Monday, July 31, 2006

Bill Gates and Public Schools

The LA Times has published a story that wonders how Bill Gates will do as Superintendent of Public Schools.

No, Gates is not becoming the Secretary of Education. He will be running his Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which has been working to reduce the size of public schools. Gates thinks smaller schools do a better job than big schools.

Perhaps that will also start a trend back toward smaller churches instead of mega-churches. I think that would be a healthy development.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Evangelicals Disowning Conservative Politics?

Today's New York Times has a story about an evanglical pastor who has disowned conservative politics.

There are a lot more evangelical pastors doing this than most people realize.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Sick of Sectarian Prayers in Public Schools

The New York Times has a story today about the Dobrich's who were hounded out of their home in the Indian River School District in Delaware when they complained about sectarian prayers in the public schools.

Here's a link to a statement I wrote about this.

Here's a link to the CrossLeft website. CrossLeft is using my statement to gather signatures for a petition that will be sent to the Indian River School District.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Fundamentalist vs. Progressivist Conscience

Several years ago I heard a Baptist pastor publicly berate a member of his own congregation at a statewide meeting of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The member, who worked with battered women, had dared to openly disagree with the Southern Baptist Convention's edict that wives should "graciously submit" to their husbands. She planned to challenge that ruling at the state convention meeting, but, as her pastor knew, she was called away at the last minute to make funeral arrangements for an immediate family member.

I found myself wondering how anyone could be so malicious as to publicly libel, defame and berate before a statewide audience another Christian in absentia. The act was unconscionable to me. Especially so given the circumstances that led to that absence.

In a vein similar to the title of John Dean's book "Conservatives without Conscience," I started to write an article about "Fundamentalists Without Conscience." After considerable reflection, however, I decided that fundamentalists don't lack a conscience, they just have a defective conscience. The defect lies in hubris.

Conscience is the ability to put yourself in the place of others and to look at yourself through the eyes of others. This ability is presupposed by the "Golden Rule." Some form of the "Golden Rule" or some principle of respect is common to most religions and philosophies. Most of us are familiar with the formulation that Jesus gave: "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and Prophets." (Mt. 7:12 NIV)

The "Golden Rule" tells us to view ourselves as subject to the acts of others and commands that our own actions reflect the same respect that we hope to receive from others. In effect, it says our human capacity to assume a standpoint outside ourselves should be exercised with humility (looking back on ourselves) and not with arrogance (looking down on others).

Arrogance (looking down on others) is a fault that bedevils all fundamentalists. They presume to use their ability to assume a standpoint outside themselves to put themselves in the place of God and look down on others through the eyes of God.

In the Christian faith, such arrogance is explicitly prohibited. Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." (Mt. 7:1-2 NIV).

Despite this prohibition, Christianity has its share of fundamentalists. They are the ones who are so certain of their interpretations of scripture that they feel authorized to pass judgment on others for God.

The only real difference between the fundamentalists of different faiths lies in the sources of revelation that they think authorizes them to pass judgment on others. The arrogance and judgmentalism that renders the conscience defective is common to all fundamentalists.

Lebanese Christian Caught in the Middle

Ethics Daily has posted a story interviewing Elie Haddad, Provost at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, that describes how Lebanese Christians are Caught in the Middle of the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. Here's a quote:

Elie became the Beirut seminary's chief executive officer in January 2006. His hillside office overlooks Beirut, giving him a bird's-eye view of devastation from Israel's current bombing campaign, now in its third week.

"What took 15 years to build was destroyed in less than a week," he told "The most frustrating thing is the international community that is watching as our county is being destroyed in front of our eyes."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Rage Within the GOP Machine

David Broder has written an editorial about the rage that is simmering against the Republican Party within "the Taft-Goldwater-Reagan wing of the GOP."

He says they think that "everything the White House does seems to be aimed at pleasing only one section of the Republican coalition -- the religious right."

On the Guilty Silence of America's Clergy

Kenneth C. Daniel has written an indictment of America's clergy that is published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He says, "Clergy too Silent about Bush, War."

Frankly, Daniel lets us off too easy. He said nothing about the clergy who are leading cheers for wars in the Middle East in the hope that they will lead to the second coming of Christ.

Facing the Religious Right

The American Prospect has posted an essay on "Fighting Right" about how to fight the religious right.

My suggestion is to begin by giving up the military rhetoric. The religious right does not need to be "fought," it needs to be "faced." Both involve conflict. One acknowledges that the the "other" is not an "enemy" but a "brother."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Another Vote for Moyers

John Nichols at Nation Magazine has seconded Molly Ivins motion to run Bill Moyers for President.

He even thinks Moyers could be a contender.

Maybe a movement to draft Moyers for President could become a reality.

U.S. Troops Going to Lebanon?

Harper's Magazine has posted a story quoting sources at the Pentagon saying the White House is considering sending U.S. troops to Lebanon.

Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and plans for Iran must not be enough for the neo-cons.

Is War with Iran Next?

Rolling Stone Magazine has an insightful essay on how neo-conservatives have maneuvered to lead the U.S. toward war with Iran.

Here's a telling quote from gloating neo-conservative Michael Ledeen's recent article in the National Review:

"The only way we are going to win this war is to bring down those regimes in Tehran and Damascus, and they are not going to fall as a result of fighting between their terrorist proxies in Gaza and Lebanon on the one hand, and Israel on the other. Only the United States can accomplish it," he concluded. "There is no other way."

Details Emerging on Bombing of U.N. Outpost

U.N. General Secretary Kofi Annan says the Israeli's bombed the U.N. outpost for hours before registering the direct hit that killed four U.N. observers. Here's a quote from a story in the Guardian UK:

"But the shelling started in the morning and went on until after 7pm. You cannot imagine the anguish of the unarmed men and women peacekeepers who were there."

According to a detailed timeline of the incident provided by an unidentified UN officer and reported by CNN, the first bomb exploded around 200 metres from the post at 1.20pm (11.20am BST) yesterday.

Unifil observers then telephoned their designated contact with the Israeli military, who assured them the attacks would stop. In the following hours, nine more bombs fell close to the post, each one followed by a call to the Israeli military, the UN officer said.

The main Unifil base in the town of Naqoura lost contact with the post at 7.40pm, seemingly the time when the post received a direct hit.

Mennonite Emergency Room Physician Molests Rape Victim

Patriot News reports that a rape victim in Pennsylvania was denied a morning-after pill by an emergency room doctor because it was against his religion.

Morning-after pills prevent pregnancy.

Pennsylvania law permits health care providers to deny service on religious grounds.

In my opinion, this rape victim was assaulted twice. First by a rapist and then by a physician. The rapist molested her physically. The physician molested her spiritually.

Israeli Newspaper Columnists Worried About War in Lebanon

Editor and Publisher has posted an article about the doubts that newspaper columnists in Israel are expressing about the morality of the war in Lebanon. Here's a quote from Ze'ev Maoz, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University:

"But in terms of our own national soul searching, we owe ourselves to confront the bitter truth -- maybe we will win this conflict on the military field, maybe we will make some diplomatic gains, but on the moral plane, we have no advantage, and we have no special status."

U.N. Observer Post Levelled by Israeli Airstrike

CNN has reported that the U.N claims a longstanding, clearly marked U.N. observer post was levelled by an Israeli airstrike. Two U.N. observers are known dead, two more are feared dead.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condolleezza Rice continues to resist appeals for an immediate mid-east cease-fire.

Perhaps more of those dangerous U.N. observers need to be taught a lesson.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Draft Moyers for President

Molly Ivins latest editorial, "Run Bill Moyers for President, Seriously," is the best suggestion I've read in a decade. Here's a quote:

Then why run him? Think, imagine, if seven or eight other Democratic candidates, all beautifully coiffed and triangulated and carefully coached to say nothing that will offend anyone, stand on stage with Bill Moyers in front of cameras for a national debate . . . what would happen? Bill Moyers would win, would walk away with it, just because he doesn't triangulate or calculate or trim or try to straddle the issues. Bill Moyers doesn't have to endorse a constitutional amendment against flag burning or whatever wedge issue du jour Republicans have come up with. He is not afraid of being called "unpatriotic." And besides, he is a wise and a kind man who knows how to talk on TV.

Our Neighbors in Lebanon

Martin Accad, Academic Dean of the Arab Baptist Seminary in Lebanon, has a new article in Christianity Today. It is entitled "Who is my Neighbor." Here's a quote:

My deepest admiration goes to my Christian friends and co-workers in Lebanon. They have overcome years of civil strife that built walls of fear between different religious communities in Lebanon and have become "innkeepers," opening their hearts to the needy and displaced, regardless of community affiliation. Are we, as Christians everywhere, willing to do the unthinkable and lean over those whom our conventional leaders are calling "our enemies"? Could it be that the Gospel actually calls us to put down our guns and take up instead a passion for justice and care for human life?

Believe It or Not

Eighty year old English woman sets a burglar straight about cutlery.

American Baptist Leader Calls for Immediate Ceasefire in Lebanon

Thanks to Ethics Daily for calling attention to the open letter that Ray Medley, General Secretary of American Baptist Churches, wrote to President Bush. Medley asked Bush to push for an "immediate ceasefire" in Lebanon.

Associated Baptist Press reports that U.S. Baptist volunteers reach safety with thanks from Lebanese leader.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Inhofe Embarrasses Oklahoma

It is hard to believe anyone elected to the United States Senate would be so rash as to compare environmentalists to Nazis.

Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe did.

Mohler's Rationale for Male Supremecism

Al Mohler stepped forward to defend Frank Page's flip-flop regarding women in ministry last week. In doing so, he defended his own flip-flop on the same issue. Flip-flops that result in a benefit to the flopper are characteristic of those who put politics above principle. Changes of mind that prove costly are characteristic of those who put principle above politics. Mainstream readers can determine the difference for themselves.

Mohler suggests his original position was due to his seminary's failure to offer conservative perspective when it was controlled by moderates. A similar allegation was clearly refuted by Paul Debusman, the seminary's librarian who was terminated ten months prior to his retirement for correcting statements along that same line by Tom Elliff while he was President of the SBC.

Al says his change of heart on women's ordination and service resulted not from the changed political climate within the convention but from a study that was prompted by a conversation with Carl Henry. He dresses up his male supremecist position under the circumlocution of "complementarianism" and concludes:

Nevertheless, my study of the question led me to a very uncomfortable conclusion -- my advocacy of women in the teaching office was wrong, violative of Scripture, inconsisent with my theological commitments, injurious to the church, unsubstantiated, and just intellectually embarrassing.
Mohler certainly has the weight of Southern Baptist hermeneutics on his side. It is the same hermeneutical method that in 1845 believed it was "wrong, violative of Scripture, inconsisent with . . . theological commitments, injurious to the church, unsubstantiated, and just intellectually embarrassing" for Baptists in the North to refuse support for a missionary who owned slaves.

Bar Association Says Bush Flouting Rule of Law

A bi-partisan panel of the American Bar Association has faulted the Bush administration for flouting the Constitution and undermining the rule of law when he claims to have power to disregard provisions of the laws that he signs.

The panel cited precedent going back to the seventeenth century:

The issue has deep historical roots, the panel said, noting that Parliament had condemned King James II for nonenforcement of certain laws in the 17th century. The panel quoted the English Bill of Rights: "The pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal."

Sunday, July 23, 2006

On Israel's Peace Movement

Max Blumenthal posted a blog today entitled "There is a Limit" (about Yesh Gvul) that discusses the surprising strength of the peace movement among Israelis.

Semitism has posted a report from an American Jewish activist opposed to the war in Lebanon with suggestions about "What Israel Must Do."

Voices of conscience are rising from all quarters to oppose the unnecessary escalation of an incident in which two Israeli soldiers were kidnapped in an attempt to secure a prisoner exchange. Those hostages are reported to be "OK and in good health."

Amazon Deforestation Having Dire Consequences

The Independent UK has published a report, "Dying Forest: One Year to Save the Amazon".

The title sounds like an exaggeration.

Even if the threat is exaggerated, the article reveals that conditions in the Amazon are far worse than previously realized.

Pax Americana?

Yesterday, BBC News reported that England's Prime Minister is publicly criticizing Israel's unrestrained bombing of Lebanon.

Today, Associated Press is reporting that the U.N.'s top humanitarian official denounced Israel's air strikes saying civilians were paying a "disproportionate price" in the attacks.

Voice of America is reporting that Bush has said Syria and Iran must be confronted because they have helped arm Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that "U.S. Speeds Up Bomb Delivery for the Israelis".

Margaret Mitchell on Richard Land's Hermeneutics

Margaret Mitchell, Professor of New Testament and Early Christian Literature at the University of Chicago, has written an outstanding essay on "How Biblical is the Christian Right?" She examines the hermeneutical method of a host of Christian Right leaders. Her analysis of Richard Land's use of the Bible is telling:

Southern Baptist Convention minister Richard Land presents no such ambivalence about his role as interpreter of the Bible. His "For Faith and Family" web site presents the reader with a link to something called the "Ethics Scripture Index," defined as "a listing of Scriptures that relate to various ethical issues," from "Abortion, Adoption, Bioethics, Homemaking/Domestication, to War, Wives, Women." For a student of biblical interpretation, this is a simply fascinating document, both in form and in effect. It is both like and unlike the ancient "testimonia" lists, such as we find at Qumran (4 QTestim), which contain a chain of excerpted quotes about the nature and identity of the true prophet, for instance. But, tellingly, this list is inconsistent in form. Let me explain. First off, there is no explanation of what topics or which passages are chosen or why, and in the vast majority of cases all one sees is a citation, not the text itself (that also has the nice effect of not confusing people who read their Bible in a different translation, and hence might find rather different wording which might call into question the aptness of its place there). And this method presumes that the whole column speaks with one voice about the issue, which means that there is already a pre-determined decision about the "biblical view" on the given issue. No hermeneutical rule of thumb or guidance is given on such issues as the relationship between the Old and New Testament in Christian law or regulation, nor about how different biblical genres relate to divine teaching and biblical truth (law, narrative, parable, and proverb are all treated the same). But one gets some glimpses of the interpretive work behind this list (and the rhetorical effect it is designed to have) because sometimes a paraphrase or explanation is appended to one or more items in each categorical list.

If we take these as indicative of some higher level of interest, investment or possible debate on the topic, it is quite interesting that under "Hunger," for instance, only fifteen citations are given, but no comments (obviously not an important issue). Astoundingly, Luke's second beatitude ("Blessed are those who hunger now" [Luke 6:21]) did not even make the list. By contrast, "Gambling" receives double the references "Hunger" has (thirty -- Land does not have the same problem as the Dobson site in acknowledging that the Bible does not mention gambling), as well as some interpretive comments (my favorite: next to 1 Cor. 16:1-3, Paul's instructions to the Corinthians on putting money aside each week for the saints in Jerusalem are glossed, "can't give to a collection if your money is gambled away"!). The category that had by far the most listings was "Money": 123 citations, but not a single interpretive comment.

The contemporary significance of these strategically-placed comments seems clear when one looks at the category "War" (there is none for "Peace"). Of sixty-six citations, fully fourteen were singled out for comment:

Gen. 14:13-16 Abram rescues Lot through warfare
Deut. 2:5, 9, 19, 32-35 God's sovereignty in war
Josh. 6-12 aggressive in God's plan for victory
1 Sam. 15:1-3 total annihilation of enemy
2 Sam. 5:17-25 preventative, consulted God beforehand
Luke 6:27-36 [sic; possibly 7:2-10] Jesus did not command the centurion to abandon his job now that he was a Christian

While it is easy to think of this as a literalistic proof-texting, it is not just that, but a highly creative rearrangement of selective pieces of the biblical record to justify a previously reached conclusion (in this case, apparently, the invasion of Iraq). Sometimes Land does include passages that might complicate the picture, but his own interpretive comments draw attention away from them. For example, we read "Rom. 12:2 our ways are separate from the world's ways," but would hardly realize that under the listing Rom. 12:17-21 lies a text that contains both the actual word peace (Rom. 12:2 does not) and a command related to it: "if it is possible by your agency, live in peace with all people" (Rom. 12:18). It bears noting, in relation to my larger thesis, that it is Christian peace-makers of various stripes -- not the Christian Right -- who are the literalists when it comes to the latter verse.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Baptist Colleges Seeking Independence

Today's New York Times has an interesting article about "Feeling Strains, Baptist Colleges Cut Church Ties." Here are a couple quotes:

"The convention itself in its national and state organizations has moved so far to the right that previous diversity on the faculty and among the trustees is no longer possible," said Bill Leonard, dean of the Divinity School at Wake Forest. "More theological control of the curriculum and the faculty has been the result."

David W. Key, director of Baptist Studies at the Candler School of Theology at Emory, put it more starkly. "The real underlying issue is that fundamentalism in the Southern Baptist form is incompatible with higher education," Professor Key said. "In fundamentalism, you have all the truths. In education, you're searching for truths."

Friday, July 21, 2006

Jim Evans Off Target Today

Normally I give an "Amen" to what Jim Evans writes. Today, however, he has posted statements on Ethics Daily that are off-target, muddled and misleading.

In an essay on "The Voice of Faith Necessary in Social Issues" Evans says:

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argues that faith advocacy from whatever quarter and for whatever motive violates the spirit of the Constitution. Lynn believes that politicians and not preachers should develop policy. And that policy should be based on the common good, not a scriptural ideal.
I know Barry Lynn well and I've heard him speak to this issue on numerable occassions. The claim that he contends "faith advocacy from whatever quarter and for whatever motive violates the spirit of the Constitution" is simply false. Evans needs to apologize and retract it.

Lynn knows well the role of faith in the civil rights movement. The religious motivation that prompts advocacy for justice and social change has never been at issue. In a pluralistic society, people engage in political processes for a variety of motives.

Evans leaves the impression that Lynn would deny preachers a voice in discussions of policy development. That too is fallacious. Lynn upholds the right of every citizen, for whatever motive, to have a voice in the public square when matters of public policy are being discussed.

The only truth in Evan's caricature of Lynn is that Lynn believes public policy should be based on the common good and not on a scriptural ideal. That, in fact, is what the Constitution requires.

The Constitution prohibits politicians from passing laws that establish religion. Americans hold a variety of different scriptures to be authoritative. Even Americans who consider the same scriptures authoritative, uphold differing ideals from within those scriptures. Public policy must be based on whatever common ground can be found between all faiths and traditions, not on the scriptural ideals of an established tradition.

Evans also leaves the impression that Lynn believes making public funds available to assist the poor establishes religion. That is a complete distortion. Barry Lynn's opposition to federal funding of faith-based initiatives, like the opposition from James Dunn, Brent Walker, Hollyn Hollman, Melissa Walker, Foy Valentine, Phil Strickland and scores of other Baptists and religiously motivated people, has never been based on resistance to the common good of federal support for the needy.

Opposition to federal funding of faith-based initiatives has always been based on the need to protect the church from the intrusion of federal oversight, regulation and political manipulation as well as to prohibit the state from favoring and funding religion and using it as a mechanism for social control.

John Ashcroft, Jim Wallis, and presumably Jim Evans seem to think that the concerns of church-state separationists have been alleviated by the current legislative prohibitions of government oversight and regulation of the funding given to faith-based organizations. It is hard for me to conceive of a more myopic policy. If the devil himself had conceived of a plan to undermine prophetic faith, I don't know how he could have picked a better one.

I once had Jim Wallis as a guest on my radio program. I asked him, "What could possibly destroy the credibility of the church more than easy money and loose accountability?"

He didn't have an answer. Anybody else got one?

Immediate Ceasefire Needed in Lebanon

I second and commend Robert Parham's call for Christians to support immediate ceasefire in Lebanon.

All noncombatants are equal.

All Christians should be praying for peace and actively engaged in peacemaking.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Apocalypse How?

Robert Parry's essay "The Abyss Beckons" provides the best analysis I've seen for what the neo-conservative cabal running our government hopes to accomplish in Lebanon. Here's a quote:

One interpretation of the Lebanese-Israeli conflict is that Bush and Olmert seized on the Hezbollah raid as a pretext for a pre-planned escalation that will lead to bombing campaigns against Syria and Iran, justified by their backing of Hezbollah.

In that view, Bush found himself stymied by U.S. military objections to targeting Iran's nuclear facilities outside any larger conflict. However, if the bombing of Iran develops as an outgrowth of a tit-for-tat expansion of a war in which Israel's existence is at stake, strikes against Iranian targets would be more palatable to the American public.

The end game would be U.S.-Israeli aerial strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities with the goal of crippling its nuclear program and humiliating Ahmadinejad.

The Return of the Law of the Jungle

America's pre-emptive war in Iraq, Israel's assymetic bombing of Lebanon, and coming soon . . . Turkey's assault against the Kurds.

This isn't the clash of civilizations. There's nothing civilized about any of this. This is the return of the law of the jungle.

Each nation is doing what is right in the eyes of those in power.

Might is making right.

God's law -- whether you are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim has nothing to do with any of this.

On Evangelical Blindness Toward Israel

Christianity Today has posted an anguished essay by Martin Accad, the Academic Dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon. Here are some quotes:

It is striking how normally highly reasonable and spiritually aware people can suddenly lose any sense of ethical, let alone Christian, balance when it comes to Middle East conflicts involving modern political Israel. . . .

As an academic with a Ph.D. from Oxford University and specialist in Christian-Muslim and East-West relations, constantly seeking creative models of conflict resolution and better understanding, all of what I have just written is written in a manner far from what I would normally write or say with a cool head, far from what my Swiss-blood-flowing veins would normally permit me to utter. But then, perhaps academics sometimes owe their readers more genuine feelings, skin-level emotions gushing out of a deeply hurting, frustrated, desperate, and hopeless soul that has had enough of human arrogance and injustice. . . .

I am angry at self-centered Hezbollah, which has done the inadmissible of taking a unilateral war decision without consulting the Lebanese government of which it is part, never giving a second thought to the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Lebanese who will perish as a result of its selfish decision. I am angry that citizens of a nation like Israel, who have so suffered at the hands of others, would allow themselves such an out-of-proportion reaction, oh-so-far from the "eye-for-an-eye and tooth-for-a-tooth" principle that we might have forgiven them. I am just as angry at -- I have lost hope in -- the international community that is keeping silent and not even budging with an official condemnation of this senseless instinct of extermination. By both sides, I would be lynched for what I have just said, if they had the chance. But what have I got to lose anymore?

Am I My Brother's Keeper?

(Photo: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times)

This picture is of Zahra al-Samra an 18 year old girl in Hosh, Lebanon. She is being comforted by her brother in a hospital days after she was wounded and their mother and sister died in an Israeli airstrike in nearby Tyre. France and the European Union have accused Israel of "disproportionate use of force" for attacks on the civilian infrastructure which has led to a resulting asymmetry in civilian casualties.
What do airports, bridges and civilian infrastructure have to do with Hezbollah?
Would it make sense to destroy all the freeways, bridges and overpasses in downtown Oklahoma City because Timothy McVeigh used them to deliver a fertilizer truck bomb to the federal building?
Everybody in Lebanon is not a terrorist.

When a cease fire is finally called, there will certainly be more people in the world who are sympathetic to the terrorists than when Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Frank Page and Women in Ministry

Either recently elected SBC President Frank Page has changed his convictions concerning women's ordination, or he has been less than forthright when responding to questions about his beliefs.

Ethics Daily has posted a story about how the "SBC President Once Endorsed Women's Ordination." The report quotes from Page's 1980 doctoral dissertation where he concluded:
"Looking at the various viewpoints regarding women in ministry and having dealt with the related biblical passages, this writer agrees with the . . . reasons for the participation of women in ministry, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit," he wrote. "This writer, at least in part, agrees . . . that social distinctions are meant to be transcended, not perpetuated, within the body of Christ. They have been unfortunately perpetuated with a vengeance."

Today, however, on a page from the President on the SBC's website, Page states,
"My belief about women in ministry is consistent with that which is found in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, in Article VI, 'The Church,' This document states, 'That while both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of Pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.' I concur with that statement."

This isn't the first time that prominent SBC leaders have appeared to change their theology to further their career ambitions. Al Mohler, now President of Southern Seminary, was also once an active supporter of women in ministry.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Progressive Faith Blog Conference Roundup

I've gone through my pockets, notepads, wallet and conference materials to find every scrap of paper, business card, and pamplet that I can find with a URL or name of a blog that was given me at the Progressive Faith Blog Conference.

Here are the new friends that I've added to my "Other Blogs that I Read" blogroll along with a link to any comments that they wrote about the conference:

Blogging Faith -- comments on July 17, July 15, a another on July 15, and one on July 14.

Even the Devils Believe -- comments on July 17 and July 14.

Faithful Democrats -- website under construction.

Hoarded Ordinaries -- comments on July 18, on July 16, and July 15.

Iddybud -- comments on July 17

Imitatio Christi -- comments on July 16.

Islamicate -- comments on July 17 and another on July 17, July 15, a second on July 15 , a third on July 15, a fourth on July 15, a fifth on July 15, a sixth on July 15, July 14 and another on July 14.

Jspot -- comments on July 16, and another on July 16.

Lebanon Under Attack -- added per prayer request from a participant at the conference who is a friend of the blogger in Lebanon.

Nathan Newman -- comments on July 19.

On Chanting -- comments on July 16.

Pearl Bear's Blog -- comments on July 17, another on July 17, on July 15, a second on July 15, a third on July 15, a fourth on July 15, on July 14 and another on July 14.

Pregressive Faith Blog Conference Official Site

Progressive States Networks Daily Plan

Radical Torah

Semitism -- comments on July 16, a second on July 16, a third on July 16, and on July 15.

The Shalom Center

Textual Arachne -- comments on July 17 and on July 15

Time's Fool -- comments on July 17 and on July 16.

Velveteen Rabbi -- comments on July 17, on July 16, on July 15, a second on July 15, a third on July 15, a fourth on July 15, a fifth on July 15, a sixth on July 15, a seventh on July 15, a eighth on July 15, a ninth on July 15, a tenth on July 15, on July 14, another on July 14, and on July 13.

I already had XPatriated Texan, Philocrites, CrossLeft, Street Prophets and Talk to Action in my blogroll.

Philocrites commented on July 15 and July 12.

CrossLeft commented on July 14.

Pastordan at Street Prophets commented on July 17, a second one on July 17, and on July 16

XPatriated Texan commented on July 17 on July 14, on July 13, and on July 12.

Here are links to my own blogs about the conference -- July 15, a second on July 15, a third on July 15, a fourth on July 15, and a fifth on July 15,

Important Articles in the July Baptist Studies Bulletin

The July Issue of the Baptist Studies Bulletin is online with some important book reviews by Walter Shurden and a discussion of the North American Baptist Covenant by Bill Underwood.

Shurden is Executive Director of the Center for Baptist Studies at Mercer University. Underwood is President of Mercer University.

Here's a quote from Shurden's book review:

Though I vigorously applaud American Gospel and The Baptizing of America, Kingdom Coming by Michelle Goldberg is my favorite of the three books. Since she is a secular Jew of New York and I a progressive Baptist of Georgia, why am I most engrossed with Goldberg's analysis? Three reasons! One, Goldberg, a senior journalist for Salon, writes crisply and engagingly. And she researched this book the way journalists always research books: she went to the people she was writing about, observed their meetings, and heard their speeches. She has also read their books. Two, and this is the golden virtue of the book: Goldberg understands the vast overlapping network of the contemporary religious right, and she connects the dots for the reader. Three, some of her suggestions for taking on the religious right appear to me to be unusually fair and savvy, in keeping with her civil libertarianism.

If, like most, you don't have time to read all three books, please read Goldberg's introduction, "Taking the Land," and her conclusion, "Exiles in JesusLand." My guess is that after that, you will want to read all of her book and maybe the other two as well. "Take and read."
Goldberg was recently a guest on Welton Gaddy's State of Belief radio program. Here's a link to a brief podcast from that interview. I'll be interviewing Michelle on my Religious Talk radio program in the next few weeks.

After you've listened to Michelle Goldberg tell the story about the new faith-based policies of the Salvation Army in New York City, you'll find that whatever despair you might feel for the state of liberty of conscience in America may be alleviated by reading Underwood's discussion of the North American Baptist Covenant.

Underwood speaks about the possibility that 20 million moderate and progressive Baptists -- Baptists who remember their denomination's legacy in support of liberty of conscience -- might unite and work to reclaim their heritage after the leaders of 16 million Southern Baptists have spent three decades working to destroy that legacy. Here's the electrifying first paragraph from Underwood's discussion:

There are whispers of an exciting new movement emerging in Baptist life. Within the past several weeks, leaders of Baptist organizations representing more than 20 million Baptists have launched an unprecedented initiative to advance the Kingdom through the combined voice and work of Baptists throughout North America. Baptists from the North and from the South. Black and white Baptists. conservative, moderate and progressive Baptists joining together in a covenant -- the North American Baptist Covenant -- to affirm "their desire to speak and work together to create an authentic and genuine prophetic Baptist voice in these complex times."

NAMB Whistleblower Terminated

Mike Stewart, an Associational Mission Director in California who blew the whistle on the fudged statistics being reported by the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board, has been fired by NAMB. Here's a quote from Greg Warner's report at ABP:

Stewart said the accusation that he spoke negatively about NAMB likely came from a presentation he made to other associational directors Jan. 10. "I said NAMB's factual data on church growth was not good and the missionary count was inflated," Stewart told ABP.

Those same statistics contributed to the forced resignation of NAMB president Bob Reccord a month later. Stewart, a theological conservative, said those statistics have not been popular with the SBC's conservative leaders. "If our [denominational] problems were theological 20 years ago, we should see a rebound. But the data shows we're in decline in everything."

Monday, July 17, 2006

On Israel and American Neo-Conservatism

Tom Paine has posted an essay "Neocons Rise from Mideast Ashes" that provides valuable background on current events in the middle east.

All the article lacks is a discussion of how these interests parallel those of the American evangelicals who are concerned to position the U.S. in ways that Grace Halsell described as "Forcing God's Hand."

On Poor Performing Conservative Christian Schools

Common Dreams has posted a story about an education study that faulted conservative Christian schools for test figures that underperformed those of other schools.

Stories like this could become commonplace once Southern Baptists set up their own "public" school system.

On Leo Strauss' Letter to Karl Lowith

Recently, the New York Times published a series of essays that attempted to restore respectability to the memory of Leo Strauss now that his neo-conservative disciples running the current administration have so thoroughly discredited his esoteric political philosophy.

Scott Horton has posted a critical essay about the New York Times series and has translated a letter from Strauss to Karl Lowith in which Strauss declares his approval of "fascist, authoritarian and imperial principles."

Horton's essay supports the picture of Strauss painted by Shadia Drury, Stephen Holmes and others. I'm most familiar with the work of Shadia Drury and find it to be convincing.

On Southern Baptist Schooling

Thanks to Ethics Daily for keeping us posted on plans by Southern Baptists to develop a "new" public school system -- public in the sense that it is open to the public but owned by Southern Baptists who will "get to call the shots about what's taught and who does the teaching."

Southern Baptists already have a school system where they call the shots about what's taught and who does the teaching. They have six seminaries. A quarter century ago, when they started the movement to take them over, they were all setting record enrollments with students working on graduate degrees. Today their programs for graduate students are empty shells. Now they are offering expanded undergraduate programs to attract enough students to continue to justify the enormous contributions that Southern Baptists give to keep them running.

The chief difference between these denominational schools and the Baptist church schools they are preparing to foist on America will be the source of the funding for the schools. Southern Baptists are preparing to receive financial gain for all the time and energy they have invested in electoral politics. They know that it is only a matter of time before the newly configured Supreme Court rules that vouchers to private religious schools are constitutional. The revenue to run their system of public indoctrination centers will be coming from your pockets, my pockets, and the pockets of every other taxpayer in the U.S.

When public money for private, parochial schools starts flowing freely, you can bet your bank account that America's political and religious right will turn on a dime from their current "no taxes" position and start promoting taxes for education.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

What is Progressive Faith?

I participated in a panel discussion about the question "What is Progressive Faith?" this evening. Here are the comments that I made:

I think progressive faith to has at least ten characteristics. It is conscientious, chastened, hopeful, strong, humble, growing, questioning, dialogical, active and interdependent.

1. First, and foremost, a progressive faith is a conscientious faith.

I understand conscience to be an exercise of human understanding or imagination that involves three steps.

The first step is an act of intellectual (mental) distantiation that produces self-consciousness -- it is the ability to step outside yourself (whatever "self" is) and look back at yourself (as though you were looking at yourself in a mirror).

The second step is an act of sympathetic imagination by which you look at the world from the perspective of another.

We often hear this described by the phrase, "Walk a mile in my shoes." My good friend Foy Valentine, now deceased, once told me jokingly that doing this had proven highly profitable for him. He said that, whenever he did it he got a new pair of shoes and was a mile away before the poor guy he took them from knew what was happening. That?s one of the reasons why I think conscience formation requires a third step.

It requires an act of reflexive self-consciousness. In simplest terms, this is the ability to put yourself in the place of others and to look at yourself through the eyes of others.

Essentially, this defines progressive faith as a faith that practices the Golden Rule.

Jesus of Nazareth gave the rule a positive formulation when he said "Do to others as you would have them do to you," (Luke 6:31 (NIV)) but the Golden Rule is not unique to Christianity.

Judaism teaches, "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man." (Hillel, Shabbath 31a.)

Islam teaches, "No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." (Hidith)

Even Buddhists, some whom deny the existence of any God, teach, "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful." (Udana-Varga)

Some formulation of the Golden Rule or some principle of respect for other persons seems common to all religions and philosophies.

2. Second, a progressive faith is a chastened faith.

It is a faith that sorrowfully acknowledges the pain, suffering and injustice that its own community has inflicted on others.

Chastening occurs when persons of faith look at themselves and their faith through the eyes of people of different faiths.

Christians need to look at themselves through the eyes of Jews -- particularly, through the eyes of those who were herded into boxcars and slaughtered like cattle in the holocaust.

Jews need to look at themselves through the eyes of Muslims -- particularly, through the eyes of those who were displaced from their homes in Palestine.

Muslims need to look at themselves through the eyes of Bahai's.

We all need to look at ourselves through the eyes of the hungry and the homeless, the impoverished and the imprisoned.

All of us need to summon the courage to honestly look at ourselves through the eyes of others who are strange and foreign to us and/or who have been injured and ignored by us.

If we do that, I believe that we will begin to view things the way that God views them.

3. Third, a progressive faith is a hopeful faith.

It is a faith that exercises a sympathetic and creative imagination to transcend the past and present realities of self, family, community, and nation to envision a world with a more benevolent, loving and hopeful future.

Guilt, shame and sorrow all summon us to search for forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, regeneration, renewal, recreation, transformation, a new birth, -- i.e., some better way of living.

If life is just an endless cycle of violence, conflict and strife, then there is not much reason for a hopeful future.

4. Fourth, a progressive faith is a strong faith.

It is a faith that is strong enough to demand both equal rights in civil life and genuine respect in social life for those who have other convictions and different worldviews -- while remaining firmly committed to its own convictions and worldview.

Fundamentalist faiths can achieve power, but they can never be strong. All fundamentalisms are weak faiths that compensate for their inadequacies by scapegoating those who differ from them.

Fundamentalists fear differences and social change and the "other." They react to their fears by fight or by flight. Whenever they fight, they demonize and destroy whatever makes them afraid and insecure.

Faith can never become strong until it overcomes its fears and insecurities and begins to respect the integrity of conscientious difference.

5. Fifth, a progressive faith is a humble faith.

It is a faith that acknowledges the finitude and fallibility of all humanity. It recognizes that all forms of interpersonal communication and understanding fall short of perfect comprehensibility.

Different faiths privilege different expressions of faith as conveyed by different texts, practices, and rituals. Some make absolute claims for the authority of their competing texts, practices, and rituals.

Generally, it is not necessary to directly challenge the authority of these differing truth claims. It should be enough for all to acknowledge that no matter how sacred, perfect and privileged these texts, practices and rituals are believed to be, all historical faiths are subject to differing interpretations and understandings by adherents within their own faith tradition. Humility, therefore, is proper for people of all faiths.

No system of communication is adequate to fully express the meaning of the Divine. No language is perfectly transparent.

While some interpreters of religious traditions may be considered authoritative, infallibility is an attribute that is best reserved for the Divine.

6. Sixth, a progressive faith is a growing faith.

It is a faith that is growing, expanding, striving for depth and never satisfied with its progress. It is a faith that is incomplete, unfinished, and has never arrived.

Progressive faith does not lay claim to human perfectibility in this life.

7. Seventh, a progressive is a questioning faith.

It is a faith that is undaunted by critical thought. It is not a blind faith that expects adherents to surrender their intellect.

Instead, it practices what Paul Ricouer calls the "hermeneutics of suspicion" because it desires to be more than a projection of human wishes and desires, more than an opiate for the masses, and more than merely a slave revolt by which the weak seek to gain power over the strong.

Progressive faith welcomes doubt and raises questions because it knows they are necessary for the extension of understanding, for spurts of growth and for the testing and strengthening of genuine faith.

8. Eighth, a progressive faith is a dialogical faith.

It extends itself both by random acts of kindness and by deliberate acts of compassion and mercy.

It refuses to extend itself by force of law or arms.

Whenever it seeks to convert others, it seeks to do so by persuasion and example shared in moments of genuine dialogue.

9. Ninth, a progressive faith is an active faith.

It gives more than lip service to love.

It puts love in action by waging peace and working for justice.

It is faith with the courage to put itself at risk by publicly opposing injustice and by actively resisting it by non-violent means.

10. Finally, a progressive faith is an interdependent faith.

It recognizes both the value and the interdependence of all life on this planet.

It is a faith that affirms and honors the claim that future generations have on the present by responsibly stewarding the resources that make life possible on this planet.

Panel on Faith and Politics

This is the panel that is leading a discussion on faith and politics. From left to right Thurman Hart, Professor of Political Science and Montclair State University and Xpatriated Texas in the blogosphere, Bruce Wilson, of the Talk to Action weblog, and Mik Moore of the JSpot blog.

Faith Affiliation Breakouts

Chris Walton of the Philocrites blog is leading the breakout for progressive Christian bloggers. Other breakouts are being held for progressive Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Paganism, and others.

Panel about Community

The first panel at the conference is discussing "Roots and Branches: The Nature of our Community."

Participants are from left to right Rachel Barenblat of the Velveteen Rabbi blog, Emily Ronald from the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, and Hussein Rashid of the Islamicate blog.

Live from Montclair

This is a live blog from the Progressive Faith Blog Conference at Montclair State University in Monclair, New Jersey.

The conference is about to begin. I'll post more later.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Regarding Religious Intolerance in Public Schools

I'm on my way to the first annual Progressive Faith Blog Conference. Kudos to Thurman Hart, an Xpatriated Texan in New Jersey, for taking the lead in organizing the event.

Bruce Wilson of Talk-to-Action has asked a few of us to write a statement about the incident at the Indian River School District in Delaware to share with others at the conference. The hope is to pool ideas and come up with a collaborative statement that can be jointly issued. Here's a draft of a statement that I wrote for this effort:

Regarding Religious Intolerance in Public Schools

We are progressive religious people from a number of different faiths and traditions who are uniting to voice our concerns over signs that intolerance of religious minorities is mounting in America.

One particularly egregious example of this intolerance is the persecution and harassment of an American Jewish family from the Indian River School District in Delaware. Sadly, the Dobrich family felt so threatened by actions of some within their community that they felt it necessary to sell their home of eighteen years, to relocate and to place one of their children in a private school.

Conflict within the Indian River School District originated over forced observance of a religious exercise. Forcing anyone to participate in public acts of worship -- against their will and their deepest convictions -- violates both the Constitution and what James Madison in his "Memorial and Remonstrance" called an "unalienable" right of conscience.

America's public schools serve children from families of many different faiths and traditions. Every parent of every faith has the right to expect that the public schools will not be used to impose religious beliefs and practices upon their children. Every parent of every faith has the right to expect that public schools will honor the parent's solemn responsibility to instruct their own children regarding religious beliefs and practices. Every child of every faith has the right to expect that public schools will not force them to participate in religious practices that violate their religious convictions. Every child of every faith has the right to expect that public schools will treat them with the same fairness, dignity and respect that they treat the children of any other faith.

We call upon all Americans to raise their voices together with us to condemn the spiritual molestation of children taking place in our common public schools when they impose majoritarian religious practices on students from minority faiths.

We ask all Americans to take direct, non-violent action to put an end to every form of tacit governmental endorsement of religion.

We encourage all Americans to reaffirm the Constitutional right of every citizen to be free from being coerced to participate in acts of worship with those of different faiths and beliefs.

All persons should be free to worship with like-minded people of their own choosing in accord with the dictates of their own consciences.

On Ethical Standards for Bloggers

Ethics Daily has posted a thoughtful essay by Ed Hogan, pastor of Jersey Village Baptist Church in Houston, about the need for some ethical standards for bloggers.

Ed has provided an excellent opening for a much needed discussion. The blogosphere could easily deteriorate into a world wide web of gossip, slander and lies.

Part of the solution is for readers to set a higher standard for what they will devote time to reading.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Brent Walker on Lunchbox Evangelism

Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, has published an interesting essay on "American Pluralism and Lunchbox Evangelism."

"Lunchbox evangelism" derives from a Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy evangelizes by hitting people over the head with her lunchbox. Here's a quote from Walker:

We need to avoid hitting each other over the head with our cultural, political and religious lunchboxes or calling judgment down on those who are different. The recent remarks of various evangelical leaders -- like Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson -- disparaging Islam is exactly the wrong way to go. Who can forget Jerry Vines at the SBC several years ago -- calling the prophet Muhammad a "demon-possessed pedophile?" I wonder how he would react if a Muslim were to call Jesus a homeless wine-bibber who hung out with prostitutes and publicans?
And that's just the beginning of the astute analysis and memorable imagery in this essay.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Richard Land As Heir to Torquemada

Richard Land, already notorious for justifying President Bush's pre-emptive war with Iraq, contends that a recent Supreme Court ruling "harms the President's ability to protect U.S." The court ruled that the Geneva Conventions apply to all U.S. detainees -- even those suspected of terrorism.

The Bush administration set aside Geneva Conventions in order to use techniques amounting to torture to extract information from persons either known or suspected of being involved with terrorists.

During the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, Land, like Tomas de Torquemada in an earlier day, was involved in many an inquisition to root heretics out of his church. He didn't burn them at the stake like Torquemada, but he certainly led efforts to turn moderate denominational leaders and missionaries out on the streets. Now we find that Land doesn't appear to be adverse using some of Torquemada's more extreme techniques if his victims have a different faith and are either known to have been or are suspected of being in contact with persons who threaten his country.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

Fortunately, other Christians and other Baptists have not lost their ethics. Associated Baptist Press has posted a story about "Ethicists weigh in on court decision to protect Guantanamo detainees." Here's a quote from David Gushee, a Baptist ethicist in Tennessee:

In contrast to Land's view, Gushee said the rebuff actually helps national security. For example, he said, for every terrorist detained through excessive, "over-reactive" measures after Sept. 11, there were probably five more terrorists created who "hate us with a passion that we can hardly imagine."

"[The Hamdan decision] helps our national security because it returns the U.S. to the rule of law in this area," Gushee said. "It has the potential to normalize our conduct?and maybe restore our stature in the world."

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Pentagon Reverses Policy, Torture Counsel Nominated for Federal Bench

The Financial Times is reporting that the Pentagon has reversed a policy on interrogation techniques that was ordered by its former General Counsel William Haynes. In compliance with a recent Supreme Court ruling, the Pentagon has ordered that all detainees in U.S. military custody around the world -- including Guantanamo and Iraq -- are entitled to protections under the Geneva Conventions.

It's hard for me to believe that we actually had to go through this exercise. It should be standard operating procedure for every civilized country.

Meanwhile, William Haynes has been nominated to become a federal judge. His hearing before Congress is today.

America's Highest Paid Corporate Executives

The Washington Post has published a list of the "Top 100 Executives by Total Compensation." Their compensation ranges from $39.6 to $3.5 million annually.

I wonder how many of these privileged elites have come out in favor of raising the federal minimum wage. Payday someday.

Does anybody wonder why Jesus said it would be easier for rich men to go through the eyes of needles than to enter the kingdom of heaven?

Women Bishops and the Church of England

Ethics Daily is reporting that the Church of England just voted to allow women to serve as Bishops.

Progress has been slow. It has taken the Anglican Church 90 years to determine that women can serve as more than priests.

Meanwhile, in the year 2000 the Southern Baptist Convention stepped backwards by about 100 years on the issue of women in ministry.

Sooner or later, a day will come when all free and faithful Christians will regard the church's sexism with the same shame that it remembers its racism and support for slavery.

Monday, July 10, 2006

God and Science: A Reapproachment

Time Magazine has published a very enlightening review of Francis Collin's new book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence of Belief.

Collins, an evangelical Christian, is one of the foremost geneticists and genome mappers in the world.

On the Deconstruction of Anglican Liberalism

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to Theo Hobson's essay on "Sowing the Seeds of Change" in Anglicanism.

Hobson gives an astute analysis of the crisis within the Anglican church over the issue of homosexuality. He deconstructs liberalism within Anglicanism and concludes that,

They must ask whether they really want to be good Catholics after all, and if Catholicism entails the preference of ecclesiastical authority to conscience. Perhaps some will ask whether the concept of church is intrinsically authoritarian. This could be an exciting time for theology. Perhaps Williams' Abrahamic impression has unwittingly sown the seeds of a much-needed revival of liberal theology.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Colin Powell Says Close Guantanamo Now

James Bennet, a writer for The Atlantic, has posted a dispatch from a meeting of the Aspen Institute quoting former Secretary of State Colon Powell as saying:

"Guantanamo ought to be closed immediately," Powell said. He said the value of holding prisoners there was unclear, but the price we were paying around the world for doing so was obvious. He said we should not release the prisoners and dismissed the objection there was no other alternative. "We have ways of dealing with this population" that do not require Gitmo, he said.
Imagine that. Someone from the Bush administration expecting immediate compliance with a decision of the Supreme Court.

Has that happened since the Supreme Court ordered Florida to stop counting ballots in the 2000 presidential election?

Friday, July 07, 2006

Bush Administration May Be Involved In Interstate Telephone Harassment

Raw Story has posted a report that indicates officials within the Bush administration may be named as conspirators in an interstate telephone harassment scheme.

Harassing hang-up phone calls may be a favorite technique of some Dominionist Christian values voters. I've received my share of phone calls like this before giving speeches and/or hosting special events that challenged their interests.

Hard to Stomach

It's hard to see how Russia's strong man will restore his image after this.

Hostility Toward Minority Faiths Increasing

Today's Ethics Daily has posted a report about a Jewish family in Delaware that had to sell their home of eighteen years and move from their community because they were being threatened after filing suit for complaining about the promotion of Christianity in the public schools.

Yesterday, the Las Vegas Review Journal reports that the Veterans Administration refuses to put a Wiccan Pentacle on the memorial marker for an Army National Guardsmand who was killed while serving our country in Afghanistan. On the same day, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a woman filed a suit in federal court claiming that she had been fired from her job after asking for time off to observe a Wiccan holiday.

Either the First Amendment prohibits the government from establishing religion or it doesn't. Either persons of minority faiths have equal rights under the Constitution in this country or they don't.

Christians who think they are defending their faith by persecuting persons of other faiths are certainly reclaiming a heritage. At the current pace that the clock is being rolled back on civil liberties in America, it won't be long before we read anew about Jews being herded into box cars and Wiccans being burned at the stake.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

SBC Organizes in Europe to Extend Dominion

On May 31st I reported what sources in Europe disclosed to me about a conference that Southern Baptist leaders were organizing to weaken the Baptist World Alliance and create a world-wide body under SBC control.

Today, the Biblical Recorder published a report about the conference that SBC leaders held in Romania.

There's a world of difference between the missionary strategy and methods of Baptists in the Southern Baptist Convention and those in the Baptist World Alliance. Southern Baptists are exporting their takeover methods overseas.

The SBC's current modus operandi involves taking over both denominational politics and secular politics.

VA advises Wiccan to Sue for Discrimination

Roberta Stewart, wife of an Army National Guard member who was killed in Afghanistan last year, has been advised that she will have to file suit against the Veterans Administration to get a ruling that will put a symbol of her husband's religion on his memorial plaque.

Meanwhile, a bill pending before the U.S. House Constitution Committee, proposes to cut off awarding attorney's fees to plaintiffs who file successful lawsuits in church-state cases.

Scapegoating Secularists: A Quiz

Politicians and preachers on the right have been scapegoating secularists for decades. Now, politicians and preachers on the left are joining them. Secularist is a smear word for those who expect the First Amendment to be interpreted strictly and who affirm separation of church and state.

Fred Clarkson has developed a enlightening quiz based on quotations from both the right and the left of the political spectrum. "Who's Secular Now?"

At present, both sides of the political spectrum seem to be triangulating the First Amendment right out of the U.S. Constitution.

If Democrats and Republicans Were Smart

Robert Reich offers some sound advice to Republicans on Minimum Politics.

I think his advice would be good for Democrats as well.

Fireworks over the Founder's Faiths

Jennifer Garza of the Modesto Bee has written one of the better articles to appear recently on the faith of the founders. Here's an excerpt:

But others say Washington's faith cannot be easily labeled.

"The Christianity then isn't the Christianity of today," said David L. Holmes, author of the "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers."

"As the novelist says, the past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. It would be wrong to think of Washington as an evangelical Christian of today."

Nearly all of the Founding Fathers were members of the Church of England, said Gordon S. Wood, a professor of history at Brown University who specializes in the American Revolution and is the author of "Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founding Fathers Different."

He said the founders viewed Christianity differently than many in the general public of their time.

"They were the educated elite, the enlightened men of their time, and they believed in God ? with a few exceptions ? but they tended not to like religious enthusiasm, and there is also that question about whether they believed in the divinity of Christ."

Public vs. private

Thomas Jefferson was either a deist or a Christian in his public life who was known to mock the faith to close friends, Wood said.

John Adams was a Unitarian. James Madison was an orthodox Christian later influenced by deism. Samuel Adams was a rock-solid Congregationalist.

Wood said that what they displayed publicly was sometimes different than what they expressed privately.

"Jefferson could be scornful of religion, but he quickly learned that that attitude got him into trouble with the public," Wood said.

Why do the religious beliefs of men who lived more than 200years ago matter today? "They created the values we use to hold us together," Wood said. Although the debate about the faiths of the Founding Fathers continues, "they believed in the freedom of religious expression," Wood said.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Was Bush Willing to Compromise Intelligence to Get Joe Wilson?

An essay by Murray Waas in the National Journal reveals that Bush Directed Cheney to Counter War Critic.

Unhappy with former Ambassador Joe Wilson's debunking of a central argument in his case for going to war with Iraq, Waas says Bush told federal prosecutors that he personally directed Vice President Cheney to do something to discredit Wilson.

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has indicted Cheney's former chief of staff, Stuart Libby, in his investigation of the leaks that revealed Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a covert CIA operative. A crime that is considered treasonable under U.S. law.

Are high crimes and misdemeanors somewhere in this mess?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Another Reason Why Prayers at School Sporting Events are a Bad Idea

A recent jury verdict in Guyman, Oklahoma provides another reason why prayers at public school sporting events are a bad idea.

Like recent cases involving the school board at Dover, Pennsylvania and the County Commissioners in Haskell County, Oklahoma, this case involved another Christian defending his faith by committing perjury in a court of law.

Hobby Lobby and Wallbuilders

Hobby Lobby and Wallbuilders have published full page ads in newspapers around the country celebrating their understanding of America as a "Christian Nation."

They publish a variety of quotes from civil leaders invoking religious beliefs as evidence that our nation has some special relationship with God. Some of the quotes are lifted entirely out of context and made to serve a purpose opposite the author's expressed written intention. A good example of that is a quote from James Madison. Here's the quote that Hobby Lobby and Wallbuilders published:

Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Govenour of the Universe.
Here's the paragraph from James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance from which it was lifted:

1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also, because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Govenour of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no mans right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

It's more than obvious that Madison was not arguing in favor of some special status for Christianity in the American Republic. To suggest that he did is dishonest.

Such ideological truth-twisting disguising itself as careful scholarship is characteristic of the work of David Barton. Barton is a favorite guest in Southern Baptist megachurches each year at this time. Besides being co-chair of the Republican Party in Texas and a paid consultant of the national GOP executive committee, he is President and Founder of Wall Builders.

Barton's errors have been refuted repeatedly by careful scholars, but wealthy donors, corporations and mega-churches keep spreading his fabrications. Here's a link to materials refuting Barton by Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, by Rob Boston of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, by Don Wilkey, pastor of Onalaska Baptist Church in Onalaska, Texas. Here's a link to an index of materials that examine and refute Barton's arguments. Several other quotes in the Hobby Lobby/Wallbuilders newspaper advertisements are examined by articles in the index.

Baptists should not be misled by Barton's distortions. For Mainstream Baptists the idea of a "Christian" nation is an oxymoron. Nations can't be Christian, only people can. Either faith is personal or it's not Christian.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Echoes of George Kennan

Common Dreams has posted an essay entitled "Mirror Image" by Nicholas Thompson which quotes Kennan's testimony 1966 testimony about Viet Name before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Kennan was the architect of America's cold war "containment" policy toward Communism. Here's a quote:

"[T]here is more respect to be won in the opinion of this world by a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions than by the most stubborn pursuit of extravagant and unpromising objectives," he said. Kennan, were he alive today, would have little patience for the Bush administration's frequent call to stay in Iraq because a commitment was made and so many soldiers have already died. Just because the US had shot itself in one foot, he told the Senate committee, didn't mean it should fire away at the other.

. . .

Kennan concluded his Senate testimony with a well-known quotation from John Quincy Adams. "[America] goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy," said our sixth president. "She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own."

Clarkson on Obama and Wallis

Fred Clarkson has posted the most incisive analysis on the internet of Barak Obama's recent speech to "Call to Renewal."

He also correctly points out that Obama is parroting Wallis' straw man arguments about "secularists."

The influence of Wallis on Bill Clinton in 1996 (when he encouraged him to support John Ashcroft's "Charitable Choice" legislation) and on the Democratic Party since the 2004 Presidential election, has made Wallis the left's premier willing dupe for the Religious Right.

Nothing Wallis has done politically since 1996 has served to alleviate poverty in this country. Conditions for the bulk of the poor have deteriorated year after year since "Charitable Choice" began.

Wallis has written a shelf full of books as the plight of the poor has become more and more desperate. All he has accomplished is to lay a foundation for religious conflicts to move more openly and fully into the political sphere.

History amply demonstrates that these conflicts often lead to the kind of violence that increases poverty and makes it more severe and widespread.

At a conference at Baylor University in April of 1996, Wallis was fully informed and repeatedly warned that his disdain for the First Amendment would serve the purposes of the Dominionist Right and would only make it easier for them to turn the poor out into the streets. James Dunn, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Derek Davis, Director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, Phil Lineberger, Director of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Foy Valentine, retired Director of the Christian Life Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and a host of other ardent church-state separationists might as well have been talking to a brick wall. Like many Dominionists, Wallis seems to think the end (for Wallis -- helping the poor; for Dominionists -- building a theocracy) justifies the means -- gutting the First Amendment and its prohibition of discrimination against religious minorities.

The reason why Wallis always speaks generically about "secularists," never naming them, is because he well knows that naming all the moderate, mainstream Baptist leaders who have opposed him face-to-face on church-state issues would only serve to negate his position.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

We Should Have Learned Some Lessons from Iraq

Seymour Hersh has an essay in the New Yorker entitled "Last Stand" about the military's problem with the Bush Administration's Iran policy.

Here are some sobering quotes:

Inside the Pentagon, senior commanders have increasingly challenged the President's plans, according to active-duty and retired officers and officials. The generals and admirals have told the Administration that the bombing campaign will probably not succeed in destroying Iran's nuclear program. They have also warned that an attack could lead to serious economic, political, and military consequences for the United States.

A crucial issue in the military's dissent, the officers said, is the fact that American and European intelligence agencies have not found specific evidence of clandestine activities or hidden facilities; the war planners are not sure what to hit. "The target array in Iran is huge, but it's amorphous," a high-ranking general told me. "The question we face is, When does innocent infrastructure evolve into something nefarious?" The high-ranking general added that the military's experience in Iraq, where intelligence on weapons of mass destruction was deeply flawed, has affected its approach to Iran. "We built this big monster with Iraq, and there was nothing there. This is son of Iraq," he said.

. . .

Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the I.A.E.A., said in a speech this spring that his agency believed there was still time for diplomacy to achieve that goal. "We should have learned some lessons from Iraq," ElBaradei, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, said. "We should have learned that we should be very careful about assessing our intelligence. . . . We should have learned that we should try to exhaust every possible diplomatic means to solve the problem before thinking of any other enforcement measures."

Goldberg on Obama's Speech

Michelle Goldberg has written a thoughtful essay entitled "What's the Matter with Barak Obama?"

For a long time, Republicans haven't seemed to grasp the value of separating church and state. Now, Democrats don't seem to get it.

Goldberg does a good job reminding both Republicans and Democrats to put first things first in civil society.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Economy at Risk of Deflation

Robert Reich, a former Secretary of Labor, has written an essay about the end of the housing bubble that has been propping up the American economy since 2001. He says the Federal Reserve's interest rate increases raise the risk of deflating the entire economy.

What does that mean to the average man on the street? Here's a quote:

A more immediate problem will arise for all the people making, financing, and selling houses. Here we're talking about a vast army of carpenters, plasterers, roofers, plumbers, electricians, mortgage bankers, home inspectors, real estate agents, architects, structural engineers and many more. According to Moddy's, housing-related employment has accounted for almost a quarter of the five million jobs that have appeared since 2003.

These jobs pay well even though most of them don't require a college degree. That's because they don't have to compete in global commerce. Workers in Beijing or Calcutta can't easily build houses in Phoenix or San Diego. Moreover, demand for housing-related work has been rising faster than the supply of people to fill them, at least until recently. But now with the housing boom over, many of these good jobs are over, too.