Saturday, September 30, 2006

On Religious Podcasting

Brianna Bailey, the new religion reporter for the Norman Transcript, is off to a fine start with a story on the cutting edge of religious broadcasting. Her report on "From Pulpit to Ipod" covers the recent trend toward podcasting by local churches and ministries. Brianna questioned me about my podcasts of the "Religious Talk" radio program. Here's an excerpt:

Bruce Prescott, executive director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, based in Norman, started offering podcasts of his weekly religious radio show in February 2005. The podcasts primarily feature interviews with religious leaders and authors.

Hundreds of Internet surfers download the half-hour podcasts on Prescott's Web site. He has recorded anywhere from 50 to 500 downloads for each available podcast on his Web site.

Shorter podcasts of religious songs are even more popular. The theme song for Prescott's radio show, recorded by a local Christian artist, has been downloaded more than 5,000 times, he said.

"It started with me trying to figure out where the young people go," Prescott said. "It's amazing how it works. You put it up and it kind of goes by word of mouth. These people coming to the site could be from Turkey, from anywhere."

Prescott said he began his Web log about 2 and a half years ago.

He started including podcasts on the site when he realized the revolutionary impact the medium would have on religious broadcasting.

"When the iPod came out its was just a matter of me figuring out how to put the information in an mp3 format and finding cost-effective way to post it," Prescott said.

Prescott now pays $10 a month for unlimited downloads from his Web site, much cheaper than printing and mailing costs for sending out a newsletter, he said.

Prescott speculates most of the people downloading his podcasts are under age 30, because younger people have more fully embraced podcasting as a new medium for expression.

"There are a lot of younger people out there that don't know what Baptists are all about and the Internet is a vital part of reaching that audience," he said.
For those that are interested in that popular theme song, it's Ecclesiastes 3 by Nathan Brown and CrossSection.

For those interested in my most popular podcast, it's an interview with petroleum geologist Bob Stephenson about Peak Oil. Here's a follow-up podcast where Bob gives a more thorough discussion of the need to develop an energy policy that aggressively incorporates alternatives to petroleum based energy sources.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Welcome Mainstream United Methodists!

I just got an e-mail about the formation of Mainstream United Methodists in Oklahoma. MUM is a group of moderate and liberal Methodists who are organizing to counteract the growing influence of fundamentalism within the Methodist church.

Here are some excerpts from the e-mail I just received:

After some reluctance and struggle, we are united and excited about our new name! The official title of our group was Oklahoma Evangelical Liberal Fellowship.

It is now, by majority vote and discussions of the OELF Steering Committee changed to:

Mainstream United Methodists

We are keeping the same theological purpose statements including both words: Evangelical and Liberal. Let us work to be authentically "more" evangelical (more vocal in sharing our Christ centered faith) and Methodist-liberal, (open, inclusive, and grace-filled.)

. . .

The laity meeting will focus on understanding the process of lay elections for Lay Delegates at our Oklahoma Annual Conference. It is very important to contact and bring your active, mainstream United Methodist members AND your (anticipated) Lay Delegates to Annual Conference to learn about the process.

At both meetings there will be worship, singing, and a thoughtful or inspirational speaker with discussion. The election matters will be introduced nearer the close of each meeting.

Acting Chairperson: Sam Powers

Pray for and encourage the Mainstream Methodists as they work to prevent the fundamentalist takeover of their denomination.

An Obituary for Habeas Corpus

Moly Ivins has written a noteworthy obituary for Habeas Corpus.

Habeas Corpus died by representative vote after ruling for just short of 800 years. Born in 1215 in the Magna Carta, the cornerstone of modern law. Died in the Congress of the United States of America in 2006, the home of the restored glories of the Spanish Inquisition.

Both U.S. Senators from the state of Oklahoma voted to kill habeas corpus in legislation authorizing interrogation techniques that violate Geneva Conventions. Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe thereby proudly authorize the heirs of Tomas de Torquemada to carry on with the grim business of interrogating suspects who are presumed guilty until proven innocent by torture.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Why Will Bunch is Mad and So Am I

Will Brunch has written an open letter to David Broder that expresses the deep disappointment that many Americans have with the mainstream media.

Bunch's anger with leading journalists reminds me of the extreme dissatisfaction that I have often felt toward the many myopic pastors, seminary professors and denominational executives who either aided, abetted or stood idly by as malicious Fundamentalists tookover the SBC.

Now that those same Fundamentalists have herded "values voters" to the polls to elect a crew of incompetent ideologues, led cheers for pre-emptive wars, publicly justified torture, championed the repeal of civil liberties and crusaded for Armageddon in the Middle East, no one dares to reflect on how different the world was when we had leaders who were trustworthy.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Frisco's Folly

An award winning art teacher in Frisco Texas (near Dallas) has been placed on leave after taking a class of fifth graders to the Dallas Museum of Art. A parent got upset when a student saw a nude statue at the museum.

This is stupid. Just plain stupid. Prudish parents should not sign permission slips for their children to take field trips to art museums.

Blogging Within the Church

ABP has published an interesting article about "Church fights turn high-tech: Web is new weapon of choice."

Some are quoted as questioning the wisdom of airing congregational dirty linen in public. Count me on the side of those who favor the web as a tool for change and truth-telling.

The internet sure beats the gossip grapevine that existed in the past. No one is speaking behind anyone's back on the web.

As web readers grow in discernment, the truth will prevail.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Military Divisions

Three retired military officers say Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld bungled the war in Iraq and call for his resignation. One says he resigned from the military because he could do more for the troops out of uniform than in it.

The Army's top officer refuses to accept Rumsfeld's budget proposal for 2008.

Gary Hart has written an essay about the possibility of a strike against Iran as an "October Surprise." He concludes:

In more rational times, including at the height of the Cold War, bizarre actions such as unilateral, unprovoked, preventive war are dismissed by thoughtful, seasoned, experienced men and women as mad. But those qualities do not characterize our current leadership.

For a divinely guided president who imagines himself to be a latter day Winston Churchill (albeit lacking the ability to formulate intelligent sentences), and who professedly does not care about public opinion at home or abroad, anything is possible, and dwindling days in power may be seen as making the most apocalyptic actions necessary.
Is it possibile that these three stories are related by a common concern?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Laundering Tax Money for Select Oklahoma Churches

Wanda Jo (Peltier) Stapleton, widow of a Southern Baptist minister and an Oklahoma State Representative from 1986-1996, has uncovered the money trail from the Oklahoma State Legislature to select churches. In an essay on "Pulpit Politics: Courtesy Your Tax Dollars" she reveals the secret process by which money is distributed to churches in Oklahoma. Here's a quote:
This funding process is so clever that many of our most honorable representatives have no idea what their votes to fund "economic and community development," for example, end up financing. The twisting paper trail is hard to follow. The funding approval usually travels through the Departments of Commerce or Agriculture. Then it goes to one or more of the state's eleven sub-state planning districts before the money gets to "the special project."

For one example in Oklahoma County: since 2003, state tax dollars totaling $109,000.00 have gone to benefit "special projects" of churches. Even more money has possibly gone to other churches throughout the state.
There's no doubt that secret slush funds of tax money for churches violates the original intent of James Madison, the author of our nation's Constitution and of the Bill of Rights. Madison wrote:

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?
There's also no doubt that secret slush funds of tax money for churches violates the crystal clear prohibitions of the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma:

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

"No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such."
Undoubtedly, that is why the slush fund of tax money for churches was secret.

It's not a secret any more. I think it is time for an Oklahoma court to determine whether these "special projects" pass constitutional muster.

ERLC Officer Berates Public Schools

A Baptist Press columnist who also serves as Secretary for the Board of Trustees of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission contends that public schools are hostile to Christianity. Ethics Daily has published an article reviewing the extremist opinions of Penna Dexter regarding the public schools.

Baptist Press is the official news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is the official lobbying organization for the Southern Baptist Convention.

I suspect that this is a portent of things to come. Southern Baptist leaders are slowly unveiling their true Dominionist colors.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Monument to Memorialize Tulsa Massacre

One of Oklahoma's dirtiest little secrets is being acknowledged. In 1921 a prosperous African-American neighborhood was torched and scores of people were killed by an angry white mob.

Soon a 27 foot tall bronze "Tower of Reconciliation" will be set in place to serve as a memorial to the victims of racism.

Here's a link to a story about the "Tower" in the Daily Oklahoman.

Assessing Military Options Against Iran

The Century Foundation has just published a 26 page report (pdf) by Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner on "The End of the Summer of Diplomacy: Assessing U.S. Military Options on Iran."

Here's a paragraph from the press release about Gardiner's credentials:

Sam Gardiner is a retired Air Force colonel who has taught strategy and military operations at the National War College, Air War College, and Naval War College. He was recently a visiting scholar at the Swedish Defense College. During the second Gulf War, he was a regular on CNN, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, BBC radio and television, and National Public Radio. He has conducted war games on Iran and North Korea.
Here's a summary of what Gardiner is saying:

Gardiner also argues that the administration's frequent efforts to link Iran and al Qaeda may represent an effort by the Oval Office to authorize air strikes on Iran without first consulting Congress. "This linkage of Iran and al Qaeda fits neatly into the broader effort to sell a strike to the American people," he wrote. "But more importantly, it opens the way for an argument that a strike on Iran was part of the global war on terrorism already authorized by the Congress. In other words, approval by Congress does not necessarily have to be part of the calculation of when an attack could take place."

Gardiner identifies what he considers to be some high probability immediate consequences of air strikes on Iran. These include an Iranian strike against Israel, the targeting of U.S. forces in Iraq, and Iran's channeling more weapons to hard-line Shiite militias in Iraq. Longer-term consequences could include a spike in oil prices and a backlash among other Arab states in the region against the United States.

According to Gardiner's report, the administration is not seriously seeking diplomatic solutions to the Iran nuclear issue. "From diplomacy to sanctions, the administration is not making good-faith efforts to avert a war so much as going through the motions, eliminating other possible strategies of engagement, until the only option left on the table is the military one," he writes.

Falwell Fears Hillary More than Lucifer

The LA Times is reporting that "Falwell Says Faithful Fear Clinton More Than Devil."

Venezuela's Hugo Chavez says Bush is the Devil.

Who says no one believes in a personal devil anymore?

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The "Generation Y" Vote

According to a Reuters story about "Young Voters -- a Wild Card in the 2006 Election" the influence of young voters will soon be significant. Here's a quote:

The so-called "Generation Y" of Americans born between 1977 and 1994 -- shaped by the September 11 attacks, the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina -- in nine years will make up a third of the electorate, or about 82 million people.

On Progressive Catholics

Today's Washington Post has a story about Bill Callahan, progressive Catholics, and the Quixote Center. Here's a quote from Callahan:

"The church, in my opinion, is in a state of sin," he said, for not allowing gender equality in the leadership, among other things. And he credits the center with helping keep the issue alive.
The Baptist church is as sinful as the Catholic church on this issue.

Friday, September 22, 2006

U.S. Military Positioning to Attack Iran by October 21

David Swanson in his Truthout essay on "Nuclear Winter, Global Warming or Impeachment" provided a link to a video of Ray McGovern speaking at Camp Democracy.

Ray McGovern is a former CIA analyst who leads Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity. In the video he reports that the Navy has issued orders that will put warships in place to wage a war with Iran by October 21st.

Ronald Kessler, of the right-wing Newsmax website, reports that "In the past week, Karl Rove has been promising Republican insiders an 'October surprise' to help win the November congressional elections."

Draw your own conclusions.

Bob Edgar from "Middle Church"

Ekklesia has posted a news release about Dr. Robert Edgar's new book "Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right." Edgar is the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches.

Here's a quote:

"The politics of faith have been co-opted in the service of a political agenda defined by fascination with war, indifference toward poverty, and exploitation of God's creation for the benefit of a relative few," Edgar writes in an introduction to his book, Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

DNA and the Death Penalty

DNA testing has conclusively proved that our system of justice in unjust in the administration of capital punishment. Common Dreams has posted a story that summarizes some of the findings.

Nuking Iran Still an Option

Raw Story is reporting that the Pentagon has moved to a second stage of planning for a strike against Iran. Use of "tactical" nuclear weapons is still an option.

Americans Looking for a Congress with a Spine

Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve the President's torture bill.

Today the New York Times reports that only 25% of Americans approve of the job that Congress is doing.

On America's "Decider"

Retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner, who taught at the U.S. Army's National War College, said on CNN that the U.S. is conducting military operations in Iran right now.

He says the plans for war with Iran have gone to the White House.

Times like these demonstrate that the prophet Samuel was right about the dangers of monarchy.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Parham Raps Southern Baptists for Lack of Fiscal Accountability

Ethics Daily has published a story about the recent SBC Executive Committee recommendation for tighter financial controls.

This recommendation is about fifteen years overdue. Robert Parham raps the Executive Committee for their laxity on financial matters:

"Discerning Southern Baptist laity will understand the SBC Executive Committee's action is an admission of the lack of fiscal responsibility, no genuine transparency and the abandonment of faithful biblical stewardship," Parham said. "When church members give sacrificially, they expect agency heads to live modest lifestyles, not those of the current SBC agency heads with Cooperative Program funded cars, first-class airline tickets, memberships in private clubs, four-star hotels, and salaries that provide for tailor-made suits and manicures."

"When agency trustees approve compensation packages at the levels of for-profit companies, they've long since left the carpenter who had no place to call home," Parham said. "Adopting new business procedures will accomplish little if trustees fail to exercise fiduciary responsibility and guard sacrificially given funds. If the SBC Executive Committee is serious, it should be the first to engage in public disclosure.

Jimmy Carter Says Bush Backs Torture

Reuters has published an interview of former President Jimmy Carter in which Carter accuses President Bush of condoning torture of terrorism suspects. Here's an excerpt:

"They have redefined torture to make it convenient for them," Carter said of the Bush administration in an interview with Reuters.

"Things that are unanimously almost or globally assumed to be torture, they claim that this is not torture. I don't think there is any doubt that is what they are doing," said Carter, a Democrat who was president from 1977 to 1981.

He has since been a leading voice on global human rights issues and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002.

Carter, 81, said he was "filled with admiration" for Republican Sens. John McCain and John Warner and former Secretary of State Colin Powell for their effort last week to block President George W. Bush's policies on the treatment of suspected terrorists. The White House and senators are continuing talks in search of a compromise.

A Key Difference Between Baptists and Muslims

The Baptist Standard has published a series about Christianity and Islam after 9/11. In an essay on Children of Abraham: Muslims view God, church & state through different lenses Ken Camp quotes Imam Yusef Kavakci of the Dallas Central Mosque and Ron Smith, professor of theology at the Logsdon School of Theology about differences between Baptists and Muslims regarding separation of church and state. Here's an excerpt:

Separation of church & state

But the Dallas imam emphasized commitment to religious tolerance is grounded in the Islamic faith -- not in separation of church and state.

"Separation of church and state is so artificial," he said, stressing that Islam is a way of life that permeates every aspect of being -- individual, family and society.

"Religion cannot be separated. . . . Islam in its rules and regulations teaches we are to allow others to practice and to live by their own faith. It is enough. We do not need another practice imposed from the outside."

Rather than dividing church from state, Muslims view the world as being divided into spheres -- dar al-Islam, the realm in which people live under God's law as revealed in the Quran; dar al-harb, the realm of war where people oppose God's will as revealed in Islam; and dar al-suhl, the realm of truce.

"Countries like the United States which provide for religious freedom are regarded in Islam as falling within the sphere of dar-al suhl, or the abode of peace, and not dar al-harb -- the abode of war," Smith from Hardin-Simmons noted.

"In those countries in which the Islamic community is a majority and Islamic law -- Shari'ah -- is the law of the land, falling within the sphere of dar al-Islam, the abode of Islam, non-Islamic communities may exist, but their religious freedom is limited."

The notion is difficult for Christians in America -- particularly Baptists who see church-state separation as an essential safeguard for religious liberty -- to grasp, he acknowledged.

"We look at the world through very different lenses, standing on different ground," he said.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Whom Do Military Chaplains Serve?

Today's New York Times is reporting that legislation for Pentagon spending is being delayed while Congress debates whether military chaplains should say non-sectarian prayers at non-denominational military events.

Some legislators say it violates a chaplain's right to free speech and freedom of religion to require that he/she say non-sectarian prayers at functions where attanedance is mandantory for service men and women of many faiths and no faith.

It seems to me that the legislators and chaplains behind this legislation have forgotten who is being served.

Chaplains exist to address the spiritual needs of the men and women from religiously diverse backgrounds who serve in the military. The chaplaincy does not exist to provide a platform for persons of any faith to prosyletize and/or flaunt their peculiar religious convictions.

I suspect that the chaplains and legislators behind this legislation think that the mission of chaplains is to serve God. If that is the case, then their God needs to pay their salary and their God needs to provide them a place of service where people can listen to their prayers voluntarily.

The God I serve only wants willing worshippers, not captives coerced into enduring pious pronouncements by self-absorbed dogmatists.

On the Tyranny of the Majority

Sharon Nichols testified in District Court in opposition to the Monument to American Theocracy that has been placed on the courthouse lawn in Haskell County Oklahoma. Her opposition to that monument has made life difficult for her in that small community.

Last week the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State gave her our "Constitutional Heritage Award" for the courage and conviction she has demonstrated in efforts to preserve the First Amendment.

When she received the award she gave an electrifying acceptance speech on the "Tyranny of the Majority." Here's a quote:

We should have learned the lessons long ago that in the absence of religious freedom, the other "freedoms" (free speech, free press, right to assemble, etc.) won't matter a whit, because to be a heretic to the established religion is to face prejudice, discrimination, oppression, persecution, and genocide. This is why the Founding Fathers placed the Separation Clause at the very beginning of the very First Amendment. It's that important. They knew that to secure the rights of all, they had to secure the rights of even the loneliest minority from the tyranny of the majority. To allow any erosion of the wall of separation's guarantee of religious liberty invites, indeed, virtually guarantees that very tyranny. Such tyranny, if allowed to flourish with government sanction and support, is the most insidious tyranny of all -- and leads to the worst oppression. It gives a sickeningly insidious "green light" to the ethnocentric, self-serving tendency to believe that only we are right and that those who do not agree with us deserve neither rights, nor consideration. It is this very tendency toward tyranny, which leads quite ordinary people to willingly participate in individual and state-sponsored oppression -- even unto pogroms, concentration camps, and genocide. The only inoculation against this tyranny is to follow Thomas Paine's injunction that "We must protect even our enemy from oppression, for failure to do so will assure that such oppression reaches even unto ourselves."

Monday, September 18, 2006

Buzz Thomas on Christians and Iraq

Buzz Thomas, former General Counsel at the Baptist Joint Committee, has an outstanding op-ed about "A Christian View of War" that is printed in today's USA Today. Here's some very good advice:

Repudiate the statements of any religious or political leader who suggests that America has a special claim on God. He may have a special claim on us, but we do not have a special claim on him. Our beloved nation is a civil state, not a religious one. There are no references to God in our Constitution. The only reference to religion - other than in the First Amendment - is found in Article VI, which proclaims that there will be no religious test for public office in the USA. The Founding Fathers gave us a secular state in which all religions are free to flourish or flounder on their own initiative without interference by the government. Those running around claiming we are "in the army of God" or slapping up copies of the Ten Commandments on government buildings threaten to turn us into the very sort of society we are fighting against in this new war.

On Dobson's Hypocrisy

A few weeks ago I gave students in my Baptist History class at Phillips Seminary a copy of Frederick Clarkson's chart about the Expanding Universe of the Religious Right. Some of the students were surprised to see James Dobson listed as a leader in the radical religious right.

This week I'm going to give them a copy of Robert Parham's Ethics Daily essay on "James Dobson No Jesus." If anyone had any doubt that Dobson has let partisan politics coopt his agenda, Parham's essay ought to set them straight. Here's an excerpt:

Dobson engages in similar Pharisaical practice when he prioritizes a few issues as the moral agenda, while neglecting many issues central to Jesus' teachings and placing the moral mantel on the GOP, as God's Only Party.

Dobson's organization is sponsoring a summit in Washington on Sept. 22-24 that will mobilize the conservative evangelical Christian vote to defeat Democrats in the fall election. Yet his summit has speakers who represent everything that conservative Christians say they oppose -- divorce, gambling, false witness and racism.

The event is pitched as Christian for Christians with the message: "Get Your Church Involved." A press release says the meeting is "a pro-family conference" for "politically active Christians" designed "primarily for Christians." Interested Christians should ask their church mission committee for underwriting to attend, says an article, because "We're going to be talking about marriage -- defending and protecting marriage."

So, who is one of the headline speakers at a conference that supposedly defends marriage?

Twice-divorced and thrice-married Newt Gingrich heads the list. He hardly merits exaltation as a pro-family model.

Another moral model on the program is Bill Bennett. He's the sanctimonious virtues guy, who hypocritically castigated the nation's moral standards while he snuck off to gamble in Las Vegas, where he received preferential treatment due to the size of his bets and his history of betting.

Another is trash-mouthed Ann Coulter, who bears false witness against others as godless and slams their faith, although she has no authentic record of attending church.

A fourth, Sen. George Allen, flung a racial slur at an American of Indian descent, exposing the Virginian's troubled past with race. He opposed a holiday honoring Baptist preacher Martin Luther King, while making nice with the Council of Conservative Citizens.

The presence of these headliners alone transgresses the moral values that many conservative evangelical pastors publicly condemn -- promiscuity/divorce, gambling, false witness and racism.

They now face a knotty dilemma. Do they turn a blind eye to Dobson's program and enable religious hypocrisy? If they do, how do they explain to their flock that much of what they preach against in their pulpits is morally acceptable if it advances a secular political agenda? How do they justify inviting speakers to a morality meeting who couldn't hold leadership positions in their own churches?

Bill of Rights Plaques Dedication

Professor Rick Tepker of the University of Oklahoma School of Law gave the keynote address at the dedication ceremony for the Bill of Rights plaques that were donated to the Norman Public High Schools (Click here for more information). Professor Tepker is pictured above speaking at the Norman North dedication.

In his brief speech Tepker described the idealism and passion that was aroused in a young James Madison when he witnessed Baptist ministers being unjustly persecuted for preaching a version of the gospel that was not approved by the established church of Virginia. He mentioned the role of Baptist evangelist John Leland in encouraging Madison to add the Bill of Rights to the constitution.

Professor Tepker concluded by illustrating the role of the Bill of Rights in current events. He noted that currently a group of Republican Senators are defending the Bill of Rights by opposing proposed legislation by a Republican President that would water down adherence to the Geneva Conventions. He said many of the rights protected by the Geneva Conventions are extensions of the Bill of Rights into international law.

Below is a picture of the plaque at the entrance to Norman High School.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Strategic Stewardship

There is a restaurant near my house that is renowned for its Southern, family style cuisine. It is a good place to feed a large group a hearty meal on a tight budget. There was a time when I ate there often and recommended it to others. Then I discovered that the proprietor used his profits to bankroll the political machinations of the most outspoken Christian supremecists in the state of Oklahoma. I don't eat there any more. Neither do I recommend it to others. In my mind, it would be poor stewardship to give financial support to someone dedicated to repealing the First Amendment and creating a theocracy.

I thought about that restaurant when I read Bob Allen's report about the proprietor of Smyth & Helwys publishing organizing rallies to endorse and support some of the most outspoken Christian supremecists in the state of Georgia.

There was a time when I not only shopped at Smyth & Helwys and recommended it to others, but willingly endured criticism and loss of financial support within my church for encouraging Sunday School teachers to use their literature. In my mind, it was poor stewardship to purchase Southern Baptist literature that was undermining religious liberty for all and other bedrock Baptist distinctives.

There were early signs that the proprietor of Smyth & Helwys had a different mission in life than most moderate Baptists. Early on, it was certainly disconcerting to watch him roll up to hotels at CBF General Assemblies in chauffeured stretch limousines. Especially when I knew how much money CBF was giving his publishing house to produce materials suitable for our churches.

Cecil Staton has made his money. Now he is acquiring power. It appears that he will be as arrogant and elitist with power as he is with money.

Smyth & Helwys still produces some good literature, but now my conscience is disturbed every time I buy anything from them. I am buying less from them and recommending them less every day. In my mind, it is a matter of stewardship.

Strategically, it doesn't make sense to read books about liberty of conscience from a publisher who is using the profits to destroy it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Iranian Intelligence a "Replay of Iraq"

Mercury News is reporting that "In a Replay of Iraq, a Battle is Brewing over Intelligence on Iran." It appears that this administration is determined to wage war with Iran. Here's a quote:

Some officials at the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department said they're concerned that the offices of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney may be receiving a stream of questionable information that originates with Iranian exiles, including a discredited arms dealer, Manucher Ghorbanifar, who played a role in the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

Officials at all three agencies said they suspect that the dubious information may include claims that Iran directed Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, to kidnap two Israeli soldiers in July; that Iran's nuclear program is moving faster than generally believed; and that the Iranian people are eager to join foreign efforts to overthrow their theocratic rulers.

The officials said there is no reliable intelligence to support any of those assertions and some that contradicts all three.

The officials said they fear a replay of the administration's mishandling of what turned out to be bogus information from Iraqi exiles in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, documented earlier this month in a Senate intelligence committee report.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Clarkson Gives Rousing Speech

Fred Clarkson, author of Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Democracy and Theocracy and founder of the Talk to Action website, spoke at the 12th Annual Meeting of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United last night. He gave a rousing speech that clearly identified the problem with democracy in America.

Clarkson says the problem with democracy in America is not the Religious Right. The problem is with the rest of us. The Religious Right is politically engaged and active. Most of the rest of us are disengaged and inactive politically. Clarkson encouraged us to move from talk to action.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Theocracy by Pareto Principle

Joseph M. Juran formulated the widely accepted management principle, inspired by the work of economist Vilfredo Pareto, that concludes that 80% of the results come from 20% of the causes.

Al Mohler, President of Southern Seminary, applies the principle to the theocratic agenda of the Religious Right. He says that conservative Christians are only interested in controlling about 20% of the U.S. government.

Thanks to Bruce Gourley at the Mainstream Baptists group weblog for calling attention to Mohler's declaration of intentions. He writes:

For Mohler to try and justify conservative Christians imposing their will upon the nation as a whole betrays his feigned indignation against theocracy. And that Mohler is only concerned with his own view of religion and morality ... and the granting of rights and privileges to those who share his particular religious/moral convictions ... demonstrates that he has lost his Baptist moorings.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Justice for Wiccans in Nevada

The Nevada Attorney General has ruled that Wiccan symbols are permissible on the gravestones of veterans.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in violation of the Constitution of the United States, continues to refuse to permit the placement of Wiccan symbols on the gravestones of veterans.

Justice on this issue is not hard to determine. Just practice the Golden Rule -- do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

The Health of the Nation is at Risk

Five out of six former directors for the National Center for Disease Control, with experience spanning 40 years, have "great concern" about the current direction of the agency.

This administration's bungling quotient suggests we should all be greatly concerned.

Here's a quote:

Critics say the agency is changing to a top down management style that stifles science and that new layers of bureaucracy are being created that make agency operations more cumbersome.

The most visible sign of potential trouble at CDC is the loss of more than a dozen high-profile leaders and scientists since 2004. By the end of this year, all but two of the directors of CDC's eight primary scientific centers will have left the Atlanta-based federal agency. The wave of departures -- which numerous CDC leaders call unprecedented -- also includes the agency's top vaccine expert and world experts in several diseases. Just last week CDC's pandemic flu coordinator said he's leaving.

As the nation's 9-1-1 for public health, CDC is responsible for preventing and tackling outbreaks, bioterrorism and pandemics, along with the more routine, deadly threats of seasonal flu, HIV, rabies, injuries and obesity.

The urgency of these missions has current and former CDC scientists deeply concerned the agency's new strategy of looking at health issues broadly and reorganizing its divisions puts it on a course to potential disaster, causing it to lose its footing, like FEMA did before it faced Hurricane Katrina.

Second to the Motion

Robert Parham, Executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has posted an essay at Ethics Daily that says, "'Stay the Course' Doesn't Cut it, Change is Needed" in Iraq.

Parham is right on. I'll second that motion.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On God(s) and Politics

USA Today has published a report about framebreaking research at Baylor University that says "View of God Can Predict Values, Politics." The report says Americans have four different views of God -- Authoritarian, Benevolent, Critical or Distant. Here's a quote:

Sociologist Paul Froese says the survey finds the stereotype that conservatives are religious and liberals are secular is "simply not true. Political liberals and conservative are both religious. They just have different religious views."
Here's a link to Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion report on American Piety in the 21st Century: New Insights to the Depths and Complexity of Religion in the U.S. (74 page pdf file)

Monday, September 11, 2006

Gaping Holes in 9/11 Story

Robert Sheer has written a sobering essay about "The Gaping Holes in the 9/11 Narrative." Here's a quote:

The 9/11 Commission report contains a disclaimer box on page 146, in which it is stated that the report's account of what happened on 9/11 was in considerable measure based on what those key witnesses allegedly told interrogators, and that the commissioners were not allowed to meet the witnesses or their interrogators.

"We submitted questions for use in the interrogations, but had no control over whether, when or how questions of particular interest would be asked. Nor were we allowed to talk to the interrogators so that we could better judge the credibility of the detainees and clarify ambiguities in the reporting."

In short, the most cited source that we have on what happened on 9/11, the much celebrated 9/11 Commission Report, was stage-managed by the Bush administration, just as it has controlled and distorted so much other information.

In light of that sorry record of the propagandistic exploitation of the 9/11 tragedy for partisan political purpose, is it any wonder that large numbers of Americans have doubts about all of it and that a considerable industry of documentaries and investigative reports has sprung up with alternative theories ranging from the plausible to the absurd?

The Gospel of Affluence

Time Magazines' latest cover story asks "Does God Want You to Be Rich?" It is a story about the "health and wealth" gospel that is preached at megachurches like Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston. The article includes a very insightful critique of this theology by Rick Warren:

The movement's renaissance has infuriated a number of prominent pastors, theologians and commentators. Fellow megapastor Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life has outsold Osteen's by a ratio of 7 to 1, finds the very basis of Prosperity laughable. "This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy?" he snorts. "There is a word for that: baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?"
Warren has tagged this one correctly. This theology worships Mammon more than the God of the Bible.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Podcast: 9-11 and the Price of Freedom and Security

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 9-10-06 "Religious Talk" radio broadcast. On the eve of the 5th anniversary of 9-11, Dr. Prescott gives a reprise of his February 2003 speech, "And Justice for All: The Price of Freedom and Security." That speech was delivered to the 20th annual day at the legislature for the Oklahoma Conference of Churches in the House Chamber at the Oklahoma State Capitol. The speech was a lot more controversial then than it is now.

Here's a link to the podcast (26 MB mp3).

Evangelical Influence and Foreign Affairs

Thanks to Howard Friedman at the Religion Clause blog for calling attention to Walter Russell Mead's essay on "God's Country?" published in the current issue of Foreign Affairs Magazine. The article reviews religious trends within the U.S. and discusses the influence of religion on foreign policy. Here's a quote:

Criticism of Israel and of the United States for supporting it leaves evangelicals unmoved. If anything, it only strengthens their conviction that the world hates Israel because "fallen man" naturally hates God and his "chosen people." In standing by Israel, evangelicals feel that they are standing by God -- something they are ready to do against the whole world. Thus John Hagee -- senior pastor of an 18,000-member evangelical megachurch in San Antonio, Texas, and author of several New York Times bestsellers -- writes that if Iran moves to attack Israel, Americans must be prepared "to stop this evil enemy in its tracks." "God's policy toward the Jewish people," Hagee writes, "is found in Genesis 12:3," and he goes on to quote the passage about blessings and curses. "America is at the crossroads!" Hagee warns. "Will we believe and obey the Word of God concerning Israel, or will we continue to equivocate and sympathize with Israel's enemies?"

The return of the Jews to the Holy Land, their extraordinary victories over larger Arab armies, and even the rising tide of hatred that threatens Jews in Israel and abroad strengthen not only the evangelical commitment to Israel but also the position of evangelical religion in American life. The story of modern Jewry reads like a book in the Bible. The Holocaust is reminiscent of the genocidal efforts of Pharaoh in the book of Exodus and of Haman in the book of Esther; the subsequent establishment of a Jewish state reminds one of many similar victories and deliverances of the Jews in the Hebrew Scriptures. The extraordinary events of modern Jewish history are held up by evangelicals as proof that God exists and acts in history. Add to this the psychological consequences of nuclear weapons, and many evangelicals begin to feel that they are living in a world like the world of the Bible. That U.S. foreign policy now centers on defending the country against the threat of mass terrorism involving, potentially, weapons of apocalyptic horror wielded by anti-Christian fanatics waging a religious war motivated by hatred of Israel only reinforces the claims of evangelical religion.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Right-Wing Network Behind Controversial 9-11 Film

Thanks to Max Blumenthal for documenting the secret right-wing network that is behind ABC's controversial 9-11 film.

His research makes it clear that Dominionists and Christian Nationalists are deliberately working to infiltrate the film industry and produce propaganda that will further their theocratic agenda.

Regarding the Holy Vote

Ray Suarez, Senior Correspondent for the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, was a guest on NPR's Diane Rehm show yesterday. They talked about religion and politics and Suarez's new book, "The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America."

It sounds like a good book. I'll order of copy of it. Suarez demonstrated a good grasp of the original intentions of the founding fathers.

I was disappointed, however, in Suarez answer to one of his callers. Someone asked him if he perceived any threat from Dominionists and Christian Nationalists to the First Amendment. In effect, Suarez's answer was that he felt confident the pendulum of public opinion would swing back to the middle and that the First Amendment would prevail.

Mainstream Baptists will find little solace and much to be alarmed about in Suarez's opinion. In the 1980's we were repeatedly assured that the pendulum would swing back to the middle in the Southern Baptist Convention. Today we ask "What happened to the Baptist pendulum?"

The same people who took over the institutions and agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention are working with others to take over the institutions of civil government throughout the country. Suarez needs to read Randall Balmer's Thy Kingdom Come and Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming. If he needs a crash course on their tactics and the implications for the judiciary, he should read John Dean's interview of Michelle Goldberg on Findlaw.

Those of us who have been dealing with this movement for nearly thirty years are growing exceedingly weary of watching wave after wave of centrist leaders and thinkers underestimate the purpose, intentions and patience of the Religious Right. Their goals are not a secret. Moderates just refuse to take them at face value.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Tales of Torture

The President of the United States publicly bragged about the torture of suspected terrorists a few days ago. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern explains the reasons for his unprecedented disclosures in an essay entitled "The Torturer's Apprentice."

Parham on Religion and Democrats

Robert Parham has written an insightful essay on "Why Democrats Face a God Problem, What they must Do". I agree with most of what he has to say.

I take exception to his castigating Democrats for coming "across so wishy-washy with interfaith babble." He says, "That doesn't connect with people who actually go to church and really read the Bible."

Frankly, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Democratic politicians who have attended the "Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection" that I have helped organize at the state capitol in Oklahoma over the last three years. Democratic Governor Brad Henry, who attends a CBF church, has participated in Shirley Dobson's simultaneous "Christian Nationalist" Day of Prayer event twice during those three years.

Few Democrats that I know are concerned about preserving liberty of conscience for persons of minority faith, they are primarily concerned about preserving votes for their next election.

Respect for liberty of conscience is the ground upon which genuine religious witness and dialogue is founded. Long before these politicians and preachers are through consoldating their power by grinding the noses of atheists, unbelievers and religious minorities into the ground, messages about Christian love and grace will ring hollow in their ears.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

On Piety and Politics

Barry Lynn, Executive Director of the national organization of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has written a new book that will soon be at a bookstore near you. Titled Piety and Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom. It will be released on October 3rd.

This book is sure to present a strong defense of separation of church and state.

You can pre-order a copy online from Amazon and save 35% off the list price.

2006 Election as Referendum on World War III

Robert Parry at Consortium News has published an alarming essay that describes President Bush's speech Tuesday before an association of military officers as an announcement of intention to expand the nation's war posture.

By now it should be clear that this administration is neither short on bombastic rhetoric nor slow to exercise military force.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Loan Sharks Working Oklahoma

The Consumer Federation of America reports that people living in different areas of the country are paying higher interest rates after refinancing the mortgages on their houses.

Oklahoma was exceeded only by Mississippi for paying a higher subprime rate. In Mississippi 51.8% of home refinancings are financed at a subprime rate. In Oklahoma 44.3% of home refinancings are financed at a subprime rate.

Unfortunately, that's not the worst. Oklahoma has one of the most predatory payday lending laws in the country. It makes underworld loan sharking appear amateurish.

Those old biblical laws against usury get unusually short shrift in this predominantly Baptist state. Giving alcohol to a minor, however, is a felony in this state.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

On Fallible Leadership

The Louisville Courier-Journal has published an interview of George Soros about his new book, "The Age of Falliblity." Here's a quote:

He said individuals and governments often make fatal mistakes because they become consumed with their own bias and rhetoric, even when facts contradict that version of reality.

"We are open to correct our errors, or we (insist) that our view is, in fact, the reality that we have to deal with," he said.

The "fallibility" in the book title refers to a leadership philosophy, which Soros advocates, that acknowledges the limits of its own wisdom and knowledge, and seeks constant improvement.

"Understanding is imperfect, and there is a reality beyond our will," he said. "The truth can be manipulated, but the extent to which the outcome will approximate our will depends on the extent to which our understanding approximates reality."
Admitting fallibility requires a measure of maturity. Leaders will find it much easier to acknowledge their fallibility when they have followers who refuse to be deluded about their faults and imperfections.

Many Americans have been slow in acquiring such political maturity, but a lot of us have been growing up fast over the past five years.

9/11 Whistleblowers Blow Whistle Again

Sibel Edmonds, Bill Weaver and the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition have issued a statement entitled "The 9/11 Commission: A Play on Nothing in Three Acts."

The statement debunks Thomas Keen and Lee Hamilton's recent book Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9-11 Commission.

The wilful failures and deliberate ommissions of the 9-11 Commission are so egregious that it is time to stop trying to salvage its reputation, scrap the report and start over. Critics of the report are not going to go silently into the night. The more the 9-11 Commission's inadequacies are publicized, the louder the outcry will be for a new commission.

Religious Left Goes Online

Associated Press is reporting that "Democrats push for own religious voice" announcing the inception of the "Faithful Democrats" website.

Since the Religious Right claimed credit for swaying the 2004 election, it has been inevitable that Democrats would deliberately work to attract religious voters.

The site has me listed on their blogroll of Christian Faith blogs. I am a Christian. I am a blogger. I am a Democrat. I don't mind be listed there as long as it is clear that my loyalties lie more with my faith than with the Democratic party.

As Democrats try to address religious voters, they often tread dangerously close to blurring the line between left-wing religion and the state. Whenever I notice them doing so, I will not hesitate to speak out against it.

Monday, September 04, 2006

SBC Public School Exodus Coming to States

Ethics Daily is reporting that SBC proponents for exiting public schools will be offering resolutions at Baptist state conventions around the country this fall.

Frankly, I'll be glad to see them come to Oklahoma. I am weary of people thinking I am an alarmist when I tell them about the influence of Dominionism in SBC life and about their goals and intentions. Once these resolutions start getting discussed locally, I don't think I'll face the same number of doubters.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Podcast: Judge White's Canticle to American Theocracy

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 8-27-06 "Religious Talk" radio program. In this program I discuss Judge Robert A. White's decision regarding the Ten Commandments and Mayflower Compact monument on the lawn of the Haskell County Courthouse in Stigler, Oklahoma.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Must Little Girls Be Incubators?

The Guardian has reported that the Vatican has threatened to excommunicate a medical team that performed an abortion on an eleven year old who had been raped by her stepfather.

It has been obvious for a long time that Roman Catholics will make no exceptions to their rule against abortion. In their eyes, eleven year old girls can be reduced to being incubators for the offspring of child molesters.

Before the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, the position of the Christian Life Commission of the SBC was that abortion was permissible in four instances -- rape, incest, severe physical deformity of the fetus, and to protect the life and health of the mother.

The 2000 Baptist Faith and Message led the Southern Baptist Convention to adopt the Roman Catholic position on abortion.

I would like to hear what Al Mohler, Richard Land, Paige Patterson and Morris Chapman have to say about the permissibility of abortions for eleven year old rape victims.

I won't hold my breath until I hear from them.

If they were forthright about what they mean when they "contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death," many Southern Baptists would begin to comprehend that their position is as extreme as that of Roman Catholics.

Friday, September 01, 2006

American and German Christianity Compared

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for sending me a link to yesterday's blog on the Inhabitatio Dei weblog. Blogger Halden Doerge wrote a blog about Eberhard Bethege on American and German Christianity that quotes from John de Gruchy's biography of Eberhard Bethege. Bethege was a student and the key biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Here's the quote:

As we entered the foyer, an usher stepped forward and gave me two badges to fasten to my lapel: the on on the left said, Jesus First and on the right, one with an American flag...I could not help but think myself in Germany in 1933...Of course, 'Jesus First', but and American Jesus! And so to the long history of faith and its executors another chapter is being added of a mixed image of Christ, of another syncretism on the American model, undisturbed by and knowledge of that centuries-long and sad history.
Bethge added some remarks that have an uncanny contemporary ring to them:
The disturbing fact is this new element, the battle for a 'Christian nation' against humanism. The flag has always been in the churches, but now it has come to represent the new threat of binding the political structure to an ideology, which models a whole new educational system, and a new kind of representation in Washington, and a newly interpreted Constitution.
For Bethge, who had a great love for the United States and the democratic vision of its Founding Fathers, and who enjoyed visiting there, these signs were disturbing. He could only hope that they would not develop along the lines he feared they might.

(John W. de Gruchy, Daring, Trusting Spirit: Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Friend Eberhard Bethge [Minneapolis: Fortress, 2005], 200-201.)

This information comes at a particularly timely moment. This afternoon I will be involved in a presentation of Theologians Under Hitler to a large group of Democrats in Norman, OK. If I could get an invitation, I would be happy to make a similar presentation to a group of Republicans. I will be speaking to a group of Libertarians next week.