Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Southern Baptists Organizing for Dominion in Europe

Key leaders of the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) are preparing to meet with European Fundamentalist leaders in June at Oradea, Romania. Paige Patterson, O.S. Hawkins and Richard Land are rumored to be preparing to speak at what is being billed as a "Missions Conference" at Emanuel University in Oradea. Patterson, President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was one of the architects of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. Hawkins is President of GuideStone Financial Resources the agency that manages 8.5 Billion dollars worth of pensions, annuities and trusts for Southern Baptist ministers and institutions. Land heads the SBC's Washington, D.C. based political action arm.

Organizing the conference for European Fundamentalists is Paul Negrut, a minister at Second Baptist Church of Oradea. Second Baptist Oradea, a European megachurch with several thousand members, is the largest Baptist church in Romania and the second largest Baptist church in Europe. Romania has the largest percentage of Baptists per capita of any country in Europe.

Negrut is serving his final year as the President of the Baptist Union (BU) of Romania. He has been a critic of the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and a strong supporter of strengthening ties with the SBC. Last year, he unsuccessfully proposed that the Romanian BU should reconsider its links with the BWA after the SBC withdrew from BWA.

There is little doubt that the SBC is sending some of it's heavy-weights into Romania to attempt to weaken the BWA and organize a world-wide Baptist body under SBC control. Last summer Negrut organized a similar meeting between SBC leaders and European Fundamentalists in Warsaw, Poland but that meeting proved unproductive.

BCE's Workshop at CBF's General Assembly

The Baptist Center for Ethics will be sponsoring a viewing of Theologians Under Hitler at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's General Assembly at 2:00 PM on Friday June 23.

This video is essential viewing for all moderate, mainstream Baptists.

Opportunities for College Graduates Substandard

The Economic Policy Institute reports that recent college graduates are facing a grim job market. Here's a quote:
The labor market for young college graduates, those ages 25 to 35, is slowly improving, but remains much weaker than before the last recession in 2001. It has been 20 years since young college graduates have experienced employment rates as low as those experienced in the last five years.
Here's another:

Young college graduates are still facing lower real wages than they did five years ago.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Current Administration Called Renegade

Former Vice President Al Gore voiced a sharp critique of the rightward thrust of the current administration during an interview with a British newspaper. He said,

"If you have a renegade band of rightwing extremists who get hold of power, the whole thing goes to the right."

Don't Jump the Gun on Iran

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency says the world should not "jump the gun" in dealing with Iran.

He contends that Iran poses "no immediate threat."

Willing Accomplices

The Star Telegram has published an outstanding essay by Mitchell Schnurman entitled "Enron's Enablers Failed to Do Jobs." Here's a quote:

Enron's accountants didn't wave a red flag. Investment bankers didn't balk. Lawyers didn't object. The big banks didn't withhold cash. Credit analysts didn't downgrade the investment rating. Wall Street analysts didn't raise doubts.

And the news media, which had no financial incentive to pump up the Enron story, nonetheless never challenged the notion that the company was one of the great innovators.

The Securities and Exchange Commission didn't scrutinize Enron's financial reports, either -- until it was too late. But the agency did issue rulings that allowed Enron to bolster its numbers (with mark-to-market accounting) and enter the utility business, where it ultimately ripped off California for billions of dollars.

For those who still think "less government oversight" and "deregulation" is the cure for all that ails our society, here's another quote:
Is it a coincidence that hundreds of savings and loans went belly up after deregulation? A similar pattern emerged in telecommunications, with the frauds at Global Crossing and WorldCom. Enron's rise and fall paralleled the deregulation of natural gas and utilities.

Even airline deregulation, an unquestioned boon for consumers, had a price-fixing scandal.

Of course, this doesn't mean that every company cheats and steals when its industry deregulates. But it's a good bet that many players go too far -- and that the public can't rely on private checks and balances to save the day.

Whatever happened to the Calvinist doctrine of total depravity? Why do so many capitalists think corporations will act in ways that are less depraved than individuals?

Frankly, my experience shows that the reverse is true. Ken Lay, private individual, would never think of robbing a bank while Ken Lay, CEO, didn't think twice about rigging energy markets to bankrupt "grandma's" in California.

Ohio Legislates Schoolhouse Blasphemy

Ethics Daily reports that "Ohio Law Lets God Inside Schoolhouses." God, whose presence is everywhere, is not likely to be impressed. In fact, the God of the Bible specifically forbade invoking the name of the Divine in ways that the legislation's sponsor intends.

Ohio's legislation authorizes posting national and state mottoes in public schoolhouses:

The national motto is "In God We Trust"; the state's is "With God All Things Are Possible."

"The goal is to make sure that students have a basis to talk about the historical aspects of how this country was founded," said state Rep. Keith Faber, who sponsored the bill.

"I don't think the mottoes are necessarily religiously based," the western Ohio Republican said.

Faber language treats God as an artifact of American history. God, in his mind, has been reduced to a national mascot. Or, perhaps, God has merely become a magic talisman to ward off evil in public schools.

This is precisely what God prohibited in the Decalogue when he commanded, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain." (Exodus 20:7)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ritter Skewers Bush and Blair

Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, has posted a penetrating analysis of Bush and Blair's recent press conference admiting errors regarding Iraq. Here's a quote:

Void of any genuine reflection as to what actually went wrong, and lacking in any reality-based process which seeks to formulate a sound way out of Iraq, these two politicians are simply continuing the self-delusional process of blundering down a path in Iraq that can only lead to more death and destruction.

Friday, May 26, 2006

SBC Leaders Exiting Public Schools

Robert Parham at Ethics Daily has posted a story enetiled "Where Do Southern Baptist Leaders Go to School?"

It looks like a lot of SBC leaders have already exited the public schools.

Private schools and homeschools are increasingly the norm. This quote about Paige Patterson seems typical:

During Pattersons presidency at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, he bragged that over 100 faculty, staff and students were homeschooling their children.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

America's Most Influential Stem Cell Scientists





Defcon has placed an advertisement in the New York Times inviting Americans to "Meet America's Most Influential Stem Cell Scientists." Here's a link to a PDF file of the ad. Be advised that you'll need a copy of adobe acrobat to view it. A smaller, web version can be seen at this link.

Burleson Draws Line in the Sand

Wade Burleson, the blogging trustee at the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board, was at the center of controversy again at a recent IMB Board meeting. This time Burleson says, "I've drawn a line in the sand. We must drop the narrowing of the parameters."

Burleson and other young SBC pastors are chaffing at the lack of "free and open debate" within the SBC.

Sooner or later, the scales are going to fall from the eyes of Burleson and other young SBC pastors and they are going to realize that from the beginning the controversy in the SBC has always been about power. Tightening parameters has always been a means to end. It's a way for the ruling cabal to increase their power.

Unless Burleson and others are possessed of an inordinate will-to-power of their own, the best thing to do is walk away. It's about twenty years too late to save the SBC.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Government Funding Churches

The Casper Star-Tribune has published a story about how the government is funding churches in Wyoming. The money is being laundered through an organization called Faith Initiatives of Wyoming.

Faith Initiatives sounds like an intermediary organization similar to the Cornerstone Assistance Networks in Oklahoma.

Mainstream Baptists and Americans United in Oklahoma have been challenging the use of intermediaries to launder money to churches for more than five years. Here's a link to information about the faith-based program in Oklahoma.

Brad Yarbrough, the Director of Oklahoma's Faith-Based Office recently resigned. Now would be an opportune time to close this office.

Oklahoma's Democratic Governor, however, reportedly thinks it expedient to fill the position and continue using the office to influence churches for political purposes.

Currency Crisis Ahead

Russian President Vladmir Putin has called for a "petro-ruble" that will compete with "petro-dollars" in the world currency markets. Plans to make the ruble fully convertible on world markets will be complete by July 1.

The value of the dollars we use to pay for foreign oil will probably decline. If it does the price of gasoline will probably spike again.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Poll: 45% want 9-11 Reinvestigated

A Zogby Poll indicates that 45% of Americans would like Congress or an International Tribunal to re-investigate the 9-11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Here's a quote:

Poll sponsors see knowledge of the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7 [a third tower] as a bellwether issue, because if people do not know this elementary fact, they have probably not been exposed to any independent 9/11 research at all. Since only 52% of respondents had ever heard of this collapse and 45% support a reinvestigation, it may be reasonably inferred that a public fully informed of all the unreported 9/11 facts might support a new investigation by a margin of 80% or more.

Ben Cohen's Oreo Cookie Budget Movie

AlterNet has published a noteworthy interview of Ben Cohen, one of the founders of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream.

Ben's brief "Oreo Cookie Movie" using oreo cookies to explain the federal budget makes high finance interesting and understandable.

"True Majority" is using the video to recruit members. I offer no opinions for or against that organization. The video is well worth watching.

Moyers at Hamilton College

Common Dreams has posted a copy of Bill Moyers Baccalaureate Address at Hamilton College under the title "Pass the Bread." Here's a quote:

So I have been thinking seriously about what I might say to you in this Baccalaureate service. Frankly, I'm not sure anyone from my generation should be saying anything to your generation except, "We're sorry. We're really sorry for the mess you're inheriting. We are sorry for the war in Iraq. For the huge debts you will have to pay for without getting a new social infrastructure in return. We're sorry for the polarized country. The corporate scandals. The corrupt politics. Our imperiled democracy. We're sorry for the sprawl and our addiction to oil and for all those toxins in the environment. Sorry about all this, class of 2006. Good luck cleaning it up."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Thomas Jefferson's Nuances (revised)

Picture by Jim Atherton

The Fort Worth Star Telegram has published an interesting article by Gregory Tomlin about Thomas Jefferson.

Here's a quote:

Whether Jefferson borrowed subconsciously from the Baptist Roger Williams may never be known, but the nonconformist tradition of Williams certainly flows through Jefferson's pen. Williams, who lived a century prior to Jefferson, wrote in 1644 that there should be erected "a wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world."


Some of Tomlin's nuances, however, lean more toward twenty-first century Christian Nationalism than toward eighteenth century Jeffersonianism. Jefferson, would not have approved of the government endorsing religious symbols any more than he approved of the government endorsing religious holidays.

On Shooting Messengers

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez appears to take cliche's seriously.

This administration doesn't like reporters exposing their illegal activities. So, "If you don't like the message, shoot the messenger."

The Attorney General is threatening to prosecute journalists who publish stories based on leaks by whistleblowers. Unless, of course, the leak is authorized by the White House operatives to smear undercover CIA agents.

Amid revelations about the NSA spying program that reportedly eavesdrops on everyone, information is dribbling out about key targets of the eavesdropping. Chief among them is Brian Ross the Chief Investigative Correspondent for ABC News who reported about the CIA's secret prisons in Poland and Romania.

Am I still living in the USA? Or, is this the Twilight Zone?

John Dean Interview

Progressive Magazine has published an interesting interview of John Dean, former White House Counsel to former President Nixon. Here's an excerpt:

The reason I wrote a book with the title "Worse than Watergate," and I was very cautious in using that title, is because there was a real difference: Nobody died as a result of the so-called abuses of power during Nixon's Presidency. You might make the exception of, say, the secret bombing of Cambodia, but that never got into the Watergate litany per se. You look at Bush's abuses, and Cheney's -- to me, it's a Bush/ Cheney Presidency -- and today, people are dying as a result of abuse of power. That's much more serious.

Q: Dying in Iraq?

Dean: Dying in Iraq. God knows where they're dying. In secret prisons. To me the fact that a Vice President can go to Capitol Hill and lobby for torture is just unbelievable. Just unbelievable! The fact that a small clique of attorneys in the Department of Justice can write how can we get around the Geneva Conventions so that we can torture during interrogations -- I can't even get their mentally. And when you read their briefs, they didn't get there mentally.

Q: The amazing thing about your book is that it was written before Cheney went up to lobby for torture, before the NSA scandal broke, and before the Valerie Plame thing.

Dean: They just keep walking into my title and adding additional chapters.

Podcast: Monument to Theocracy

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 5-21-06 "Religious Talk" radio broadcast of a discussion of the Ten Commandments-Mayflower Compact monument on the Haskell County courthouse lawn in Stigler, Oklahoma.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Podcast of 5/21/06 State of Belief

Here's a link to the podcast of the May 21, 2006 broadcast of The Interfaith Alliance's State of Belief radio program.

Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy



This is a four part series about the Ten Commandments Monument on the Haskell County Courthouse lawn in Stigler, Oklahoma.

Part One, gives an opinion on whether the monument is religious in nature and whether it endorses biblical religion.

Part Two, gives and opinion on whether the monument endorses a sectarian interpretation of the Bible and whether it endorses a Christian covenant.

Part Three, gives an opinion on whether the monument could be perceived to endorse a Christian theocracy.

Part Four, gives and opinion on whether the monument strongly endorses a Christian democratic theocracy.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

State of Belief Interview

!!!SPECIAL EDITION!!!

This week on State of Belief Radio
The Interfaith Alliance exposes assault on Protestant churches

This Sunday, May 21, on The Interfaith Alliance Foundation's radio show State of Belief, Rev. Welton Gaddy exposes the coordinated effort to undermine mainline Protestantism -- and render America's largest denominations incapable of standing up to right wing politics.

This unprecedented look into the takeover of America's churches reveals the ugly truths, personal experiences, and exhaustive research Rev. Welton Gaddy and his guests:

Dr. Bruce Prescott, Executive Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists

Dr. John Dorhauer, minister for the St. Louis Association of the United Churches of Christ, and

United Methodist pastor and research psychologist Dr. Andrew Weaver

Welton offers listeners a wake-up call: "The Southern Baptist Convention was lost not because of those trying to take it over, but because of people arguing that it wasn't a big deal."

This issue has never before been discussed on national radio, and continues State of Belief's -- and The Interfaith Alliance's -- focus on how religion is being manipulated for partisan political purposes.

State of Belief: religion and radio, done differently.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Do You Trust Fox News?

I don't.

Here's one of the reasons why from "Why is the Media Downplaying our Voting Scandal?"

The stations listed as first choice by respondents and the percentage of respondents who thought the election [2004] was stolen: CNN 70%; MSNBC 65%; CBS 64%; ABC 56%; Other 56%; NBC 49%; FOX 0.5%.

Goldberg's Guide for the Perplexed


A lot of Americans are downright perplexed about the increasingly militant and domineering role that religion is playing in Washington, D.C. and in State Capitals throughout the country. For some, the Terri Schiavo case and rallies of powerful politicians and preachers fomenting revolt against the judiciary have exposed a jarring disconnect between current political reality and the understanding that most Americans have of the place of religion in public life.

For those who didn't see this coming and wonder what is next on the horizon, I highly recommend Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. It is the best of a torrent of recent books about the religious right, dominionism, and theocracy in America. Goldberg uses the term "Christian Nationalism" to accurately and succinctly describe the religious ideology binding together all the diverse strands of thought and theology within the religious right.

I highly recommend this book. It is essential reading for all moderate, mainstream Baptists. Most of the information from my workshop on "Who's Who in the Religious Right" (presented at the last national Mainstream Convocation) is confirmed and expounded upon in superb narrative style in this book.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Retiree Repents of Crimes to Support Wife's Cancer Treatments

Harpers Magazine has published a 74 year old Oklahoma retiree's confession to selling cocaine to support his wife's cancer treatments.

He agreed to mow more lawns to meet his wife's expenses.

My guess is that he needs to be mowing lawns more than 100 hours every day, seven days a week to meet expenses.

Anne Lown and the Salvation Army

I got a copy of Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming yesterday and started reading this superb book last night.

One story that Michelle told stopped me in my tracks.  The story disturbed me so much that I had to put the book down and walk around the block to lower my blood pressure.  It was the story about the "Christianization" of the social services division of the Salvation Army.

I have a vague recollection of reading newspaper articles about the Salvation Army receiving federal money while purging itself of homosexuals and non-Christians, but Michelle's account of her interview of Anne Lown, daughter of the nobel prize winning physician and peace activist Dr. Bernard Lown, personalized the issue and clarified the values that are at stake.

Here's a quote  from Kingdom Coming:
    Lown, who had been an employee at the Salvation Army for twenty-four years and oversaw 800 workers, said religion had never had anything to do with her job.  As long as she'd been there, the New York social services division had been independent from the evangelical side of the organization.  Her office ran more public programs than any Salvation Army division in the United States, most of them for children.  Almost all of the money came from the state and local government, and Lown assumed that it would be illegal to infuse taxpayer-funded services with Christianity.  Her division had gay, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu employees, reflecting the city it served. (p. 130)
Before this administration took office, it was "illegal to infuse taxpayer-funded services with Christianity."  When those responsible for enforcing the law and upholding the constitution refuse to do so and actively work to undermine it, anything is permitted.

Apparently, the Salvation Army decided to take advantage of this administration's lax enforcement of the first amendment.  Colonel Paul Kelly was brought in to "heighten the agency's evangelical aspect."  Here's another quote:
    According to the complaint filed by the NYCLU, Kelly asked the human resources director at the Salvation Army headquarters, Maureen Schmidt, whether one of the human resource staffers at the social services division, Margaret Geissman, was Jewish, because she had a "Jewish sounding name."

     Schmidt told him she was not.  Geissman, who described herself to me as a conservative Catholic, told me that Schmidt then started asking her to point out gay and non-Christian employees at the division.  She refused to answer, but day after day Schmidt kept pushing.  "She said Kelly wanted to know and that eventually they were going to find out about everyone," Geissman told me.  "She said the new vision for the Salvation Army was to have Christians and Salvationists and not to have homosexuals." (p. 131)
Anyone who has studied the holocaust knows the resonances of  these conversations.

Our Endangered Fourth Amendment

Lawrence Tribe, Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard, had some unusually harsh words to say in an Op-Ed about the NSA eavesdropping program. Here's what he had to say:

This president's defiance of statutes by the dozens is constitutionally alarming. But the matter goes deeper still. Even if Congress were to repeal the laws securing telephone privacy, or if phone companies found loopholes to slip through when pressured by government, the Constitution's Fourth Amendment shield for ''the right of the people to be secure" from "unreasonable searches" is a shield for all seasons, one that a lawless president, a spineless Congress, and a complacent majority of citizens -- who are conditioned to a government operating under a shroud of secrecy while individuals live out their lives in fishbowls -- cannot be permitted to destroy, for the rest of us and our children.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Will Uncle Sam Play it Again?

Paul Krugman says, "Yes He Would."

Unfortunately, I think he's right.

I pray he's not.

Religious Right Ducking for Cover

As the GOP's approval rating is taking a beating from the war in Iraq, the Religious Right is ducking for cover. At a recent meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy, James Dobson, Richard Viguerie and other leaders of the Religious Right spoke loudly about their disatisfaction with the GOP's majority party leadership on their pet social issues.

Dobson and other Religious Right leaders are threatening to withhold their support in the mid-term elections.

Doing so would give them a convenient way to excuse themselves from their inability to deliver the support that the GOP needs to maintain its majority after the mid-term elections.

Another Endorsement for Floyd

ABP is reporting that Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Seminary, has endorsed Ronnie Floyd for President of the SBC.

Once again fundamentalists are reaffirming that political loyalties take precedence over commitment to cooperative giving. When everyone finally gets the message, the SBC will be able to fold up its tent.

If everyone gave 0.24% of their budget to the Cooperative Program, there wouldn't be any SBC institutions.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Rift Between Patterson and Chapman Exposed

Greg Warner is reporting a rift between Paige Patterson and Morris Chapman over the nomination of Ronnie Floyd for President of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Patterson has endorsed Floyd. Chapman wants a leader who demonstrates strong support for the Cooperative Program.

We've been through this before. Patterson and his cronies prevailed the last time this issue arose. Chapman was part of Patterson's cabal at that time.

If Chapman is now opposed to supporting candidates with stingy giving records, perhaps he should express some repentance and remorse for supporting them in the past.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Podcast: Michael Korenblit Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 5-14-06 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Michael Korenblit of the Respect Diversity Foundation and author of Until We Meet Again. Michael tells the story of his parents, both survivors of the holocaust. It is a story of faith, hope, love, courage, remembrance and reconciliation.

This is one 30 minute podcast that you won't forget.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

On Being a "Red Letter Christian"

An article in the United Methodist Reporter quotes Tony Campolo as identifying himself as a "red letter Christian" and says Jim Wallis and Brian McLaren are also using the label. I hadn't noticed the use of the term before reading this article.

I like it. It emphasizes the truth that, while all the words of the Bible are authoritative, some words have greater weight than others.

In my mind, the words of Jesus carry greater weight than the words of anyone else. I guess that makes me a "red letter Christian."

Friday, May 12, 2006

On the Iranian President's Letter to President Bush

Here's a link to the letter from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, to President Bush.

Reading source documents for yourself is better than reading reports about them.

Rice, Rumsfeld and the Red Cross

Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are being blamed for the U.S. policy that is refusing the International Red Cross access to our secret detention centers for terrorism suspects.

Why can't the Red Cross check on the health and treatment of these prisoners?

Leading SBC Presidential Candidate Stingy in Giving

ABP is reporting that the church pastored by Ronnie Floyd, the leading candidate to be elected President of the SBC this June, 0.27% of its receipts to Cooperative Program giving.

If that is true, and it is characteristic of the giving of most SBC Presidents since the Fundamentalist takeover in 1979, then Floyd's church should be described as stingy in regard to missions outside the local church.

To whom much has been given, much should be expected.

Is the U.S. Preparing to Strike Iran?

The latest poll shows the President's approval rating down to 29%.

Nevertheless, he still the "decider."

Raw Story is reporting that military and intelligence sources say preparations are being made to make an air strike on Iran possible by June.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Reinstated Missionaries Challenge IMB Spin

Reinstated missionaries, Wyman and Michelle Dobbs, are challenging the spin that the International Mission Board put on the story about their reinstatement. They deny that they have agreed to do anything different from what they were already doing. They say they were following IMB policy all along.

Here's a link to the story from Associated Baptist Press. Here's a link to a blog that record the Dobb's reply to the IMB.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Speaking Truth to Power

Don Hazen's essay, "Stephen Colbert: New American Hero" provides an insightful appraisal of the significance of Colbert's April 30 performance before the White House Correspondent's Association dinner. Colbert was speaking truth to power.

In times past preachers and poets were known to do that. In twenty-first century America it appears the mantel of the prophetic has fallen to comedians.

Here's a link to video of Colbert's performance. Be advised that those who flinch in the face of unpleasant truths may find the performance disconcerting.

Fundamentalist Trek, The Next Generation

Since 1979 having "conservative" credentials has nothing to do with having a place in Southern Baptist life. Richard Jackson and Winfred Moore had impeccable "conservative" credentials until they became nominees for president of the SBC in opposition to approved fundamentalist takeover candidates. SBC life has been all about politics since 1979.

Wade Burleson and the next generation of Southern Baptists are now learning that for themselves. Here's a link to the ABP story about the ongoing campaign to oust Burleson from his position as trustee of the International Mission Board.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On Allstate's Hands

Allstate advertises that "You're in good hands" when you buy their insurance.

Michael Homan, a homeowner in New Orleans, has a different opinion.

Thanks to Howie Luvzus for calling attention to Michael's difficulties.

On Prayer and Conscience

Ethics Daily has posted a story about how a bill for the military in Congress has a provision that would allow chaplains to pray according to their "Conscience."

Most of what I have to say is in the article. Here's the full text of the comments and a link that I gave to Ethics Daily reporter Bob Allen:

I think the bill reflects a mistaken understanding of conscience.

Conscience is looking at yourself through the eyes of others. Here's a link that explains this definition more fully.

If chaplains are praying out loud in public, they need to look at what they are doing through the eyes of the people listening to their prayers. If people of minority faiths are present, they need to be considerate of their consciences and say non-sectarian prayers.

If God is the audience for their prayers, they ought to follow Jesus' instructions and go into a closet and pray in secret. (Matthew 6:5-6)

If prayers by chaplains are merely perfunctory and part of their ceremonial duties, they are not addressed to God.

If prayers are addressed to God, it is an act of worship. It violates the First Amendment to force everyone to participate in an act of worship.

Oklahoman's Death at Center of Investigation in Iraq

Fern Holland, a human rights worker from Oklahoma, was among the first American civilian casualities of the war in Iraq. Now the New York Times is reporting that the investigation into her death and the missing money she was carrying is being linked to corrupt American officials in Iraq.

America's best and brightest are dying to line the pockets of murderers and thieves in high places.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Mohler Repeats Call to Exit Public Schools

Thanks to Ethics Daily for calling attention to Al Mohler's recent call for an "exit strategy" from public schools. As Bob Allen points out, this is a repetition of a call Mohler first issued a year ago.

Here's a link to the blog that I wrote in response to Mohler's on this issue last year. Later, it was quoted by the Village Voice.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

On America's Secular State and Religious People

Dr. William Martin, Professor of Sociology at Rice University and author of With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, has just published a paper entitled "Secular State, Religious People -- The American Model." It is in PDF format, so you'll need Adobe Acrobat to read it. Here's a link to where you can download a free copy of Adobe Acrobat.

This paper is essential reading for Mainstream Baptists and advocates for church/state separation.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy, Part 4


DOES THE MONUMENT STRONGLY ENDORSE A CHRISTIAN DEMOCRATIC THEOCRACY?

Engraving both the Mayflower Compact and the Ten Commandments on the same monument sends a strong signal that a Christian democratic theocracy is being endorsed. This is demonstrated by the signal importance of the Ten Commandments in the controversy that led to the expulsion of Roger Williams from the Massachusetts Bay theocracy.

In 1631 a Separatist minister named Roger Williams, educated at Cambridge under the patronage of Sir Edward Coke, fled persecution in England and arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was offered the pulpit of the Congregational church in Boston but he declined it because his "conscience was persuaded against the national church." He lived at Plymouth Plantation and preached at the church there from the fall of 1631 to the fall of 1633. Williams made some powerful enemies while he was there. He believed in the separation of church and state and religious liberty for everyone -- whether they were "paganish, Jewish, Turkish or anti-Christian."

[Williams wrote, "It is the will and command of God that, since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations and countries, and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer, to wit, the sword of God's Spirit, the word of God." He added, that "True civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either Jew or Gentile." Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, For Cause of Conscience ed. Richard Groves (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2001), pp. 3-4.]

Consonant with his convictions about religious liberty, Williams did not believe that civil government should enforce all of the Ten Commandments. He believed that civil government should only enforce the "second table" of the law -- the last six commandments. The commands of the "first table" of the law -- the commands regarding religion and worship -- he believed should be left to private, individual conscience.
[Williams wrote, "All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship." Bloudy Tenent, p. 3. Note that Williams agreed with the Massachusetts authorities on the division and numbering of the Ten Commandments. He also agreed that all of the commandments were binding on Christians. He simply opposed using the power of the state to enforce the strictly religious commands of the "first table" of the Ten Commandments.]

Williams had a forceful and memorable way of making his point about the inviolability of conscience. He said that the authorities "cannot without a spiritual rape force the consciences of all to one worship" and he came to the defense of the "souls of men who by persecution are ravished into a dissembled worship which their hearts embrace not." (See Perry Miller, Roger Williams: His Contributions to the American Tradition (New York: Bobb-Merrill, 1954), pp. 83, 86.)

Williams challenged the leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony at the point of their most fundamental conviction about the law. They believed that all of the Ten Commandments should be enforced by civil government. His rhetoric threatened the peace and order of the Colony. John Winthrop, then Governor of the Massachusetts Colony, records in his Journal that Williams was brought before the General Court in Boston on July 8, 1635 to answer this charge:
"It was laid to his charge that, being under question before the magistracy and churches for divers dangerous opinions, viz. 1. that the magistrates ought not to punish the breach of the First Table, otherwise than in such cases as did disturb the civil peace;" Winthrop added that, "Much debate was had about these things. The said opinions were adjudged by all magistrates and ministers (who were desired to be present) to be erroneous and very dangerous." (As quoted by Ernst, pp. 116.)

Williams also challenged the Massachusetts Bay Puritans most fundamental belief about their "covenantal" relationship with God. They saw themselves as a "new Israel." "Covenants" like the Mayflower Compact were viewed as analogous to the covenant between God and Israel at Sinai. That was why it was essential for them to enforce the commands of the "first table" of the Ten Commandments. Williams denied that colonies on the American continent could properly be viewed as a "new Israel." He said, "The state of the land of Israel, the kings and people thereof, in peace and war, is proved figurative and ceremonial, and no pattern nor precedent for any kingdom or civil state in the world to follow." (Bloudy Tenent, p. 3.)

When Williams would not remain silent about his convictions, they banished him from the Colony in 1636. He went on to found the Colony of Rhode Island and the First Baptist Church in America. The charter that he and John Clarke, another Baptist, secured for Rhode Island Colony has been described as the first charter in the history of the world to secure "a free, full, and absolute liberty of conscience." Among other things it guaranteed that no person would be "molested" on account of their religious beliefs.
[The charter of Rhode Island Colony reads, "noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments." (emphasis mine)]

After Rhode Island's charter, provisions against being "molested" for religious convictions made its way into the charters and constitutions of several other colonies and states. Among them is the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma.
[Section 1-2 Religious Liberty: "Perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured, and no inhabitant of the State shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship; and no religious test shall be required for the exercise of civil or political rights." (emphasis mine)]

These details concerning the history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony are important for fully comprehending the strength of the endorsement of Christian governance that is being memorialized by the combination of the Mayflower Compact and the Ten Commandments on the monument at Stigler. It endorses a covenantal form of "democratic theocracy" that has no historical precedent in Oklahoma state history. It also endorses a relationship between church and state that was rejected by both the framers of the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma.

The monument exercises a corrosive influence on the fundamental values that people like Roger Williams, John Clarke, Mary Dyer and other persons of minority faith suffered to secure. The system of law and jurisprudence, as it has developed throughout the country and in Oklahoma, owes more to the thinking of Roger Williams than it does to the Mayflower Compact. Today, none of the commands of the "first table" of the Mosaic law are matters of civil jurisprudence. Indeed, only three of the commands -- the commands against killing, stealing and false witness -- are still enforced by law. Today, the government is constitutionally prohibited from establishing a religion and forcing everyone into uniform worship. Today, no one would be executed or banished from the country for openly speaking these convictions.

In the eyes of some who remember the struggle for religious liberty and cherish the values that were thereby secured, a monument commemorating the Mayflower Compact serves to memorialize governmentally sanctioned and approved religious intolerance. The monument serves as advance notice that the successful struggle to secure equal respect under the law for persons of all minority faith traditions is in danger of being reversed.


Friday, May 05, 2006

Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy, Part 3




DOES THE MONUMENT ENDORSE A CHRISTIAN THEOCRACY?

The combined effect of engraving both the Mayflower Compact and the Ten Commandments on the same monument is to give a very strong endorsement of a theocratic form of governance. Comprehending the full strength of that endorsement requires a review of the history of Puritan and Separatist Christianity, of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and of the Baptist struggle for religious liberty in colonial America.

During the sixteenth century several movements sprang up in England hoping to reform the Church of England. Most called for a return to the simple teachings and practices of the Bible. The most influential and militant group was the Puritans who were deeply influenced by John Calvin and the reform of the church that he instituted in Geneva, Switzerland. They were called "Puritans" because they insisted on purity of doctrine and practice in the church.

The Pilgrims were "Separatists." Most Separatists were discouraged Puritans who had given up any hope of purifying and reforming the Church of England from within. Instead, they separated themselves from the Church of England and formed independent congregations. These congregations were formed by a covenant between members. Early leaders in this movement were Robert Browne, John Greenwood, and Henry Barrowe. In 1593, English law made it illegal to attend any meetings of these Separatist "conventicles" or covenant congregations. Greenwood was hanged in 1593.

Covenants are mutual agreements in which the parties accept obligations and receive privileges. Separatist covenants were patterned after the covenants that the God of the Bible made with his people. Biblical covenants obligated people to live according to God's law and promised that God would bless them if they did. One of the central covenants in the Bible was the covenant between God and the children of Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19) that culminated in the giving of the law (Exodus 20) as summarized by the Ten Commandments. That covenant founded Israel as the people of God.

The historical lineage of the Pilgrims' congregation was a Separatist congregation that was formed in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire around 1606. John Smyth became its leader. The congregation grew so rapidly that the large size of the gathering made it dangerous to meet. The congregation divided. Smyth continued to lead the congregation that remained at Gainsborough. Another congregation formed at Scrooby Manor. John Robinson became that congregation's pastor. By 1608 both congregations had fled to Holland to escape persecution. Smyth's congregation settled in Amsterdam. Robinson's congregation settled for a time in Leyden. From Holland both the history of Separatism and the way that Separatist congregations came to relate to government diverged. Sometimes the differences were bitter. Both sides of the division had an influence on American history.

Among Smyth's congregation in Amsterdam was Thomas Helwys. In 1611, Helwys returned to England and established the congregation that founded the Baptist denomination. He also launched a movement that advocated separating church and state and demanded religious liberty for all persons. Shortly after his return, Helwys sent an autographed copy of his book A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity (1610) to the King. The book may have been the first treatise advocating absolute religious liberty ever published on English soil. In his own handwriting on the flyleaf of his book, Helwys advised King James I that he was a "mortal man and not God, therefore had no power over the immortal souls of his subjects." Shortly after the King received his book, Helwys was imprisoned until his death. He died around 1616.

[Helwys handwritten flyleaf note to King James has recently been reproduced in Thomas Helwys, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, ed. Richard Groves (Macon: Mercer University Press, 1998), pp. vii. Inside the book, Helwys argued that, "Men's religion to God is between God and themselves; the king shall not answer for it, neither may the king judge between God and man. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure." p. 53.]

Among Robinson's congregation in Leyden were William Bradford and William Brewster. In 1620 Bradford and Brewster led some members of the congregation and others to set sail for America on the Mayflower. These are the "Pilgrims" that signed the Mayflower Compact. They founded Plymouth Plantation and the Congregational Church in America. These Pilgrims desired religious liberty only for themselves. They set up what James Ernst described as a "democratic theocracy." Their government was dominated by their church:

[A highly respected standard reference for American church history summarizes the Mayflower Compact with these words: "The Mayflower Pilgrims landed at Cape Cod, which was too far north for their Virginia Company patent to be of any value to them. . . . they came to rest in a region for which they had no legal authority. It was this unanticipated predicament, plus the 'mutinous speeche' of some of the London 'strangers' that prompted the colonists to enter into the so-called Mayflower Compact. This document was nothing more than a church covenant, such as bound together the Leyden church, put to civic use." See H. Shelton Smith, Robert T. Handy, and Lefferts A. Loetscher, American Christianity: An Historical Interpretation With Representative Documents, Vol. 1 1607-1820 (New York: Charles Scribners, 1960), p. 92. Sixty-one of the passengers aboard the Mayflower were "strangers" picked up around London by the merchant adventurers. Only forty-one of the passengers came from the Leyden church. The "mutinous speeches" were statements by the strangers "That when they came a shore they would use their own libertie; for none had power to command them." After signing the "Compact" or covenant, "they mette and consulted of lawes and orders, both for their civill and military Govermente, as the necessity of their condition did require, still adding thereunto as urgent occasion in severall times, and as cases did require."]

The colony also excluded persons from other sects and faiths:

[James Ernst described the religious atmosphere of Plymouth Plantation: "Although the Pilgrims were more tolerant than the Boston Puritans, they were nevertheless a persecuting church. With all civil governments of their day, they assumed the right to determine the religious beliefs of their colonists. Mr. Oldham, 'a mad jack in his mood' was forced out of the colony. And the sniveling minister, John Lyford, a 'canting hypocrite,' so the Pilgrims said, was banished for attempting to reform the Pilgrim church. Thomas Morton of Merry Mount who scandalized the Pilgrims by setting 'up a Maypole, drinking and dancing about it for many days together,' was silenced by God's people. When a third of the colonists desired to celebrate Christmas Day, 1621, 'in the streets, openly with such ungodliness as pitching a bar and playing ball,' they were suppressed with the grim New England humor that they might do it out of sight. Mr. Bradford was pleased to note that since then they did not play ball, 'at least openly.'

The Pilgrim Fathers allowed neither religious liberty nor separation of church and state. Nor did Barrow and Brown, their predecessors. Everywhere the reformed churches became the national or state churches." Ernst, p. 74. See also Smith, Handy and Loetscher, pp. 82-185.]

Historically, as Massachusetts was colonized, the center of power and the most important settlements developed at Salem and Boston around the Massachusetts Bay. Under their system of law and jurisprudence, Baptists, Quakers and other religious dissenters were severely persecuted:

[In the summer of 1651, John Clarke, John Crandall, and Obadiah Holmes -- all members of the Baptist Church at Newport, Rhode Island -- were arrested and imprisoned for holding an unauthorized worship service in the home of a blind Baptist named William Witter who lived at Lynn, Massachusetts outside Boston. They were sentenced to be fined or whipped. Fines for Clarke and Crandall were paid by friends. Holmes refused to let friends pay his fine and was publicly whipped on the streets of Boston on September 6, 1651. In 1653, Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard University, refused to have his fourth child baptized as an infant and proclaimed that only believers should be baptized. He was forced to resign from his position and banished from Cambridge, Massachusetts. In 1663, John Myles moved an entire Baptist congregation from Wales to escape the religious persecutions authorized by England's 1662 Act of Uniformity. They first settled in Massachusetts, but by 1667 the authorities forced the congregation to move to the frontier in Rhode Island.

The persecutions that began when the Colony was founded were not temporary and limited to the earliest stages of settlement. Nearly a century later, Baptists were still suffering persecution in Massachusetts. Early Baptist historian, Isaac Backus, told the story of an elderly widow named Esther White, who lived in Raynham and was a member of the Baptist church that Backus pastored in Middleborough, Massachusetts. She refused to pay a tax to support the minister of the established Congregational church in Raynham on the grounds that she was a dissenter from that church and had become a Baptist. The town of Raynham refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of her church and put her in jail. Though she could have paid the tax and been released at any time, she remained in jail for thirteen months. City leaders finally became so embarrassed that they released her from the charge. Others paid a steeper price. Baptists founded a church in Ashfield, Massachusetts (then known as Huntstown) in 1761. 1763 the town's Congregationalists hired a minister, built a meeting house, and taxed the Baptists to help pay for it. Pastor Ebenezer Smith and his congregation refused to pay the religious tax. The town then seized the Baptists' land -- some of the best in the town -- complete with cemetery, apple orchard and houses. The land was auctioned to their Congregational neighbors for a pittance of its value. A total of 398 acres was seized, including ten acres from Ebenezer Smith and twenty acres from his father, Chileab Smith.]

Some Quakers, among them Mary Dyer, defied orders of banishment and were executed:

[William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, and William Leddra are listed among the Quaker martyrs in Massachusetts. The last Quaker martyr in Massachusetts, Mary Dyer, was hanged in the Boston Common on June 1, 1660. All died in defiance of a law banning Quakers from Massachusetts Bay Colony. A statue of Mary Dyer now stands in front of the State Capitol in Massachusetts as a constant reminder of the Colony's shameful legacy of religious intolerance.

Before resorting to executions, Ahlstrom records other ways that the authorities dealt with Quakers, "In July 1656 the ship Swallow anchored in Boston Harbor. It became known quickly that on board were two Quaker women, Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, who had shipped from Barbados. The authorities moved swiftly. The women were kept on ship while their belongings were searched and more than one hundred books confiscated. Although there was as yet no law against Quakers in Massachusetts, the two were hurried off to jail, stripped of all their clothing, and inspected for tokens of witchcraft. After five weeks, the captain of the Swallow was placed under a £100 bond to carry them back to Barbados."]

Theocratic governance of Massachusetts began with the signing of the Mayflower Compact. Those who signed the Compact covenanted to "enact, constitute and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices, from time to time as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony." In their eyes, the most "just and equal laws" were those that God gave Moses. In simplest terms, they were covenanting to live together under biblical law as summarized by the Ten Commandments. In practice, all of the commandments were enforced, including the first four commandments regarding worship.

In my opinion, a monument to the Mayflower Compact -- all by itself, without the addition of a Ten Commandments monument -- could be perceived to be endorsing the democratic theocracy that the Compact inaugurated.

Whether the monument actually endorses theocracy or merely commemorates a historical event in the colonizing of America requires an examination of the setting and context in which it is placed.

Tomorrow I will examine the question, "Does engraving both the Mayflower Compact and the Ten Commandments on the same monument send a strong signal that a Christian democratic theocracy is being endorsed?"

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy, Part 2


DOES THE MONUMENT ENDORSE A SECTARIAN INTERPRETATION OF THE BIBLE?

The monument at Stigler endorses a Reformed Protestant interpretation of the Ten Commandments. The division and numbering of the commandments on the monument follows a scheme that has been accepted by most Protestants, other than Lutherans, since the sixteenth century.

The Monument Endorses a Christian Interpretation of the Bible.

The original language of the Ten Commandments is Hebrew. Every translation from one language to another necessarily involves some interpretation of the text. The Ten Commandments monument at Stigler engraves excerpts, with some additions and changes, from the English language translation of the Bible that was authorized by King James I and first published in 1611.

The division and numbering of the commands of the Decalogue into Ten Commandments also involves interpretation. Interpretations differ according to the theological concerns and emphases of the various faith and sectarian traditions.

The Jewish division of the Decalogue begins with an affirmation rather than a prohibition. For Jews, the first command is a statement of faith, "I the LORD am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage." The second command, for Jews, combines the prohibition against "other gods" and the prohibition against "graven images." Since the first Jewish command literally applies exclusively to Jews, Christians have interpreted the passage as a mere preamble. The divergence between these interpretations is fraught with substantial theological and historical consequences for the communal identities of the differing faith traditions. (Click here to see a chart that shows different translations and numberings of the Ten Commandments.)

The monument at Stigler omits the first command in the Jewish interpretation of the Ten Commandments. In the eyes of some Jews, the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the courthouse at Stigler sends an unmistakable signal that the Christian interpretation of the Bible is being endorsed and that millennia of Jewish scholarship -- reflecting theological nuances based on the original Jewish division of the Decalogue -- has been repudiated.

The Monument Endorses a Reformed Protestant Interpretation of the Bible.

The Ten Commandments monument at Stigler reproduces the Reformed Protestant numbering and division the Ten Commandments which reflects the iconoclasm of early Protestantism. The Protestants of the early Reformed tradition condemned the use of images and pictures in Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in the strongest terms.
[For example, Calvin's appraisal of the religious images of renaissance art is characteristic: "The pictures or statues that they dedicate to saints -- what are they but examples of the most abandoned lust and obscenity? If anyone wished to model himself after them, he would be fit for the lash. Indeed, brothels show harlots clad more virtuously and modestly than the churches show those objects which they wished to be thought images of virgins. For martyrs they fashion a habit not a whit more decent. Therefore let them compose their idols at least to a moderate decency, that they may with a little more modesty falsely claim that these are books of some holiness!" John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Ed. John T. McNeill, Vol. I, (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), pp. 106-07. Calvin devotes more than twenty pages and two chapters to the discussion of images in his Institutes, see Vol. I, pp. 99-120.]

Opposition to images led John Calvin, the foremost leader of the Reformed tradition, to contend that "Any use of images leads to idolatry." His interpretation of the Ten Commandments singled out the prohibition against "graven images" for emphasis and set it aside from the prohibition against "other gods." (Click here to see chart)

Lutherans and Catholics followed the Jewish division of this commandment which viewed the prohibition against "graven images" in conjunction with the prohibition against "other gods." Lutherans and Catholics merely advanced the numbering for the command. Whereas Judaism viewed it as the second commandment, Catholics and Lutherans viewed it as the first commandment. Historically, the divergence between these varied interpretations of the Ten Commandments has, at times, contributed to conflict and strife between Christian sects.
[For example, in 1520-21, at a crucial moment during the reformation in Germany, Luther was excommunicated and forced into hiding in the Wartburg. During his absence, Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt filled Luther's pulpit at Wittenberg. In January 1522 the town of Wittenberg passed an ordinance calling for the removal of images from the churches and Karlstadt published his On the Putting Away of Pictures arguing that the worship of images was idolatrous. An iconoclastic riot ensued. Luther had to risk leaving his hideaway to restore order. Karlstadt was dispatched and Luther eventually wrote a refutation of Karlstadt's opinions under the title, Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments (1525)].

Some Protestant sects still teach their adherents to avoid social contact with Roman Catholics as much as possible because they consider the images associated with their worship to be idols.

The monument at Stigler highlights the prohibition against "graven images" as a single command separated from the prohibition against "other gods." Roman Catholics and Lutherans who compare the numbering and divisions on Stigler's Ten Commandments monument with the numbering and divisions of the Decalogue that are published in the books and catechisms of their own faith traditions will note the discrepancy. In the eyes of some, the Ten Commandments monument on the grounds of the courthouse at Stigler sends an unmistakable signal that the Reformed Protestant interpretation of the Bible is being endorsed and that millennia of Roman Catholic and Lutheran scholarship -- reflecting centuries of theological nuances and divisions of the Decalogue within those faith traditions -- has officially been rejected.

In my opinion, yes, the monument endorses a sectarian "Reformed Protestant" interpretation of the Bible.

DOES THE MONUMENT ENDORSE A CHRISTIAN COVENANT?

The Mayflower Compact exemplifies government as formed by Christian covenant. The Compact reads, "We . . . covenant and combine ourselves together in a civil body politic." The basis of this covenant and the government formed by it was the Pilgrims' common Christian faith. The Compact reads, "For our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid." The aforesaid ends were, "for the glory of God and the advancement of the Christian faith."

Clearly, the Mayflower Compact is a religious covenant that was made entirely between Christians. No non-Christian was party to the agreement. No provision was made for a non-Christian to become a member of this covenant community apart from conversion to the Christian faith.

Memorializing the Mayflower Compact in a stone monument necessarily involves a judgment that there is something of value in that Christian covenant that is worth remembering and calling to the attention of posterity. In the eyes of the average person in Stigler who reads the Mayflower Compact from the monument on the grounds of the courthouse, the most obvious and apparent value is that it openly and publicly affirms the Christian faith. This writer heard that value expressed repeatedly by speakers that spoke at the rally to "save" the monument on November 19, 2005. Keynote speaker, U. S. Senator Tom Coburn, summarized the meaning of the monument succinctly when he said, "The greatness of America depends on its faith, nothing else. . . . We can either deny our heritage, . . . or we can embrace it." Indeed, there were appeals at the rally for attendees to accept Christ as Lord and Savior and impromptu public testimonies of faith that gave the rally an atmosphere like that of a religious revival meeting. At that time, one of the Haskell County Commissioners expressed the strength of his faith in such strong terms that he said that if anyone wanted to remove the monument he would stand in front of it they would have to run a bulldozer over him.

In my opinion, yes, the monument endorses a Christian covenant.

Tomorrow I'll blog about the following question:
Does the monument endorse a Christian Theocracy?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy, Part 1


The little town of Stigler, Oklahoma (pop. 2,500) may be providing the best symbol for the American Theocracy that is the subject of Kevin Phillips latest book. Yesterday I provided testimony in the ACLU's case against the Haskell County Ten Commandments courthouse monument at the District Court in Muskogee, Oklahoma. My testimony was limited to matters of fact about the rally to "Save the Ten Commandments Monument" that I attended in Stigler on November 19, 2005. I wrote a report and was prepared to serve as expert witness, but the judged did not allow any expert testimony. This is the first of a series of blogs in which I express an opinion on questions about Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy.

The Ten Commandments monument on the lawn of the Haskell County Courthouse in Stigler, Oklahoma has an inscription on both sides. One side bears an inscription of the Ten Commandments. The other side bears an inscription of the Mayflower Compact.

ARE THE TEXTS ON THE MONUMENTS RELIGIOUS IN NATURE?

The Ten Commandments:

The religious nature of the source document from which the Ten Commandments are taken is clear. That source is the Bible. Within the Bible the Ten Commandments are listed in two places: Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The Ten Commandments that are inscribed on the monument in Stigler concludes with a citation to "Exodus 20." The religious nature of the author of the Ten Commandments, as recorded in the Bible, is clear. The Bible attributes the Ten Commandments to God saying, "He (God) gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God." (Exodus 31:18)

The religious nature of the first four commandments, often called the "first table" of the law of Moses, is clear. The commands to 1) have no other gods before me, 2) not make any graven image, 3) not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, and to 4) remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy -- all relate specifically to worship of the God of the Bible.

The Mayflower Compact:

The fusion of religion and nationalism that existed everywhere in the seventeenth century is clearly expressed in the Mayflower Compact. Those who signed the Compact identified themselves as "loyal subjects of our dread sovereign Lord King James" who ruled "by the grace of God," and was described as the "defender of the faith." The religious motives of glorifying God and advancing the Christian faith are the clearly stated purposes given in the text of the Mayflower Compact for the voyage and settlement. It says, "Having undertaken for the glory of God, and the advancement of the Christian faith and honor of our king and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia."

In my opinion, yes, the texts on both sides of the monument are religious in nature.

Testimony to this effect might have been important. The county commissioners who authorized the erection of the monument contend that the texts on the monument are NOT religious. They say the texts are "historical" in nature.


DOES THE MONUMENT ENDORSE A BIBLICAL FORM OF RELIGION?

Permanent signs and monuments on public property in Haskell County Oklahoma must be approved by the Board of County Commissioners. In the eyes of the public, permanent displays on public property, therefore, can be reasonably presumed to carry an aura of governmental approval, authenticity, importance and endorsement.

The first four commandments relate uniquely to the worship of the God of the Bible. They are listed only in the legal codes of religions that accept, in some measure, the authority of the Hebrew Bible. In the eyes of some who do not accept the authority of the Hebrew scriptures, a clear signal of their status as an "outsider" to Stigler society is being signaled by the government's sanction, approval and endorsement of a permanent monument on the grounds of the courthouse that is inscribed with laws commanding the worship of the Biblical God and prescribing how and when that worship should be observed. The perceived implication is that Atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists, Wiccans, the practitioners of Native American faiths, and the adherents of many other faiths may be viewed as second-class citizens in that county and may not receive impartial justice in that courthouse.

The size, position and placement of the monument on the grounds of the courthouse gives it a prominence that serves to underscore its importance. The monument is approximately 8 feet tall and 3 feet wide. The lettering is large and distinct. The side engraved with the Ten Commandments faces Main Street which is the main thoroughfare through the city. The monument is placed near the street where the title "The Ten Commandments" can be easily read by motorists as they drive by the courthouse. None of the other monuments at the courthouse have the same prominence and visibility from the city's Main Street. Other large monuments are far from the street and the lettering is so small that only a pedestrian that approached the monument could read the text. Another small monument, a monument to unmarked graves, is positioned near Main Street, beside the Ten Commandments monument, but the lettering is so small and indistinct that only a pedestrian could read the text. Most of the other monuments were erected to honor the memory of the dead. Monuments honor those who died in World War I, or World War II, or the Vietnam War, or the Trail of Tears, and those who were buried in unmarked graves. No monument, other than the Ten Commandments Monument, promotes religion or communicates a religious message.

The size, position and placement of the Ten Commandments monument is akin to that of a billboard designed to send a message to all who drive by the Haskell County Courthouse. It's prominence on government property constitutes an endorsement of the message that it is conveying. The message conveyed is religious. It says to every passing motorist, "This city is governed by biblical law as symbolized by 'The Ten Commandments.'"

In my opinion, yes, the monument endorses a biblical form of religion.

Testimony to this effect might have been important. The commissioners who authorized the erection of the monument admit that they "do not believe in separation of church and state" but deny that the monument endorses religion.

Tomorrow I'll blog about the following questions:

Does the Monument Endorse a Sectarian Interpretation of the Bible?
Does the Monument Endorse a Christian Covenant?

On Presidential "Signing Statements"

Why aren't the President's 750 "signing statements" exempting himself from obeying federal laws newsworthy?

Here's a link to the story at Media Matters.

IMB Exec Reverses Decision to Fire Missionaries

Kudos to Gordon Fort, Vice President of the IMB's Overseas Operations, for reversing the decision of a regional leader to terminate missionaries Wyman and Michelle Dobbs for working with the Christian Missionary Alliance on a church plant.

The turmoil at the Southern Baptist Convention's mission boards continues, but, at least in this instance, it looks like common sense has prevailed.

It's a shame no one had the courage or the sense to reinstate the scores of missionaries that were terminated or forced to resign because they could not sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message in good conscience.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Muskogee Court Reviews Ten Commandments Monument


I've been sitting in a District Court in Muskogee, Oklahoma waiting to testify in a case about the Ten Commandments Monument in Haskell County, Oklahoma.

I testified this morning concerning matters of fact related to the "Save the Ten Commandments Rally" that I attended on November 19, 2005 and blogged about at that time. HERE and HERE are the links to those blogs.

I'll be writing a whole lot more about this case in future blogs.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Podcast: Jim Huff Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 4-30-06 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Jim Huff about the 3rd Annual Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection at the State Capital in Oklahoma. Jim Huff, a retired public school teacher, is Executive Secretary of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

The 3rd Annual Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection will be on Thursday May 4, 2006 at 11:00 AM on the south steps of the Oklahoma State Capital.

Here's a link to information about previous Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection events.

UK Newspaper Warns that Dollar is Declining

The Times Online has posted a report that "Dollar Starts the Big Slide Against Major Currencies." Economists have been warning for some time that the U.S. faces a day of reckoning over its budget and trade deficits.

As the dollar declines, the price of almost everything will go up -- particularly the price of oil.

Here's an article that explains why the decline started. "Just trust us," won't cut it any more with this administration.