Tuesday, January 31, 2006

How to Win Debates

The February 6, 2006 issue of Newsweek has published a story about Jerry Falwell's Liberty University debate team. It discusses how evangelicals are mastering the art of college debate to prepare themselves for legal careers in front of our new right-wing Supreme Court.

I suspect we will be reading a lot more stories like this and looking at pictures of a lot more smirking fundamentalist debaters and lawyers over the next couple decades.

Why shouldn't they smirk? When you argue about the first amendment representing the majoritarian faith and know that the five out of nine judges are already biased against equal rights for minority faiths, it's going to be hard to lose.

Military May Be Covering Up Sexual Assaults of Female Soldiers

Truthout has reported about testimony from Col. Janis Karpiniski that indicates that the military has been covering up evidence of sexual assaults of female soldiers in Iraq. Here's a quote:

In a startling revelation, the former commander of Abu Ghraib prison testified that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, former senior US military commander in Iraq, gave orders to cover up the cause of death for some female American soldiers serving in Iraq.

Last week, Col. Janis Karpinski told a panel of judges at the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes against Humanity About Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration in New York that several women had died of dehydration because they refused to drink liquids late in the day. They were afraid of being assaulted or even raped by male soldiers if they had to use the women's latrine after dark.

The latrine for female soldiers at Camp Victory wasn't located near their barracks, so they had to go outside if they needed to use the bathroom. "There were no lights near any of their facilities, so women were doubly easy targets in the dark of the night," Karpinski told retired US Army Col. David Hackworth in a September 2004 interview. It was there that male soldiers assaulted and raped women soldiers. So the women took matters into their own hands. They didn't drink in the late afternoon so they wouldn't have to urinate at night. They didn't get raped. But some died of dehydration in the desert heat, Karpinski said.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Alito and the Federalist Society

Today's New York Times has an insightful story about the role of the Federalist Society in paving the way for the approval of jurists like Chief Justice John Roberts and Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. It is entitled, "In Alito, G.O.P. Reaps Harvest Planted in '82." Here's a quote:

Alito's confirmation is also the culmination of a disciplined campaign begun by the Reagan administration to seed the lower federal judiciary with like-minded jurists who could reorient the federal courts toward a view of the Constitution much closer to its 18th-century authors' intent, including a much less expansive view of its application to individual rights and federal power. It was a philosophy promulgated by Edwin Meese III, attorney general in the Reagan administration, that became the gospel of the Federalist Society and the nascent conservative legal movement.

Both Mr. Roberts and Mr. Alito were among the cadre of young conservative lawyers attracted to the Reagan administration's Justice Department. And both advanced to the pool of promising young jurists whom strategists like C. Boyden Gray, White House counsel in the first Bush administration and an adviser to the current White House, sought to place throughout the federal judiciary to groom for the highest court.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Administration Trying to Muzzle NASA Climatologist

The New York Times has published a story about how this administration has tried to muzzle James Hansen, NASA's top climate scientist.

Hansen has been issuing warnings about the linkage between greenhouse emissions and global warming. He thinks reductions are urgently needed.

Some of the President's advisors may believe that the imminence of the second advent makes concern for the environment unnecessary.

Reviving the Dark Ages

Another day, another scandal from the America's "values voters" administration. If you're keeping score, they've already given us the largest scandals in voter disenfranchisement, corporate malfeasance, Presidential mendacity, pre-emptive warfare, torture and abuse of detainees, illegal wiretapping, and Congressional corruption in American history.

The latest scandal involves allegations that the U.S. Army in Iraq may be trying to force suspects to surrender by incarcerating their wives.

What neo-conservatives bill as a great "clash of civilizations" is a farce. The morality and activity of this administration is uncivilized.

That most evangelicals remain loyal to this President and his "I don't give a hoot what you think attitude" demonstrates their own incivility to the entire world. I just wish this unconscionable witness and testimony was not also destroying the credibility of the gospel and of the Christian faith before that same world.

Evangelical involvement in politics has not led to another "Great Awakening," it has brought a revival of the "Dark Ages."

Friday, January 27, 2006

If Prophets Gave State of the Union Addresses

Ethics Daily has posted a superb essay about "Reading the Bible While Listening to the State of the Union." There's already a lot of hype and spin and handwringing about the President's State of the Union address. Nothing is likely to be said or written, before or after the address is given, that is as insightful and prophetic as what Robert Parham has written.

Parham asks, "If a biblical prophet gave the 2006 State of the Union address, what would the message be?" Among a host of other things, this is what Parham says:

Another prophet, Amos, could condemn self-righteous Republicans for pandering to the religious right and pretending that GOP stands for God's Only Party. He would condemn the Republicans who utter pious prayers on public street corners. He would blast the Justice Sunday crowd for their worship services that mix ideological agendas with diluted religion.

Speaking for God,Amos would repeat one of his most famous lines: "I hate, I despise your feasts and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and cereal offerings, I will not accept them."

Amos would then turn to the grinning Democrats with a blistering warning against playing at religion. He would warn them that peppering speeches with religious talk doesn't make them religious. He would speak against watering down religion for the sake of finding a common denominator with the nonreligious.

Without a teleprompter and rehearsed applause lines, Amos would tell the White House and Congress that God expects them to stop trampling on the poor in order to build expensive homes, to stop taking bribes in the form of golf trips,to stop rigging the system to enrich their friends and to stop turning justice into wormwood.

Parham does leave one thing understated.

If one like Amos were to speak today about the State of our Union, who would be listening?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Podcast: How Enron Buried Bill Peterson

The criminal trials of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling for their roles in the Enron scandal are about to begin. The New York Times published an article today about how a "Big Test Looms for Prosecutors at Enron Trial." It will certainly test our system of justice to see if it has the means to convict people who can afford to pay a $21 million dollar retainer fee for their defense. For more details see the documentary "Enron -- The Smartest Guys in the Room."

To get a feel for the human toll caused by this corporate scandal, you might listen to the podcasts of my "Religious Talk" radio interviews with Cathy Peterson. Cathy was my secretary for a number of years while I pastored a church in Houston. Her husband, Bill, was a Lotus Notes Administrator who kept e-mail working for the global empire that Enron built.

Shortly before Enron imploded, Bill was diagnosed with cancer. He was already being treated when Ken Lay advised employees, worried about the steep decline in value of Enron stock after Skilling's departure, that the company was sound. Bill was in the early rounds of chemo-therapy when the company went bankrupt and terminated his health insurance.

Cathy recounts how faith sustained her as she coped with the loss of their home, automobiles and worldly possessions as they faced Bill's losing struggle with cancer in her 2003 book "Flashlight Walking." In the book she speaks of her, so far, futile attempts to find a congressperson who will sponsor legislation (a "Peterson law") that would prohibit companies, whether solvent or bankrupt, from terminating health benefits for people undergoing treatment for illnesses like cancer.

Recently she wrote a guide for helping others through grief and tragedy called "Call Me If You Need Anything . . . and Other Things NOT to Say."

Podcasts: "Flashlight Walking" interview (Part One) and (Part Two). "Things NOT to Say" interview (One Part)

Addition: I just learned that Cathy Peterson was interviewed for an article that appeared in the Dallas Morning News Monday. Here's a link.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Matching Words and Actions

Yesterday Americans United has issued a press release criticizing the Senate Judiciary Committee for approving the nomination of Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court. Americans United, the Baptist Joint Committee and other groups are concerned about what Alito's nomination will do to the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

Today, remarkably coincident with the debate in the U.S. Senate over whether to affirm a fifth Roman Catholic to this country's Supreme Court, the Pope issued an encyclical denouncing theocracy.

Jonathan Hutson and others at Talk to Action are encouraged by the Pope's encyclical.

Knowing the way this pope treated Hans Kung and other progressive voices within the Roman Catholic Church before he became Pope, I'm a bit more skeptical. I think I'll reserve judgment until we've had more time to see if this Pope's actions match his words.

One mark in his favor is that he has met with Kung since becoming pope.

His Nets in the News

Ethics Daily has published a story about His Nets, a ministry that strives to reduce the threat of malaria by distributing insecticide treated mosquito nets.

Recent news stories about a $280.00 wristwatch that detects malaria, about the need for more "bed nets" instead of advisors, and warnings that malarial drugs may be losing their effectiveness -- all this recent news can be used to demonstrate the importance and cost effectiveness of this ministry.

I can also vouch for the integrity of those who administrate this ministry. His Nets is a ministry of my good friend and colleague T Thomas and his daughter Andi.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Twenty-Somethings and Bush

Recently I saw a Zogby poll that said 74% of 18-29 year-olds already favor impeaching President Bush for breaking wiretap laws.

If the President was interested in improving his position among younger people, he missed an opportunity yesterday. Yesterday Tiffany Cooper, a sophmore at Kansas State, asked the President how cutting $12.7 billion from the student loan program was supposed to help students prepare for the future? Bush responded that he was really reforming the program, not cutting money out of it.

Every student being denied a student loan and every student trying to pay off student loans lent at high interest rates will be reminded of that lie. This is a lie that will generate resentment long into the future.

Monday, January 23, 2006

AU Urges Alito's Rejection

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject Samuel Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court on the grounds that his record suggests he lacks respect for church-state separation. Here's a quote from Executive Director Barry Lynn:

"Judge Alito has given broad license to religious majorities to use the public schools and other official settings to broadcast their religious messages without regard for the competing rights and interests of religious minorities," Lynn argued.

Podcast: OU Students Discuss IID Turkey Trip

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 1-22-06 "Religous Talk" radio interview with four Religious Studies majors at the University of Oklahoma discussing a recent trip to Turkey that was sponsored by the Institute for Interfaith Dialog.

My guests are Barbara Schwartz-Brus, Cole Stephenson, Heather Stephenson, and Shereen Zaid. Part One introduces the guests, touches on the depth and diversity of the OU Religious Studies Program, introduces the work of the Institute for Interfaith Dialog, and highlights some of the most memorable moments of the trip. Part Two discusses the most challenging moments of the trip for the students and asks them to wrestle with the question whether it is fair to judge this Near Eastern country by Western standards.

The picture, taken on 1-3-06 at the Castle of Urfa, is of Heather Stephenson and a local Turkish girl named Dicem.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Military Options and Iran

Tom Paine has posted an eye opening article that discusses Richard Clarke's understanding of our military options with Iran. Clarke was formerly this country's "Terrorism Czar" and served under four successive administrations beginning with that of Reagan. Here's a quote:

The rationale for diplomatic de-escalation and not unilateral military action was Clarke's other point. In a nutshell, Iran has the ability already to make America pay for such a move. Iran, in Clarke's view, has thoroughly infiltrated southern Iraq with intelligence and military personnel. Should the U.S. or Israel drop one bomb on the Bushehr nuclear facility, says Clarke, these forces in Iraq have the capability to make the current insurgency look like child's play, implying that Iran can trigger the Iraqi civil war we've been fearing. Not only that, Iran has the capability to virtually shut down the flow of energy (oil and gas) from the Persian Gulf. Finally, Iran could quite quickly turn up the heat in Afghanistan, where it holds considerable influence with warlords Washington needs to maintain stability. Any of these moves would be an extremely effective check on American military action.

Clarke's conclusion was that use of military force was not an option with Iran. Clarke, however, resigned from his government post after 9/11 and blew the whistle on how this administration ignored intelligence about Al Queda planning a strike in the U.S. before 9/11.

This administration has a history of ignoring the interpretation of intelligence that Clarke advises.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Say it Again, Molly

Molly Ivins' essay on "I Will Not Support Hillary Clinton for President" deserves an encore.

What's a Gay-Dar?

Howie Luvzus has posted an entertaining blog and about Al Mohler's complaint over casting Chad Allen, a gay activist, in the lead role of the movie The End of the Spear. The movie is about missionaries who gave their lives trying to witness to natives in the jungles of Ecuador.

Along with his blog Howie posted a Gay-Dar, but What's a Gay-Dar, Howie?

After a google search, I discovered that it is slang for "Gay Radar" from this post at Wikipedia.

Podcast: Hollyn Hollman Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 1-15-06 "Religous Talk" radio interview with Hollyn Hollman, General Counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

We discuss the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito and the implications of his judicial record for church/state issues.

The President and the Constitution

Today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has an outstanding editorial about "The President's growing disregard for the law." It discusses Bush's use of "Presidential signing statements" to signal that he and his administration have no intention of abiding by or enforcing the law that he is signing.

Both the Senate and the House overwhelming passed the McCain bill banning the torture of prisoners under American custody. "Presidential signing statements" notwithstanding, it does apply to this administration and this president.

Either that, or we need to stop pretending that this country is still governed by the rule of law.

On Ineptitude

The Washington Post has a revealing article about Larry Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff. Here's a quote:

"This is really a very inept administration," says Wilkerson, who has credentials not only as an insider in the Bush I, Clinton and Bush II presidencies but also as a former professor at two of the nation's war colleges. "As a teacher who's studied every administration since 1945, I think this is probably the worst ineptitude in governance, decision-making and leadership I've seen in 50-plus years. You've got to go back and think about that. That includes the Bay of Pigs, that includes -- oh my God, Vietnam. That includes Iran-contra, Watergate."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Our President

Thanks to Max Blumenthal for posting a truly memorable picture of our president.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

One Baptists' History

Howie Luvzus has posted a very interesting blog entitled "My History with Southern Baptists." Similar stories about the "back row" students at our seminaries could be told by literally thousands of other Southern Baptists. Here's a quote:

When the new BF & M came around, I talked openly with several others teaching at the institution who were Calvinists. I asked them about the statement on original sin. They disagreed with it, but signed it anyway. I had other problems with the document so I couldn't sign it. Now, I'm the heretic! They're just liars, but they have jobs! God Bless em'! Many other events happened there, but I don't wish to hurt anyone that I love. Several of the profs that retired or asked to leave were my friends. They loved the Bible as much as any one I know. I heard all sorts of things said about them behind their backs. I worked at the seminary motel and would constantly have to "straighten out" some of the slanderous things the "extension students" would say about the profs. It was sickening.

Howie explains the toxic environment of the SBC well. It's probably healthier to take your chances with the environmental toxicity of post-Katrina New Orleans, than to endanger your spiritual health in the current atmosphere of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Proof that State Department Knew of "Yellow Cake" Uranium Forgery

Months before President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address cited intelligence about Iraq's acquisition of "yellow cake" uranium to justify going to war with Iraq, there were credible and convincing reports on the internet about how this "yellow cake" uranium intelligence was a forgery. I read some of them long before the 2003 State of the Union address.

Today's New York Times has an article about a 2002 State Department intelligence assessment that concluded that the intelligence about "yellow cake" uranium was "unlikely" to be reliable.

Denials that intelligence was "fixed" to go to war with Iraq are losing credibility with all but the most loyal supporters of the Bush administration.

On Knowing the Wrath of God

Robert Parham speaks for a lot of us who are fed up with all the pious pontificators who presume to know that the wrath of God is being revealed by disasters. Here's a quote from today's Ethics Daily:

"Blaming God for natural disasters, diseases and destruction is far too popular in American culture, and especially within faith circles," said Robert Parham, executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics.

Parham said Christians "would do well to remember the words of Jesus, who taught us two things about judgment in the Sermon on the Mount."

In the New International Version of Matthew 5:45, Jesus says that God "causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous," suggesting that weather-related phenomena are unconnected to morality.

Matthew 7:26 describes a man who built his house on sand, where it was unable to sustain storms, instead of a rock. The man in the parable "brought judgment on himself for his foolishness," Parham said. Likewise, failed levees blamed for much of the destruction in New Orleans were caused by human failure, not God.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

On the Right's Unblushing Hypocrisy

E. J. Dionne wrote an insightful editorial about the "unblushing hypocrisy" of the Right's smear tactics on its critics.

Having witnessed twenty-five years of the same "unblushing hypocrisy" among the fundamentalist preachers who took over the Southern Baptist Convention, I'm not surprised to see it practiced is secular politics.

What does surprise me is the deliberate credulity and willful myopia of the people who listen to their smears. Like the latest victim of the fundamentalist smear machine, they are often much more concerned with being perceived as "conservative" than as being "Christian."

On Baptists Blogging for Democracy

Ethics Daily has posted an insightful aricle by Brian Kaylor entitled Baptist Bloggers and Democracy that discusses the flap at the SBC's International Mission Board over trustee Wade Burleson's blogging.

Burleson is the latest in a long line of Baptist whistleblowers who have tried to expose the underhanded methods of SBC fundamentalists.

Whistleblowers are necessary for democracy to correct abuses of power. They are rarely recieved favorably, but when whistleblowers are completely silenced tyranny replaces democracy.

The SBC has been ruled by tyranny for two and a half decades. It's doubtful that Burleson wields a big enough whistle to put an end to it, but perhaps he'll mark the beginning of a new wave of resistance to the reign of spiritual terror that envelops the Southern Baptist Convention.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Al Gore on Saving the Constitution

Common Dreams has posted the text of Al Gore's speech "'We the People' Must Save Our Constitution." Gore believes President Bush's actions threaten the foundations of our democracy and has called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate unauthorized wiretapping of American citizens by the National Security Administration.

I gave a speech about Christians who believe that "Democracy is Heresy" to a group of prominent business and civic leaders in Oklahoma City last week. The reaction I received from some of them convinced me that there is little concern for democracy among some of the elites in our society. Their disdain for liberalism is greater than any conceivable threat that could be posed to democracy from the theocratic right.

I suspect that these same elites will discount anything that Gore says. America needs a conservative of conviction and integrity to issue a call to defend the constitution. We have a lot of conservatives with conviction and a few who have integrity, but none, so far, who have been willing to rise to the defense of the constitution.

In my view, nothing demonstrates the bankruptcy of conservative thought in America more than it's willingness to achieve its goals by sacrificing the constitutional "checks and balances" that undergird our system of law.

Unraveling Christopher Columbus

Nearly thrity years ago Peter Marshall wrote a book of fairy tales about America's "Christian" history entitled The Light and the Glory. It has been a popular book in evangelical circles ever since.

Marshall's book begins with a paean to God's "Christ-bearer" Christopher Columbus. In Marshall's eyes Columbus was God's Ambassador to the New World.

In reality, Spanish scientists are now conducting DNA tests to discover whether Columbus was in fact a Catalan pirate who concealed his identity to further his nautical ambitions.

The genuine historical material that I have read about Columbus indicates that his character was much nearer to that of a pirate than of a "Christ-bearer."

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Welcoming Emily

Emily Snively made her long awaited debute on January 6th. Weighing in at 7 lbs. 6 oz. and stretching out to 18 1/2 inches, she is the pride and joy of parents Todd and Tammy Snively of McKinney, Texas. Mom and Dad tried to match her exuberant smile, but, as evidenced by the picture below, their efforts left Emily feeling more than a bit disappointed.

Grand Aunt Kylene and Grand Uncle Bruce will try to restore Emily's humor when we get an opportunity to pay her a visit.

Ed Young's College

Doug Hodo, president of Houston Baptist University, a school affiliated with the fundamentalist breakaway convention Southern Baptists of Texas, has announced his retirement.

The Baptist Standard identifies five of the nine members of the board that will search for a new president as members of Second Baptist Church in Houston.

Why don't they just call the school Ed Young's College?

Challenge to Bush's Faith-Based Initiative Approved

The 7th Circuit of Appeals in Chicago has approved a challenge to Bush's Faith-Based Initiative by the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Here's a link to a story in the Chicago Sun Times.

Blog from the Capital has more details.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Bill in South Carolina would Mandate Prayer at Citadel

Thanks to the Religion Clause blog for calling attention to the ABC News report about a bill that is being introduced in the South Carolina legislature that would mandate prayers before meals at the Citadel, a military chapel.

It looks like some people are eager to give Roberts and Alito an opportunity to make government sponsored compulsory religious exercises legal.

Streak on Being Tired

I'm catching up on what my favorite bloggers have been saying.
Brad Raley at Streak's blog wrote a blog entitled "I guess I am just tired" that resonated with whatever fiber there is in my being. Here's are a couple quotes:
Very few things make me [lose] respect the conservative church more than things like Justice Sunday III. I am just tired of them. Tired of the constant lament that Christianity is under attack when it isn't.
. . .
Tired of people who can organize a public outing to support Alito but can't seem to speak out on torture, poverty, Tom Delay, or Pat Robertson.

Friday, January 13, 2006

The High Price of Religious Privilege

Kudos to Bruce Gourley for his essay, "In Response to . . . Franklin Graham on Separation of Church and State". Gourley examines the role that privileges extended to church and clergy have played in undermining the principle of church-state separation. Here's a quote:

John Leland understood that an attitude of expected favoritism from the state, in any form, trivializes the gospel and cheapens the Church. Yet one could argue that virtually all contemporary Baptists (and most Christians) in America today expect some form of favoritism from the government by virtue of their faith, whether it be government enforcement of a particular brand of morality, the teaching of certain religious views in our nation's schools, the public display of a portion of our faith's sacred text, or an exemption from taxes for clergy and church.

On Alito's Confirmation

The Baptist Joint Committee has posted an evaluation by Hollyn Hollman of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's record on church-state issues. Americans United also has an extensive report reviewing his church-state record.

Don Byrd at Blog from the Capital has been doing a good job of posting updates from Alito's confirmation hearings on issues related to church-state separation.

Most of the questioning during the hearings have focused on Alito's views on abortion. It looks like Alito will be easily confirmed.

The future of the principle of church-state separation in this nation will soon rest in the hands of a new mix of justices.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

AU Sues School Over Elective Intelligent Design Class

Americans United for Separation of Church and State has filed suit against a California school district that is offering an elective course in philosophy on "Intelligent Design" in a public high school.

I think it may be possible to structure a constitutionally permissible philosophy or comparative religion course that could discuss "Intelligent Design" along with other religious and philosophical explanations of creation and origins. The class at Frazier Mountain High School in Lebec, California, however, appears to be structured to present a single religious perspective.

Public schools have no business endorsing or promoting any religious perspective.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Blogger Being Booted from SBC Mission Board

Wade Burleson, author of the Grace and Truth blog and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma is being booted off of the Executive Board of the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board.

Burleson has been blogging about maneuverings within the board to replace IMB President Jerry Rankin. Evidently his blogging upset enough board members that they want to remove him from the board.

Burleson insists that his blogs were posted as a matter of conscience and personal integrity. He distinguishes between "crusading conservatives" and "cooperating conservatives" and laments that the crusaders are now ostracizing the cooperators. He hopes his blogging will encourage other "cooperating conservatives" to stand up to the crusaders before support for the SBC is completely destroyed.

Burleson's experience is evidence that another round of purges is taking place within the SBC. From my perspective, it is hard to understand why Burleson's conscience did not start bothering him when scores of faithful missionaries were being fired for refusing to sign the 2000 BF&M.

My advice to Burleson and anyone else trying to work within the SBC is to decide that you would rather that Southern Baptists be identified as "Christian" than as "conservative." There's nothing Christ-like about the incessant purges that have taken place in the SBC over the last twenty-five years. No matter how conservative the values being defended, conscientious dissent from the policies of authoritarian leaders will never be accepted as "conservative."

The purges will continue as long as Southern Baptists keep competing with each other for the title "conservative."

Melissa Rogers Critiques Justice Sunday III

Melissa Rogers, visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University, has written an outstanding critique of Justice Sunday III under the title Religious Freedom for All. Melissa formerly served as General Counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee and as Executive Director of Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Here's an excerpt from Melissa's critique:

The rhetoric and advocacy positions of the Family Research Council and its partners reveal that they want the court to go far beyond rulings like these [the Texas ten commandments decision]. For example, they want to reintroduce school-sponsored prayer in a variety of settings and ensure that the government has wide latitude to erect religious monuments and otherwise endorse religion. They express a broad desire to use the machinery of the state to promote their faith.

Understandably, many non-Christians are alarmed by this agenda. As a Baptist Christian, I am alarmed as well. All people should be free from governmental pressure on matters of faith. We should exercise the great freedom we have to practice our faith, but we should not ask the government to advance religion for us. Indeed, when the government promotes faith, it inevitably uses religion for its own ends, which warps religion and weakens its spiritual force. As Baptist preacher John Leland said in 1804: "Experience, the best teacher, has informed us that the fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity has done it more harm than all the persecutions ever did."

While its rulings on these issues have not been perfect, the Supreme Court deserves great credit for striking the right balance. It's a balance Christians should seek to preserve rather than undo.

As Judge Alito's confirmation hearings continue, senators should expose false claims about First Amendment interpretation and judicial motivations. They also should seek to determine whether Alito would uphold the general ban on government-endorsed religion or whether he would drive constitutional interpretation in the direction favored by the Family Research Council.

Stossel Manufacturing Another Crisis in Education

Since the 1980's TV reporters and other researchers have been comparing the academic performance of American students with that of students in other developed countries and declaring that our public schools are failing.

Their shallow research receives much wider dissemination than it deserves because it serves the political purposes of people who have been trying to dismantle public schools since the day they were integrated.

Ethics Daily reports that ABC's John Stossel will have a report critical of "government schools" that will air on 20/20 Friday evening. I suspect that it will add yet another chapter to an ongoing saga of cheap attacks on the underpaid professionals who devote their lives to teaching children in America's underfunded public schools.

Thorough researchers take note of the full demographic information regarding the student population in all the countries that are being compared. When test results for only the best and brightest in other countries are compared with the test results for the entire student population in the U.S. it is easy to give an impression that American schools are falling behind.

For reliable research on public school performance, I look to Dr. David Berliner, professor of Education at the University of Arizona. His book, The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud and the Attack on America's Public Schools, is the best single source for information about the successes and failures of America's system of public education. Here's a link to an online archive of some of his essays, Op-Eds, and papers. I suspect he will write a review and critique of Stossel's report shortly after it is broadcast.

To listen to a podcast of a "Religious Talk" radio interview with Dr. Berliner, here's a link to the first half-hour, and here's a link to the second half-hour of my interview with him.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Is War with Iran Imminent?

William Rivers Pitt has an alarming essay entitled "Attack on Iran: A Looming Folly" that is posted on the Truthout website. Pitt examines the political, economic and military ramifications of such an action.

Pitt, however, is most certainly wrong about the U.S. launching a first strike on Iran. Yesterday, the U.K. Herald reported that Israel is making plans to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. The frightening scenario that Pitt describes could easily follow from our defending Israel after a retaliatory counterstrike by Iran on Israel.

Blue Mosque Pictures

Here are a couple pictures of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey. The pictures were taken on January 4, 2006.

Whatever Became of Bill Gothard?

In the 1970's Bill Gothard led "Basic Youth Conflicts" seminars all over the country in which he proclaimed the virtues of the patriarchal chain of command family structure.

In the 1980's he slipped from the evangelical circuit's limelight.

Silja Tavli has written an essay entitled "Cult of Character" published in In These Times that reveals some of what Gothard has been doing lately.

I did a little research on Gothard's Character Training Institute a couple years ago when I stumbled on information about a local city becoming one of his "character cities." I haven't had time to do any research in depth. My initial impression is that Gothard has found a way to make a handsome living repackaging his old "Character Sketch" material and selling it to public schools and city governments. All he did to give it a secular appearance was to remove the bible quotes and biblical citations.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Hagia Sophia Pictures

Here are a couple pictures from the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey (formerly Constantinople). The pictures were taken on January 4, 2006.

Foy Valentine Has Died

The saddest news I received when I returned from my trip to Turkey was hearing that Foy Valentine had died. Associated Baptist Press and Ethics Daily have posted stories about his sudden demise.

Foy was a friend to every Baptist that had a social conscience. His efforts to educate and involve Southern Baptistgs in the struggle for civil rights during the 1960's are his most enduring legacy. Few people have had such a profoundly good influence on Southern Baptists.

God and Fertility

Stories about a dangerous lack of fertility are becoming common in the conservative press.

Recently, Southern Baptists have become increasingly vocal about the need for biological reproduction.

Today, an article in USA Today links the "death of God" and empty European churches with a warning that Europe is slowly depopulating itself.

It is hard for me to comprehend why low rates of biological reproduction should be of concern to Christians. From the beginning, Christianity was a missionary religion. It is spread by the proclamation of the Word, not by insemination.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

A University is a Terrible Thing to Waste

I'm back from Turkey today.

This is a picture of the ruins of the world's first university. We visited this site at Haran near modern Urfa (ancient Ur -- the childhood home of Abraham) on January 2nd.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Live from Istanbul Turkey

I can't manage to get a picture uploaded.

The Interfaith Dialogue group is in Istanbul today. We visited the Hagia Sopia and the Blue Mosque.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Live from Ankara Turkey

I'm with a group from the Institute for Interfaith Dialogue visiting Turkey. We are stranded at the airport waiting for another flight after our flight Diyarbakir was cancelled due to fog.

The picture is from the ruins at Perge which we visited on December 31st.

To see the blogs related to my essay on "Redeemoing Copnversation" scroll down to Dec. 23rd -- the date that I put them on the blog in draft form. Another new blog will be posted each day, but will appear under the Dec. 23 date.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Indoctrination (Part 4 of 10)

Indoctrination is talk that closes the mind. Indoctrinators speak with unquestioned certainty and unshakable conviction. They believe they possess the truth. They transmit a formula for faith, a uniform way of viewing the world, and a standard form of speech and expression to their pupils. Questioning the formula is not permitted, perceiving different points of view is not tolerated, and deviating from the standard form of speech and expression is not welcome.
This form of speech reduces trust to the small group of the indoctrinated. Suspicion of others can be so intense that adherents often feel threatened by any friendly and open conversation with those who do not accept their doctrine.

Indoctrination is the Sanhedrin commanding Peter and John "not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus."" (Acts 4:1-22)

For previous parts please see postings for Dec. 23rd.