Friday, March 31, 2006

On Prayer and Healing

A recent study on the effects of prayer on those who have undergone heart surgery suggests that prayer has no demonstrable effect.

A few years ago some studies suggested that prayer had beneficial effects. At that time I was asked to review the literature and speak to an association of nurses in Oklahoma about it.

Here's a link to that speech.

Good Night and Goodbye to Ed Schmeltekopf

Ed Schmeltekopf died a couple days ago. He served as Associate Executive Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas for nearly two decades.

Ed was probably the most helpful and selfless denominational executive that I have ever known. While I served on the Executive Board of the BGCT, I took a number of controversial positions and made a few motions and resolutions that made others uneasy. Ed was always quick to encourage conscientious dialogue and discussion, whether he agreed with the position taken or not, and he frequently offered historical information and suggestions that served to strengthen the positions that were being discussed.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Puckett's Scholarship to Aid Women Entering Ministry

Gene Puckett and his wife Robbie have established a scholarship fund that will aid female students at Wake Forest University who are preparing for the ministry. Not people to attract attention to themselves, they named the scholarship in honor of Thomas Meredith, one of the founders of the North Carolina Baptist Convention.

Gene Puckett, a member of the Mainstream Baptist Hall of Fame, has long been a model of courageous journalism. Kudos to him and his wife for their concern to help women get an education that will equip them for the work of ministry.

General Eaton and Secretary Rumsfeld

Here's a story I missed when it was fresh.

Retired General Paul Eaton has called for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. This is what the General formerly in charge of Ft. Benning and recently in charge of training the Iraqi military had to say:

"He has shown himself incompetent strategically, operationally and tactically, and is far more than anyone responsible for what has happened to our important mission in Iraq," wrote Eaton, who now lives in Fox Island, Wash.

He added: "Mr. Rumsfeld must step down."

Chaplains Should Practice Golden Rule

Today's Washington Post has published a story on "Chaplains Group Opposes Prayer Order." Conservative Christians in congress are demanding that President Bush issue a directive guaranteeing the right of chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus whenever praying at events where attendance is mandatory. An organization representing 70% of military chaplains opposes such a directive. An organization of Evangelical chaplains representing around 10% of military chaplains favors the directive.

I think the simplest solution is to mandate that every time an evangelical military chaplain insists on praying in Jesus name at an event where attendance is mandatory, that that chaplain be required to attend an event where a chaplain from a minority faith prays in the name of another god.

It would be interesting to hear what these same chaplains have to say after they've been ordered to listen to a few Wiccan prayers.

Martin Marty on "Resisting Theocracy"

Martin Marty, America's premier church historian, has published an essay entitled "Resisting 'Theocracy.'"  In it he gives very brief reviews of Rabbi James Rudin's Baptizing America and Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy.

Marty thinks the word "theocracy" invokes an extreme and "often demonic" aura of "the other."  Yet he notes that some of those so labeled "might savor and favor" the designation.

It's hard to discern whether Marty is either agreeing or disagreeing with Rudin and Phillips.  Here's a quote from Marty's essay:

Advice to myself, after reading Phillips's counsel: 1) Don't assign to people a label and a position they don't exactly hold; 2) Don't lump all people called "conservative" or "born again" into the mix of the theocracy-minded; 3) Don't label anyone "theocrat" who does not bear most of the marks of the theocrat; 4) Thus remember that, for people of faith on left or right, to try to influence foreign or domestic policy is not by itself a mark of theocracy--not by any means; 5) Do urge fellow citizens to be Madisonian (Federalist Papers X and LI), to work for the republic, against favor or privilege or establishment for particular religions (e.g., "Christianity" or "the biblical worldview"); 6) If you must blame, blame fairly, including the Republicans-not-on-the-right or Democrats-wherever-they-are for leaving a moral vacuum that exploiters can invade and exploit; 7) Make the point that theocracies have always corrupted communities of faith that favor them, noting that such polities are bad for religion; 8) Read and profit from Rudin and especially Phillips as they make their cases; 9) Be ready to link up with others, to see if at this late date the republic can be invigorated and survive; 10) Arrange with people you can trust to help you live with new strategies and old hopes, as you try to find a means of sleeping peacefully after you've read this unsettling script--and then awaken, for thought and action.

The only thing that Marty's essay makes clear is that the word "theocracy," makes him uncomfortable.

A lot of people have begun using the word "Dominionism" to describe the theology that undergirds the modern thrust toward theocracy in America.  I don't think it carries the connotations that make people like Martin Marty ill-at-ease.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On Disrespecting those Truly Persecuted for their Faith

Kudos to Hollyn Hollman for challenging the whining Evangelicals who claim that they are being persecuted every time someone challenges them for taking over the public square and/or coercing people into participating in their acts of public worship. Here's what today's Washington Post quoted her as saying about the so-called "War on Christmas" and other allegations of a "War on Christians":

"Certainly religious persecution existed in our history, but to claim that these examples amount to religious persecution disrespects the experiences of people who have been jailed and died because of their faith," said K. Hollyn Hollman, general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

UCC Still Trying to Advertise

The United Church of Christ has developed a thought provoking advertising campaign called "God is Still Speaking."

The advertisements have proven so provoking that ABC has refused to air their advertisements.

While Fundamentalist Christians are broadcasting their brand of Christianity around the clock on both television and radio, liberal Christians can't even get 30 second advertisements broadcast. Whose message is really being silenced?

Monday, March 27, 2006

Enroute to San Antonio

I'm going to the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission Conference on Emerging Issues in San Antonio.

I'll be away from my computer and probably will not be blogging again until Wednesday.

I may have an essay published on the Ethics Daily website tomorrow (Tuesday). If not that day, then one day this week. I entitled the essay, "America's Late Great Public Schools." I don't know what they will call it.

Advocates for Voluntary Faith Step Up in Missouri

Chuck Stanford, a member of Mainstream Voices of Faith, has an editorial published in yesterday's Kansas City Star that is well worth reading. Opposing legislation that would declare Christianity the "majoritarian religion" Stanford says:

The strength of our country is not in establishing one religion as dominant over all others but in our diversity. After all, our national motto is "E pluribus unum," which means, "From many, one" which expresses the true nature of our great nation.

Those interested in a file from which to make a "E Pluribus Unum" poster (pdf) will find one at this link. The Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United designed the poster and had some produced to distribute to public schools in Oklahoma. If you would like a printed poster, send me an e-mail and I'll respond to it later in the week.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Howell Leaves Louisiana College, Blasts Creedalism

Thomas Howell who has taught at Louisiana College for forty years is leaving Louisiana and going to the faculty at William Jewell College in Missouri. Howell was not reticent about sharing his reasons for leaving Louisiana College:

I'm leaving because Louisiana College is going in a dramatically different direction from what it has in my 40 years here, from what I believe it has always done. From my point of view, the simplest way to put it is, it is moving from education to indoctrination.

Howell describes how the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is being imposed on the faculty:

Basically you have a situation in which -- no one has said yet you must be Baptist, but what they say is you must teach in accordance with and not contrary to what's called the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. And then beyond that, there is a definition that is coming out in the new faculty handbook that is what I suppose they mean by Christian. In other words, I discovered that, as far as I can tell, is believing in the Lord Jesus Christ as savior is not sufficient. That's basically my point of view, and I've always considered myself Christian. But apparently it's not sufficiently Christian, or maybe not the right kind of Christian, or maybe not even Christian at all.

The trend throughout the Southern Baptist Convention has been to move toward what the advocates of it call a truly conservative position. The opponents of it I suppose use the term fundamentalist. From the point of view of the conservatives/fundamentalists, whatever they are, the denominations, particularly the denominational schools, have been infected with liberalism. And so they see it as their duty to root out liberalism and instead put in place a system in which the people who teach and what is taught are in accordance with what has become a Baptist creed.
. . .
For many, many years, Baptists have said historically they are non-creedal people. My grandfather, who was by vocation a Baptist preacher, basically had a sermon -- and I've still got the notes -- called "No pope, no creed" in which he talked about how proud he was that the Baptists did not have a pope, that they never imposed a creed. Well, they've got a creed. Very specifically, we are told at Louisiana College that we must live up to this creed.

What's more, we've employed a vice president for integration of faith and learning whose job it is, according to the faculty handbook, essentially to interpret that creed in case there's doubt, I suppose, as to whether or not something is in accordance with it. He's at least supposed to give advice on it.
Kudos to Howell for standing on his convictions. William Jewell is gaining a fine new faculty member.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Civil War Underway in Bagdad

The UK Independent UK is reporting that the "Battle for Bagdad 'has already started'".

We will see how long it takes for the American media to report this story.

Ideologue Appointed to FISA Court

Judge John Bates, who concocted rationales to subpoena women with whom Clinton flirted and blocked freedom of information requests about Vice President Cheney's Energy Task Force, has been appointed to the secret court that approves domestic wiretapping.

Civil liberties are sure to be safe in these hands.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Turmoil in the SBC

The International Mission Board is taking actions that some think are signs that Jerry Rankin is being encouraged to resign.

Fundamentalist news reports say the North American Mission Board has failed to meet expectations since it was formed in 1997.

A SBC seminary professor says the Baptist Faith is "under assault" from within and says "Hyper-Calvinism . . . is becoming a real problem in the Southern Baptist Convention."

The last time there was so much turmoil in the SBC, moderates were being pushed out of the convention. The moderates are gone. Fundamentalists are fighting with each other.

Now the game is to see who can claim to be most "conservative." They never have been much interested in being Christ-like. That would be too "liberal."

Religious United Nations Discussed

Ethics Daily has posted a story about "Jewish-Muslim Congress Discusses 'United Nations' of Religion."

That is an idea well worth discussing and implementing.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Burleson Muzzled

ABP and Ethics Daily are reporting that the Board of Trustees of the International Mission Board has rescinded its recommendation that blogger Wade Burleson be removed from the Board.

Burleson has agreed to stop being a watch dog and become a lap dog for the IMB. He will no longer bark about the hazardous actions and decisions of the Board on his blog. Now he'll just wag his tail and chase sticks for his IMB masters.

Why bother thinking for yourself? Why bother blogging? Why bother being as loyal as a dog at all? Why not just become a rubber stamp?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Texas Republicans Begin to Question Electronic Vote Counts

If the link to this press release is authentic, a conservative Republican former Texas Supreme Court Justice is challenging the results of a recent primary.

The vote counts showed that in the West Texas county of Winkler he lost the vote by a 100% margin after he had previously won by the county 74% in 2002 and by 65% in 2004.

Inevitably, the voting irregularities that have plagued the last two national elections have begun to effect local primary elections.

Now, perhaps we will see something done to make sure that vote counts can be verified.

Moyers' Speech at Wake Forest

Tom Paine has posted Bill Moyers' recent speech at Wake Forest University under the title "A Time for Heresy." Here's a quote:

We are witnessing a marked turn of events for a nation whose DNA contains the inherent promise of an equal opportunity at "Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." We were not supposed to be a country where the winners take all. The great progressive struggles in our history were waged to make sure ordinary citizens, and not just the rich, share in the benefits of a free society. Today, however, the majority of Americans may support such broad social goals as affordable medical coverage for all, decent wages for working people, safe working conditions, a good education for every child, and clean air and water, but there's no government "of, by, and for the people" to deliver on those aspirations. America is no longer working for all Americans.

How did this happen? By design. For a quarter of a century now a ferocious campaign has been conducted to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual, cultural, and religious frameworks that sustained America's social contract. The corporate, political, and religious right converged in a movement that for a long time only they understood because they are its advocates, its architects, and its beneficiaries.

Their economic strategy was to cut workforces and wages, scour the globe for even cheaper labor, and relieve investors of any responsibility for the cost of society. On the weekend before President Bush's second inauguration, The New York Times described how his first round of tax cuts had already brought our tax code closer to a system under which income on wealth would not be taxed at all and public expenditures would be raised exclusively from salaries and wages.

Their political strategy was to neutralize the independent media, create their own propaganda machine with a partisan press, and flood their coffers with rivers of money from those who stand to benefit from the transfer of public resources to elite control. Along the way they would burden the nation with structural deficits that will last until our children's children are ready to retire, systematically stripping government of its capacity, over time, to do little more than wage war and reward privilege.

Their religious strategy was to fuse ideology and theology into a worldview freed of the impurities of compromise, claim for America the status of God's favored among nations (and therefore beyond political critique or challenge), and demonize their opponents as ungodly and immoral.
If you'd like to hear Moyers say it himself, here's a link to a podcast.

Rick Scarborough in the News Again

Bill Berkowitz has published an essay on the Media Transparency website about Rick Scarborough's "War on Christians?"

Berkowtiz quotes from a blog I posted while I was gathering information to present at the workshop on "Who's Who in the Religious Right" for the Mainstream Baptist Convocation last month.

Who Speaks for God?

Those on the right are constantly searching for someone that they think speaks prophetically every day. They identify the voice of prophecy with unyielding moral denouncements and they think they hear it in the voice of televangelists, fundamentalists, and dominionists.

Those on the left are reluctant to identify anyone that might speak prophetically. Experience has taught them to be suspicious of anyone who presumes to speak for God.

Those in the mainstream or middle believe that, on occassions, God speaks prophetically through one of his servants. At times the prophet speaks in the tones of unyielding morality, but more often the prophet gives voice to an unrelenting demand for justice.

On occassions the voice of the prophetic speaks both in the tones of unyielding morality and the unrelenting demand for justice. Today is one of those days. Today, Ethics Daily has published an essay by Miguel de la Torre in which he speaks out against the Southern Baptist academics who have offered justifications for the use of torture. Here's a little of what De la Torre says:

When this past January the president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (along with three of his professors) defended the use of torture, they represented the antithesis of Jesus' mission found in John 10:10, to "give life and give it abundantly."

To be satanic is to exchange the glory of God for the pride of humans. Religious leaders serve the forces of darkness when they justify death, destruction, torture and thievery with high-sounding words like democracy, liberty and patriotism.

Like the false prophets of old, who prostrated themselves before kings and tickled their ear with flattery so as to carve out for themselves a sphere of power and influence, today's leaders of the Religious Right have traded serving the Prince of Peace for the emperor of war.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Gambling Regulations Vs. Voting Protections

The Washington Post has published a very informative comparison of the procedures that regulate gambling with the procedures that protect the integrity of your vote. The title is revealing: "How to Steal an Election."

Monday, March 20, 2006

Called to Teach, Condemned to Survive

Kudos to Jan Turentine for her essay on "Teaching as Calling." Teaching is a most challenging and demanding calling.

Unfortunately, it has become a calling that is also requiring a vow of poverty.

Teachers are undoubtedly the most poorly paid professionals in American society.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Moderate Baptist Seeks Office In Texas

Kudos to Kerry Horn for entering the contest for a seat at the House of Representatives in Texas.

It is about time that moderate Baptist preachers start paying attention to the quality of leadership that is being elected to serve at their state legislatures.

If more moderate Baptist preachers and laymen paid attention to the agendas being pushed at their state legislatures, we'd be reading a lot more stories like this one.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson the Warmongers

Kudos to Robert Parham for challenging the latest incendiary statements by Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson about Islam. He challenges them for ignoring Jesus' teaching in the sermon on the mount:

"If they would hear and follow Jesus' teachings, then they would halt their anti-Islamic diatribes," Parham said. "The Sermon on the Mount is crystal clear about peacemaking, loving enemies, doing good to others, striving after God?s kingdom and practicing discernment. Regrettably, fundamentalist Christians ignore the Sermon on the Mount, because it is not a manual for war-making, which is at the heart of Christian crusades."

Jesus said that peacemakers are blessed. Unfortunately, this generation has been cursed by having religious warmongers with international megaphones who insist on turning up the volume and vitriol of rhetoric that demonizes all Muslims indiscriminately. There is nothing Christ-like about Graham and Robertson's rhetoric toward Muslims.

They are putting stumbling blocks in the way of generations of Muslims who have yet to hear the gospel as "good news" and not as hate speech. Jesus said it would be better for Pat and Franklin to put millstones around their necks and jump into the sea.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The End of the Golden Rule

The most fundamental principle of morality is the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It is a principle so basic and foundational that in one form or another it has been expressed by nearly every religion.

President Bush, however, has determined that this principle no longer operates in America. He has turned the principle on its head. For President Bush the rule is "Do unto others, before they do whatever you think they are going to do, and call it self-defense."

President Bush's doctrine of pre-emption is immoral, evil, and sub-Christian.

The Problem with Public Corporations

Ethics Daily has published an outstanding essay about "The Private Lives of America's Top Managers." It is a succinct examination of the effect of pressure to meet earnings expectations on a quarterly basis. Here's a quote:
Asked if they would pursue a positive net value project if it meant missing the earnings-per-share estimate for the quarter, 59 percent of financial executives admit that they would kill the project.

Equally troubling, 78 percent of executives admit they would forego real value in order to meet their earnings targets.

In my experience, once senior managers become obsessed with short-term results, it's almost impossible to have a meaningful discussion about treating their workers as valued partners, or delivering real customer service, or pursuing an environmentally sustainable plan.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A Cheater's Arms Race?

Robert Steinback, of the Miami Herald, has a valuable warning about the need for integrity to be restored to our voting system:
There's good reason for Bush supporters and rock-ribbed Republicans to demand corrective action to prevent the anomalies that surely compromised the 2004 election: The risk that failure to curb the abuses will encourage the competition to resort to similar tactics. The last thing anyone wants is a cheater's arms race. Either you stop the cheating, or you encourage more of it.

Rupert Murdock on the Internet and Blogging

I get nervous whenever I find myself agreeing with Rupert Murdoch. In my mind, he epitomizes most of what is wrong with the mainstream media. Nevertheless, the Lord of Fox News makes a lot of sense when he talks about the revolutionary nature of the changes that the internet is making. Here are a couple quotes:

"Never has the flow of information and ideas, of hard news and reasoned comment, been more important. The force of our democratic beliefs is a key weapon in the war against religious fanaticism and the terrorism it breeds."

. . .
Mr Murdoch has undergone a Damascene conversion, admitting he hugely underestimated the power of the web. He said last night: "It is a creative, destructive technology that is still in its infancy, yet breaking and remaking everything in its path. We are all on a journey, not just the privileged few, and technology will take us to a destination that is defined by the limits of our creativity, our confidence and our courage."

Steve Heller the Folk Hero

Steve Heller, the whistleblower that exposed a Diebold cover-up of electronic voting glitches, is becoming a folk hero.

Unfortunately, notoriety does not pay legal bills. Someone needs to open an account where Heller can receive contributions to help pay the bills for his legal defense.

Public Schools and the Culture War

Public Schools are the frontlines in the culture war that conservative Christians are waging in this country. They have been since the day that they were integrated.

Ethics Daily has published a couple insightful articles regarding the latest developments in the battle to destroy America's public school system. Bob Allen has written an essay about a new "Christian book" that "says Public Schools Subvert Parental Rights." He goes on to describe recent challenges to public schools coming from every quarter of the political and religious right. Ed Hogan has written about his "Concerns about the 'Exodus' Movement." The "Exodus" movement is an organized effort to get Christians to remove their children from public schools.

Here's a quote from Hogan's article that talks about the politics of the issue:

Reason # 3 Politics. Steve Blow wrote a great article in the Dallas Morning News recently. He is a Christian op-ed writer who often brings a fresh perspective to issues.

In the article he quotes a home school text. In the text, a conservative is described as a person who holds on to and practices God's words and teachings. Liberals are defined as those who deny God's precepts and teachings.

That is a struggle for me for several reasons. Does that mean that my friends who vote for Democrats have "abandoned God?" Does is mean that my African-American church friends, who are biblically and ethically conservative, have denied their faith by overwhelmingly voting for "liberal" candidates?

Once a student sees something in a "text book" it carries new weight. It is no longer opinion; it is fact. It teaches our children to be intolerant of others who disagree with us politically.

One of the ramifications of extending freedom of religion to everyone is that we protect the right of parents to teach their children to be intolerant. We do not guarantee that we will give them tax dollars in the form of vouchers to subsidize the education of their children in their intolerance.

The right to a good public education that upholds the values of our country's constitution should be guaranteed to everyone. The constitution secures equal respect under the law for persons of all races, religions, and creeds.

If parents want to indoctrinate their children in values that are opposed to the constitution, they should continue to have to pay for it with their own money.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Tunnels to the Past

Associated Press is reporting the discovery of a system of tunnels in Jerusalem that were dug in preparation for the revolt against the Romans in 66-70 AD.

For millennia the official story has been that the uprising was spontaneous. The Romans did not believe it. They razed the city.

Now, two millennia later, the truth is being uncovered. The ancient Jews created an elaborate system of underground tunnels and stocked them with large quantitites of provisions in preparation for a revolt.

Monday, March 13, 2006

VA Blocking Wiccan Symbols on Tombstones

Stars and Stripes is reporting that the Veterans Administration will not permit Wiccan symbols on the headstones and plaques marking the graves of pagan and Wiccan soldiers who have died in the service of our country. Here are some quotes:

The National Cemetery Administration has 38 permitted religious symbols for headstones and plaques but none for pagans or Wiccans. Officials said while they are currently processing requests from two denominations for the Wiccan pentacle, or five-pointed star in a circle, so far no decision has been made.

That has irked some Wiccan groups, who say the department has been dragging its feet for years on recognizing their religion.

. . .

At least five deceased Wiccan veterans are waiting for a decision, and in each case the family has opted to leave blank name markers rather than have the department retrofit the grave sites later.

More from Colleyville

The newspaper in Colleyville, Texas has been inundated with letters and e-mails related to the controversy at the First Baptist Church there.

The pastor as ruler model of church leadership should prove controversial in Baptist life.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Hell's Fury

There must be a special place in hell for those who persecute whistleblowers.

Here are a couple quotes from an essay entitled "Whistling Diebold" at Common Dreams:

Steve Heller, a Los Angeles-based actor whose day job is doing temporary office work, faces three felony charges, all of which are a stretch: felony access to computer data, commercial burglary and receiving stolen property.

If that's all you know, then you've missed the bigger story:
The documents Heller, the temp word processor, happened upon and subsequently printed out revealed a potential crime in progress. . . .

He gave the documents to election-reform advocates, who got them into the hands of the media and state officials. Because he did, data concerning Diebold's use of uncertified software, which was supposed to remain private, became public knowledge. "In one memo," the Los Angeles Weekly wrote, "the law firm warned Diebold, before the March primary, that its use of uncertified vote-counting software in Alameda County, starting in 2002, violated California election law and broke its $12.7 million contract."

And election-reform advocate Peter Soby wrote on Huffington Post: "So in a nutshell, Diebold was defrauding the state government and taxpayers of California, and disenfranchising the voters of California. And the documents prove it."

Friday, March 10, 2006

Neo-Conservatives Abandoning Ship

German newspapers are announcing that the new government in Iraq has already collapsed. That means the U.S. mission in Iraq has failed.

The Neo-conservatives who led the cheers for the war in Iraq are abandoning ship. British newspapers are collating quotes from prominent American neo-conservative "intellectuals" who are already admitting defeat.

The only question that remains is how long it will take for Fox News and this administration to admit what the world already knows.

I'm already fairly certain that the evangelicals who conjured up "just war" rationales and led cheers for this administration's pre-emptive war with Iraq will never admit their error. Richard Land has certainly found his place in history.

Meanwhile, whose son or daughter will be the last soldier to die for this administration's colossal mistake?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Abramoff and the Christian Right

Max Blumenthal has posted a blog that reveals a growing rift within the Christian Right over the influence of Jack Abramoff. Here's a quote:

[Marvin] Olasky presented several Senate-subpeonaed emails between Abramoff and Reed showing Focus on the Family's involvement in their schemes. Olasky then suggested in as subtle a fashion as possible that Dobson and co. should come forward with the full story: "We hope that Focus on the Family will join us in insisting that Mr. Reed stop dodging and start explaining why his emails to Jack Abramoff stated that he was negotiating with Focus. Our sense is that Dr. Dobson is telling the truth, and our logical conclusion is that someone else was not."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

SBC Life to Challenge Herschel Hobb's Theology

Ethics Daily is reporting that SBC Life will be publishing an article that challenges the theology of Herschel Hobbs regarding the doctrine of election.

Since the takeover of the SBC, Baptists have undergone a resurgence of Calvinism.

The article says, "Pelagianians, Arminians and Open Theists will not find a home in our Southern Baptist family."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

'Day of Reckoning' on Horizon

Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary under the Clinton Administration, says the U.S. is headed for a 'Day of Reckoning.' Here's a quote:

While the country is recovering from a recession in 2001 with decent overall economic growth and a return of information technology business, there are three storm clouds on the horizon in the next year or two, he said. They are high oil prices, a $400 billion U.S. budget deficit, and record high levels of consumer spending and record low levels of consumer savings.

OU Doing Religion Right

Kudos to Cole Stephenson and the other members of the OU Religious Studies Club for securing a "Reflection Room" where students of all faiths and no faith can go to pray and/or reflect.

The room creates a safe, proselytization free, debate free environment where students can find silence and a measure of solitude for personal prayer and reflection.

In the picture, Cole is standing next to a marble cistern inside the Hagia Sophia in Instanbul, Turkey.

On Turkish Muslims and Christians

Crosswalk has posted a news brief that says "There is a huge rift between Muslims and Christians in Turkey, preceded by centuries of violence, enmity and antagonism. 'Turks don't like Christians.'"

Having recently been on a trip to Turkey sponsored by the Institute for Interfaith Dialog, I can honestly say that I saw no signs of enmity between Christians and Muslims during my visit. In fact, the numerous and varied personal contacts I had with people around the country were all very cordial. Religious differences were openly discussed in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust.

There are extremists in all faiths and all societies who foster hate and distrust of those who differ with them. To whatever degree that there is truth in the Crosswalk brief, it demonstrates how important it is for both Christians and Muslims to support the efforts of groups like the Institute for Interfaith Dialog to foster mutual understanding and respect.

The picture above, taken by Cole Stephenson, was taken while our group visited a worship center at Belek near Antalya, Turkey that was built by Turkish truck drivers. A Jewish Temple, Islamic Mosque, and Christian Chapel all share a common courtyard. Below are a few of the pictures that I took at Belek.

IRS Cracks Down on Church Politicking

Melissa Rogers has published a valuable story about "IRS Gives Churches Helpful Warning about Politicking." Here's a quote:

It seems significant that the service chose to release these materials in Ohio. Several Ohio churches and other religious organizations recently have been accused of intervening in the 2006 gubernatorial race in favor of Republican candidate Ken Blackwell by repeatedly featuring Blackwell at their events, among other things.

The IRS report concludes by recommending increased use of tax-exempt status revocation in appropriate future cases, believing an adequate foundation for such action is being laid.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Publisher Threatened Over Story About Social Security Scam

Raw Story, an online publisher, reports that it has been threatened with a lawsuit for publishing a story about a scam by a Jack Abramoff linked "conservative" non-profit soliciting money for political donations from senior citizens who were concerned about saving Social Security.

The Final Solution for Welfare Reform

It looks like the Bush administration is about to implement "the final solution" for welfare reform -- kill the documentation of information about those needing and receiving welfare assistance.

Here's a link to a story about th 432 economists and social scientists who have signed a letter opposing the elimination of funding for the Survey of Income and Program Participation.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Regarding the Institute for Religion and Democracy

Kudos to AJ Weaver at Talk to Action for his essay "The Radical Right Assault on Mainline Protestantism and the National Council of Churches of Christ."

It is a very good introduction to the history, methods and tactics of the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A Portent of Things to Come

A Missouri state legislator has submitted a resolution to declare Christianity the state's official "majority" religion.

This is a portent of things to come in other states.

Many of the evangelical Christians who are active in politics expect the new "strict constructionist" judges on the Supreme Court to reverse decisions that apply the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to the states. In their minds, each state has the right to establish a majority religion and treat persons of minority faith as though they were second class citizens.

Sooner or later, this issue will certainly be re-decided by the U.S. Supreme court.

Colleyville Pastor-Ruler Expels Insubordinate Members

Frank Harber, the pastor-ruler of First Baptist Church of Colleyville, wants to relocate the congregation. Some members of his congregation questioned the wisdom of the move. On February 20, 2006 four of them received notice via Fed Ex that they were "being removed from the membership" of the congregation.

Despots and tyrants often brook greater dissent than some of the new pastor-rulers in Southern Baptist Churches.

It's just a matter of time before all the churches that adopt the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement face some kind of crisis like this.

Bush's Faith-based Initiative Marks 5 years

Bill Berkowitz has posted a story at Media Transparency about "A Quiet Fifth Anniversary for Bush's Faith-based Initiative." Here's a quote:

Documentation of any results achieved by the president's faith-based initiative, like the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, is missing in action. Other than using his bully pulpit to praise his "armies of compassion," and repeat suspect anecdotes, the president has yet to show that the taxpayers' money is well spent. Ordinarily government agencies that have handed out millions of dollars would have to report to Congress and the public about what we've gotten for the money.

Unverifiable and unfalsifiable assertions about the role of religion in social services are the foundation of the president's faith-based initiatives. If minority faiths ever got some of this money and should scientific studies ever be conducted that yield evidence that Scientologists, Buddhists, Christian Scientists, or Wiccans can provide treatment programs with results that are similar to or better than those devised by Christians, the foundations for the majoritarian faith might be shaken.

The Problem with Political Liberalism

Eric Alterman in his essay "With God on Our Side" provides a quote that succinctly describes the problem with political liberalism in America:

Liberals, as Michael Kazin put it, have morphed in the public imagination "from people who looked, dressed and sounded like Woody Guthrie to people who look, dress and sound like Woody Allen."

On the Creativity of Japanese Recycling Efforts

Anyone who has driven past the confined animal feed lots in Western Texas and Oklahoma may find the AP story about "Japanese make gasoline from cattle dung" interesting. They may have found the solution to one of our most onerous olfactorious problems.

In a few years, however, I'm not sure we'll want to know the source of the vanilla smell in our shampoo and candles.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

North Carolina Baptists Lurching to the Right

Kudos to Ken Boaz, pastor of Booneville Baptist Church in Booneville, N.C., for resigning on principle from the governing board of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. In his letter of resignation Boaz wrote:

"My resignation has everything to do with the evident direction of the convention. More and more, it is quite clear that our state convention is becoming a subsidiary of the Southern Baptist Convention. That is a path I choose not to take."

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Oklahoma Legislature Preparing to Challenge Constitution

Yesterday, more than 80% of the voting members of the House of Representatives, approved a bill that would appropriate state funds for the Oklahoma Office of Faith-Based Initiatives to distribute to faith-based organizations. The Constitution of the State of Oklahoma has a very strong prohibition against such a distribution of state funds. It reads:

Section II-5: Public Money or Property -- Use for Sectarian Purposes.

"No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such."
The Oklahoma Office of Faith-Based Initiative has never been approved or authorized by the Oklahoma state legislature. It was set up by the executive fiat of former Governor Frank Keating. Prior to this legislation, the executive in charge of that office always justified the legality of his efforts by claiming that none of the funds he received in his office came from Oklahoma state taxpayers. All of his funding came from federal money.

The executive in charge of Oklahoma's faith-based office promoted his office by contending that he was assisting faith-based organizations in applying for and receiving federal funds. After five years, these efforts have proven singularly unsuccessful. What he has really succeeded in doing is helping to redistribute funding that had already been going to left-leaning non-profits and social service agencies to a handful of right-wing faith-based organizations.

A Review of Rabbi Rudin's Baptizing of America

Bob Allen at Ethics Daily has written a good review of Rabbi James Rudin's The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us.

Allen describes Rudin's explanation of the reasons for the ambivalence within the Jewish community toward the Christocratic Right:
America's Jewish community, Rudin says, is divided and ambivalent about the Christian right's support for Israel. Many Jews are uncomfortable with evangelicals' strong Christological basis for supporting Israel, and most are uncomfortable with active campaigns to convert Jews to Christianity.

Some Jews eagerly accept evangelical support for Israel and look the other way at "the attempted imposition of a Christocratic agenda on the country," he writes. "For such Jews, Israel's survival and security trumps all other concerns."

"Other Jews remain aware of the evangelicals' domestic goals and expressing suspicions about working with that Christian community on any issue, even Israel."
Rudin's book is well worth reading. He makes at least one mistake. He baptizes me a Presbyterian when he quotes one of my speeches. While the speech was delivered at a Presbyterian church, I've always been a Mainstream Baptist.