Friday, June 30, 2006

Slow Advances for Baptist Women in Ministry

Ethics Daily and Associated Baptist Press have both published articles covering the recent report about the status of Baptist Women in Ministry.

Here's a quote:

"While the pastorate continues, for the most part, to be only marginally open to women, and growth there is incremental, a larger number of women now serve as associate pastors and in specialized ministry roles on church staffs . . .," the report states. "Many women have found places of ministry as chaplains in hospitals, prisons, the military and other organizations and agencies, although women make up only 29 percent of all chaplains endorsed by the ABC-USA, Alliance, CBF and SBC."

Someday future generations will look at reports like this and shake their heads at how backward Baptists were at the turn of the 21st Century.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Baptist Churches Realigning Across State Borders

Bill Wilson, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dalton, recently announced that his church in Georgia was aligning itself with the Baptist General Association of Virginia. It follows First Baptist Church of Rome, Georgia in making that decision.

Last year, NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma aligned with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

Baptist churches are increasingly giving priority to philosophies of ministry and cooperative mission strategy over creedal and geographical boundaries when reviewing their denominational affiliations.

"Values Voters" Declining

The Religious News Service is reporting that a new Gallup poll has detected a sudden, significant shift in the percentage of Americans who think the government should promote "moral values."

Had they valued telling the truth, they might have generated more enduring support. Instead, their exaggerations of declining private morality fall flatter with every increase in public exposure of the brazen mendacity of their leaders.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

On Religious Involvement in Politics

Kimberly Winston, a reporter for ReligionLink, sent me an e-mail asking:

Do you think there is growing criticism over political involvement within the conservative religious movement ? Why or why not? If there is a growing critical voice, what is it in response to? Most importantly, if these voices are heeded, what might it spell for the 2008 presidential election (do the Republicans or the Democrats stand to lose or gain religious voters?)? What might happen to religious conservatism and the evangelical movement if these voices are not heeded?

Here's my response:

No one should be opposed to devoutly religious people being involved in politics. The constitution guarantees that people of all faiths and people of no faith will be eligible to serve in public office (Article VI).

A strict interpretation of the First Amendment to the Constitution also prohibits people of any faith from using the power of the state to force others to conform to their beliefs and practices.

There is a growing criticism of the political involvement of religious conservatives because they refuse to uphold the First Amendment. In a variety of ways, they are exercising political influence to employ the power of the state to force others to observe the peculiar beliefs and practices of their form of religion. The push for state sponsored prayers in public schools is a good example of this.

Before the Constitution was written, the power of the state was often used to force the religious beliefs and practices of those in power upon unwilling subjects. This often led to conflict between the adherents of different faiths that escalated to violence. The primary intention of the First Amendment was to reduce such conflict.

If religious conservatives succeed in repealing the First Amendment, sooner or later, they will find that their faith becomes discredited by association with scores of the failed policies of their political bedfellows that had nothing to do with their religion.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Founding Fathers and Baptists

Last night Carla Hinton, religion reporter for the Oklahoman, sent me an e-mail and asked what I thought the founding fathers -- and specifically George Washington -- meant by freedom of religion (the first amendment). Here's my response:

The original language proposed for the First Amendment called for "liberty of conscience." The appeal for "liberty of conscience" in the colonies began with a one-time Baptist minister by the name of Roger Williams -- who envisioned it being protected by a "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world." In the end, the founding fathers spelled out what they meant by liberty of conscience.

America's founding fathers were guaranteeing that church and state would be separated -- no faith could become the established religion of the state. They were insuring that everyone could worship or not worship according to the dictates of their own conscience -- no law could prohibit the free exercise of religion. They were assuring that people could freely assemble and speak to one another about any religion, belief, or opinion.

The best sources for understanding the founding father's convictions about religious liberty are Thomas Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779), James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance (1785), and Jefferson's Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association (1802).

George Washington most assuredly agreed with Madison and Jefferson. All of them were Virginians and members of the established church of that colony. Yet, three years after the jails of Virginia had been filled with Baptist preachers who refused to conform to the legal mandates of their own church and colony, General Washington openly received Baptist chaplains and Baptist soldiers into his revolutionary army.

Washington, Jefferson, Madison and the early Baptists were all fighting for the same thing -- liberty of conscience for people of all faiths and beliefs.

Unfortunately, most politically active Baptists today are hard at work removing the wall separating church and state that the founding fathers and their Baptist forebears erected.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Shurden's "Flaming Torch" Speech Online

The speech that Walter Shurden gave at the BJC luncheon last week about the Baptist Joint Committee being "A Flaming Torch" is now online.

Shurden is always outstanding. This speech, however, is doubly so. It is essential reading for all moderate, mainstream Baptists. Here's an excerpt:

Let me be clear at the outset. I am not suggesting that we are on the lip of any kind of political totalitarianism in this country. I don't believe that.

I am suggesting, however, that there are "American Christians" for whom the adjective is more important than the noun.

I am suggesting that some Christian churches in our country have been transformed into political temples and some pastors have embraced the moniker of "patriot pastors."

I am suggesting that devoted theocrats have an eye on the machinery of national and state governments, and that they make no apology for it.

And I am suggesting that a skewed reading of our nation's history is sending forth armies of buck privates scurrying to wreck Jefferson's wall.


But many blithely say, "It can't happen here." The last time I heard that was in a hotel lobby in Houston, Texas, in 1979, after the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention when the fundamentalists began their complete takeover of the SBC.

"But we have a Constitution that makes things clear," so it cannot happen here.

"We have a Bill of Rights and the First Amendment that makes things even clearer."

"Our national pluralism will not permit it to happen here."

And in an otherwise beautiful and provocative book, American Gospel, Jon Meacham optimistically forecasts that it cannot happen here because of the existence of a sane middle in American life that will not permit it to happen here.


Let me tell you why I believe it can happen here, this idolatrous mixing of church and state.

It can happen here because "Generation Joshua" is loose in our country. Have you heard of "Generation Joshua?" It is an effort by Michael Farris, founder of Patrick Henry College, to turn Christian, home-schooled students into political foot soldiers to gain political power in order to subsume everything -- entertainment, law, government, and education -- under their right wing version of Christianity. Like Joshua of the Hebrew Bible, Generation Joshua's job is to possess the land, to conquer the land, or, in the words of the religious right, "to take back the land." And, according to Michael Harris, in the spring semester of 2004, Patrick Henry College had more interns in the White House than any other college in the nation. It can happen here because of a religious right-wing militancy.

It can happen here because by 2004 The Christian Coalition gave 42 out of 100 United States senators a rating of 100%. More than half of the senators received ratings of 83% by the militant Christian Coalition. It can happen here because sincere religious ideologues are rampant in our country, and they mean business.

It can happen here because a recent survey of 100,000 high school students in America concluded that one out of three students believes that the First Amendment goes TOO FAR in the rights it guarantees! That last sentence ought to be absolutely horrendous to your ears. In fact, that sentence reminds me of a phone call we got about 12:30 one night when we were living in Louisville, Ky. The call was from Wayne Dehoney, pastor of Walnut Street Baptist Church in the city. He said, "Walter, this is Wayne Dehoney, I just received a call from Cullman, Ala., and Grady Nutt was killed in a plane crash tonight. I knew that you were close friends, so I am calling to tell you so that you can go be with his wife." It was my first and only death notice in the middle of the night. I remember saying in stunned shock and disbelief, "Wayne, you are going to have to say that again." He said, "I understand." And then, with all those years of pastoral care under his belt, he slowly said once more, "I received a call from Cullman, Ala., and Grady Nutt was killed in an airplane crash tonight."

I do not trivialize my dear friend Grady Nutt's death by saying to you that, if you hear it carefully, the sentence about the high school students and the First Amendment has all the tone and sound of a death announcement in the middle of the night about someone you love. So I want to repeat it, slowly, so that it will sink in: ONE IN THREE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN THIS REPUBLIC SAYS THAT THE FIRST AMENDMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES GOES TOO FAR IN THE RIGHTS IT GUARANTEES TO YOU AS A CITIZEN!

The survey did not end there, however. It contained more surprises. More shocking still, only one-half of the students surveyed said that a newspaper should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of stories.

My friends, we are talking about my grandchildren's future here! This is America's tomorrow speaking! One third of them want the freedoms of the First Amendment curbed. And one half of them want newspapers to secure government approval for their stories!! These are astonishing and inconceivable attitudes for high school students in the United States of America. This survey is a terrible, scary phone call in the middle of the night about what has happened and what is happening in our nation. It can happen here because of ignorance of our history.

Ethics Daily Has Exclusive Interview With Al Gore

Robert Parham, Director for the Baptist Center for Ethics, had an exclusive interview with Al Gore after his Nashville screening of the film "An Inconvenient Truth." Here's a quote:

Asked about opposition from fundamentalism to redressing global warming, Gore said: "There are political alliances of convenience among some rightwing political groups that operate according to the three musketeers' principle--one for all and all for one. We'll support you on your special interest agenda if you support us on our special interest agenda."

"You get this bizarre spectacle of men of the cloth who are in theory following the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount calling for reduced taxes on billionaires and the cutting of programs for the poor," he said. "And in the same way, you get people who claim to speak for Christianity adopting the propaganda of Exxon Mobil as if it's a fifth gospel."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Why Be Baptist?

Ethics Daily has posted Bill Wilson's speech on "Why Stay Baptist?"

Bill was supposed to deliver the speech at Ethics Daily's 15th Anniversary Luncheon on Thursday, but graciously gave up his time when the program went over schedule.

Bill answers a question that every moderate, mainstream Baptist has wrestled with at one time or another.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Nash Reaffirms Baptist Conscience

Rob Nash, new elected Global Missions Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, reaffirmed the historic Baptist understanding of conscience in a speech yesterday at an Associated Baptist Press banquet. Nash talked about "information integrity" being essential to becoming a "world citizen." He explained:

Cultivating self-awareness involves gathering information from a variety of sources and through differing mediums. When Americans read only American news or watch only American TV, he said, it only reinforces prejudices and confirms the "natural sense of self." "Self-awareness can help us to push back and overcome the powerful cultural tug," he said.

"What is demanded, though, is the spiritual discipline of awareness. That awareness occurs only through an intentional effort to step outside our personal space and see ourselves as others see us."

The process of cultivating "information integrity," Nash said, "helps me to become a citizen of the world, even as I am a citizen of this country. It helps me to distinguish being Christian from being an American."

Nash's understanding of discipleship and conscience harkens back to the that of Roger Williams, the first Baptist cross-cultural missionary. Williams, a champion of liberty of conscience and religious liberty, was offered the pulpit of the congregational church in Boston when he arrived in the New World in 1631. He declined that position because he was opposed to forcing everyone to one worship. Instead he became a missionary to the indigenous people of North America.

Williams studied the language and customs of indigenous North Americas and published the first text on a Native American language. Foremost among his concerns was a desire to share the gospel cross-culturally in a manner that respected the integrity of the consciences of all persons. In his book, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, Williams wrote:

Two mountains of crying guilt lie heavy upon the backs of all men that name the name of Christ, in the eyes of Jews, Turks, and pagans.

First, the blasphemies of their idolatrous inventions, superstitions, and most unchristian conversations.

Secondly, the bloody, irreligious, and inhuman oppressions and destructions under the mask or veil of the name of Christ, etc. (Bloudy Tenent, page 8)

Nash describes an act of distantiation and an exercise of sympathetic imagination as an "intentional effort to step outside our personal space." Williams did this as he learned the language and culture of native Americans. Nash adds an exercise of reflexive self-consciousness described as seeing "ourselves as others see us" just as Williams wrote of seeing ourselves "in the eyes of Jews, Turks, and pagans."

Mission efforts described in these terms are rooted in the same respect for liberty of conscience that undergirds the Baptist concern for religious liberty and separation of church and state. This, more than anything else, is what distinguishes the mission efforts of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship from the thrust of the mission efforts of Southern Baptists since the Fundamentalist takeover.

People with this concern for both the integrity of conscience and of the Christian witness will not be organizing political efforts to force the children of Jews, Muslims and pagans to say state sponsored mandatory prayers in public schools. Neither will they be erecting religious monuments in public spaces.

Following Abramoff's Money

Raw Story has posted an article that follows some of the money that convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff received from Indian gambling casino interests. The trail leads to a money laundering tax evasion scheme through Gover Norquist's non-profit Americans for Tax Reform. About five million dollars works its way to Religious Right political organizer Ralph Reed.

This is a story about the corrupting influence of power and money. It is a microcosm of the history of contemporary America.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Advancing Theocracy by Increments

Legislation has been introduced in Congress that is designed to deprive litigants involved in successful church-state cases from recovering expenses incurred when taking their case through the judicial process.

This is another step in an incremental process of making America a theocracy.

The Politics of Pay Raises

Both the U.S. House and the Senate have turned down legislation to raise the minimum wage.

Since the minimum wage was increased to $5.15 an hour in 1997, our Congressional leaders have raised their own salaries by $32,000.

Here's a link to a helpful article about "Pay Raise Politics."

There will be a payday someday.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

De La Torre on Color-Blindness

Ethics Daily has posted an interesting essay by Miguel De La Torre on "The Myth of Color-Blindness." Here's a quote:

Even Martin Luther King's dream that his children be judged by the "content of their character," and not "the color of their skin" was co-opted to insist that affirmative action violates the spirit of King's "dream," and that true followers of King would advocate color-blindness.

The reconciliation forged and advocated was a color-blind reconciliation which enacted anti-racist laws while failing to fundamentally change or transform the social structures that maintain and sustain racism. The more radical demands of the Civil Rights movement (i.e. equitable distribution of wealth, resources, and opportunities) were sacrificed in favor of limited economic, political and cultural access to some power and privilege for a minority of middle-class people of color.

De La Torre has a lot to say. Too much for a single short essay. I hope Miguel will write a series of essays or a book and fill in some details.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

News Coverage of the Raise Oklahoma Rally

Here's a link to The Oklahoman's coverage of the Raise Oklahoma rally that was trying to enlist support for a one dollar an hour increase in the minimum wage. Ethics Daily posted my entire speech.

Rally's like this usually have a lot of support from union workers. This one did not. Most union workers think raising the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour is inadequate. They are certainly right about that. Union workers support a drive for a "living wage" which is considerably higher than $6.15 an hour. I also support the drive for a living wage.

It is hard for me to understand how the Governor, legislators, and business people opposed to this modest increase in the minimum wage can sleep at night.

We need to tie minimum wage increases to the salary increases that state legislators give themselves.

I think we need to pass a law that mandates that the minimum wage increase by the same percentage that the salaries of state legislators increase. If it was also made retroactive for the past nine years, I am certain that we would be a lot closer to a "living wage" than to $6.15 an hour.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Payday Someday

I'll be speaking at the Raise Oklahoma Rally on the steps to the Oklahoma State Capitol this morning. Here's what I plan to say:

I'm here today because raising the minimum wage is a moral issue. Life is short. None of us has time or energy to waste. "It is appointed unto man once to die" and after that comes judgment. On judgment day we all must give an account for how we used our time and energy. Some of us must also give an account for how we have used and misused the time and energy of those that were entrusted to our supervision.

Refusing to fairly compensate workers for their time and energy is an egregious injustice. It is the moral equivalent of theft and murder. It's theft because it wastes time that is precious. Everyone's time and everyone's life is precious. It's murder because it depletes the vital energy necessary to sustain life. That's why the Bible says, "the workman is worthy of his hire." Paying less than a worthy wage robs people and kills them slowly.

Society's minimum standard for a worthy wage is the minimum wage. A standard that is now so low that people are forced to work more than two full-time jobs to eke out a subsistence existence. That says something about our society and it tells us something about our attitude toward working people. Every time a minimum wage worker draws a paycheck he or she gets another notice that, in the eyes of our society, his or her life is cheap -- very cheap -- and getting cheaper every year.

We're here today to deliver a message about the value of those lives in God's eyes, but I'm not sure that the people in this building can hear me. You can help me amplify it. Help me remind them that there will be a payday someday.

Governor Henry! You live in a mansion at taxpayer expense while the children of the working poor go begging for food and shelter. There will be a PAYDAY SOMEDAY!

Oklahoma State Senators! Year after year, you reduce assistance to the working poor. There will be a PAYDAY SOMEDAY!

Oklahoma State Representatives! You give yourself pay raises while the minimum wage remains the same. There will be a PAYDAY SOMEDAY!

Oklahoma Business Leaders! You have compounded your salaries and benefits by the hundredfold while freezing wages and reducing benefits for your minimum wage workers. There will be a PAYDAY SOMEDAY!

Oklahoma News Media! You've become a megaphone for the unconscionable rationalizations of a society that treats the lives of the working poor with contempt. There will be a PAYDAY SOMEDAY!

Oklahoma Religious Leaders! You are standing in line to siphon off faith-based funds that were formerly distributed directly to the working poor. There will be a PAYDAY SOMEDAY!

Mark my words. There will be a payday someday. God's standards of justice will not be mocked. What goes around, comes around. You reap what you sow. Sow to the wind and you'll reap the whirlwind.

Why must Oklahoma be an economic dustbowl for working people?

Sow some seeds of respect for the lives of working people. Let justice roll down like waters. Raise the minimum wage. Let the working people of Oklahoma enjoy some of the fruits of their own labor and productivity.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Frontline to Examine "Neo-Conservative Cabal"

Last fall, Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Colin Powell said there was a "neo-conservative cabal" running the U.S. government. It appears that PBS's Frontline investigated his allegations.

Here's a link and a quote from a post at Raw Story about the Frontline episode on "The Battle to Control 'the Dark Side'" that will air this Tuesday:

In the initial stages of the war on terror, Tenet's CIA was rising to prominence as the lead agency in the Afghanistan war. But when Tenet insisted in his personal meetings with the president that there was no connection between Al Qaeda and Iraq, Cheney and Rumsfeld initiated a secret program to re-examine the evidence and marginalize the agency and Tenet. Through interviews with DoD staffers who sifted through mountains of raw intelligence, FRONTLINE tells the story of how questionable intelligence was "stovepiped" to the vice president and presented to the public.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Washington Post Sees Evangelical Shift

E.J. Dionne's essay in yesterday's Washington Post talks hopefully about "A Shift Among the Evangelicals." He quotes Bill Leonard and Robert Parham.

I think it premature to conclude that evangelicals are shifting. When we see signs that they are giving up on making America a Christian Nation by force of politics, legislation, and ajudication we'll know that there has been a significant shift. That would mean that they have returned to their originl evangelical mission -- changing lives one at a time.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Calvinism and the New SBC President

Ken Camp has written a helpful article for ABP about the possible effect that the election of Frank Page as President of the Southern Baptist Convention might have on the resurgence of Calvinism within the convention. Page has written a book about the errors of Calvinist theology.

Apparently some Calvinists find Page's willingness to work with Calvinists compromising:

Prior to the convention, Founders Ministries Executive Director Tom Ascol posted a review of Page's book on his Internet blog. Ascol praised the "gracious" tone of Page's book, but he questioned his expressed commitment to work with -- and appoint to SBC committees -- committed Calvinists. Kindness and civility are commendable, but theological convictions cannot be ignored, he insisted.

"Is Page saying that he is willing to work with people who follow 'manmade doctrines,' whose religion is 'without biblical support,' whose theological convictions mean 'there is no need to share Christ with anyone' and encourage 'a slackening of the aggressive evangelistic and missionary heartbeat of the church?'" Ascol asked in his blog entry.

"I would not work with such people, and I would not want a president of the SBC who would either. . . . If Dr. Page genuinely believes what he has written about Calvinism, then no amount of kindness can justify his willingness to work with the kinds of people described in his book!"

The next time the SBC has a debate over Calvinism, I suggest that Frank Page and Tom Ascol be the debaters. That discussion is not likely to be as "collegial" as was the debate between Mohler and Patterson.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Quakers Sue Over Domestic Spying

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee, an arm of the Quaker Church, to force the Pentagon to release records on the NSA's spying on domestic anti-war groups.

Someone apparently determined that non-violent, pacifist Quakers might pose a threat to national security.

Baptist Approve Takeover of Public Schools

Ethics Daily appears to be the only news source that realizes how the Resolutions Committee of the SBC has managed to give a positive spin to a bold plan by Christian Nationalists, Dominionists, and Christian Reconstructionists within the SBC to either takeover or destroy the public school system in America.

Instead of pressing for an immediate "exit strategy" from the public schools, the SBC is encouraging Baptists to engage in political action to takeover the boards of education at public schools.

I'm still waiting for the full text of the SBC's resolution on education to be posted online. I'll write more about this when the resolution becomes available.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Baptists Reject Resolution to Exit Public Schools

Southern Baptists have yet again rejected a resolution to exit the public schools.

Baptists approved a resolution to investigate a supposed "homosexual agenda" in public schools last year.

I predict that resolutions supporting an "exit strategy" from public schools will not gain traction until the Supreme Court rules that private religious schools are eligible to receive tax-payer funded vouchers for education. When that happens, nearly every Baptist church will open a private school and the public schools will be emptied of Baptists.

Baptists couldn't keep schools segregated according to race, but they'll soon see that schools are segregated according to religion.

Turmoil at IMB to Continue

Recent turmoil at the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board is sure to continue after messengers voted to refer a blogging trustee's recommendation to investigate the trustees to the trustees themselves.

Wade Burleson's blogging launched a movement of "irenic conservatives" that helped get Frank Page elected president of the SBC, but messengers refused to call for an external investigation of the backroom politicking among trustees at the IMB.

There is probably some wisdom in the convention's decision. The leadership of every board and agency has been either involved in or elected by backroom politicking for more than 25 years. If the Convention ever begins investigating the backroom, secretive and manipulative politics within the SBC since the fundamentalist takeover, it would never end.

Perhaps the "irenic conservatives" can inaugurate an era of openness and forthrightness within the Convention. Open communications, open meetings and freedom to blog would be helpful.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Old Guard Losing Hold of SBC

Frank Page, a candidate nominated by a group of young SBC fundamentalists, has been elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention. He defeated Ronnie Floyd, a candidate endorsed by Paige Patterson and the old guard fundamentalist leaders of the SBC.

Page's election is a signal of the power of the internet and of bloggers to influence opinion and organize voters. It is also a victory for those who believe that demonstrable sacrificial giving to SBC causes is a necessary quality for leadership in the SBC. Old guard fundamentalists, like Floyd, typically give token support for SBC causes out of their mega-church budgets.

SBC Messengers Decline Proposal to WMU

Ethics Daily is reporting that the messengers at the meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention have "rejected a proposal to invite Woman's Missionary Union to surrender its auxiliary status and submit to convention control."

Calvinism Debate at SBC "Too Collegial"

Ken Massey, pastor of First Baptist Church of Greensboro, N.C., said the debate yesterday between Paige Patterson and Al Mohler over Calvinism was "too collegial."

Knowing the heat of the controversy and divisions that the resurgence of Calvinism is causing in Southern Baptist Churches around the country, I'm surprised that Patterson treats these matters with such indifference.

In times past, Patterson's deference to Mohler on this issue would have been viewed as a sign of half-hearted commitment to the Great Commission.

Update: ABP has posted further information about this Calvinism debate.

SBC to Propose to the WMU, Again

ABP and Ethics Daily are reporting that a motion has been made at the SBC Executive Committee to propose that the Women's Missionary Union become an oficial entity of the Southern Baptist Convention and be exclusively committed to the SBC.

The WMU has always been an independent auxiliary of the SBC.

Members of the SBC Executive Committee apparently think the independece of this women's organization is setting a bad example for all the "submissive" wives of the convention. The WMU continues to associate with the Baptist World Alliance and moderate Baptists in Missouri, Texas and Virginia. Like a jealous and insecure suitor, the SBC wants the WMU's undivided attention.

The SBC has been spurned in such courtship efforts before. The WMU organization remains wed to doing the Lord's will.

I trust that the WMU continue to refuse to enter into an abusive, exclusive relationship with the SBC.

Monday, June 12, 2006

AU Defends Wiccan Symbol on Memorials

Americans United has issued a press release encouraging the Veterans Affairs Department to accommodate Wiccan symbols on memorial markers at government cemetaries.

The department has been dragging its feet about putting the symbols on the memorial markers for soldiers of the Wiccan faith who have died serving our country in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said, "Aside from the constitutional issues raised, this is a simple matter of justice and common decency."

Political Turmoil Surrounds the IMB

Ethics Daily has posted additional information about the political turmoil surrounding the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board.

The names of Paige Patterson, Russell Kaemmerling and Keith Eitel are prominent among those involved in these questionable political activities.

The perpetrators remain the same, the victims change and the Convention's messengers are still bystanders enabling the perpetrators.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

A Primer on Political Language

Common Dreams has posted an essay on "Framing Versus Spin" which is a primer on the political uses of language.

It is well worth a thoughtful reading.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Calvinism Dividing Southern Baptists

Kudos to Bob Allen at Ethics Daily for his essay detailing the divisions cropping up within the Southern Baptist Convention over the resurgence of Calvinism that has taken place since the takeover. Here's a noteworthy quote:

In a widely disseminated quote from 2004, Patterson advised: "When you are called to a church, be sure that you are a man of integrity and you disclose your full theological position to the church to which you are called. Many a church has called a pastor only to find, only to discover, a couple of years in, that he is determined to take the church in the direction of a Calvinistic church. He never told them that up front. He may even have deliberately misled them.

"One of my sorrows in hiring professors across these years is that I've often asked that question and gotten a misleading answer and found out later that this man was in the classroom perpetuating the system of Calvinism."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A Pleasant Surprise

I was pleasantly surprised last night when I went to the CrossWalk America meeting at Mayflower Congregational Church in Oklahoma City.

I went to meet Rebecca Glenn who had been my guest on the "Religious Talk" radio program last Sunday. I wanted to hear more about the walk she is making from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. trying to get moderate and progressive Christians to speak out about their faith in a God of love. I also wanted to meet Eric Elnes, her pastor, who is the other co-chair of CrossWalk America.

AS they projected slides of the cities and churches they visited and the people that they had met, I looked for a familiar face. A number of people walked with them in Albuquerque, N.M. -- my home town, home to my high school and college alma maters -- I recognized the street on which they were walking, but none of the faces. They spent some time in Clovis, N.M. -- near Portales, N.M. where my wife was born and an area where my wife has relatives -- but still there were no familiar faces. When they got to Hereford, Texas and projected the face of the pastor of Fellowship Church -- I found my familiar face.

Tracy Dunn Nolan, still a Mainstream Oklahoma Baptist -- even if she now resides in Texas, is pastor of Fellowship Church in Hereford. Formerly on the staff of Spring Creek Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, she's one of hundreds of Baptist Women who have been called by God to pastoral ministry but who have been overlooked by moderate Baptist Churches and excluded by Southern Baptist Churches when they call a pastor.

I'll try to find a picture of Tracy and post it over the next few days.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Podcast: Rebecca Glenn Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 6-4-06 "Religious Talk" radio interview of Rebecca Glenn co-chair of CrossWalk America. We talk about the Phoenix Affirmations and the progress of her walk from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. to encourage moderate and progressive Christians to speak out about their faith.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Baptists Have a Right to Know

Wade Burleson stands in a long and distinguished line of Baptists who have demanded that decision making within the SBC be done openly and for publicly accessible reasons.

Below are some excerpts from a 1957 presentation by W.G. Stacener to the Orange Blossom Baptist Association in Florida. Stacener was editor of the Florida Baptist Witness from 1949-1970.

Baptists Have a Right to Know

Every Baptist has a right to know. We can think of no sufficient reason to withhold any information he or she has a right to know. Furthermore, if one Baptist or one Baptist church has a right to know, then every church has a right to know. There should be no preferred persons or churches or groups among Baptists. All have a right to know.

Baptists have a right to know the Bible and to undersand their own doctrines and the Baptists' principles of church and denominational procedures. Baptists have a right to know the relation and application of their principles to world issues and problems that affect the entire community.

Baptists have the right to know the actions (all the actions) of the denominational and institutional boards and agencies. There can be no denominational secrets if the right to know is respected.

Baptists have the right to know and help formulate the policies and actions with which they are expected to cooperate and which they are asked to support financially.

Baptists have a right to know the thinking, attitudes and activities of all Baptists everywhere.

If a Baptist has a right to know, he or she also has an obligation to know. Willful ignorance is sinful for Baptists. . . .

Basis in Belief

The right of every Baptist to know is based on the equality of believers in Christ Jesus and upon the democratic nature of our church and denominational life. Every believer has a right to serve his or her God, his or her church, and his or her denomination intelligently. This can be done only as the right to know is respected.

If intelligent and cooperative participation in church and denomination life is to be enlisted and maintained, we must erect every safeguard to protect this right and make every effort to apply this principle.

Ignorant, misinformed, misguided Baptists can be powerful, non-cooperative, contrary and dangerous. If Baptists even think that information is being withheld from them they can act up and show their independency something awful.

On the other hand, informed, intelligent and properly enlisted Baptists are cooperative, harmonious and victorious.

SBC's Stormiest Controversy Since 1991

Associated Baptist Press reports that "Controversies born from blogs promise stormiest SBC since 1991." Those years include some stormy controversies -- the confessional addition that wives should "graciously submit" to their husbands (1998), the revision of the Baptist Faith and Message statement elevating the Bible above Jesus (2000), the termination of scores of career missionaries for refusing to sign the 2000 BF&M (2002), and the severing of ties with the Baptist World Alliance (2004) have all come in those fifteen years.

What's different is not that this time it is conservatives against conservatives. Winfred Moore and Richard Jackson were ever bit as theologically conservative as Wade Burleson is today.

The difference between 1991-2004 and today is that the technology of weblogs has made it possible for individuals to speak to a worldwide audience, be heard, engage in dialogue with others, pool resources, and quickly organize across long distances for collective action. That is unprecedented in human history and it spells trouble for authoritarian leaders who depend on manipulating public opinion by controlling the flow of information.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Bar Association to Investigate Bush

The Boston Globe has reported that the American Bar Association is putting together a bi-partisan all-star legal panel "to investigate whether President Bush has exceeded his constitutional authority in reserving the right to ignore more than 750 laws that have been enacted since he took office."

The American Bar Association, with over 400,000 members, is the most prestigious legal association in America.

The panel includes Mickey Edwards, a former Oklahoma representative from 1977 to 1993, and Bruce Fein, a Justice Department official under President Reagan; William Sessions, a retired federal judge who was the director of the FBI under both Reagan and President George H.W. Bush; Patricia Wald, a retired chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, appointed by President Carter; Harold Koh, dean of Yale Law School and a former official in the Reagan and Clinton administrations; Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of Stanford Law School; Charles Ogletree, a Harvard law professor; and Stephen Saltzburg , a professor at George Washington University Law School; Mark Agrast, a former legislative counsel for Representative William D. Delahunt, Democrat of Quincy, and Thomas Susman, who worked in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel under both Presidents Johnson and Nixon, and was later counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Another Dirty Little Secret

Over the last few days, Robert Kennedy Jr. has been at the center of a storm of controversy over an essay he wrote in Rolling Stone Magazine. His essay, "Was the 2004 Election Stolen?" examines the mounting evidence for voter irregularities in the last national election. Greg Palast, a BBC investigative reporter who was among the first to write about the irregularities, gave an interview to Buzz Flash supporting Kennedy's allegations. Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman, who have also investigated the election, also weighed in. Journalist Thom Hartman reviews responses to Kennedy, Palast and others in an article at Common Dreams.

Mark Crispin Miller, professor of culture and communications at New York University, has also written about voting irregularities in the 2004 election in his book "Fooled Again." Here's a link to a podcast of my "Religious Talk" radio interview of Miller. We also discuss his book "Cruel and Unusual."

It should be noted that voting irregularities are nothing new in American politics. Larry Sabato's Dirty Little Secrets: The Persistence of Corruption in American Politics provides a good introduction to the dirty tricks and fraud that has been perpetrated by all the political parties in American history.

What was different in 2004 was the magnitude of the problem.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Court Reject Iowa's Faith-based Prison Wing

The New York Times has reported that a federal judge in Iowa has ruled that Iowa's Faith-based prison scheme is unconstitutional.

Chuck Colson's InnerChange program is being required to return the $1.5 million taxpayer dollars that it has illegally received to run their "pervasively sectarian" program.

InnerChange and every other proselytizing faith group needs to support itself by volutary contributions.

Here's a link to an article I wrote for Mercer's Baptist Studies Bulletin about this case.

Here's a link to Americans United's press release about this decision.

Decalogue Monument Before Supreme Court

Christian Reconstruction activist Rob Schenck and his Faith and Action organization are putting a Ten Commandments monument on the lawn in front of their office across the street from the U.S. Supreme Court.

There's nothing unconstitutional about making the Ten Commandments prominent on private property. In fact, both the Baptist Joint Committee and Americans United for Separation of Church and State would defend expressions of faith on private property as a constitutionally protected civil right.

Whatever problems Schenck's organization has had getting permits to put up their monument are based on regulations other than the First Amendment to the Constitution.

Friday, June 02, 2006

White Supremacists Reviving

Time Magazine is reporting that the furor over undocumented immigrants is reviving white supremacists, neo-nazis, and the KKK.

In Shelbyville, Kentucky high school students organized a unity rally to counter a KKK protest, but Baptist preachers who would speak out against the KKK were hard to find.

Burleson Continues to Advocate Transparency

Associated Baptist Press and Ethics Daily both have articles about Wade Burleson preparing to make a motion at the upcomong Southern Baptist Convention meeting. Burleson, the International Mission Board trustee who has been censured by the rest of the board for blogging about backroom politics at the IMB, wants the SBC's Executive Committee to appoint a committee to investigate the controversy.

I commend Burleson for standing firm on his advocacy of transparency at the IMB. Baptists should expect openness, transparency, and integrity in the governance of all its boards and agencies.

Burleson's proposals should not be controversial. It's more than a shame that they are.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Enron's Takeover Leaders

Molly Ivins has an outstanding editorial entitled "The Takeover is Complete" on the Working for Change website. Here's a quote:
As the late Rep. Wright Patman Sr. observed: "Many of our wealthiest and most powerful citizens are very greedy. This fact has many times been demonstrated."

The interesting thing about Lay and Skilling is they weren't trying to evade the rules, they were rigging the rules in their favor. The fix was in -- much of it law passed by former Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas, whose wife, Wendy, served on the board of Enron.

Iran, the U.N. and America's Neo-conservatives

The latest headlines give the appearance that the U.S. has softened its stance toward Iran and that other nations are joining the U.S. in preparing to use "sanctions" and even "military force" against Iran.

Perhaps I'm overly cynical, but this looks like a script for war that I've read before.

To get a clear picture of what the neo-conservative cabal running this administration is up to, I would pay attention to what our neo-conservative ambassador to the U.N. is saying.

Here's a link to a video and transcript of what John Bolton said on Fox Television last night: "Unilateral Military Action is 'On the Table'."

It might be wise to put current events at the U.N. in the context of statements in a recent Raw Story article which said:

Speculation has been growing on a possible air strike against Iran. But with the failure of the Bush administration to present a convincing case to the UN Security Council and to secure political backing domestically, some experts say the march toward war with Iran is on pause barring an "immediate need."

"In March/April of this year [the US] was pushing for quick closure, a thirty day window," says a source close to the UN Security Council, describing efforts by the Administration to "shore up enough support" to get a UN Chapter 7 resolution.

A UN Chapter 7 resolution makes it possible for sanctions to be imposed against an uncooperative nation and leaves the door open to military action.

The UN source also says that a military analysis suggests that no military action should be undertaken in Iran until spring of 2007, but that things remain volatile given this administration's penchant for having "their own way."

On Williams and Locke

Scott Stearman has written a helpful article about "Baptists Stand for Church/State Separation" that is posted at Ethics Daily.

Here's a quote:

Early in this country's history, Baptists were among those who fought hard for religious liberty. We believed then that coerced faith is not faith, that the worst thing for any religion is for government to "establish" it, and that allowing church control over government didn't do anyone any good, either.
There is an error in his essay regarding Roger Williams. Williams (1603-1683) was not following the ideas of Locke (1632-1704). He was founding Rhode Island as "a pure democracy, which for the first time guarded jealously the rights of conscience by ignoring any power in the body politic to interfere with those matters that alone concern man and his Maker" when Locke was four years old.