Thursday, August 31, 2006

PBS and Voting Rights

Raw Story says PBS will air an episode that says the voting rights of many Americans may be under attack.

There is certainly plenty of evidence of disenfranchisement, dirty tricks, and fraud in the last two national elections. For details, see Michigan Congressman John Conyer's Report Preserving Democracy: What Went Wrong in Ohio and Mark Crispin Miller's Fooled Again.

The PBS broadcast is supposed to air sometime tomorrow. My best guess is that it will air on NOW with David Brancaccio.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Women Called to Ministry Speak Out

Al Mohler wrote an essay a week ago that pointed out the obvious. Few CBF churches are calling women to serve as pastors.

While Al has spent the last fifteen years working to hinder the work of God's Spirit calling women to service in his Church, CBF has been working the last fifteen years to encourage churches to be open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit in calling women to pastoral leadership. CBF has been true to its calling. "Free and faithful Baptists" have never had the "herd mentality" that the author of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message has been crafting for Southern Baptists.

The moderate Baptist women who have been called to places of service are too busy doing the Lord's work that they have little time and no desire to debate with those who have turned a deaf ear to the Spirit of God. Amy Butler, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., expressed their sentiment well saying, "I'm tired of it because debating rarely changes anybody's mind and because I really . . . really . . . have more important things to do with my time." Pam Durso, Executive Director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, was busy writing a "This I Believe essay" for NPR.

For those who concerned about the biblical witness concerning women in ministry, Katie Silcox sent me a link to an essay by N.T. Wright on "Women's Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Charting the History of Home Values

Thanks to Atrios for posting Yale Economist Robert J. Shiller's index of American housing prices.

For a larger image, click here.

This may help explain why Princeton economist Paul Krugman says the housing bubble that has propped up the economy since 2001 has popped.

Would a Minister Lie on his Resume?

A Florida Mega-Church discovered that their recently hired pastor had lied about his credentials.

Obviously, there are still a few Baptist churches that don't think mail order degrees are worth the paper on which they are written.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Strategic Chutzpah

When Ray McGovern and Larry Johnson use the same word to describe the House Intelligence Committee's report about "Recognizing Iran as a Strategic Threat," it might be an indication that this report stretches credulity.

Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst now working with Church of the Servant in Washington, D.C. and co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, has written an enlightening essay entitled "Just When You Thought You'd Seen Everything: Hoekstra's Hoax".

Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA officer and former officer in the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism, sounds a similar note in an essay entitled "Republican Chutzpah on Iran."

This administration's drumbeat for war with Iran keeps beating louder.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

John Dean on the Rise of Dominionist Judges

John Dean, former White House Counsel under Richard Nixon, highly recommends Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. He was particularly interested in the strategy and goals of Christian Nationalists in their efforts to takeover the judiciary.

After reading her book, Dean also interviewed Goldberg to discuss why Dominionists desire to control the courts. Here's an excerpt from his column:

Christian Nationalists Seek To Use the Courts to Implement Their Agenda

It's well-established that the religious right seeks to use the courts to outlaw abortion, to return prayer to the public square, and lower the barriers separating church and state. What was news to me, however, was Goldberg's finding that the "entire Christian nationalist agenda ultimately hinges on conquering the courts." Christian nationalists, who have been working with others in the conservative movement, have declared nothing short of a war on the federal courts.

Reconstructionist leaders see federal judges -- probably correctly, Goldberg notes -- "as the only thing protecting American secularism. They know that if they can take the courts, they'll have the country." Their strategy to take the courts is twofold, although, as Goldberg notes, it's also "somewhat contradictory" -- and it envisions a protracted battle.

First, Christian nationalists plan to pressure politicians "to pack the bench with their ideological allies," and they are "training a new generation of home schooled jurists who will approach the law with a Christian worldview." Christian nationalists are among the strongest proponents of home schooling, with somewhere between one and two million children now being so educated. One of the handbooks of the Christian nationalists, which Goldberg found at a convention for home-schoolers, was How to Dethrone the Imperial Judiciary by Edwin Vieira, who has alluded, Goldberg reports, "to Stalin's purges as a way of dealing with liberal judges."

If any home-schooled jurist has reached the federal bench, it escaped my fast perusal of recent appointees. So these plans have yet to be fully implemented, to say the least.

Second, accompanying the attempt at court-packing, Goldberg reports that Christian nationalists are "trying to strip the courts of much of their current authority" while "railing against judges who override the popular will." Or as Goldberg nicely summarizes Christian nationalists' strategy, they "are simultaneously fighting a war for the judiciary and a war on it."

Goldberg cites two right-wing judges nominated by President Bush as the kind who would satisfy the court packing plans of the Christian nationalists. Both judges -- William Pryor and Janice Rogers Brown -- initially provoked Democratic filibusters. Unfortunately, my quick search of the debate in the Senate on these two highly controversial nominees does not reveal that anyone in the Senate opposing these nominees was aware that behind them, lurked the hand of the Christian nationalists.
I think I know another name that could be added to this list.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Judge White's Canticle to American Theocracy

It only took Oklahoma Eastern District Court Judge Ronald A. White three words to signal his contempt for complaints about Ten Commandments monuments. His decision regarding what could be described as a monument to American theocracy in Stigler, Oklahoma begins, "The present kerfuffle ensued when Plaintiff James W. Green took offense at the erection of a Ten Commandments Monument on the lawn of the Haskell County courthouse."

That sentence succinctly summarizes White's conclusion. White concludes that the Plaintiff, a conscientious Protestant Christian, is at fault for taking offense at his county government's approval of the erection of a permanent monument that endorses a sectarian Reformed Protestant fundament for faith.

This decision makes it clear that at least one recent appointee to the federal bench is prepared to openly discard the weight of the opinion of James Madison, the primary author of our nation's Constitution. Madison wrote:

Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences in denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?
Had James W. Green lived in New England during the revolutionary war, he would have undoubtedly been in much good company. Unfortunately for him, James W. Green is living an increasingly isolated life in the wrong place at the wrong time. He lives in Eastern Oklahoma in the twenty-first century. In a small town where the Judge says, "Everyone knows each other." Now, the barber who has cut his hair for the last decade refuses to trim his locks.

Complaining about an encroachment on the First Amendment is not mere "kerfuffle" to James W. Green. Like many others in different places and in different times, he believes defending the Constitution of the United States is his patriotic duty. He believes that the Constitution protects the rights of religious minorities and secures religious liberty for all persons equally. He believes that in the United States the government is required to be neutral in regard to religion -- neither promoting it nor discouraging it.

Mr. Green's neighbors, however, have a different idea of the Constitution and of patriotism. They assert that America is a "Christian nation." They think a monument with the Ten Commandments on one side and the Mayflower Compact on the other symbolizes a "Christian heritage" that forms a necessary legal foundation for the government of the United States. They hold rallies that question the patriotism of those who assert that the Constitution requires that church and state be separate. They loudly proclaim that "the ACLU should go to North Korea" and all who disagree with them are "free to move elsewhere."

To his credit, Mike Bush -- the Baptist lay minister who secured approval, solicited private funding and erected the monument -- did not deny his political and religious intentions for doing so. Neither did one of the County Commissioners who approved the placement of the monument on the courthouse lawn, but he died before the case came to trial. Thereafter, Judge White found it convenient to ignore that Commissioner's sworn deposition since the Judge was unable to view that Commissioner's courtroom "demeanor."

Another County Commissioner, sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, passionately told a crowd of citizens that "the bulldozer will have to run over me" if the court ordered the monument removed. Then he denied, under oath, that he made this statement publicly.

I testified that I heard this Commissioner give his "bulldozer" quip to the entire crowd at a rally from a microphone. My testimony was discounted as having an "agenda" to further the goals of Mainstream Baptists and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The same Commissioner also testified that he "does not believe in the separation of church and state." The Judge concluded that his only "agenda" was "to please the electorate."

The entire board of County Commissioners approved a policy governing the placement of monuments, plaques and markers on government property that denies equal rights to persons of minority faiths. In Haskell County Oklahoma monuments, plaques and markers can only be placed on government property by persons and groups with a fifty year history within the county. Judge White asserted that this "policy, and its adoption, play no part in the outcome of this case." Then the Judge concluded that the Commissioner's were justified in their concern that had they denied a request to erect the monument, Mike Bush might have successfully sued them for denying his free speech rights.

By now it might be clear to some that Judge White's opinion would be poorly suited as a model for sound reasoning and logical consistency. During my thirty-four years as a Baptist minister, I have often observed preachers who, sensing that logic is against them, begin diverting attention from their weak reasoning by amplifying their rhetorical flourish and by quoting poetry. Judge White may well have missed his calling in life. Not only does he quote Dante in his opinion, but he titles the headings of his decision "Cantica's" and the subheadings "Canto's." Biblical allusions and metaphors can be found on nearly every quarto of this forty-three page Canticle to American Theocracy.

At least one legal scholar was thoroughly impressed with White's ode to theocracy. Howard M. Friedman, Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Toledo, wrote on his blog:

What is unusual is the literate and amusing opinion written by federal district Judge Ronald A. White. The opinion, whose subheadings are inspired by Dante's Inferno, accomplishes the nearly impossible task of keeping the reader enthralled for 43 pages.
Friedman might be excused for finding White's decision so entertaining. Reading some legal decisions could easily be prescribed as a cure for acute insomnia. There is a reason, however, why many legal opinions make such dull reading. Justice is far better served by methodical adherence to the rules of logical thought and by impartial application of sound reasoning to legal precedent than it is by the rapturous lyricism and judicial blandishments of misplaced poets.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Religious People Abandoning GOP

Associate Press is reporting that Pew Research is disclosing that over the past year the GOP has lost the support of 14% of white Evangelicals and 11% of white Catholics.

Now we know why James Dobson and Richard Land are ramping up voter registration programs in Evangelical churches.

Mainstream Baptists Group Blog Starts Well

A little more than a week ago Robert Parham jolted me from my slumbers by asking where all the "centrist Baptist" bloggers were.

In the midst of a very busy schedule, I have been pulling a group of bloggers together for a group blog.

We have been at it for a week.

You will find it more than worth your while to spend some time reading the Mainstream Baptists group blog.

We've got someone committed to posting fresh material every day of the week. Most days we have got two or more bloggers committed to posting fresh material.

I would tell you about what's on the site, but you really ought to take a look for yourself.

Instead, I will work on introducing the people who are featured bloggers. That will take a few more days. Look here for periodic updates about this new group weblog in the future.

A Very Pessimistic Economist

Nouriel Roubini of the Roubini Global Economics Service has written a very pessimistic appraisal of the impact of the current housing slump. Here's his conclusion from an analysis of the recent spate of bad news from the housing sector of the economy:

So, the simple conclusion from the analysis above is that this is indeed the biggest housing slump in the last four or five decades: every housing indictor is in free fall, including now housing prices. By itself this slump is enough to trigger a US recession: its effects on real residential investment, wealth and consumption, and employment will be more severe than the tech bust that triggered the 2001 recession. And on top of the housing bust, US consumers are facing oil above $70, the delayed effects of rising Fed Fund and long term rates, falling real wages, negative savings, high debt ratios and higher and higher debt servicing ratios. This is the tipping point for the US consumer and the effects will be ugly. Expect the great recession of 2007 to be much nastier, deeper and more protracted than the 2001 recession.
Now it is going to be hard to decide whether Armageddon will begin with the collapse of the cease-fire in Lebannon or if it begins with the collapse of the housing market in America.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Baptists Working Together on Global Poverty

Ethics Daily has produced a DVD and Resource Guide about how churches can actively engage in feeding the hungry on a global scale.

This is an essential resource for socially aware Baptists and churches.

Here's a link to a brief online video clip from the DVD in which Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid, discusses the work of Hungarian Baptists' disaster response team. (You'll need to have a Real Player to view the video. If you don't already have one, here's a link where you can download one for free.)

On Returning to the Sixteenth Century

Paul Krugman has written an outstanding editorial on "Tax Farmers, Mercenaries and Viceroys." Here's a short quote from an article that deserves wide distribution:

In the bad old days, government was a haphazard affair. There was no bureaucracy to collect taxes, so the king subcontracted the job to private "tax farmers," who often engaged in extortion. There was no regular army, so the king hired mercenaries, who tended to wander off and pillage the nearest village. There was no regular system of administration, so the king assigned the task to favored courtiers, who tended to be corrupt, incompetent or both.

Modern governments solved these problems by creating a professional revenue department to collect taxes, a professional officer corps to enforce military discipline, and a professional civil service. But President Bush apparently doesn't like these innovations, preferring to govern as if he were King Louis XII.

Charter Schools Leaving Students Behind

The New York Times is reporting that "Study of Test Scores Finds Charter Schools Lagging." Here's a quote:

The study found that in 2003, fourth graders in traditional public schools scored an average of 4.2 points better in reading than comparable students in charter schools on the National Assessment of Educational Progress test, often called the nation's report card. Students in traditional schools scored an average of 4.7 points better in math than comparable students in charter schools.

Randall Balmer on Counterfeit Baptists

Ethics Daily has posted a story about what Randall Balmer said on my radio program Sunday.

I was particularly pleased with Balmer's comments about "counterfeit Baptists":

"There is even a movement within the Religious Right of people who claim to be Baptist--I think they're counterfeit Baptists, they're not real Baptists--who are trying to deny the founders ever intended for church and state to be separate," Balmer continued. People like David Barton and Rick Scarborough, he said, are "propagating this propaganda that the founders never intended church and state to be separate."
Here's a link to the podcast if you would like to listen to it yourself.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Britney's Childhood Stays Secret

A little more than a year ago I was interviewed by a film crew from VH-1 about Southern Baptist beliefs and practices. They were making a film about Britney Spears childhood and wanted to understand the religious influences in her background.

A few months ago my daughter who is about the same age as Britney called to tell me that she had seen me on a VH-1 film entitled "Britney Spears Secret Childhood."

Ever since that time I have been trying to find a time when VH-1 would broadcast the program again. It has been replaced by another program every time it has been scheduled to air. I don't think the program was broadcast more than once.

Either the film was real flop or it was so offensive that someone is keeping it off the air. My daughter told me that the film was not very flattering to Britney. Of course, she thought her dad was wonderful. I'd just like to get a peek at it myself.

Does anybody have a video tape of Britney Spears Secret Childhood?

Watertown Baptist Preacher Makes News

Reuters has just published a story about the pastor of First Baptist Church of Watertown, NY defending the belief that women can't teach men.

Tim LaBouf, an American Baptist Church pastor, fired Mary Lambert, a female Sunday School teacher who had been teaching in the church for fifty years.

While this may be news in New York, such practices have been common in the Texas breakaway splinter group Southern Baptists of Texas for a long time. It has been a recurring phenomenon for more than a quarter century among fundamentalist minded Southern Baptists across the country.

Mainstream Baptists would not interpret scriptures so literally and legalistically on this matter although we do affirm the congregational autonomy that preserves the right of each local church to appoint its own officers and teachers.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Sun Myung Moon and the Minutemen

The Southern Poverty Law Center has issued a report that says newspapers inflated the number of Minutemen who showed up to be vigilante border patrol agents in Arizona.

Chief among the inflators was the Sun Myung Moon owned Washington Times.

Meanwhile, ePluribus Media reports that $1.6 million dollars of the money that the Minuteman raised to build a fence on the border is missing.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Podcast: Randall Balmer Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 8-20-2006 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Dr. Randall Balmer. Balmer is professor of American religious history at Barnard College, Columbia University and visiting professor at the Yale University Divinity School. He was also an expert witness against Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument in Alabama. We discuss our ongoing dialogue on the Faith in Public Life website and his new book Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament -- How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.

Click here to download the podcast (29 MB mp3).

Separating Church and State in Marriage

Common Dreams has posted a story about a "New Pulpit View of the Marriage Issue." Here's a quote:

Ever since he was ordained in '94 it's struck Travis as "odd and strange" that a person like himself, with no legal training in rights (as opposed to rites) and no certification by the state, had the power to sign a legal document declaring people legally wed.

When he moved here from New Hampshire he didn't even have to call Olympia and say, "Hi, I'm a new pastor in town, and I'll be deciding whether or not to marry people now," the same way your cousin Fred can do if he gets "ordained" online. To Travis it's all part of the same mockery. "Ministers and religious leaders don't sign divorce papers or death certificates," he said. "And we've taken no class on the civil rights of marriage."

Determined to no longer "participate in the prejudice" of signing the papers of some couples but not others, the minister got together first with four other pastors from United Church of Christ, then got in touch with other ministers and rabbis. And they decided: no more signing of secular documents.

He now tells couples that he'll happily perform their ceremonies whether they get legally married or not. He'll even provide a beautiful hand-lettered certificate stating that, on such and such a day, so and so were united at All Pilgrims Church and give them a symbol of the sacrament of the day. But it will bear zero legal significance.
This sounds like a good idea to me.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Judge Rules for Ten Commandments Monument

U.S. District Judge Ronald White has ruled in favor of Haskell County's Ten Commandments monument remaining on the courthouse lawn in Stigler, Oklahoma.

Last May, as the Judge was making closing remarks in this case, he ridiculed my expert opinion report quoting this sentence:

"The monument serves as advance notice that the successful struggle to secure equal respect under the law for persons of all minority faith traditions is in danger of being reversed."
then Judge White said, "That is for me to decide."

Judge White has decided.

Now you decide.

Is the Haskell County Ten Commandments monument Oklahoma's Monument to American Theocracy?

I'll have Dr. Randall Balmer, who provided expert testimony against Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument in Alabama as a guest on my radio program Sunday morning. Tune into KREF radio Sunday morning at 11:00 AM CST and see whether he thinks this case will pass constitutional muster under appeal.

Live Dialogue with Randall Balmer

Faith in Public Life is now hosting a live dialogue between Randall Balmer, David Buckley and myself.

Dr. Randall Balmer is professor of American Religious History at Barnard College, Columbia University. He hosted the PBS Television series Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory and is the author of several books. Our dialogue begins with a discussion of Baptists that is in his new book, Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament -- How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America.

This electronic dialogue will continue for the next few days and will include an appearance by Balmer as a guest on my "Religious Talk" radio program this Sunday morning at 11:00 AM CST. Readers are invited to make comments on the Faith in Public Life website and call-in with questions or comments during the radio program.

Mainstream Baptists may remember that Randall gave the keynote address at our 2004 national Mainstream Baptist Convocation. Material from that speech and a whole lot more is in his new book.

On Baptist Press Bashing CBF, Again

Ethics Daily has posted an article about Baptist Press stories criticizing the way CBF counts churches and the quality of education at CBF seminaries.

CBF responded to Baptist Press criticizing their stories as "mean spirited" and "unchristian."

Rev. Gil Gulich has posted a blog with links to some other responses to the Baptist Press stories.

The best response that I have seen came to me in an e-mail from David Smelser in Rancho Viejo, Texas. Here's his critique of Baptist Press:

1. Baptist Press is displaying shallow, biased journalism
2. The Executive Committee and Baptist Press are still riding a " we're the best 'cause we're bigger mentality"
3. The Cooperative Program and mission entities are in more trouble than they want to admit
4. SBC Seminary enrollments are down
5. Non-SBC seminary graduates are finding jobs quicker

The President as a Law Unto Himself

While the mainstream media is focused on the ruling that Bush's NSA wiretapping is illegal, I found this article about "No freedom on July 4th" to be very interesting.

This administration not only ignores the clear mandates of the law, it orders that people be arrested for imaginary charges.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Genetics and Personhood

Scientists may have discovered the gene that controls the development of the human brain. Here's a quote:

And it's not just that this gene changed a lot. There is also its involvement with the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for some of the more complex brain functions, including language and information processing.

"It looks like in fact it is important in the development of brain," said co-author Sofie Salama, a research biologist at Santa Cruz who led the efforts to identify where the gene is active in the body.

The scientists still don't know specifically what the gene does. But they know that this same gene turns on in human fetuses at seven weeks after conception and then shuts down at 19 weeks, Haussler said.
For those inclined to believe that the imago Dei refers to spirit and personality and not to physical form, perhaps this gives some indication of the earliest moment when fetal formation creates the physiological substrata necessary for unique personhood.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Looking for Centrist Baptist Bloggers

Robert Parham at Ethics Daily has posted an essay asking "Where are the Centrist Baptist Bloggers?" Parham gives a list of mainstream Baptists who are blogging and builds a strong case for more Moderates to get involved in blogging. Here's a quote:

What is clear, and regrettable, is that once again moderate Baptists have been slow to take advantage of technology for the sake of their religious convictions.

Review broadly the church's use of communication technology. Moderate Baptists and mainline Protestants were slow to utilize radio. Fundamentalists rushed to radio. Moderate Baptists and mainline Protestants were tepid about TV. Fundamentalists hustled to TV. Moderate Baptists and mainline Protests were tentative about the World Wide Web. Fundamentalists dashed toward the Internet.

For all of fundamentalism's anti-science ideology and phobia, one must give fundamentalist leaders credit for their rapid embrace of technology and entrepreneurial spirit. They believe in their call and cause. They use technology to advance their values and mission.

Moderate Baptists and mainline Protestants, on the other hand, take an Amish approach to technology without the Amish moral conviction.

Too many moderate Baptists and mainline Protestants prefer weather-beaten Interstate billboards to constituency-building Internet Web sites. We favor print media with two-week-old or older stories instead of paperless media in a 24-7 world. It is no wonder growth is minimal, influence is questionable and relevance is doubtful.

We simply must do better, much better and much better now.
I strongly commend Parham's recommendation. I will be enlisting several of the bloggers that Parham lists and others for a "Mainstream Baptists" group blog where you'll be able to read and comment on some of their best work at a single location.

I'll be working to see if we can't kick-off this group blog today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Champion for Church-State Separation Dies

Robert Alley, an ardent champion for separation of church and state, has died. Author of The Constitution & Religion and several other books on church-state issues, Alley accurately reflected the historic Baptist principle regarding religious liberty for all.

Here's an excerpt from his obituary in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

The son of a Baptist minister who adamantly supported the separation of church and state, Dr. Robert Sutherland Alley sat outside his third-grade classroom while the teacher taught religion.

"For him, it was taking a political stand," said his son Robert S. Alley Jr. of Richmond. "But he sat on the steps with a Jewish child, to whom it meant a lot more. That experience affected my father all his life."

Dr. Alley, a humanities professor emeritus at the University of Richmond and an authority on church-state relations, died Monday in a Henrico County nursing home after a year of failing health. He was 74.

"My grandfather was editor of the [Baptist] Religious Herald and wrote numerous editorials regarding separation of church and state, so my father came by his interest honestly. It was his lifetime love," Alley said.

"He was often called to testify at the General Assembly for or against bills that dealt with that subject."

Georgia Baptists and Reconstructionists

There is not a ghost of a chance that the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship would ever be allowed to hold a conference at the Georgia Baptist Conference Center, but Christian Reconstructionists who think "democracy is heresy" are welcome.

CBF Baptists in Georgia, many of whom still financially support the Georgia Baptist state convention, are persona non grata within official Southern Baptist circles. Christian Reconstructionists who advocate "replacing" the American system and "stoning" homosexuals are headliners.

Southern Baptists don't seem to notice or care. Others do. Here's a quote from a story about "Public Stoning: Not Just for the Taliban Anymore," by John Sugg published on AlterNet today:

There are big theological differences between the Religious Right's generals and the Reconstructionists. Traditional Christian theology teaches that history will muddle along until Jesus' Second Coming. That teaching is tough to turn into a political movement. Reconstructionists preach that the nation and the world must come under Christian "dominion" (as they define it) before Christ's return -- a wonderful theology to promote global conquest.

In short, Dobson, Robertson, Falwell and the Southern Baptist Convention (the nation's largest Protestant denomination) may not agree with everything the Reconstructionists advocate, but they sure don't seem to mind hanging out with this openly theocratic, anti-democratic crowd.

It's enough for Americans who believe in personal freedom and religious liberty to get worried about -- before the first stones start flying.

Educator Corrects Franklin Graham

Ethics Daily has posted a story about Mary Ann Blankenship, Executive Director of the Kentucky Education Association, correcting false and misleading statements made by Franklin Graham made in a letter promoting a program that encourages youth to share their faith.

Graham said "an immoral, godless agenda is often pushed upon children" in public schools. Blankenship responded saying she was "tired of the 'Christian' public school bashers going unanswered." Here's a quote:

"As a Christian and lifelong admirer of Dr. Graham, I am glad that you are assisting today's Christian youth in talking about their faith," she wrote.

But Blankenship said she was "deeply disappointed" that Graham began his letter by bashing public schools, observing "I believe you could have easily made your point and sold your program without" it.

"You have unfairly castigated the millions of Christian adults who see one of the places of their ministry the public schools and who live their faith every day in public schools," she said. "You have further needlessly criticized countless students who likewise express their faith, both through their deeds and their words, in public schools."

Blankenship, nearly a 35-year veteran of public education in three different states, said she has had "not one shred of firsthand experience" that would cause her to agree with Graham's assessment that "a godless agenda is often pushed upon children."

"That's just not true," she said. "I don't doubt that there may be a public school somewhere or even a school district somewhere that may be doing things that I don't approve of. But to make the generalization that public schools are 'godless' is unfair and hurtful."

"More to the point," she added, "I believe that you could have made your point and promoted your program without this negative introduction."
Kudos to Mary Ann Blankenship. More educators need to become more assertive and vocal about correcting the lies, misrepresentations and distortions that religious right leaders are propagating about public schools.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Petition for Tolerance in the Indian River School District

CrossLeft is asking for signatures on a petition to the Indian River School District in Delaware encouraging them to be tolerant and respectful of persons of minority faith.

Please read the petition and sign it if you agree with it.

Symour Hersch on Watching Lebanon

The New Yoker has published a new essay by Seymour Hersch on "Watching Lebanon" that reveals how and why the Bush administration was closely involved in planning Israel's counterattacks against Hezbollah. Here's a quote:

The Bush Administration, however, was closely involved in the planning of Israel's retaliatory attacks. President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney were convinced, current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials told me, that a successful Israeli Air Force bombing campaign against Hezbollah's heavily fortified underground-missile and command-and-control complexes in Lebanon could ease Israel's security concerns and also serve as a prelude to a potential American preëmptive attack to destroy Iran's nuclear installations, some of which are also buried deep underground.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Podcast: Michelle Goldberg Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 8-13-06 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Michelle Goldberg. Michelle is the author of the widely acclaimed book "Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism."

Click here to download podcast (30 MB file).

Bush Administration Seeking More Authority

Our neo-conservative homeland security chief was on television today asking for more authority to conduct electronic surveillance and secret detentions.

This latest attempt to use the fear of terrorism to secure additional unchecked power and authority, comes on the heels of revelations that U.S. authorities and U.K. authorities were at odds over the timing over the arrests for the recent plot to blow up civilian passenger planes in Britain.

Such revelations give the appearance of confirming liberal suspicions about the timing of the arrests in this latest terrorist plot. Buzzflash's allegation of treason by the administration, however, is over the top.

Anti-war Democrats Compared to Goldwater Republicans

The New York Times has published an story that compares the insurgency of anti-war Democrats to the insurgency of Goldwater Republicans. Here's a quote:

Some commentators have portrayed the bloggers who led the charge against Senator Lieberman as the ideological descendants of the left-wing Democrats who nearly brought the party to its knees in the 1960's and 70's. But in strategic terms they resemble more closely the "movement conservatives" who transformed the Republican Party from 1955 to 1980, when it rose to dominate American politics.

Like the current Democratic insurgency, the conservative movement was driven by activists who combined journalism with partisanship. Just as today's insurgents often post their analyses and self-described "rants" on Web sites like Daily Kos, so the conservative rebels of an earlier day poured forth their opinions in the National Review, the biweekly magazine founded in 1955 by the 29-year-old William F. Buckley Jr.

Today, of course, National Review is widely read as a journal of the Republican establishment. But in its infancy it was regarded as extreme -- far more radical than the bloggers most influential in the Lieberman defeat.

Will the Middle East Spin out of Control?

As the United Nations works diligently to implement a cease-fire, and as both Israel and Hezbollah work furiously to gain some advantage before its implementation, it is sobering to read Jim Lobe's essay about the "'New Middle East' Out of Control." Here's an excerpt:

Before the Lebanon crisis, Rice appeared to be successfully moving U.S. policy gradually, if fitfully, towards a more realist position, particularly with respect to Iran. But she has now run into a brick wall in Bush himself, according to Insight.

"For the last 18 months, Condi was given nearly carte blanche in setting foreign policy guidelines," it quoted one "senior government source" as saying. "All of a sudden, the president has a different opinion and he wants the last word."

Her problems, however, may not be confined to Bush, according to another report in Thursday's New York Times, which suggested that Cheney -- and his mainly neo-conservative advisers -- has become increasingly assertive in the latest crisis in support of Israel's efforts to crush Hezbollah. (In fact, some of his unofficial advisers, such as Weekly Standard editor William Kristol and former Defence Policy Board chairman Richard Perle, have called for expanding the war to Syria and even Iran.)

In that respect, the current situation recalls the humiliation of then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's who in early 2002 sought to persuade Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to halt Israel's military offensive in the Palestinian territories -- only to be undercut back home by Cheney and, ironically, by then-national security adviser Rice herself.

"She had as much to do with cutting his legs out from under him vis-à-vis the Middle East as anyone else -- either through outright agreement with Cheney, or, at the minimum, complicity with his views so as to draw even closer to Bush," according to ret. Col Lawrence Wilkerson, Powell's former chief of staff at the State Department.

That experience, of course, confirmed the demise of realist influence in Bush's first term, at least with respect to the Middle East.

That Rice may now find herself in a similar position, having to contend with a resurgent Cheney-led coalition of hawks who are not so much complacent about the course of current events in the Middle East as convinced that their strategy of regional "transformation" by military means will be vindicated, is what is perhaps particularly alarming about the present moment.

"This whole business is nuts -- unless, of course, you believe what the rumor-mongers are beginning to pass around," wrote Wilkerson in reference to the Lebanon war in an email exchange with IPS. "(T)hat this entire affair was ginned up by Bush/Cheney and certain political leaders in Tel Aviv to give cover for the eventual attack by the U.S. on Iran. At first, I refused to believe what seemed to be such insanity. But I am not so certain any longer."
Effectual, fervent prayers are needed for this cease-fire to hold.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Depleted Uranium in the News

Associated Press has published a story about "Sickened Vets Cite Depleted Uranium."

It is impossible for non-specialists like myself to acurately assess the conflicting reports about the toxicity of depleted uranium. We have to take the word of experts.

Experts are on both sides of the issue about depleted uranium.

Whenever I read about depleted uranium, the controversy over the use of Agent Orange during the war in Vietnam keeps coming to mind.

23 Years with Computers

Yesterday was the 25th Anniversary of the release of the IBM PC. PC World has published a story on "The 25 Greatest PCs of All Time." I didn't get my first computer until the summer of 1983.

Imagine my surprise to find my first computer, a Kaypro II, was listed as the 25th greatest computer by PC World. I didn't expect it to make the list. It was not an IBM PC and it was not a DOS computer, but it was less than half the price, luggable to libraries, and good enough to format a doctoral disseration.

The most difficult task I had to perform was to convince the administrators of the doctoral program at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary that my Kaypro and Word Star's WYSIWYG format could produce output that conformed to the Chicago Manual of Style. I believe I was the first student at Southwestern Seminary to get permission to do a computer generated doctoral disseration.

I used my Kaypro for a year longer than the journalist quoted by PC World. I didn't buy my first DOS computer until 1992 -- a Gateway 486.

Neoconservative Catholic Attacks on Mainline Protestants Exposed

Andrew Weaver has written a scathing expose of the neo-conservative Catholics associated with the Institute for Religion and Democracy that have been working to undermine mainline Protestantism for a quarter century. Here's a quote that summarizes some of the issues:

Imagine the outcry from Catholic leaders, a fully justified response, if a highly influential group of Protestants obtained a million dollars a year from left-wing sources to generate a propaganda campaign against the leadership of the Catholic Church over the issues of the ordination of women and divorce. Moreover, this Protestant-directed group constantly sought to undermine Catholic leaders and missions through twisted and demeaning distortions of what they said, while seeking no reforms in their own communions. This is exactly the situation we have at IRD.

IRD constitutes the most grievous breach in ecumenical good will between Roman Catholics and Protestants since the changes initiated by Vatican II. Since that time there have continued to be differences between Catholics and Protestants, as well as internal divisions on both sides. What has been remarkable has been the mutual respect among Catholics and Protestants and their ability to work together on many matters. We believe that the sustained attempt by one segment of the leadership of the Catholic Church to undermine the leadership of mainstream Protestantism is a unique breach of ecumenical relations. How other Catholic leaders deal with the debates internal to the Catholic Church introduced by its Neocons is a matter with which Protestants have no business interfering. But Protestants have the right to expect that those Roman Catholic leaders who wish to maintain ecumenical relations with Protestants will publicly disown and reject the activities of the IRD.

Pray at School, or Else

The Daily Oklahoman is reporting that a religious discimination lawsuit has been filed against the Hardesty Public Schools in Texas County, Oklahoma. Allegedly, prayer is mandatory for members of the girls basketball team in that school system. Here's a quote:

The lawsuit contends school officials removed Smalkowski's daughter from the girls basketball team in November 2004 after she refused to participate in a recitation of the Lord's Prayer at the coach's direction. They used false accusations as a pretext for the move, the lawsuit states.
Sadly, evangelical Christians all over the country probably think the coach and the school system were just trying to bear witness to their faith.

What kind of testimony is this? How does it square with the command to stop standing on street corners to trumpet your prayers, but go to a closet and pray in secret?

Women's Equality Cited for Reducing AIDS

The Toronto Star is reporting that research in Southern Africa is showing that a tribe that gives equal rights to women has helped them escape the epidemic of AIDS raging across Africa. Here's a quote:

Lee's research, to be presented Monday, concludes that the relatively equal rights shared by men and women in Ju/'hoansi society has allowed them to largely escape the scourge of AIDS that is ravaging much of southern Africa.

A growing and well-accepted body a research over recent years has suggested that women's subservience in many African societies has played a crucial role in the spread of the disease.

Simply put, many African women are given no choice about their sexual partners, can't reject philandering husbands and have no power to insist that condoms be used, says pioneering Toronto AIDS doctor Philip Berger, who worked with African AIDS patients for seven months last year.

Lee says the high status of women in the Ju/'hoansi tribe gives them significant autonomy in choosing their sexual and marriage partners.

"In the other societies around the region, the young men will say, 'Oh no, a girl has to obey me if I want to have sex with her, and if I don't want to use a condom, that's it,'" says Lee.

"With the Ju/'hoansi, their high status in the community gives women plenty of leverage in sexual negotiations."
The Southern Baptist creed that wives are to be "graciously submissive" to their husbands would not prove helpful to this tribe.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Americans Lagging World in Scientific Understanding

LiveScience is reporting that "U.S. Lags World in Grasp of Genetics and Acceptance of Evolution." Here's a quote:

The study found that over the past 20 years:

The percentage of U.S. adults who accept evolution declined from 45 to 40 percent. The percentage overtly rejecting evolution declined from 48 to 39 percent, however. And the percentage of adults who were unsure increased, from 7 to 21 percent. Of the other countries surveyed, only Turkey ranked lower, with about 25 percent of the population accepting evolution and 75 percent rejecting it. In Iceland, Denmark, Sweden and France, 80 percent or more of adults accepted evolution; in Japan, 78 percent of adults did.
Here's my response to the intransigence of the religious on this issue.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Norman Bill of Rights Project

Here is a photograph of one of two 250 lb. bronze Bill of Rights plaques that haven been donated to the public high schools in Norman, Oklahoma. The plaques are 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.

Last spring a group of civil rights activists in Norman started a project to place large bronze plaques of the Bill of Rights in Norman's two public high schools. We needed to raise $10,000 to pay for the plaques.

Most of the money has been raised. The plaques are done. They have been delivered to the high schools for them to mount in a prominent place at each school.

A dedication ceremony has been planned for "Constitution Day" on September 18th.

Special thanks to Dr. Charles Wesner for the art work that brought the text and the statue of liberty into relief.

On the Power of Blogging

When Frank Page was elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention there was a lot of talk about how "blogging" would move the SBC back to the center.

Now that Ned Lamont has defeated Joe Lieberman in a Connecticut Democratic primary there is a lot of talk that "netroots" will move the Democratic party to the left.

Both predictions are exaggerated.

Ari Melber's essay in Nation magazine on, "Ned Lamont's Digital Constituency" provides a lot of helpful perspective. Here's a quote:

Some independent experts also see the recent attacks on bloggers as just campaign tactics. "Lieberman's best chance is to convince people that his opponents are extremists, and people who are unsophisticated in politics associate extremism with vitriolic behavior," explained Michael Cornfield, an assoicate research professor at George Washington University who studies Internet politics. Cornfield stressed that there is "no ideological bent" to netroots activists; the recent talk of bloggers pulling the party left relies on stereotypes, not data. Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, said surveys indicate that blog readers tend to be "engaged citizens" who are more likely to vote and participate in civic activities, but that there is no "significant partisan skewing" in the blogosphere.
My own experience in the blogosphere indicates that the internet is decidedly not skewed toward the left. In fact, the number of fundamentalists in the Christian blogosphere significantly exceeds the number of moderates and progressives.

Want some evidence? See if you can find any moderate or progressive seminary in the world that can match the number of bloggers that Al Mohler is cultivating at Southern Seminary.

Southern Baptists in Oklahoma Continue Fighting

The Oklahoma Gazette has published a story entitled the "Baptist Brouhaha" about the continuing conflict between conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention.

The article quotes from the blog of Dennis Newkirk, pastor of Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond and cites a post that is no longer on Newkirk's blog which said,

"We believe that a few Baptist leaders have taken it upon themselves to violate our church's autonomy and independence by their timing of anti-proposal publications and resolutions."
Such violations of church autonomy are not unusual in Southern Baptist life in Oklahoma. A trustee on the Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and a former president of the SBC unsuccessfully employed similar tactics when First Baptist Church of Oklahoma City was making a decision over whether to leave the Southern Baptist Convention.

Regarding the Femicide in Juarez

Editor and Publisher has posted a story about Diana Washington Valdez, the reporter who risked her life to tell the stories of the scores of poor, young women who have been raped and murdered in Juarez, Mexico.

Valdez has a new book coming out and several crews have been making films and documentaries about the story. Here's an excerpt from the article:

The filmmaker emphasizes the complexity of the story can be hard for outsiders to grasp: "It's not just about finding copycat murderers or serial murderers; it's the overall violence toward women, the way society there sees women as pretty much dispensable. You've got to question everything, and that's why the victims' families opened up to Diana."

She describes a scene in the documentary in which she confronts the spokesman for the state attorney general's office with the names of some suspects Valdez has turned up, and he tells her that no inquiry is necessary, since the five men are "upstanding citizens, very good people." He then warns her that Valdez "should be careful."

Diego Zavala, Amnesty International USA's specialist for Mexico, praises Valdez's book for ferreting out hard-to-find information, and laying out the systemic failures in both the government and police organizations that render them incapable of solving the murders.

"I think it's very courageous of her to do this," he asserts. "She identifies all the state officials involved directly or indirectly in investigations, and demonstrates how utterly inept and insensitive they have been. When she tried to get information from actual witnesses, they wouldn't dare say anything. These young women disappear from downtown Juarez in the daytime, and no one claims to have seen them. It makes you wonder -- who are these people they're so afraid of?"

The Juarez murders are no longer "just" a local story, thanks in part to Valdez's reporting. In May, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution condemning the killings and encouraging U.S. involvement in bringing them to an end. In Mexico, a special federal prosecutor has been named to investigate the crimes.

Christian School Sues UC Over Intelligent Design

The Monterey Herald is reporting that a trial is now pending for a Christian School's lawsuit against the University of California for refusing to give prospective students science credits for taking Intelligent Design courses.

The Christian school is claiming to be the victim of religious discrimination.

At least they've got the sphere of study correct. Intelligent Design is a religious theory, not a scientific theory. While they are at it, they might as well make the same religious discrimination argument for Creation Science.

On Choosing Sides in Iraq

Now that we are hearing increasing admissions that Iraq is in a civil war, Harold Meyerson asks "Which Side Are We On?" Here's a quote:

For the Bush administration, then, any admission that the Iraqi civil war is in fact a civil war destroys whatever remains of its justification for our presence there. For while it is true that the withdrawal of our forces will probably unleash even greater sectarian mayhem, it is also true that our presence cannot stop it and that our presence there has also greatly diminished our diplomatic and military capacity to accomplish anything else anyplace else.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Shuddering at the Rhetoric of Holy War

Thanks to J.C. Baker at the Progressive Baptist blog for calling my attention to an outstanding editorial by Robert Steinbeck in this morning's Ft. Worth Star-Telegram about "Whom are we Slaying?"

Steinbeck is responding to an op-ed by Cal Thomas entitled "The West's Language Problem." Specifically, Steinbeck takes offense at these statements by Thomas:

What we have is a problem that diplomacy cannot solve. It is a language problem, but even more than that. Languages can be learned and communication established. This is a religious divide. The president thinks people we see in bondage want to be as free as we Americans. In fact, many of them regard us as the ones in bondage and, in their religion, they see themselves as free. They regard our ways as decadent and our culture corrupt. They want no part of it. They are welcome to their 7th-century ways, but they are not welcome to impose those ways on the rest of the world.
. . .

Unable to cope with their failings and to justify their guilt, they seek to bring others down to their level. They will not be stopped by diplomatic appeals, or reason. They have taken up the sword and they must be made to die by the sword in sufficient numbers that even they will see the futility of their ways and be forced to engage in less warlike pursuits.
Steinbeck asks:

This is a Christian sentiment? We rightly condemn fanatical Muslims for countenancing the killing of innocent people. Does the same idea become noble when our side utters it?

Alas, I am questioning still. I question how any person of faith can read such an alarming treatise -- and not shudder.
I'm shuddering.

Will the Christian Right Debate the Christian Left?

Media Transparency has posted a story about Ken Connor's call for the Christian Right to enter debate with the emerging Christian Left. Here's a quote:

Connor pointed out that "The emergence of a progressive evangelical movement affords a wonderful opportunity to foster a public discussion about the role of faith in civic life. Sometimes, it must be admitted, we get lazy in our political thinking. We know that at some point we thought through the reasons behind our positions, but maybe that was years ago. It is always helpful to remember why we believe what we believe, reviewing our old arguments to see if they are still strong. Even worse, sometimes we allow others in the 'conservative coalition' to do our political thinking for us, even when they come from very secular starting points. Liberal evangelicals help us because they share our foundational commitment to Christ, yet they see political questions in a different light. As we actively dialogue with them about our political positions, hopefully both sides will benefit. Most importantly, let us pray that Christ will be glorified in the way we conduct our conversation."

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

ATM Machines in Churches?

BBC is running a story about a suggestion in England to have an ATM machine installed in churches.

It's hard not to be reminded by this of the money changers in the temple.

Realist Republicans Work on Getting out of Iraq

Washington Monthly has published a somber essay entitled "A Higher Power" about James Baker's attempts to extricate this administration from the debacle in Iraq. Some of the concerns expressed about the possible de-stabilization of Saudia Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are sobering. Here's a quote:

But with each passing day, the country is closer to the train wreck that Baker and others are said to fear. In the end, avoiding it might ride on the ability of Jim Baker to persuade the president that it's time to declare victory and exit.

"The object of our policy has to be to get our little white asses out of there as soon as possible," another working-group participant told me. To do that, he said, Baker must confront the president "like the way a family confronts an alcoholic. You bring everyone in, and you say, 'Look, my friend, it's time to change.'"

On Battling Ideas with Guns

The Guardian UK has published an enlightening essay entitled "The global battle for ideas cannot be fought with guns." Here's a quote:

The Bush-Blair belief was that Arab nationalism could be bombed into defeat. The past few years have shown how deluded that was. Even less plausible is the idea that Islamism will wane if the west flexes its military muscles. In a hearts-and-minds struggle, it does not win much leverage to bomb civilians and kill children. In this regard, Arab Shias are the same as anyone else: murder makes them angry, not conciliatory.

This is the real danger of Israel's actions in Lebanon. Israel has every right to exist, in security. Internally it is a democratic society and, as a non-Jew, I would infinitely prefer to live in Tel Aviv than Tehran. But Israel's vicious behaviour towards the Palestinians, and now in Lebanon, creates a new suicide bomber, a new resistance fighter and a new potential terrorist - in the Middle East and well beyond - every hour of the day. Yes, Hizbullah provoked the Israelis. But they reacted with all the calm deliberation of a maddened bull. They are not the only ones.

Smarty Bombsalot to the Rescue

Thanks to Michael Westmoreland-White for calling my attention to the animated video "Smarty Bombsalot."

Click on this link to see it.

Regarding Evangelical Youth Cults

AlterNet has posted a very informative essay about "Megachurches Court Cool to Attract Teens" that analyzes the techniques some Evangelical megachurches are using to reach teenagers. Here's an excerpt:

The New Life Church has made God a man to both fear and love, a classic example of what George Lakoff calls the "strict father" model. For the New Life Church, worship is both a mandate and an individual expression, contemporary culture is both an evil and a celebration. But unlike the brand of confusion produced by electoral politics that promises a "stronger America" or health care for all, New Life Church promises concrete rewards. Both pastors spoke often about the payoff for those who are faithful; Pastor Ted even referred to "the toys" that those who pray will undoubtedly receive, holding up Sam Walton of the Wal-Mart fortune as the quintessential example.

For teenagers, unlike aging adults, the ultimate reward is not yet heaven -- it is being "cool," being entertained, being inspired. The teenspeak-talking evangelists assure these insecure kids that if they pray hard enough, they will not only be loved, but rich. Unlike the hell that is junior high, at New Life, they are resolutely on the side of the powerful and popular.

As Pastor Ross looked around at the nodding, foot-tapping teenagers filling the stadium seating, he triumphantly shouted, "We are growing the church young!" Unless progressives can figure out a way to reach that same audience, I fear he is right.
All I would add is that the strategies of these megachurches remind me of the methods that youth cults like Sung Myung Moon's Unification Church employed to attract teens in the 1970's. They targeted all their efforts on meeting the emotional needs of teenagers. That made full service churches that were meeting the needs of people of all ages and stages of maturity seem out-of-touch.

Evangelical megachurches that deliberately market themselves to an audience of 13 to 30 year olds are employing the same tactics and methods with similar results.

Sooner or later, teenagers and twenty-somethings grow up.

Will these churches help them grow to spiritual maturity? Or, will they just modify the emotions they manipulate in order to hold onto the spell of never, never land?

Has the Alliance of Baptists been Targeted by the Government for Discriminatory Treatment?

Associated Baptist Press is reporting that the Alliance of Baptists has been fined $34,000 by the Treasury Department for allegedly violating the Bush administration's restrictions on travel in Cuba. Some American church leaders are contending that the administration's treatment of religious groups that express opposition to its policy toward Cuba is discriminatory. Here's a quote:

Both the administration's recommendations and the Alliance's fine come at a time of new restrictions on the way U.S. religious groups relate to Cuba. A new OFAC interpretation of its own rules has made it much more difficult for any denominational entity or religious organization other than a local church to renew its Cuba travel license -- groups such as the American Baptist Churches and the Disciples of Christ had license applications denied in recent months.

Several U.S. Christian leaders involved in Cuba say that's because President Bush's administration is maintaining a hard line on the Cuban embargo to please Cuban-American Republicans in South Florida, who loathe Castro and his regime.

"They're trying to manage and control religious travel to Cuba in ways that they view as promoting the administration's political polices, and we think that that is an intrusion into religious affairs and a violation of religious freedom," said Martin Shupack, Church World Service's associate director for public policy.

"What it looks to me like is they are favoring some religious groups over others for the sake of their political objectives," he continued. "And I don't think the government has any business, constitutionally or morally, to be doing that. I think that's interfering in religious affairs by making those kinds of judgments."
Before the turn of the century, I would have never considered it likely that our government would discriminate in its treatment of religious groups. Today, it just looks like another sign pointing to an American theocracy. Baptists have been through this before.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Israelis Waking-up to Neo-Conservative Nightmare

Thanks to Tom Paine for calling attention to the essay on "Ending the Neoconservative Nightmare" by Daniel Levy in the Haaretz. Levy was a member of the official Israeli negotiating team at the Oslo and Taba talks and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative. Here's an excerpt:

Israel does have enemies, interests and security imperatives, but there is no logic in the country volunteering itself for the frontline of an ideologically misguided and avoidable war of civilizations.

So what should be done, on both sides of the ocean?

It is admittedly difficult for Israel to have a regional strategy that is out-of-step with the U.S. administration-of-the-day. However, the neocon approach is not unchallenged, and Israel should not be providing its ticket back to the ascendancy. A U.S. return to proactive diplomacy, realism and multilateralism, with sustained and hard engagement that delivers concrete progress, would best serve its own, Israeli and regional interests. Israel should encourage this. Israel may even have to lead, for instance, in rethinking policy on Hamas or Syria, and should certainly work intensely with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in encouraging his efforts to reach a Palestinian national understanding as a basis for stable governance, security quiet and future peace negotiations. A policy that comes with a Jerusalem kosher stamp of approval might be viewed as less of an abomination in Washington.

Beyond that, Israel and its friends in the United States should seriously reconsider their alliances not only with the neocons, but also with the Christian Right. The largest "pro-Israel" lobby day during this crisis was mobilized by Pastor John Hagee and his Christians United For Israel, a believer in Armageddon with all its implications for a rather particular end to the Jewish story. This is just asking to become the mother of all dumb, self-defeating and morally abhorrent alliances.

Internationalist Republicans, Democrats and mainstream Israelis must construct an alternative narrative to the neocon nightmare, identifying shared interests in a policy that reestablishes American leadership, respect and credibility in the region by facilitating security and stability, pursuing conflict resolution and promoting the conditions for more open societies (as opposed to narrow election-worship). The last two years of the Bush presidency can be an opportunity for progress or an exercise in desperate damage limitation. It sounds counter-intuitive, but Israel should reflect on and even help reorient American expectations.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Getting Leaner and Meaner

The Washington Post has published a story about "Welfare Changes a Burden to States."

John Ashcroft's 1996 'Charitable Choice" legislation involved a variety of carrots and sticks to get the states to work on reforming welfare. Now the carrots are being taken away and only the stick remains. Here's a quote:

Many state officials and advocates are furious. "You had fixed block grants in exchange for state flexibility," said Elaine M. Ryan, deputy executive director of the American Public Human Services Association, which represents welfare directors around the country. "Now you have fixed block grants in exchange for federal micromanagement. . . . That was not the deal."
Those lining up for the "easy money and loose accountability" that "Charitable Choice" created for their "Faith-based initiatives" should take note.

When buying the Christian vote is no longer expedient, the days of tight money and strict accountability will follow.

Lebanese Baptists Unhappy with Proposed U.N. Resolution

Ethics Daily is reporting that Lebanese Baptists are questioning the proposed U.N. Resolution for a truce in Lebanon.

If Canada invaded Maine would a truce hold that left Canadians in control of parts of Maine?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Casualties in Iraq, Lest we Forget

Jimmy Breslin has written an emotion laden essay on "In case we all forgot, Americans are Still Dying in Iraq."

GAO Report Questions Faith-Based Initiatives

Bill Berkowitz has written an outstanding essay about "GAO Report Raises Serious Questions about Bush's Faith-Based Initiatives." Here's a quote:

"While there weren't any surprises, and it was blandly worded, nevertheless the GAO report was quite an indictment of President Bush's faith-based initiative," Annie Laurie Gaylor, the co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, told Media Transparency in a telephone interview. "After two readings, I couldn't find any summary of what they thought the safeguards should be. It left me wondering whether the administration has any safeguards in place.

"It also left me questioning how the government was monitoring the grants they've given," Gaylor said. "After all, there is no indication in the report that anyone is doing site visits and following up on the grants."

"While I hope it will motivate changes by the administration, I don't think the report with fundamentally change the Bush Administration's approach," said Gaylor, whose organization has been one of several in the forefront of challenging the initiative in the courts. "It is difficult to imagine the faith-based initiative being challenged if so many Democrats support it in one way or another."

"I hope other members of Congress, in addition to Rep. Stark and Rep. Miller, wake up and realize that the several billion dollars given to religious organizations is going down the drain, while at the same time, the wall of separation between church and state is being eroded."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Culture War Divisions Exaggerated

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has just released information about a poll that reveals Americans are not as divided on cultural issues as many believe. Here are the key findings:

A clear majority (56%) continues to oppose allowing gays and lesbians to marry while 35% express support, but just three-in-ten favor a Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages. A growing number of Americans see homosexuality as an innate trait people are born with, and a 49% plurality now believes a person's sexual orientation cannot be changed. While a slim majority (54%) favors allowing gay couples to enter into civil unions, only 42% believe gay couples should be allowed to adopt children.

Abortion continues to split the country nearly down the middle. But the large majority in favor of finding "a middle ground" on the issue extends broadly across the political and religious spectrum. Only one group expressed unwillingness to find a middle way. Two-thirds (66%) of those who support an outright ban on abortion say there should be no compromise. In contrast, two-thirds of those who want abortion to be generally available are ready to seek a compromise.

Stem cell research
A 56% majority continues to believe that it is more important to conduct stem cell research that may lead to new medical cures rather than to avoid destroying the potential life of human embryos involved in the research (32%). For the first time in Pew polling, more white evangelicals now favor stem cell research (44%) than oppose it (40%).

The Morning-After Pill & Birth Control
Americans split 48% to 41% over whether to allow the morning-after pill without a prescription. But by 80% to 17% they believe pharmacists should not be able to refuse to sell birth control pills based on their religious beliefs.

Here's a link to the entire report.

Friday, August 04, 2006

An Obituary for American Conservatism

E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post has written what is best described as an obituary for American conservatism under the title, "The End of the Right?" Here's an excerpt:

I would argue that this is the week in which conservatism, Hamiltonian or not, reached the point of collapse.

The most obvious, outrageous and unprincipled spasm occurred last night when the Senate voted on a bill that would have simultaneously raised the minimum wage and slashed taxes on inherited wealth.

Rarely has our system produced a more naked exercise in opportunism than this measure. Most conservatives oppose the minimum wage on principle as a form of government meddling in the marketplace. But moderate Republicans in jeopardy this fall desperately wanted an increase in the minimum wage.

So the seemingly ingenious Republican leadership, which dearly wants deep cuts in the estate tax, proposed offering nickels and dimes to the working class to secure billions for the rich. Fortunately, though not surprisingly, the bill failed.

The episode was significant because it meant Republicans were acknowledging that they would not hold congressional power without the help of moderates. That is because there is nothing close to a conservative majority in the United States.

Yet their way of admitting this was to put on display the central goal of the currently dominant forces of politics: to give away as much as possible to the truly wealthy. You wonder what those blue-collar conservatives once known as Reagan Democrats made of this spectacle.

Westminster Press Pressing for Truth about 9/11

Ethics Daily reports that Westminster John Knox Press, the denominational press of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and one of the most respected religious presses in the world, has published a controversial book by David Ray Griffin under the title Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11.

David Ray Griffin is professor emeritus of philosophy of religion and theology at the Claremont School of Theology and co-director of the Center for Process Studies. He has written several books questioning official versions of what happened on 9/11.

If there is anything to the 9/11 conspiracy theories, David Ray Griffin is likely to be closest to the truth. There is no doubt that there are gapping holes, distortions and discrepancies in the official 9/11 Commission Report.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Suzy Paynter Selected as Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission Director

Congratulations to Suzy Paynter who has just been named the Director of the Baptist General Convention of Texas' Christian Life Commission.

Paynter follows stalwart Mainstream Baptists like Foy Valentine, Jimmy Allen, James Dunn, and Phil Strickland. She's a tireless advocate for social justice.

Neo-Cons Pushing for a Four-Front War

Salon Magazine has published an essay entitled "The Neo-Cons Next War" by Sidney Blumenthal that says neo-conservatives inside the administration are pushing Israel toward a four-front war with Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran. Here's a quote:

Inside the administration, neoconservatives on Vice President Dick Cheney's national security staff and Elliott Abrams, the neoconservative senior director for the Near East on the National Security Council, are prime movers behind sharing NSA intelligence with Israel, and they have discussed Syrian and Iranian supply activities as a potential pretext for Israeli bombing of both countries, the source privy to conversations about the program says. (Intelligence, including that gathered by the NSA, has been provided to Israel in the past for various purposes.) The neoconservatives are described as enthusiastic about the possibility of using NSA intelligence as a lever to widen the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and Israel and Hamas into a four-front war.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is said to have been "briefed" and to be "on board," but she is not a central actor in pushing the covert neoconservative scenario. Her "briefing" appears to be an aspect of an internal struggle to intimidate and marginalize her. Recently she has come under fire from prominent neoconservatives who oppose her support for diplomatic negotiations with Iran to prevent its development of nuclear weaponry.

Are Some Mega-Church Preachers Clamoring for War with Iran?

AlterNet has published an essay about some influential Christian Zionists who are "Lobbying for Armageddon."

Theological and exegetical incompetents who roll out their end-times charts and impersonate fortune-tellers for their gullible followers might be considered harmless.

When they roll into Washington and lobby to have the government launch wars to fulfill their warped fantasies, they are dangerous.

These warmongering Evangelicals do not faithfully represent the Prince of Peace.

Motto of Civil Religion Marks 50th Anniversary

Ethics Daily has posted an essay by Brian Kaylor about the 50th Anniversary of America's "In God We Trust" national motto.

The Supreme Court has declared that the motto, like the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance, has "no significant religious content" which makes the motto a blasphemous expression that violates the commandment to not take the name of God in vain.

Kaylor correctly points out how support for such symbols of civil religion contradict the gospel:

Many Christians point to the motto as proof of the U.S. being a "Christian nation." Yet, such a sentiment stands in direct opposition to evangelical Christian theology. Trust in God and being a Christian ultimately resides at the individual level. Thus, how can we as a collective nation be a Christian or trust in God unless each individual therein is or does?

Instead of a personal salvation, this slogan helps create a nationalistic salvation where one is godly simply because one is an American. Without true faith or trust and without actions to support the words, the slogan is ultimately meaningless. God is not going to look at the coins in our pockets to see how we should be judged, but in our hearts. Perhaps, then, we should spend less time honoring and fighting for the wording on our coins and instead attempt to give to God that which is His.

America may have its godly-sounding slogan, but it also has numerous people who desperately need much more than that. Maybe we should start ministering to the least of these, instead of worrying about the phraseology on our coins. Maybe we should start leading people to actually trust in God, instead of spending our time and money trying to "save" the national slogan.

Otherwise we are left with nothing except a false gospel that has been nickeled and dimed to death.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Is America Urging Israel to Attack Syria?

Thanks to the Existentialist Cowboy for calling attention to a revelation in Monday's Jerusalem Post. Here's a quote:

Defense officials told the Post last week that they were receiving indications from the US that America would be interested in seeing Israel attack Syria.

First Freedom First

Americans United and the Interfaith Alliance have combined forces to encourage all Americans to put "First Freedom First."

As James Madison circulated his Memorial and Remonstrance with petitions to gather support for Thomas Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, the First Freedom First organization is circulating a petition to get signatures from citizens who are interested in safeguarding separation of church and state and preserving religious liberty for all Americans.

Here are links to a couple brief videos (about 90 seconds) that discuss our concern for Democracy Not Theocracy and End of Life Care.

I encourage all Mainstream Baptists to sign the petition, tell your friends, encourage them to sign it, and host a house party to discuss this issue.

Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists are already planning house parties in Norman and Oklahoma City.

Why We Will Never Know the Truth About 9/11

Today's Washington Post has published an article that says "9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon." Here's a quote:

John F. Lehman, a Republican commission member and former Navy secretary, said in a recent interview that he believed the panel may have been lied to but that he did not believe the evidence was sufficient to support a criminal referral.

"My view of that was that whether it was willful or just the fog of stupid bureaucracy, I don't know," Lehman said. "But in the order of magnitude of things, going after bureaucrats because they misled the commission didn't seem to make sense to me."
Until this administration came to power, in my lifetime, I never recollect another instance when the "fog of stupid bureaucracy" had such importance and consequence.

Previous administrations would not have tolerated it. That's one of the reasons why the New York Times is reporting stories like this one about a 9/11 skeptic.

Ergun Caner Refuted

Ethics Daily has published a story about the fuel that Southern Baptist professor Ergun Caner is pouring on the fire of Middle East conflict. Elie Haddad, provost of Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, demonstrated genuine Christian maturity in his response:

"Having 90 refugees at our seminary in Mansourieh, 760 refugees in our school in west Beirut, thousands upon thousands of refugees all around us living in miserable conditions, our fuel, medical, food, and hygiene supplies getting scarce, and having no prospect of a quick resolution to the problem, I really am not in a frame of mind to respond to such remarks," Haddad said in an e-mail to

"At ABTS, we have made this decision," he said. "We cannot participate in a military war, and we have no intention at this time to participate in a political war. Instead, we want to fight wars of a different sort. We are involved in a spiritual war and a humanitarian war. We are active on the spiritual front by holding extensive times of worship and prayer for Lebanon, for our region, and for the people of our region (including our 'enemies'). And, we are active on the humanitarian front by getting involved in relief efforts. Both fronts have been extensively supported by our partners in the West, especially Americans. Thousands are praying for us and are actively helping us in our relief efforts. We thank God day and night for the amazing love of God that is evident in them. We cannot do it without them."

Jimmy Carter on the War in Lebanon

Ethics Daily has posted former President Jimmy Carter's essay "Stop the Band-Aid Treatment" about the administration's response to the war in Lebanon. Here's a quote:

It is inarguable that Israel has a right to defend itself against attacks on its citizens, but it is inhumane and counterproductive to punish civilian populations in the illogical hope that somehow they will blame Hamas and Hezbollah for provoking the devastating response. The result instead has been that broad Arab and worldwide support has been rallied for these groups, while condemnation of both Israel and the United States has intensified.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Class Warfare Erupts in U.S. Congress

Republicans in Congress are holding an increase in the minimum wage hostage until Democrats will agree to repeal the estate tax. Such exchanges of hostage legislation have taken place in the past.

Republicans do not expect the poor to overreact and launch an air and ground offensive against the rich. They only support that in the Middle East.

Ethics Daily Interviews Martin Accad

Ethics Daily has posted an interview of Martin Accad, Academic Dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon.

Accad gives some sound advice to Evangelical Christians who are concerned to share their faith with Muslims:

Due to the complexity of Islam, he said, "What Christians ought to do is proactively to seek to enter into ongoing relationship with moderate Muslims. Only moderate Muslims can then enter into dialogue with their more radical coreligionists."

One way to create peace is for Christians to work for justice, he said. From an Arab Christian perspective that is expressed through education, community development and social work programs among "the most deprived."