reported that an MIT study indicates that "Church-going boosts economic well-being." The report says,

"Doubling the frequency of attendance leads to a 9.1 percent increase in household income, or a rise of 5.5 percent as a fraction of the poverty scale," Jonathan Gruber of the economics department at Massachusetts Institute of Technology wrote in his study.
The report, however, focused only on white persons 25 years of age and older:

Gruber says he focused on non-Hispanic whites aged 25 or older because "there is very strong evidence of racial segregation in church-going, so that the density of Hispanics or non-whites in a religion in some area is not likely to be relevant for the religious participation of whites in that area."
Is it not shameful to the church for economists to still be observing that, "there is very strong evidence of racial segregation in church-going?"

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

On Comments

Whenever I am preoccupied with other responsibilities, I am now putting the comments section of this weblog in hidden mode. I view this as the equivalent of locking my house when I leave home. This is necessary to reduce the amount of vandalism that occurs whenever I am away from my computer. A group of fundamentalist bloggers have been relentless in posting the equivalent of electronic graffiti in the comments section of my weblog. So, if you would like to make a comment or ask a question while the comments section is in hidden mode, send an e-mail to bprescott@mainstreambaptists.org

This is a personal weblog. It is the equivalent of my electronic home. Guests are welcome, but those who insult the host and other guests quickly wear out their welcome.

On occasions, even when I am at home on the weblog, I have simply deleted rude, incendiary and impertinent comments. Generally, however, I persist in working to secure a measure of common respect from my fundamentalist interlocutors. Extending respect is fairly easy for them as long as the topic of discussion does not challenge one of their fundamental beliefs. Whenever one of their core beliefs are challenged -- which is frequent on this weblog -- they tend to post long comments, incessant questions, and remarks that are insulting both to my intelligence and spirituality and to that of my readers.

Some people have asked me why I don't just delete all their comments and ban them from the weblog. The reason why I endure such impertinence -- something that you'll find none of their own leaders doing (try posting a comment on Al Mohler's blog or Russell Moore's commentary) -- is that I know what it is like to be a fundamentalist.

I grew up in an independent, fundamental Baptist church. I understand the quest for psychological security and spiritual certainty that makes fundamentalism so attractive. All it requires is a "presupposition" about the "inerrancy" of scriptural revelation. Once this "leap of faith" is made, the certain foundation for thought and belief that fundamentalists believe is necessary to validate "truth claims" seems assured. They think inerrancy will guarantee that any proposition that can be deduced from scriptural revelation by syllogistic logic can be proven to be true.

There was a time when I shared this rationalist apologetic. I was not so rude as to insult the intelligence or spirituality of the learned interlocutors that God put in my way to challenge my faith in it, but I was persistent in asking for guidance toward resources that could help me understand different positions. I studied their sources and made sure I fully understood the logic of their thought. I never expected serious theological thought to be reducible to "nutshell" explanations and "bumper sticker" slogans. I was willing to do the research and follow the way of truth wherever it led.

I spent years researching both sides of this issue. Most of what I learned can be gleaned from the essays at these links:

The Gist of the Inerrancy Conflict
The Priority of Scripture
Mainstream Baptists and the Bible
2000 BF&M Tries to Bury Truth
On the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message Revision

The best single summary of my position is in my essay on "Which Word Do We Worship" in Stand With Christ: Why Missionaries Can't Sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message, ed. by Robert O'Brien.

If you want a deeper theological and philosophical understanding of my position, you'll need to learn enough philosophy to gain a good grasp of Paul Ricoeur's philosophy.

If you think you understand my position and want to challenge it, start your own blog, write a critique and send me an e-mail. If I think the critique is worthy of a response, I'll write one.

One final note, I'm not impressed with propositional truth, syllogistic logic and rigid applications of the law of non-contradiction. It doesn't apply to the deepest truths of the Christian faith. The law of non-contradiction insists that Jesus is either fully God or he is fully man. He can't be both. The law of non-contradiction also insists that either there is one God or there are three Gods. It can't be both.

Christians have to either give up the incarnation and the trinity or they have to stop pretending that their propositional truths consistently observe the law of non-contradiction.

I've made my choice.

White House Wants Authorization for CIA to use Torture


Today's Washington Post reports that "Cheney Plan Exempts CIA from Bill Barring Abuse of Detainees."

This issue reminds me of a slogan I used to hear during the Cuban missile crisis: "Better dead than red." That slogan acknowledged that some things are worse than death.

I think, "Better dead than condone torture."

I prefer to stand with Sister Diana Ortiz and the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International.

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Unjust Bosses Shorten Lives

Reuters reports that a British study indicates that unfair bosses increase the incidence of coronary heart disease.

Anyone who has watched the effects of fundamentalist administrators and trustees on professors at Southern Baptist Seminaries and on Southern Baptist missionaries over the past 25 years is likely to have a lot of anecdotal evidence corroborating this British study.

Rosa Parks Passes On

Voice of America is reporting that Rosa Parks, the African-American woman who helped launched the civil rights movement by refusing to give her seat to a white man, died yesterday at the age of 92.

Thanks, God for Rosa Parks.

And thanks for all the other insubordinate women who refuse to take a back seat in the struggle for justice. They help make this world a better place.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Podcast: Andrew Jones Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 10/23/05 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Andrew Jones "TallSkinny Kiwi" in the blogosphere. We talk about Andrew's work planting counter-cultural churches and his innovative leadership in the Emergent Church movement.

Baylor Interim Getting Letters of Commendation

The Baptist Standard is reporting that Bill Underwood, Interim President of Baylor University, is getting some strong letters of recommendation from the Baylor Faculty Senate, and the University's Retired Professors and Administrators.

I hope the Regents agree to retain him as interim for an entire year.
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Dobson to Testify on Miers

Today's Washington Post says that:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is likely to summon a leading conservative Christian to explain the private assurances he says he received from the White House about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, the committee's chairman said yesterday.

Testimony by Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson would heighten the political and religious overtones of the already-high-stakes confirmation hearing for Miers, scheduled to start two weeks from today.

Kudos to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The American public has a right to the same information that Dobson and other unelected TV preachers have received.

Brent Scowcroft on the Republican Rift

The New Yorker has published an interview with Brent Scowcroft, former National Security Advisor under President George H. W. Bush. You'll have to buy a hard copy of the magazine to read the interview. Online they have published an interview with the author the article. Here's a quote:

Scowcroft believes that Iraq was a sideshow to the war on terror, and that America should have focussed its attention on resolving the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians. Once the decision to go to war was made, he supported it, but with deep trepidation. He doesn't specifically criticize the conduct of the war; what he says is that American policymakers need to think through very carefully the consequences of occupying Arab countries, which, he makes it clear, he doesn?t think the Bush Administration did. He also suggests that this might have been an impossible mission; as a realist, he is doubtful that democracy can be imposed by force.


Fundamentalists Pushing Moderates out in North Carolina Baptist Convention

A lot of moderates thought that they could work with fundamentalists in North Carolina. For more than a decade, fundamentalists were just asking for parity in the convention and promising to work together cooperatively with moderates.

Associated Baptist Press has a story about the muscles that fundamentalists are now flexing in North Carolina. Here's a quote:

Moderates in North Carolina say all these actions indicate conservatives intend to impose a narrow theological direction on the entities of the convention, which is the state's largest religious group. And conservatives, who talked of peaceful co-existence two years ago, are hardly hiding their glee.


Saturday, October 22, 2005

GAO Finds Flaws in Electronic Voting

Truthout reports that The Government Accounting Office has issued a report citing flaws in the electronic voting systems that are being used throughout the country. Here's an excerpt:

In October 2005, the Government Accountability Office released a comprehensive analysis of the concerns raised by the increasing use of electronic voting machines.
Overall, GAO found that "significant concerns about the security and reliability of electronic voting systems" have been raised (p. 22).
GAO indicated that "some of these concerns have been realized and have caused problems with recent elections, resulting in the loss and miscount of votes" (p. 23).


It is time to mandate that every state that uses electronic voting machines also maintain a paper ballot that can be easily read to manually verify vote counts in a disputed election.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Group Taking Over High School Radio Station

Correction and Apology

Thanks to Frank, Roger & AW for alerting me to the fact that the Living Proof, Inc. that is trying to takeover WAVM is not associated with Beth Moore's Living Proof Ministries. My apologies to Beth Moore and her ministry for incorrectly identifying them with Living Proof, Inc. of CA.

If Living Proof, Inc. wants add a station to their broadcasting empire in that community they ought to purchase a commercial license, not one that deprives the local high school and community of a valuable local resource.

Should Everyone Own a Gun?

Kudos to Young and Relentless for his satirical essay about how "Guns are the Answer!"

He makes a lot of sense.

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Rainforest Devastation Twice as Bad as Previously Documented

The Independent reported today that new sattelite imagery techniques are revealing that devastation to the rainforest in the Amazon is twice as bad as was previously thought.

Here's a quote:

Over the course of four years, the scientists amassed the first full survey of selective logging across the Amazon basin. "We found much more selective logging than we or anyone else had expected - between 4,600 and 8,000 square miles every year of forest spread across five Brazilian states," said Dr Asner.

Selective logging allows light to penetrate to the understory of the forest and dries out the forest floor, making it vulnerable to fires.

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Bush and the Disintegrating Right

Common Dreams has posted an insightful essay by Sidney Blumenthal on "The Bush Nemesis: U.S. Rightwigers Still Not Satisfied with the President." Here's a quote:

Having faithfully implemented conservative ideas, Bush is blamed by disloyal ideologues to deflect attention from the failure of their ideas. Like Trotskyists for whom communism remained an unfulfilled ideal, conservatives claim that conservatism has not been tried and Bush is an "impostor". In attempting to avoid the nemesis of his father, Bush is reliving it.
The strongest pattern that I can see to the divisions within the religious right over the nomination of Harriet Miers is religious.

Most of the right wing opponents of Miers appear to be Roman Catholics. Most of the right wing supporters of Miers appear to be Protestants. I suspect those divisions reveal a fault line in their positions on abortion -- Catholics being opposed to all abortions, Protestants being willing to grant an exception when the life of the mother is at stake.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Neo-con Cabal Running U.S. Government

The Financial Times has published a story about an incendiary interview with Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to General Colin Powell. Here's a quote from their story:

In a scathing attack on the record of President George W. Bush, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Mr Powell until last January, said: "What I saw was a cabal between the vice-president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made."
Here's a link to a transcript of the entire interview.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mohler on Church-State Separation

Kudos to Howie and the Howie Luvzus blog for calling attention to some glaring inconsistencies in the positions that Southern Seminary President Al Mohler has taken regarding church-state separation issues.

It looks like the weather vane at Southern Seminary keeps turning on Al.

(Those who have seen the documentary "The Battle for the Minds" about the fundamentalist takeover of Southern Seminary will understand this comment)

Rumsfeld and Gonzalez Should Resign

If the information that was documented last night on PBS's Frontline is accurate, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should resign. So should Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.

Their policies clearly led to the use of torture as an interrogation technique at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Georgetown College Leaves Kentucky Baptist Convention

Asociated Baptist Press and Ethics Daily both have stories about Georgetown College severing ties to the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

Experience throughout the Southern Baptist Convention has shown that this is the most prudent thing that colleges and universities can do when fundamentalists take control of a state convention.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Southern Baptists and the Error of Inerrancy

Thanks to the Baptist Standard for linking to a story in the Indystar about the Southern Baptist Convention publishing commentaries to push biblical inerrancy.

I've written extensively about the error of inerrancy. This was the major source of controversy during the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC.

Here are some links:

Inerrancy Test
The Gist of the Inerrancy Conflict
The Priority of Scripture
Why Fundamentalists Object to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message
SBC Demotes Jesus
SBC President Assigns Attributes of Deity to the Bible
On Bible Idolatry
The Chief Sin of Fundamentalism
On Clarifying Bible Beliefs

Here's my understanding of the authority of the Bible:

Mainstream Baptists and the Bible

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Monday, October 17, 2005

Letters from Iraq

I've been reading the Letters from Baghdad weblog. The young man writing the letters was but a child when his family joined the church that I pastored in Houston.

This weblog came online a couple weeks ago. The letters being posted date from the beginning of the war in Iraq. The letters were sent to his mother. (She set up this weblog and has another weblog called On the Homefront where she posts her own thoughts and comments.)

I highly recommend these letters to anyone interested in unfiltered and honest first person perspective from the frontlines in Iraq. I suggest scrolling to the bottom and reading them in the order they were written (from bottom to top).

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Baptist Fighting Ends in North Carolina

Thanks to Tony Cartledge at the Biblical Recorder for calling attention to the article in yesterday's News & Observer about "No Fight Left Among Baptists." The article indicates that moderates in North Carolina no longer plan to field candidates for leadership positions in the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. They thereby are conceding control of the state convention to fundamentalists.

Having been involved in attempts to get North Carolina moderates to organize and face the fundamentalists who were trying to take control of that state convention, I can truthfully say that control of that convention was ceded to the fundamentalists long ago. There never was much fight in the moderates of North Carolina. Few moderate pastors felt the need to protect the integrity of the convention's colleges and other institutions. Those who did organized into a Mainstream Baptist organization.

Most of the moderate Baptists in North Carolina refused to support the efforts of the Mainstream organization and many were downright hostile toward it. They thought they were taking the moral high road by standing outside the fray and ignoring the fundamentalist takeover.

As working condititions deteriorate at North Carolina Baptist institutions and conscientious college presidents and professors begin losing their jobs, you can thank those apathetic moderate bystanders for abandoning their posts when Mainstream Baptists issued a call for them to be faithful stewards of the resources of the Convention by sending their full complement of messengers to its meetings.

On the Goals of the Institute for Religion and Democracy

Thanks to Fred Clarkson for posting a blog about the influence of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) at the Talk to Action weblog. Clarkson commends UCC President John Thomas for standing up to the IRD saying:

All of the major denominations, as well as the National Council of Churches have been affected by this well-funded, and sustained campaign of attrition over the past two decades. It is a good thing that the courageous leader of a major denomination has publicly acknowledged that his denomination is under attack by politically motivated agencies. I hope the UCC and all of the mainline denominations will begin to take a more forceful posture in relation to groups who have abused their standing in tolerant and welcoming communities to sew discord.

Here's a link to a blog that I wrote last December about the influence of the IRD.
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Friday, October 14, 2005

Helen Thomas and True Patriotism

The White House Press Secretary went on the offensive yesterday against reporter Helen Thomas. Unwilling to answer the reporter's questions about the war in Iraq, Scott McClellan tried to change the subject by asserting that Thomas does not support the "broader war on terrorism."

Reporter Terry Moran thought it odd that McClellan would presume authority to interpret Thomas' opinions for her instead of explaining the position of the administration.

Thomas then explained her own position in no uncertain terms saying, "I'm opposed to preemptive war, unprovoked preemptive war."

Thank-you Helen Thomas for speaking the truth to power.

True patriotism is not mindlessly supporting your country whether it is right or wrong. It is examining the issues conscientiously and making whatever sacrifice is necessary to oppose wrong policies and support the right ones.

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Touting Miers Faith Facing Bipartisan Challenge

Thanks to Rob Marus at Associated Baptist Press for highlighting the fact that the President is being challenged by people from across the political spectrum for making Miers faith an issue in her nomination.

Our constitution says there shall be no religious tests to hold public office. That means that the only worldview that is of relevance to holding office in this country is the worldview of the text of the Constitution.

Every office holder, no matter what their religious worldview, is sworn to uphold the principles of the Constitution. None of them are free, when exercising authority of office, to permit personal religious principles to override the legally established and interpreted principles of the Constitution.

Do People Go to Church as Much as They Say They Do?

Thanks to Jim Evans at Ethics Daily for calling attention to research in the September issue of the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion which raises issues about church attendance. The study disclosed that:

Out of an estimated 331,000 congregations nationwide, representing Christians and non-Christians of nearly every stripe, weekly attendance averaged about 21 percent. This is far below the consistent 42 percent that traditional pollsters find.

My explanation for the discrepancy is that many people equate watching TV preachers and listening to "Christian" radio with going to church.
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Thursday, October 13, 2005

On Hypocrisy and Back Room Deals

James Dobson revealed that he had a private conversation with Presidential advisor Karl Rove about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers. That conversation gave him private, insider information that he said he "probably shouldn't know" about the nominee that convinced Dobson to support her nomination.

Senators from both parties say they want to know what Dobson knows and have threatened to subpoena him to testify about whatever backroom deals were made with him to gain his support for Miers.

Tuesday, on his Focus on the Family Broadcast, Dobson denies that he had been involved in a "backroom deal" to get his support for Miers and made other statements that stretch credulity. It is obvious that Dobson is trying to avoid being called on to testify.

Robert Parham of the Baptist Center for Ethics said Dobson should still be required to testify under oath before Congress. Here's what Parham says:

"Senator Specter should call Dobson to testify about what he asked Rove, what Rove told him and when they talked," Parham said. "Dobson's explanation of the exchange fails the smell test. On one broadcast, he claims insider information from the president's most trusted political adviser as the basis of his support for Miers. On a later broadcast, he shifts direction and downplays his special briefing. The public needs to know how the White House used a religious leader to do its bidding and how a religious right leader served as court prophet for the White House's agenda.

"The Dobson/Rove episode offers a sad example of spoiled religion -- religion in which religious leaders get so close to political operatives that they lose discernment."
I agree with Parham. Dobson should be required to testify under oath about the assurances that he got from Rove about Miers.

Dobson's conversations with Rove, however, are not the most troubling thing about this nomination. The public explanation that this administration is giving as a reason for supporting Miers nomination is rife with hypcrisy and fringes on unconstitutionality. Just weeks after his administration labeled as bigots those who raised the issue of religion in the nomination of John Roberts, the administration is trumpeting her evangelical church membership as one of her chief qualifications.

Article VI of the Constitution forbids any religious test for public office. Miers membership in a pro-life evangelical church does no more to qualify her for a seat on the supreme court than Roberts membership in a pro-life Catholic church would do to disqualify him.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

On Privatizing by Breaking the Bank

Common Dreams has posted an insightful essay by Bill Willers on "Breaking the Bank: The Rightwing Road to America's Privatized Future." Here's are a couple paragraphs from the article:
Since the introduction of the massive Republican tax cuts, many observers understood immediately that they were to plunge government into debt, thereby undercutting its ability to fund social programs such as Medicare and Social Security, and to administer public domain that has long belonged to all citizens in common.

In May of 2003, Princeton economist Paul Krugman wrote that "gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry a price tag of only $320 billion are a joke ... The people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need."

The regressive world we are creating for our children and grandchildren is beginning to look more and more like the feudalistic system of the middle ages.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

On Dark and Vain Glorious Christopher Columbus

About ten years ago a member of my church in Houston gave me a copy of Peter Marshall's Light and the Glory and suggested that I read it. She thought it wonderfully expounded the foundation for America's providential destiny to become a city set on a hill that would bring light to the whole world.

Having grown up in New Mexico where colonial history is integrally tied to the Spanish Empire, I knew that Marshall's description of Christopher Columbus was mythology. Texas shares more of that history than other states, but few people there seem to know much about it.

The idea that Christopher Columbus was a "light-bearer" on a mission from God to bring the gospel to the new world is mythology. Columbus and his men were concerned with looting, plundering, raping, and murdering -- not with evangelization and mission work. Their atrocities were thoroughly documented by Catholic priest, Bartoleme De La Casa. Miguel De La Torre's essay "Columbus Day No Reason to Celebrate" on Ethics Daily does a good job of setting the historical record straight.

An Era of Evangelical American Barbarity


Here's the lead paragraph of a story in today's UK News Telegraph:
The Bush administration pledged yesterday to veto legislation banning the torture of prisoners by US troops after an overwhelming and almost unprecedented revolt by loyalist congressmen.

Our "born again" evangelical President is vetoing legislation banning torture and the religious "values voters" who elected him are still maintaining a code of silence on this issue.

We clearly live in an era of evangelical American barbarity.

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Friday, October 07, 2005

Reconstructing Alabama

Both Associated Baptist Press and Ethics Daily have good stories about former Alabama Judge Roy Moore running for governor of Alabama.

What neither of them mention is the Christian Reconstructionist theology that undergirds his thinking. Measured by the support Moore receives from Southern Baptists, it is a theology that many conservative Christians find attractive. The only thing that distinguishes many of these Christians is the extent to which they are willing to apply their literal interpretations of the Bible to modern political life.

Self-avowed Reconstructionists do not shrink from affirming an unwavering allegiance to their literal rendering of the Old Testament. Rushdoony and other Christian Reconstructionist intellectuals admitted that this involves closing prisons, extending capital punishment and reinstituting indentured servitude (slavery).

Most people influenced by Reconstructionism are still too "enlightened" to push their agenda to its logical end. Such Dominionists merely want to affirm the less reactionary elements of the Reconstructionist agenda. They wouldn't close the prisons, expand capital punishment and reinstitute slavery, but they firmly support the rest of the reconstructionist agenda. In addition to establishing Christianity as the state religion and having the U.S. declared a "Christian Nation," here is what I perceive to be the Dominionist blueprint for society:
1) Make the ten commandments the law of the land (Could this have anything to do with Roy's Rock?).

2) Strengthen patriarchically ordered families (Could this have anything to do with opposition to equal rights and with Baptist creeds that insist that wives must "graciously submit" to their husbands?).

3) Close the public schools and make parents totally responsible for the education of their children (Could this have anything to do with the push for vouchers and the explosion of home-schooling -- especially among Baptists?).

4) Require "tithes" to ecclesiastical agencies to provide welfare services (Could this have anything to do with 'Charitable Choice' and Faith-based initiatives?).

5) Reduce the role of government to defense of the nation and the defense of property rights (Could this have anything to do with the rhetoric about 'starving the beast' of government and policies that bankrupt the government with expensive wars while cutting taxes?).


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Oklahoma Light and Darkness

Two of the nine Senators who voted against clearly prohibiting torture are from Oklahoma. We are the only state in which both Senators were willing to turn a blind eye to torture. Both of them are champions of the religious right. Nothing demonstrates the dark side of religion in politics with more clarity.

Where there is darkness, however, light shines most brightly.

Indeed, some of the brightest lights within the church can be found in Oklahoma. One of them calls himself an Anabaptist Monk. He ministers to young people in Shawnee, writes and podcasts his own music, and gives his children dramatic recitals from C.S. Lewis as bedtime stories.

Another one is a free lance journalist in Oklahoma City on a beat that he calls The Parish. He's an ex-convict who has studied a little philosophy and a lot of theology. His quick wit, unflinching spirituality, and fides quaerens intellectum has helped draw together a broad circle of deep thinking Christians. These twenty and thirty somethings gather regularly at a local pub to discuss theology over their favorite brew. Among them, whenever she is in town, is a very bright theology student from Tuttle who blogs under the name panta-ta-ethne.

Yet another bright light is a theologian in Enid who writes a blog called "Outside the Camp" and contributes to another one called the "Emmaus Theory." This theologian practices a kind of "subversive spirituality." He looks for different perspectives and constantly points to deeper levels of understanding.

One more bright light is an environmental historian in Norman who blog's under the name of Streak. While I've been writing about the bright lights of Oklahoma, he has been calling our Senators and asking them how, in good conscience, they could vote against prohibiting torture. That is characteristic of this OU professor. He's not one to remain silent in the face of injustice.

That's just a sample of the lights that are shining in Oklahoma. I think of these people whenever I look with hope for the future of this state. None of them, however, are involved in Oklahoma politics. That black hole keeps getting darker each time a vote is cast.

Bush's Theological Trump Card

BBC is reporting that a soon to be broadcast documentary quotes Palestinian Ministers as saying President Bush told them that God told him to invade Iraq and set up a Palestinian state.

Obviously, it would be difficult for such Islamic ministers to disagree with the President about what God has or has not told him to do in regard to Iraq.

It would also be difficult for Jewish and Christian Zionists to disagree with the President about what God told him to do in regard to Palestine.

That's the problem with theological trump cards. They move the conversation beyond the realm of rational discussion.

All you can do is observe the President's actions and see if they are consistent with someone who is truly on a mission from God or whether they are more akin to the actions of one who suffers from religious delusions.

As a matter of policy, I agree with the President on Palestine and disagree on Iraq. I would not presume to either assert or assume that God has spoken clearly to anyone on either issue.

Senate Passes Ban on Torture

Kudos to Sen. John McCain and the 90 other U.S. Senators who voted to set clear guidelines and restrictions on the treatment of prisoners.

Shame on the 10 Senators who voted against it.

On Free Markets for Ideas

Al Gore gave an outstanding speech on the danger media consolidation poses to democracy. What caught my attention was his discussion of the loss of a free marketplace for ideas:

And here is my point: it is the destruction of that marketplace of ideas that accounts for the "strangeness" that now continually haunts our efforts to reason together about the choices we must make as a nation.

Whether it is called a Public Forum, or a "Public Sphere" , or a marketplace of ideas, the reality of open and free public discussion and debate was considered central to the operation of our democracy in America's earliest decades.

In fact, our first self-expression as a nation - "We the People" - made it clear where the ultimate source of authority lay. It was universally understood that the ultimate check and balance for American government was its accountability to the people. And the public forum was the place where the people held the government accountable. That is why it was so important that the marketplace of ideas operated independent from and beyond the authority of government.

What Gore doesn't address is how the free marketplace for ideas relates to religion. When this country was founded, Baptists were eager to have an opportunity to compete in a free marketplace of ideas. We were confident that that was all that the gospel needed to be able to flourish.

Indeed, American history is the history of the growth and expansion of the Baptist understanding of the gospel. In 200 years, we became the dominant Protestant expression of faith.

Then we lost our nerve. Fundamentalists have decided they no longer want to compete with new ideas and with the world religions that commerce and immigration are bringing on our shores. Now they want a monopoly, a "Christian Nation," and they want to use the power of the government to enforce it.

The power of the gospel to transform and redeem lives is as strong as it ever was. It's fundamentalist Baptists and other evangelical Christians who have grown intellectually weak and spiritually flabby. They no longer have what it takes to compete in a free marketplace of ideas.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bush's Double Standard on Vouchers

Paul Krugman explains why Bush is creating refugee trailer parks rather than giving housing vouchers to the victims of Hurricane Katrina:
So here's the key to understanding post-Katrina policy: Mr. Bush can't avoid helping Katrina's victims, but he doesn't want to legitimize institutions that help the needy, like the housing voucher program. As a result, his administration refuses to use those institutions, even when they are the best way to provide victims with aid. More generally, the administration is trying to treat Katrina's victims as harshly as the political realities allow, so as not to create a precedent for other aid efforts.

As the misery of the hurricane's survivors goes on, remember this: to a large extent, they are miserable by design.
What Krugman didn't mention was Bush's double-standard on vouchers. He'll give vouchers to the victims for private education but he withholds them for private housing.

This clearly reveals that the true purpose behind the push for educational vouchers is to destroy this country's system of public education.

A Revival of Corrupt Politics

Ethics Daily reports that most "Conservative Christians Support Delay."

If Delay is convicted of the charges levelled against him, and I suspect that he will, history will surely note that conservative Christians were the strongest supporters of the most corrupt political boss in the history of our country. That may hold true even if Delay escapes conviction.

Conservative Christians fancy themselves to be part of a great revival. Predictably, it has proven to be a revival of corrupt politics.

True revivals are spiritual movements, not political movements. Positive spiritual transformations never come by graft, greed, force or coercion.

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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Podcast: Garnet Coleman Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 10/2/05 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman.

We talk about the effects of Texas's mid-decade redistricting, the Texas state legislature's inability to pass funding for public schools, Texas GOP proposals to give vouchers to home schools and to privatize public schools, and about how a Houston mega-church gained control over Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

On Raising the Minimum Wage

News reports indicate that my home town, Albuquerque, New Mexico, is about to vote on whether to move the minimum wage in that city from $5.15 an hour to $7.50 an hour.

The last time the federal minimum wage was raised, I pastored a church that employed more than 60 people at its daycare and school. Most of the daycare employees were making minimum wage or a few cents more. Our budgets were definitely effected by the increase in the minimum wage.

I was more than happy to be able to devote the time and thought that was necessary to see that everyone got a raise and to increase rates to whatever was necessary to see that the operations of the school and daycare went smoothly.

Any business manager worth his salt can break out salary costs and project the level of income that will be necessary to meet those costs. They do it every day when other costs rise and fall.

The only time businessmen complain about doing their job is when the minimum wage is adjusted.

They have no problem, however, figuring out how to pay for raises for themselves. The last figures I saw indicated that the salaries of top executives has increased more than 500 times as much as the minimum wage has increased over the last thirty years.

We need to put some of these lazy executives back to work at some minimum wage jobs and see if they can figure out how to live on it.

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Monday, October 03, 2005

Supreme Court Nominee Linked to SBC Parliamentarian

Ethics Daily has posted a story revealing that Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers has been a 25 year member of Barry McCarty's Valley View Christian Church.

McCarty has been the official parliamentarian for Southern Baptist Convention meetings since the SBC was sued over a questionable ruling by Charles Stanley at the 1985 meeting.

Bill Bennett Leaves K12

Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett has resigned from the board of directors of K12 -- a for-profit online education group.

I first learned about K12 from Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman when he spoke at an Americans United forum in Houston a couple weeks ago.

Coleman said the Texas GOP was trying to get the legislature to authorize a voucher of $8,000 a year for home-school students to attend this school. K12 would then pay the parents of home-schoolers to supervise their children as they used its curriculum.

Garnet Coleman was a guest on my Religious Talk radio program yesterday. We discussed this scheme to funnel tax-payer dollars to the mostly unqualified right wing parents of home-schoolers on the program. Look for a podcast of that interview to be posted tomorrow.

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Looking for Mercy?

The latest headline from Reuters reads, "Bush pick for high court outrages conservatives."

I've not seen any remarks yet from Richard Land and others in the religious right, but I expect that they are as mystified as the staff at Americans United about this nominee's opinions.

From the reactions I've seen, it looks like the President surprised everyone and picked a centrist candidate. Whether that centrism holds on the issue of church and state separation is of most interest to me.

Selecting nominees agreeable to the political opposition has rarely been this President's leadership style in the past. Something more than meets the eye is going on here.

My suspicion is that someone at the White House is looking for mercy. I don't know if it is Karl Rove, Vice President Cheney or the President himself.

Whoever it is, they are not looking for mercy from the religious right. Their reaction will be merciless. To me, this looks like backroom deal making in hopes of getting some lenient treatment on a legal matter.

Raw Story has a story that could suggest that the deal maker might be Cheney.

The President and the Plame Leak

Think Progress identifies the significance of George Staphanopoulos' revelation on ABC's This Week about what his sources say about the President. If the President were directly involved:
This would explain why Bush spent more than an hour answering questions from Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. It would also fundamentally change the dynamics of the scandal. President Bush could no longer claim he was merely a bystander who wants to "get to the bottom of it." As Stephanopoulos notes, if Bush played a direct role it could make this scandal completely unmanageable.

Command Responsibility for Torture

Ray McGovern's essay on "Abu Ghraib: Command Responsibility" is essential reading for civilized Americans.

Iraq is a 'Strategic Disaster'

The Lowell Sun in Massachusetts has reported that Retired Army Lt. General William Odom says the war in Iraq is a strategic disaster. Here's a quote:

"The invasion of Iraq I believe will turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history," said Odom, now a scholar with the Hudson Institute.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Campaign to Defend the Constitution

A new organization that intends to defend the constitution agains the religious right has been launched.

One of its first activities was to send a letter to the governors of all 50 states asking them to defend science education.

I am one of the clergy members who signed the letter.

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An Act of Desperation

Last night someone took their own life.

I was with the 84,000 fans inside the OU football stadium near where this person ended his/her life in despair.

I did not hear the explosion. I probably did not know the person.

I wonder if I would have noticed the desperation had I known the person.

There have been occassions when I did know someone who committed suicide and did not perceive the pain in their life before they took it.

After the fact, I learned that most of them were gay.

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Saturday, October 01, 2005

On Covert Propaganda

The New York Times reports that Bush aides are guilty of illegally disseminating "covert propaganda" in the United States. Here's a quote:
In a blistering report, the investigators, from the Government Accountability Office, said the administration had disseminated "covert propaganda" in the United States, in violation of a statutory ban.

What mystifies me is why these people thought they needed to waste the money to buy this propaganda. Fox News gives it to them for free all day every day.

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