Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Regarding Steve Martin's Fall Break

Steve Martin, producer of the Theologians Under Hitler video, has a thought provoking essay on the Talk to Action website about "What I Did on My Fall Break." He took his young children to Philadelphia to see the Liberty Bell, but they saw something else. Here's a quote:

The thing we had to explain was different than what the "Choice Truck" people wanted us to talk about. We didn't talk about the evils of abortion, how the doctor had advised us to "selectively reduce" our triplet pregnancy to insure the health of one or two of our children, and how we chose life, and how they should too. We talked instead about fanatics who do disgusting and morally reprehensible things, how some people choose the wrong venue to make statements. We talked about how sorry we were that they had seen these ghastly sights in a place that celebrates the best of America, a place supposedly safe for families. We were disgusted, yes: not by abortion, but by abortion protesters.

On the Empathy Deficit

Common Dreams has posted a thought-provoking essay by Robert Jenson on "The Consequences of the Death of Empathy." Here's a quote:

Looking back, I can see that even though I don't come from the wealthy sector of society, the unearned privileges that I enjoyed had diminished my capacity for empathy. I had access to lots of information, but I was emotionally underdeveloped. I could know things, but at the same time not feel the consequences of that knowledge. That meant I could avoid the difficult conclusion that would have come from a deeper knowing and feeling -- that the inequality and injustice in the world was benefiting me at some level, and therefore I had a heightened obligation to confront it.

As I became politicized later in my life, I realized I not only had to learn more about the world but also had to fight to reclaim an ability to empathize. For me, that process started at the intimate level, by recognizing the misogyny and racism in the pornography I had grown up with. From there, it moved to the global, by recognizing the poverty and violence suffered by the targets of U.S. power.

Richard Land Favors Rotation on School Board Prayers

Richard Land makes some interesting remarks about prayers at school board meetings in the Macon Telegraph. Here's an excerpt:

There's nothing wrong with a school board wanting to begin its meeting in prayer, said Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission since 1988.

Land, however, said he takes issue with school boards that dictate the content of their prayers.

"Our Congress starts out with a prayer. These are adults, and they are not issues of classroom prayer," said Land, who also hosts the radio program "For Faith and Family."

Even in communities that are mostly Protestant or Catholic, there are a small minority of other religious groups out there, he said.

"The board should offer to seek pluralism," Land said. "I would suggest setting up a rotation, with a Baptist, Episcopal minister and a rabbi. That way you are acknowledging we are a very religious country, and it's important, but not giving the government favoritism over one religion."

School boards ending prayer for a moment of silence to satisfy a minority religious group may not be the best answer, he said.

"To say because not everyone is Christian, some don't believe, to scrub the public square clean, is for the minority to impose on the majority," he said. "But the majority to say they always have the podium, the balance is somewhere in between."
It is encouraging to see Richard Land speak about seeking "pluralism." Some moderate Baptists think it idolatrous to acknowledge it.

Land's "balance," however, is still problematic for people of sincere faith.

Prayer is an act of worship. I am not comfortable with the prayers and worship styles of some people within my own faith -- to say nothing of the prayers and worship styles of people of other faiths.

I will relentlessly defend every person's right to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience and I will just as relentlessly oppose any attempt to force everyone to worship with them.

Moments of silence are the least offensive way for people of different faiths and people of no faith to acknowledge a common commitment to a good that is greater than themselves.

Richard Land needs to decide whether he really wants to be forced to bow his head and listen to the prayers of Buddhists, Muslims, Wiccans and others -- merely to be able to marginalize atheists and secular humanists within the public square.

The War Against the Poor

"OK, Sister Drop That Sandwich!"
says the headline of an article in Newsweek about America's war on the poor.

"Compassionate conservatives" in Congress never saw a tax-cut they didn't like, never found the empathy to help fund the social services they dumped on the evangelical faith-based ministries that sprang up on hopes of getting on the federal dole while prosyletizing the needy, and never said no to a pork-barrel project for a K-Street lobbyist.

"Compassionate conservatives" in local government never want to see people who are hungry or homeless. Now they are making it illegal to give away food in public parks.

Missouri Convention to Purge Moderates

ABP reports that a committee of the Missouri Baptist Convention will try to eject 18 moderate Baptist churches from its annual meeting which begins today.

Among the churches to be purged is the church in which the Convention was founded.

Monday, October 30, 2006

On the Certitude of Right-Wing Faith

Gary Wills has an outstanding essay about "A Country Ruled by Faith" in the New York Review of Books. He describes a country ruled by faith-based justice, faith-based social services, faith-based science, faith-based health, and faith-based war. Here's a quote:

There is a particular danger with a war that God commands. What if God should lose? That is unthinkable to the evangelicals. They cannot accept the idea of second-guessing God, and he was the one who led them into war. Thus, in 2006, when two thirds of the American people told pollsters that the war in Iraq was a mistake, the third of those still standing behind it were mainly evangelicals (who make up about one third of the population). It was a faith-based certitude.

Here's what I think happens when a nation loses a war it thinks God commanded. Either people of faith turn on the false prophets that misled them into war. Or, like Germany after World War I, they turn to the legend of a "stab in the back."

How long do you suppose it will take Jerry Falwell, James Dobson, and Richard Land to blame the liberals, the church-state separationists, the secular humanists, the ACLU, the gays and the feminists for their anointed's debacle in Iraq?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Moyers for President

Common Dreams has posted an essay by Ralph Nader on "Bill Moyers for President." Here's a quote:

Moyers would bring to the Democratic Party a much needed understanding of the South, its political, populist and religious history and contemporary dynamics. His Baptist, Texas background would help his Party understand how to stop writing off the South to the Republicans from the Presidential to the state and local levels and how to become engaged in this fastest growing region of the nation.

I'd vote for Moyers in a heartbeat.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

On Roger Williams as Political Philosopher

For a number of reasons, Dr. Freeman is just plain wrong when he comments that:

Of course anyone who's read Williams would never mistake him for a philosopher, especially not a political philosopher. What your comment assumes is that Leland gets Williams right. Williams makes allusion to the garden image several times in his complete writings. But he is not making a case for separation of church and state (which Leland is). He was not worried about the integrity of the state (certainly not democracy), but rather with the purity of the church.

First, the Puritans saw themselves as a "new Israel." The Mayflower Compact -- a church covenant pressed into service as a civil document -- was viewed as the equivalent of the covenant between God and Israel at Sinai. The nation of Israel enforced all the commandments given to Moses. Any nation that was a "new Israel" should enforce all of the commandments -- including the commands on the "first table" of the Ten Commandments about worship.

Williams did not believe that civil government should enforce all of the Ten Commandments. He believed that Christians should observe all of the commandments, but he held that civil government should only enforce the "second table" of the law -- the last six commandments. The commands of the "first table" of the law -- the commands regarding religion and worship -- he believed should be left to private, individual conscience.

In the eyes of the Puritans, it was both heretical and treasonous for Williams to suggest that civil government should not enforce the commands of the "first table" of the Ten Commandments. He was jeopardizing their covenant with God as the "new Israel."

Williams denied that colonies on the American continent could properly be viewed as a "new Israel." He argued that the relationship between the church and "The state of the land of Israel, the kings and people thereof, in peace and war, is . . . figurative and ceremonial, and no pattern nor precedent for any kingdom or civil state in the world to follow." (Bloudy Tenent, p. 3.)

Second, Freeman insinuates that Professor Wolfe and anyone who asserts that Williams had a contribution to make to political philosophy must not have read Williams. I've read both Williams and several of his biographers. I am unapologetic in asserting that Williams' understanding of political philosophy was well ahead of all his contemporaries in America.

Third, before coming to America, Roger Williams was English Jurist Edward Coke's stenographer and transcriptionist at the Crown Court in Westminster Hall. Sir Edward Coke was one of the most powerful figures in English political and legal life. He wrote legal texts on English Common Law that were definitive for 300 years. Williams was educated at Cambridge under the patronage of Edward Coke. Here's how James Ernst, one of William's ablest biographers, describes Williams' education:

Williams was hardly the kind of youth to keep out of the religious and political discussions that agitated Cambridge in the early seventeenth century. The university was then a hotbed of radicalism and protest. His studies in history, philosophy, and theology brought him in contact with the popular sovereignty and natural rights notions of the Pagan and Christian thinkers. The teachings of Christ are themselves populist and individualistic in tendency. At Cambridge he again took up the religious and social protests of the Puritans and reformers, and under the able leadership of Sir Edward Coke and Sir John Eliot, joined the party opposing Bishop Laud's church policy and the followers of the King. (p. 31-32).

Fourth, Williams left Cambridge the year that Coke drafted the Petition of Right which was a forerunner of the English Bill of Rights and the U.S. Bill of Rights. In this context, Williams' emphasis on "liberty of conscience" could be seen as one aspect of the early struggle for basic human rights.

Fifth, contrary to what Dr. Freeman would lead my readers to believe, Williams had plenty to say about political philosophy. He was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony because political ideas like this were considered dangerous to the unity of civil society:

"True civility and Christianity may both flourish in a state or kingdom, notwithstanding the permission of divers and contrary consciences, either Jew or Gentile."

Roger Williams, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, For Cause of Conscience ed. Richard Groves (Macon: Mercer University Press, 2001), pp. 3-4.]

Sixth, Williams actually had political experience setting up a pure democracy in Rhode Island. Here's a quote from he articles that created the Government of Rhode Island March 16-19, 1641:
It is ordered and unanimously agreed upon, that the Government which this Bodie Politick doth attend unto in this Island, and the Jurisdiction thereof, in favour of our Prince is a DEMOCRACIE, or Popular Government; that is to say, It is in the Powre of the Body of Freemen orderly assembled, or the major part of them, to make or constitute Just Lawes, by which they will be regulated, and to depute from among themselves such Ministers as shall see them faithfully executed between Man and Man.

He also began the "livlie experiment" with religious liberty for all by securing the first charter in the history of the world to secure "a free, full, and absolute liberty of conscience."

Regarding Shrillness

Dr. Curtis Freeman, Research Professor of Theology at Duke Divinity School, accused me of being shrill in my critique of Professor Newman's essay on the Idolatry of Pluralism.

He's right. I was shrill.

I was shrill because the last place I expected to find an unqualified quotation from a Christian Reconstructionist was in an essay by a moderate Baptist seminary professor on the Associated Baptist Press newswire. After sounding bugles for more than a decade warning moderate Baptists about the rise and advance of Dominionism within the Southern Baptist Convention, finding its undetected influence within CBF circles was more than a little disconcerting to me.

Professor Newman's mistake was not difficult to make. When clearly explained, Christian Reconstructionist ideas are so extreme that almost everyone discounts them as beyond the pale of consideration. Most scholars refuse to waste their time reading Reconstructionists and they are quick to ridicule anyone who suggests that Dominionists could possibly exert significant influence in post-modern America.

Professor Newman's major mistake was to assume that a writer who wrote in such a clear and lucid style -- using highly sophisticated logic and reasoning -- would be too bright to be a white supremacist Christian Reconstructionist. Only those who take the time to read their writings and listen to them speak will know how thoroughly Reconstructionist thought patterns resonate with those of Frances Schaeffer. Their bibliolatrous presuppositional apologetic is essentially the same. They only differ on how far they are willing to press the logic of inerrancy in civic life. The more logical they are, the more thoroughly they want to apply biblical law.

Perhaps this exchange will encourage more people to heed and take note of the increasing challenge that Christian Reconstructionism, Domionism and Christian Nationalism is presenting.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Administration Neo-Cons Undermining James Baker

Salon Magazine has published an essay by Sidney Blumenthal about "Bush's Policy Quagmire" that unveils the reason for Bush's flip-flops on "stay-the-course" rhetoric:

Bush is engaged in a shadow politics of fending off Baker that he can't admit and that require new disingenuous explanations for rejection even before receiving Baker's report. But will consummate political player Baker permit a dynamic in which he is humiliated and join the ranks of the dismissed and discarded, like "good soldier" Colin Powell? If Baker, taking his cue from Bush's rebuke, simply closes ranks, what would have been his point, except to highlight his failure at an attempted rescue? By undermining Baker, especially beforehand, Bush sends a signal that he is determined to maintain his counterproductive strategies in Iraq and the Middle East. Yet his tightening coil will trigger further attempts among U.S. allies and Arab governments to disentangle themselves.

In a small office of the U.S. Institute of Peace in downtown Washington, the Baker-Hamilton commission (aka Iraq Study Group) has been listening to the unvarnished assessments of Middle East experts, former intelligence officers and other government officials, and a host of journalists with experience in the region. Though its report is yet unwritten and none of the witnesses have divulged their testimony, the commission's recommendations are apparent from Baker's statements and those close to him. Baker has made clear that stabilizing Iraq demands a new strategy for the whole Middle East. He favors restarting the peace process between Israel and the Palestinian territories with a strong U.S. hand. And he urges direct diplomatic negotiations with Syria and Iran. "I personally believe in talking to your enemies. Neither the Syrians nor the Iranians want a chaotic Iraq," Baker has said.

Voters for Happy the Clown

Associated Press has a telling quote in a story about "Poll: Middle Class Voters Abandoning GOP:"

I don't care if I vote for Happy the Clown, just so it's not who's there now," said Mary Nyilas, 51, an independent voter from Cologne, N.J. She said she would do everything she could to "vote against the powers that put us in this situation" in Iraq.
If this election wasn't so important, I would suggest a write-in campaign for Happy.

On the Southern Baptist Position on Abortion

Thanks to Carlos Stouffer at Jesus Politics for calling attention to Pew Forum's dialogue on "Is there a Culture War?" Alan Wolfe, Professor of Political Science and Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College, made some interesting comments about politics determining theology. Here's a quote:

Does politics drive culture or does culture drive politics? I'm not at all persuaded that culture is the sort of indelible unchanging thing within which politics then operates because these things -- these so-called cultural values, these moral values, these religiously inspired values -- are not at all timeless in our country but change very, very dramatically.

To cite my favorite example -- and any of you who has heard me speak before has heard this example, so I apologize for that -- in 1973 when the infamous decision of Roe v. Wade came down, the Southern Baptist Convention, which is America's largest evangelical Protestant denomination, endorsed it. That is a remarkable fact that is almost totally neglected given the fact that the Southern Baptist convention sort of embodies everything that we think of when we think about being on the right side of the culture war issues.

But there were a number of reasons why the SBC endorsed Roe v. Wade. One of them was that they knew Catholics were opposed to abortion, and in our country if Catholics are in favor of one thing, the Baptists are always in favor of the opposite. But even more seriously, the Baptists in America have had a very long history and tradition of separating church and state and of being strong believers in religious liberty.

Roger Williams was one of our great philosophers in the separation of church and state tradition, contrasting the garden of religious faith against the wilderness of politics and upholding the garden over the wilderness. And John Leland, who inherited in the Baptist tradition Roger Williams' ideals, was a close friend of Thomas Jefferson's and was instrumental in the passage of the First Amendment to the American Constitution.

And I think for many Baptists in America, as recently as the 1970s, the idea that the state could tell the woman what to do with her body was not all that different from the idea that the state could tell a religious believer what to do with his or her mind. There is a libertarian impulse in the American Baptist tradition, a distrust of the idea of the established state. And certainly American Baptist history is filled with a kind of anti-theocratic sense, a sense that the blending of church and state is something that any good Baptist should be instinctively suspicious of.

So there were perfectly valid theological and religious reasons for the Southern Baptist Convention when Roe v. Wade came down to say, Hey, this is something we can support. But 10 years later they repudiated their support. They issued all kinds of apologies for what they had done. And they wound up on the other side of the issue. I don't want to get into the politics of why they did that. Personally I think it reeked of political opportunism, but that is not the point I want to make.

The point I want to make is this: if the notion of the right to life is so culturally embedded, if it is supposed to have such deep religious roots, if it is supposed to be one of those timeless things and then politics is epiphenomenal against that, how could it possibly change so radically? It seems to me that what we witnessed in this shift from one side to the other on this issue was in fact politics becoming much more important than religion. It wasn't that religion was the timeless thing at all. In its new formulation of these issues, the Southern Baptist Convention and its leaders talk about accommodationism between state and church rather than strict separation of state and church.

But, again, all of these things suggest to me that what happened in the United States, using this as an example, is that politics was enormously important for people, to the point where their position on a political issue determined their theological and religious views, and not the other way around. It couldn't have been that religious and theological views came first and political views came second and led to this change. It had to be the other way around.
The original Southern Baptist position regarding abortion was a little more nuanced than Wolfe suggests. Southern Baptists in the 1970's approved of abortion in the instance of rape, incest, when the life and health of the mother was at risk, and in the case of severe fetal deformity such as anencephaly.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

How Sound is the Dollar?

Truthout has published an excerpt from German author Gabor Steingart's book "World War for Wealth: The Global Grab for Power and Prosperity." The excerpt is entitled "America and the Dollar Illusion." Here's a quote:

US economic growth -- an impressive figure on paper -- is an important benchmark. When it is high, investors feel reassured in their faith in the power of the US domestic economy to perform well. True, the trade balance deficit has skyrocketed since it first appeared in the mid-1970s. But the economy is growing steadily anyway, as the dreamers note with growing self-confidence. It may not be growing as rapidly as the Chinese economy, but it is growing twice as fast as the European economy.

And yet this benchmark is not as reliable as it seems. The faith investors have in the figure has actually helped create it. After all, the purchasing price of a government bond feeds almost directly into state consumption, just as the purchasing price of a share makes companies more inclined to consume. It also extends the credit basis of millions of private households -- which in turn boosts consumption. In this way, the expectations of investors - including the expectation that the United States will continue to grow -- transform into certainties almost all by themselves.

In other words, the capital of trust creates the very growth rates it needs in order to justify itself. US economic growth, in fact, is fueled by ever-increasing consumer spending -- puzzling given that American wages are dropping as is industrial output. Still, everyone knows the answer to this riddle. The rise in consumption isn't based on an expansion of production, a rise in wages or even an increase in exports. To a large extent, it's based on the growing debt. But why do banks keep issuing credit? Because they accept the ever-increasing prices of stocks and real estate as a kind of collateral. A closed circuit of miraculous money minting has been created.

Self-Delusion

The extent of this self-delusion can be read in the balance sheets of the banks: Almost no one is saving money in the United States today. The US foreign debt grows by about $1.5 billion every weekday and has now reached about $3 trillion. Private household debt, both at home and abroad, has reached $9 trillion -- and 40 percent of these debts has been incurred since 2001. The Americans are enjoying the present at the cost of selling off ever larger chunks of their future. Arguably, the imminent economic crisis is the most thoroughly predicted one in recent history. Rather than refuting the crisis, the current US economic boom merely heralds it.

Biologists have observed similar phenomena in plants contaminated by toxins. Before they wither, they produce one last batch of healthy shoots -- to the point that they can hardly be distinguished from healthy plants. Some speak of a panic bloom.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

On the Idolatry of Pluralism

A professor of theology and ethics at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond --one of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's "identity theological education partners" -- has penned an Op-ed posted online at the Associated Baptist Press website about "Pluralism as Idolatry." The essay clearly reveals how ignorant many moderate Baptist scholars are about Christian Reconstructionism, Dominionism, Christian Nationalism and modern white supremecism.

Tucked away in their book-lined offices, many moderate Baptist scholars are completely oblivious to the theological and political forces that are shaping life around them. Worse than that, they lack comprehension of their own faith tradition in sufficient depth to detect distortions of that tradition by those who intend to undermine it.

Professor Newman, like many other moderate Baptists, appears prepared to jettison the traditional, but now unpopular, Baptist stance toward separation of church and state. Rather than attack it directly, she says "All this is to the good." Then she contends that, in practice, the pluralism that separating church and state permits "masks" powers that are at odds with the life of the church. Pluralism tempts Christians to "practice idolatry" by assuming that "nations and markets ultimately determine history." She concludes,
It's easy today to imagine idolatry in terms of the golden calf. But our idols are more subtle. They are those "powers" that cause us to place the church in a limited sphere, handing the public over to the state and the market. My criticism of pluralism is not a matter of wanting to rule the world but rather a call to live in such a way that acknowledges the rule of God over all.
Critique's of the idols of nationalism and capitalism are commonplace and should be heeded. What is different about Newman's critique is her analysis of "the ideology of pluralism." There are at least two problems with it.

First, underlying her critique of pluralism "as a bond of peace" is an assumption that only "faith" is properly a bond of peace.

Whose faith?

Will there be peace when persons of different faiths live in ways that expect all others in the public sphere to acknowledge the rule of their God?

Newman's ethic falls short of the most basic rule of civility -- the golden rule. It lacks regard for the liberty of consciences other than those of culture-warrior Christians. It is a recipe for a return to the holy wars and religious wars that motivated Baptists, Deists and skeptics to separate church and state and advocate liberty of conscience for all.

Second, where did Newman find the inspiration to challenge pluralism and defend the intolerance of military Chaplain Lt. Gordon James Klingenschmitt?

She didn't get it from Thomas Helwys or Roger Williams or John Leland. She got it from Douglas Wilson the white supremecist, Christian Reconstructionist pastor of Christ's Church in Moscow, Idaho and editor of Credenda Agenda Magazine.

Wilson is an unashamed theocrat praying for "a second Christendom" who says, "When the Confederate States of America surrendered at Appomatox, the last nation of the older order (of Christendom) fell." He insists:
These prayers will be answered, so this means that the South will rise again. This is not said with any regional jingoistic fervor. So will New England rise again. So will Scotland. So will the Netherlands. And as the gospel comes to the uttermost regions for the first time, savage tribes will attend His word. The earth is the Lord's and He will have it.
Here's a quote from Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Idaho, citing an article from an issue of Wilson's Credenda that is no longer online:
In his regular column in Wilson's Credenda Agenda (vol. 3: nos. 9, 11), Greg Dickison, member of Wilson's Christ Church and a Moscow public defender, states that "if we could have it our way," then there would be capital punishment for "kidnapping, sorcery, bestiality, adultery, homosexuality, and cursing one's parents." Dickison also quotes biblical passages (without qualification) that support slavery as "ordained and regulated by God," death for apostasy (Deut. 13.6-9), and cutting off a woman's hand for touching a strange man's genitals (Deut. 25.11,12).

Do I think Professor Newman agrees with Douglas Wilson on all of this? Not for a minute. Do I think she is a Christian Reconstructionist because she quotes from one with obvious approval? No.

I think she doesn't have a clue about the theological convictions that underlie the source that she is quoting. That's not a problem peculiar to her. It is a problem that is widespread at a number of levels among moderate Baptist scholars.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

On Danforth's Faith and Politics

I finished reading former U.S. Senator John Danforth's book on Faith and Politics last night. Danforth's political impulses are often more conservative than mine, but his book is filled with succinct quotations putting religion and politics in proper perspective. Here is one of the best:

The American way is not one group having its way. No part of our country can have a monopoly of what is good for the whole. That is why we must be very careful in mixing religion in politics. The idea that God speaks to one group more than others, or that one group uniquely represents the will of God, makes it impossible to give outsiders the sense that they, too, are welcome participants in the life of our country.

Some people have asked me whether America is a Christian country. The answer must be no, for to call this a Christian country is to say that non-Christians are of some lesser order, not fullfledged citizens of one nation.

On Racists Running For Public Office

The Southern Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Report has published a story about "Electing Extremism" that identifies a number of racist candidates who are running for political office in several states. The article identifies a political strategy set forth by white supremecist David Duke. Here's a quote:

"State representative races can be won with modest budgets and small staffs, while affording the winner possible major media attention and the ability to file and promote legislation that can materially improve our people's plight," proclaimed Duke, citing personal experience.

"Most importantly, a state representative office is winnable for political novices and provides an excellent springboard for higher office."

This electoral strategy for building an extremist political movement in the U.S. was recently echoed by neo-Nazi John Ubele in an essay posted on the website of the Nationalist Coalition, a white nationalist group. In "The 2006 Elections: A Call to Action," Ubele expounds upon the positive uses of local campaigns, even failed ones, in helping lay the groundwork for a "national pro-White political party." These include heightened exposure for extremist ideas and organizational and management experience for activists.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Integrity of Voter Database Compromised

ABC News is reporting that the Chicago Voter Database has been hacked making it possible to change voting records for hundreds of thousands of Chicago voters.

This deliberate hacking for publicity is another sign that the unprecedented incidence of voter irregularities during the last two national elections has reduced tolerance for trust in the American electorate.

In the late 1980's, voting irregularities in elections for the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention destroyed trust among Baptists. In the early 1990's most moderate and progressive Baptists left the SBC and formed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Secession is not an option for moderate and progressive Americans. That means that tensions will probably continue to escalate in national elections until election officials assure that elections are verifiable and fair.

Kuo Still Flirting with Temptation

I finished reading David Kuo's "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction" last night. Melissa Rogers ( HERE, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and HERE) and Fred Clarkson (here) have written some of the best reviews of Kuo's book, so I'll just add a few observations.

The book left me bewildered about David Kuo.

There were sufficient hints throughout the book to conclude that he knew from the beginning that faith-based initiatives always had more to do with politics than with addressing poverty.

Kuo has documented nearly every danger that opponents of charitable choice and faith-based initiatives raised, but he never sees the forest for the trees. He still seems to think it is a good idea.

There are times when I believe Kuo has deliberately obscured the truth about the logic behind much evangelical support for faith-based initiatives. He credits Marvin Olasky's book on The Tragedy of American Compassion for providing the rationale underlying the charitable choice and faith-based initiatives which became the basis for the politics of "compassionate conservatism" (pp. 74-75). Olasky is an unashamed advocate for a Christian Reconstructionist theocracy.

A few pages later, Kuo faults critics of the theocratic thrust of much evangelical politics saying, "Conservative Christian faith did not mean Christian theocracy was a goal." (p. 83) The discussion that followed, however, makes it clear that he knew that what Olasky and other "compassionate conservatives" were advocating "wouldn't pass constitutional muster." (p. 84)

Kuo clearly knows more about the theocratic ambitions of many conservative Christians than he is willing to admit. He needs to be forthright and honest about this and help make clear a distinction between the "compassionate conservatives" who respect pluralistic democracy and the theocrats who are deliberately working to undermine it.

ABC Covers Dangers of Electronic Voting Machines

ABC News has aired a report that "Electronic Voting Machines Could Skew Elections."

Concerns about Diebold voting machines being compromised is not new. It is finally getting mainstream media attention.

Here's a link to Verified Voting for those interested in doing further research into the vulnerabilities of electronic voting.

A Call to Reassert Baptist Tradition on First Amendment

Jeph Holloway, professor of religion at East Texas Baptist University, has an outstanding article about "Right or Wrong? Church-State Separation" in the Baptist Standard. Here's a quote:

Why would any Baptist want to overturn the First Amendment? I cannot imagine any Baptist inviting government oversight of our preaching and worship services, so I don?t believe any would want to discard the Free Exercise Clause, which denies Congress the power to "prohibit the free exercise" of religion. Some, however, want to at least modify the Establishment Clause, which prohibits Congress from establishing religion as a state project. Why? Clearly some Baptists want to use the power of the state to reassert a religious influence in our land in hope that such an influence would stem the tide of what they consider to be the serious moral decline of our culture.

Concern for such moral decline is well founded. The question, though, is whether such a strategy for moral transformation is either appropriate or effective. Until recently, the dominant Baptist answer to this has been a resounding "No!" Any reassertion of this traditional Baptist outlook will come through courageous pastors and adult Sunday school leaders who will have to counter powerful voices that have influenced many Christians through various media channels.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Forget Journalism at OBU

The revolving door as journalism professor at Oklahoma Baptist University has swung again. This time OBU is being censured by the College Media Advisors.

OBU President Mark Brister continues to exercise an iron hand over the school's student newspaper.

This is not the first time that Brister has dumped a respected journalism professor on the street.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

"Black Letter" Rightists

Mark Tooley, the Director of the Committee to divide the United Methodist Church at the Institute of Religion and Democracy, has ably projected the perspective of "Black Letter" Rightists in an essays about "Red Letter" Leftists on Frontpage Magazine.

Tooley faults Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, Randall Balmer, Richard Rohr, Ron Sider, Barbara Brown Taylor and other "Red Letter" Christians for speaking out in the public square about Christian values.

While recognizing the authority of the entire Bible, "Red Letter" Christians believe that the words of Jesus should have precedence when weighing biblical values. They emphasize the values of peace, justice, equality and the common good. They are concerned about poverty, global warming, human rights, and health care.

"Black Letter" Christians believe that the words of Jesus are too liberal and utopian for life in the real world. While claiming allegiance to biblical authority, in practice they deny any temporal authority for the words of Jesus. They emphasize the values of the neo-conservative police state -- pre-emptive strike defense, unregulated capitalism, social darwinism and Christian nationalism.

Tooley calls red letter Christians the "elite" but that is merely a diversion to distract attention from himself and his cronies at their well-funded neo-conservative think tank. The Institute for Religion and Democracy, founded and led by Roman Catholic neo-conservatives in 1981, exists to divide and disrupt progressive mainline Churches and organizations. Generously funded by Right-wing political groups and foundations, the IRD uses the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention as a model for fomenting similar fundamentalist takeover movements in mainline Episcopal, Methodist, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterian churches.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Is Ignorance of Islam Bliss for National Security?

Intelligence is only as good as the competence of those who analyze it.

Sound decisions regarding National Security can only be made on the basis of good information and a thorough understanding of those who might wish us harm.

That's why Jeff Stein's Op-Ed reporting answers from Washington counter-terrorism officials to the question "Can you tell a Sunni from a Shiite?" are so disturbing. Here's a quote:

As I keep asking it around Capitol Hill and the agencies, I get more and more blank stares. Too many officials in charge of the war on terrorism just don't care to learn much, if anything, about the enemy we're fighting. And that's enough to keep anybody up at night.

On Rumsfeld's Divine Inspiration

Associated Press is reporting that our nation's top military officer, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld "leads in a way that the good Lord tells him is best for our country."

Rumsfeld, architect and overseer of the American doctrine of pre-emptive war, must be listening to a "war Lord" and not the Lord who is the Prince of Peace. My "good" Lord said,

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God." (Matt. 5:9)

"Put your sword back in its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword." (Matt. 26:52)

Israel Issuing Ultimatums

CNS News is reporting that "Regime Change Only Solution for Iran."

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert just visited Russia to inform Russian President Vladimir Putin of Israel's intentions in regard to Iran. Here's an excerpt from the CNS report that indicates the gravity of the situation:

Israel is eager to convince Russia, which is helping Iran complete its nuclear reactor in Bushehr, to support international sanctions against Tehran. Russia, a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has been dragging its feet on the issue.

Israel, the U.S. and Europe believe that Iran is secretly developing a nuclear bomb under cover of its civilian nuclear program. Tehran denies it and Russia backs Iran's right to have nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Before his trip, Olmert said that Iran represents an "existential threat" to Israel and the world. Israel "cannot countenance" a country like Iran possessing non-conventional capabilities, he said following his meeting with Putin.

"I made it clear that the State of Israel has no margin of error, has no privilege to err. There is no way to prevent nuclear arms, if Iran is not afraid," he said.

The Iranians "need to fear" the consequences if they continue in their nuclear pursuits, Olmert said, adding that he did not discuss specifics of what Israel would or would not do.
Little imagination is needed to determine the specifics of what Israel would do.

The only question is whether Israel will launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran before the U.S. mid-term elections in November or only before a new Congress is sworn-in in January.

How important is it to Israel for disheartened American evangelicals to go to the polls in November?

Is it a coincidence that Olmert's visit to Russia came as a fleet of American warships arrived in the Persian Gulf?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Homeland Security Monitoring Quaker E-Mails

AlterNet has posted a story about "Pentagon Monitoring Peace Activists' E-Mails."

It looks like Quakers and other peace activists are having their e-mails monitored by Homeland Security.

Evidence of Bias at CNN

Media Matters has a story "Why has CNN devoted 50 times as much coverage to Harry Reid's land deal as Dennis Hastert's?"

Good question.

GOP Prepares for Election Losses

Mark Crispin Miller unveils the GOP game plan in the event of widespread losses on November 7.

In an essay posted at Truthout entitled "Our Rigged Elections" Miller says:

If the GOP should lose the House or Senate, its troops will mount a noisy propaganda drive accusing their opponents of election fraud. This is no mere speculation, according to a well-placed party operative who lately told talk radio host Thom Hartmann, off the record, that the game will be to shriek indignantly that those dark-hearted Democrats have fixed the race. We will hear endlessly of Democratic "voter fraud" through phantom ballots, rigged machines, intimidation tactics, and all the other tricks whereby the Bush regime has come to power. The regime will, in short, deploy the ultimate Swift Boat maneuver to turn around as many races as they need so as to nullify the will of the electorate.

Returning to the Dark Ages

Helen Thomas and Robert Parry have written some of the best essays about the meaning of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Helen Thomas' essay is entitled "A Sad Day for America."

Robert Parry's essay is entitled "Shame On Us All: History should record October 17, 2006 as the reverse of July 4, 1776."

Here's a quote from Thomas' essay:

Tom Malinowski, Washington director for Human Rights Watch, said Bush has been accused of "criminal torture in a way that could hurt America and come back to haunt our troops."

One of the reasons Bush sought a green light from the lawmakers is "to have Congress stand with him in the dock," Malinowski added.

The military commissions act is law. And all Americans will be tainted by it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On Faith Seduced by Politics

Tom Paine has posted Melissa Rogers' review of David Kuo's book "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction." Here's a quote:

Kuo's book is cause for disappointment, not joy, among Christians who aren't right-wing Republicans. Christians with different political perspectives should regard these matters as a cautionary tale, a pit into which any politically active religious community may fall if it loses focus and fails to practice accountability. Political parties organize around doing what it takes to win elections. When religious communities participate in policy and politics, however, they should be guided by principle rather than partisanship.

Of course, the big question in Washington right now is how Kuo's book will affect the midterm elections. That is neither my focus nor my time frame. To me, the most important question is whether more Christians will reevaluate the relationship between their faith and partisan politics. If a sufficient number of Christians do so, it may or may not be good for the fortunes of one or another political party. But it will be good for our faith and good for America.

I'm still waiting for UPS to deliver my copy of Kuo's book.

Military Actions Against Iran Under Way

Scott Ritter, former chief weapons inspector in Iraq, recently returned from Iran and was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now about his new book "Target Iran: The Truth about the White House's Plans for Regime Change."

Ritter says, "The path that the United States is currently embarked on regarding Iran is a path that will inevitably lead to war. Such a course of action will make even the historical mistake we made in Iraq pale by comparison."

Ritter refers to the President's 2006 Report on the National Security Strategy of the United States of America.

He also confirms other reports indicating that military and para-military actions against Iran have already begun.

Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice


Common Dreams has posted a story about a Connecticut Clergy Group's Billboard Airs Torture Issue.

The clergy group calls itself "Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Congress Building Bridges to Nowhere

Congress has been pretty tight when it comes to doling out money for disabled veterans, the elderly and the poor, but they are flush with money when it comes to $223 million dollar projects for remote bridges in Alaska.

Bloomberg quotes Representative Donald Young (R-Alaska), Chair of the House Transportation Committee, as saying:

"I'd be silly if I didn't take advantage of my chairmanship," Young said, according to the Anchorage Daily News. "I think I did a pretty good job."
Meanwhile, in Oklahoma -- where traffic crossing the country from all directions intersects -- Interstate bridges are literally crumbling and killing people.

On the End of Evangelicals

Alan Wolfe, who teaches political science at Boston College, has an interesting essay on AlterNet about "Are Evangelicals Over?" Here is Wolfe's best insight:

What you need to understand," a Robertson supporter told me, "is that Pat opposed the war in Iraq from the start." I responded that according to the Lancet, some 600,000 Iraqis have died since the war began. If Robertson had publicly opposed the war, I told them, his influential voice might have spared those lives. "But," one of them answered back, "Pat is a Republican who would not openly oppose the president."

And there, I submit, is why the religious right is in trouble. Since the emergence of a politically active version of conservative Protestantism in the 1980s, it has never been clear whether America's shift to the right took place because deeply religious people became political or because deeply conservative people became religious. I learned at Regent what I have long suspected: For some of the most visible leaders in the religious right, politics trumps religion every time.
I think Wolfe prematurely concludes that the role of evangelicals in politics has peaked.

Many evangelicals may sit out this election, but they'll be back in 2008.

As the blog about Jerry Sutton below indicates, there are waves of activists with a taste for power who have learned to organize politically and they are determined to force this nation to accept their idea of Christian values.

I suspect, (barring an October surprise like war with Iran or widespread voting fraud that turns this election), that the House will turn Democratic in 2006, that moderate and progressive Christians will conclude that the threat of Christian Nationalism is over and will go back to their old routine, that the economy will tank and taxes will necessarily rise, and that the Religious Right will return with a vengeance in 2008.

On Making a Nation Christian

Ethics Daily has posted a story about "Nashville Rally Motivates 'Values Voters'" that gives an incredible quotation by Jerry Sutton:

"Our goal is to motivate every single believer, everyone who names the name of Jesus, to be involved in the political process," said Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church, site of Monday night's rally.

"We have every intention of out-praying, out-thinking, out-working, out-serving and out-loving our opponents," Sutton said. " And we will by the grace of God make this a Christian nation."
Jerry Sutton was one of the first people I met when I went to Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. We graded each other's daily quizzes in Clyde Glazener's introductory Greek classes. At that time Sutton was reading the Bible and preparing to become a humble preacher. There was no sign then that he was ambitious to become a political boss.

Sutton needs to go back to reading his Bible. Nations can't become Christians. Only people can become Christians. And, it always happens the old fashioned way -- by faith and not by force of law or politics.

Jesus said, "It is written, 'You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him only'" when he was tempted by the sin to which it appears that Sutton has succumbed (Luke 4:5-8).

Monday, October 16, 2006

A Review of Kuo on 60 Minutes

I missed seeing David Kuo on 60 Minutes yesterday.

Melissa Rogers wrote a good blog on "Some Highlights of Kuo Segment on 60 Minutes."

Here's a link to the video.

Peter Randolph and the Freedman's Bureau

Walter Shurdan has an article about the extraordinary life of Peter Randolph, "A Baptist Most Readers Have Never Heard of" in the October 2006 issue of the Baptist Studies Bulletin.

Randolph was a slave who became a Baptist preacher and wrote an autobiography entitled, "From Slave Cabin to the Pulpit." The biography has been published online by the University of North Carolina. Shurden advises, "Don't read it after dinner, because it will sour your supper!" He's right. The most unsettling passages you'll have to read for yourself.

Here's a quote from a chapter where Randolph talks about his work with the Freedman's Bureau after the slaves were emancipated:

The Freedman's Bureau was only a temporary arrangement intended to help relieve the condition of the ex-slaves. While it had the means to do so it was inestimable to the poor and needy. But soon the sources of supply failed and the important work was abandoned. This made the suffering and needs of the people more intense than ever. Many had to go back to their former masters to work or starve, and many of the whites tried to make the Negroes feel that freedom was worse than slavery.

In slavery times the masters would see to it, that the slaves were fed--that is, with such as they had to give them, but now, they would see them starve. It is not hard to understand this state of affairs, when one thinks of the situation; here the whites were smarting under their defeat, the Negroes, who were their main support, were taken away from them as slaves and goods of chattel, but still remained at their doors. The unvented wrath they had for the Yankees, for meddling with their pet institution, was poured out on the poor Negroes. (pp. 63-64)

GOP Asked to Purge Homosexuals

Max Blumenthal has a foreboding report in Nation Magazine about "The Coming Gay Republican Purge."

At times like these it is good to remember the words of German Confessing Church Pastor Martin Niemoller in 1946:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

British Paper Envisions Neck Lock for Bush

The Observer has publish a commentary about "America is Finally Revolting Against the Republicans" that envisions President Bush in a neck lock after the November elections. Here's a quote:

George Bush faces a bleak closing chapter of his presidency. The Democrats need only gain control of one house to start launching investigations into 9/11, the Iraq war and its searing aftermath, the financial scandals, the sexual scandals - you name it, they can subject the White House to torture-by-inquiry. A Democrat majority in the House will almost certainly give the chairmanship of the judiciary committee to John Conyers who has previously called for the impeachment of the President.

George Bush is set to spend his last two years in the White House besieged by searing probes into his presidency. That would be a fitting fate for a President famous for his unwillingness or inability to focus on detail and his lack of curiosity about the consequences of his own decisions. The neck lock will then be on George W Bush.

How to Maintain Slave Wages

In Colorado the opposition to a ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage says that God and Moses would be against raising the minimum wage.

I think otherwise. I say there will be a payday someday.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Greider on Paranoia

William Greider has an essay in Nation Magazine about "Paranoia Strikes Deep" that addresses the deep uneasiness within many Americans concerning the November elections. Here's a quote:

In the office elevator, I bumped into an old friend, a reporter from Dow Jones. (Yes, the Wall Street Journal and The Nation can co-exist in the same building (this is incestuous Washington and we all think of ourselves as kindred insiders). My friend is a smart and observant conservative who doesn't peddle cheap partisan opinions.

Democrats, he told me, won't get more than eight to ten seats in the House, forget the Senate. What? Why? Money and method, he said. Between blanketing TV with killer ads and turning out the righteous right-wing base, the Republicans are in the process of buying it one more time.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Colson's Terrorism Con-Game

Chuck Colson's unconscionable behavior toward John Dean's wife has recently been documented in Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience.

Now Colson is saying that those who challenge his faith-based prison program, of whom I am one, are putting the nation at risk of domestic terrorism from prisoners who convert to Islam.

Colson resembles President Nixon's unregenerate white house hatchet man more every day.

The GOP's Faith-Based Get-Out-the-Evangelical-Vote Program

Ethics Daily and Associated Baptist Press have both published stories about revelations that the White House has been using its faith-based initiative as a program to get-out-the-evangelical-vote.

The reports stem from advance information about former White House official David Kuo's soon to be released book, "Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction."

Here's an excerpt from Associated Baptist Press:

From 2001 to 2003, Kuo served as the number-two person in the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. According to MSNBC, the book includes charges that high-ranking White House officials referred to prominent conservative Christian leaders as "nuts" behind their backs, used the faith-based office to organize ostensibly non-political events that in reality were designed to boost Republican candidates in tough elections and favored religious charities friendly to the administration when doling out grant money.

"National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as 'ridiculous,' 'out of control,' and just plain 'goofy,'" Kuo wrote. He added that top political officials in White House aide Karl Rove's office referred to the leaders as "the nuts."

He described conference calls and meetings that White House officials regularly held with conservative Christian leaders, such as James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Ted Haggard of the National Association of Evangelicals. While Bush officials would assure such leaders that the White House was pushing their concerns, Kuo said, the advice the leaders gave was rarely followed.
Here's an excerpt from Ethics Daily:

According to MSNBC, the White House placated politically ambitious religious leaders with trinkets like cufflinks and weekly conference calls, while adviser Karl Rove derisively called them "nuts" behind their backs.

Kuo says the administration broke promises for faith-based funding and tax credits year after year, while turning the bipartisan faith-based initiative into a political operation.

The office not only discriminated against non-Christians, he says, but in 2002 decided to hold "roundtable events" that were supposed to be non-partisan but in reality were targeted to help vulnerable incumbents win favor with faith and community leaders.

Kuo claims the White House devised a cover-up for the operation, running it from congressional offices instead of campaigns, so it wouldn't look too political.

The president, meanwhile, Kuo claims, lied to evangelicals about pouring new money into faith-based programs, viewing their potential to "evangelize" voters.
Here's an excerpt from the MSNBC report:

In fact, when Bush asks Kuo how much money was being spent on "compassion" social programs, Kuo claims he discovered the amount was $20 million a year less than during the Clinton Administration.

The money that was appropriated and disbursed, however, often served a political agenda, Kuo claims, with organizations friendly to the administration often winning grants.

More pointedly, Kuo quotes an unnamed member of the review panel charged with rating grant applications as saying she stopped looking at applications from "those non-Christian groups," as did many of her colleagues.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Richard Viguerie Interview

Buzz Flash has interviewed Richard Viguerie, one of the key organizers of the Religious Right. Viguerie says Bush has betrayed conservatives. Here's a quote:

I'm tempted to say they're [the Bush Administration and Republican Congress are] spending money now like drunken sailors, but that's not true, because drunken sailors spend their own money. These people are spending our children's and our grandchildren's money. That's immoral and wrong and corrupt.
Now I can truthfully say that Richard Viguerie and I agree on something.

Check Out Melissa Rogers' Weblog

Melissa Rogers, visiting professor at Wake Forest University, has been shy about announcing that she is blogging, but her work this month is too valuable to let go unnoticed.

Melissa has served as General Counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee and as Executive Director of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. She knows what is happening in religion and politics both within and without the beltway in Washington, D.C.

Her comments on the Boston Globe's recent four-part series on Faith and Foreign Aid are essential reading for those concerned about the integrity and credibility of the gospel as it is shared with those in other countries.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace

Associated Press just reported that the Army has plans to keep the current level of soldiers in Iraq through 2010.

Is that supposed to make Americans feel safe? determined? decisive? tough? or, stupid?

Jimmy Carter on North Korea

Former President Jimmy Carter has an OP-Ed in today's New York Times about "Solving the Korean Stalemate, One Step at a Time."

Carter talks about his peace efforts during the Clinton administration that were abandoned by the current administration:

Responding to an invitation from President Kim Il-sung of North Korea, and with the approval of President Bill Clinton, I went to Pyongyang and negotiated an agreement under which North Korea would cease its nuclear program at Yongbyon and permit inspectors from the atomic agency to return to the site to assure that the spent fuel was not reprocessed. It was also agreed that direct talks would be held between the two Koreas.

The spent fuel (estimated to be adequate for a half-dozen bombs) continued to be monitored, and extensive bilateral discussions were held. The United States assured the North Koreans that there would be no military threat to them, that it would supply fuel oil to replace the lost nuclear power and that it would help build two modern atomic power plants, with their fuel rods and operation to be monitored by international inspectors. The summit talks resulted in South Korean President Kim Dae-jung earning the 2000 Nobel Peace Prize for his successful efforts to ease tensions on the peninsula.

But beginning in 2002, the United States branded North Korea as part of an axis of evil, threatened military action, ended the shipments of fuel oil and the construction of nuclear power plants and refused to consider further bilateral talks. In their discussions with me at this time, North Korean spokesmen seemed convinced that the American positions posed a serious danger to their country and to its political regime.

Responding in its ill-advised but predictable way, Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, expelled atomic energy agency inspectors, resumed processing fuel rods and began developing nuclear explosive devices.
For the record, John McCain's denunciations of Clinton today regarding Korea are also criticisms of the efforts of former President Jimmy Carter.

Somewhere here there was a major screwup in American foreign policy. The discerning will know whose policies promote peace and whose promote conflict.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Tucker Carlson Says Evangelicals Have Been Duped

Crooks and Liars has posted a video of a Tucker Carlson interview in which Carlson states that evangelicals have been duped by Republican elites.

Here's a quote:

CARLSON: It goes deeper than that though. The deep truth is that the elites in the Republican Party have pure contempt for the evangelicals who put their party in power. Everybody in . . .

MATTHEWS: How do you know that? How do you know that?

CARLSON: Because I know them. Because I grew up with them. Because I live with them. They live on my street. Because I live in Washington, and I know that everybody in our world has contempt for the evangelicals. And the evangelicals know that, and they're beginning to learn that their own leaders sort of look askance at them and don't share their values.

MATTHEWS: So this gay marriage issue and other issues related to the gay lifestyle are simply tools to get elected?

CARLSON: That's exactly right. It's pandering to the base in the most cynical way, and the base is beginning to figure it out.

Regarding the Oklahoma Baptist Voters' Guide

I finally got a copy of the voter's guide that the Baptist Messenger distributed to Oklahoma Baptists.

The guide does not directly endorse any candidates or parties and it boldly proclaims that it is "impartial" and "nonpartisan," but it merely reproduces a voter's guide produced by a front group for well-known Republican operative James Dobson. The Republican slant to the issues raised and the questions asked is obvious. In places, it even uses language lifted from the Oklahoma GOP platform (i.e. "peace through strength" to describe the need for a strong military.)

When very few Democrats responded to this biased questionaire, while nearly all Republicans did so, it should have been obvious that the guide would be of little value in determining nuances in the positions of the different candidates. As any schoolboy or schoolgirl could tell you, students who turn in research that is only half complete receive a failing grade.

Unless the purpose of this mailing was to cast one party in a favorable light while raising doubts about another, Oklahoma Baptists ought to ask the editor of the Baptist Messenger to justify the use of Cooperative Program dollars to publish and distribute materials that were only half complete.

(NOTE: The Oklahoma Family Council's 2006 Voter's Guide is not yet online. At the moment, the link above connects to the 2004 Voter's Guide which is supposed to be replaced by the 2006 guide over the next few days.)

Oklahoma's "Baptized" Voters' Guide


Thanks to David Flick at the Flick's Flickerings blog for calling attention to the Oklahoma Baptist Messenger's Voters Guide. The Baptist Messenger is the official newsletter of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.

I haven't seen a copy myself yet and it isn't up on their website, so I'll postpone commenting myself until I've seen it. Here's a quote from Flick:

I abhor the idea of churches and denominations getting involved in producing and distributing voters' guides. Secular politics is NOT, and never has been, the purpose and goal of the church. The purpose of the church is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. The purpose of the church is to evangelize the lost and disciple the believers. I am not opposed to Christians becoming involved in secular politics. I believe it's appropriate for Christians to be involved in politics, but I believe it is inappropriate for Christians to use the church as a platform for promoting secular politics and distributing voters' guides.

Voters' guides always claim to be impartial and nonpartisan. That claim, however, is false. Voters' guides are always biased to one view or another. I have never pastored a church that was comprised only of Democrats or of Republicans. I have never pastored a church wherein the members were all of one political persuasion. As pastor, I always sought to be totally unbiased when it comes to secular politics. I do not, and never did, discuss secular politics from the pulpit. I have, on numerous occasions, taken public stands from the pulpit on moral issues. But I eschewed discussing Republican or Democratic political views from the pulpit. That was a self-imposed off limits that I established for myself early in my ministry. God called me to preach the gospel and pastor people. He did not call me to become involved in partisan politics. I believe in the strictest interpretation of separation of church and state.

Oklahoma Prisons to Study Scientology Program

McAlester News-Capital has reported that some Oklahoma prison workers doubt the value of testing a rehabilitation and reform program that is funded by tax dollars and run by the Church of Scientology.

Faith-based programs like to make claims of effectiveness, but few care to submit to the testing that could verify or falsify their claims.

Could the success or failure of this program depend on your faith -- in Scientology?

Monday, October 09, 2006

On Oklahoma's Major Growth Industry

Local news is reporting "Officials: State Prison System at Capacity."

The report fails to mention that Oklahoma has some of the stiffest penalties in the country for crimes like distributing alcohol to minors (a felony) and, in comparison with other states, has an inordinate number of women serving sentences in a penitentiary.

Getting tough on crime sure works when building prisons is a growth industry. Whenever we finally privatize the entire system, our state will be able to achieve full employment by reducing the economy to guards and prisoners.

On the Nearness of the Apocalypse

Common Dreams has posted a foreboding essay by Chris Hedges on "Bush's Nuclear Apocalypse."

Those who have read both dispensational pre-millenialist eschatology and neo-conservative militarist ideology will recognize the gravity of Hedges' warning.

Here's a quote:

The country, however, that will pay the biggest price will be Israel. And the sad irony is that those planning this war think of themselves as allies of the Jewish state. A conflagration of this magnitude could see Israel drawn back in Lebanon and sucked into a regional war, one that would over time spell the final chapter in the Zionist experiment in the Middle East. The Israelis aptly call their nuclear program "the Samson option." The Biblical Samson ripped down the pillars of the temple and killed everyone around him, along with himself.

If you are sure you will be raptured into heaven, your clothes left behind with the nonbelievers, then this news should cheer you up. If you are rational, however, these may be some of the last few weeks or months in which to enjoy what is left of our beleaguered, dying republic and way of life.

Costly Grace and the Amish

USA Today has published an Op-Ed that accurately describes the faith of the Amish as they bury their children. Written by Bruce Kluger and aptly entitled "A Glimpse of Grace" the article describes the grace of Christian discipleship at its best. Here's a quote:

They collected money for the families of the deceased, including the horrified, grieving wife and children of the murderer. They also invited the family to the funerals.

"Grace," my wife said softly when I told her about this astonishing gesture of humanity by the bereaved people of Nickel Mines. "Pure grace. Maybe we all have something to learn from the Amish."
Indeed we do. We all have something to learn from the Amish.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

On Congress' Retreat from American Values

Garrison Keillor has an impassioned Op-Ed in the Chicago Tribune this week. Entitled "Congress' Shameful Retreat for American Values," he raps Congress for passing legislation to repeal habeas corpus and authorize torture. Here's an excerpt:

I would not send my college kid off for a semester abroad if I were you. Last week, we suspended human rights in America, and what goes around comes around. Ixnay habeas corpus.

The U.S. Senate, in all its splendor and majesty, decided that an "enemy combatant" is any non-citizen whom the president says is an enemy combatant, including your Korean greengrocer or your Swedish grandmother or your Czech au pair, and can be arrested and held for as long as authorities wish without any right of appeal to a court of law to examine the matter. If your college kid were to be arrested in Bangkok or Cairo, suspected of "crimes against the state" and held in prison, you'd assume that an American foreign service officer would be able to speak to your kid and arrange for a lawyer, but this may not be true anymore. Be forewarned.

The Senate also decided it's up to the president to decide whether it's OK to make these enemies stand naked in cold rooms for a couple of days in blinding light and be beaten by interrogators. This is now purely a bureaucratic matter: The plenipotentiary stamps the file "enemy combatants" and throws the poor schnooks into prison and at his leisure he tries them by any sort of kangaroo court he wishes to assemble and they have no right to see the evidence against them, and there is no appeal. This was passed by 65 senators and will now be signed by President Bush, put into effect, and in due course be thrown out by the courts.

. . .

If, however, the court does not, then our country has taken a step toward totalitarianism. If the government can round up someone and never be required to explain why, then it's no longer the United States as you and I always understood it. Our enemies have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They have made us become like them.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Myth of Richard Land as Centrist

Contra Costa Times has published a story about Richard Land that attempts to present him as a centrist.

The journalist failed to note the role that Richard Land has played as lapdog for the current administration. He has led the cheers for pre-emptive war in Iraq, championed the use of torture in interrogations, and condoned the repeal of civil liberties.

The most obvious place where Richard Land is in the center is in the middle of Karl Rove's lap.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Will Israel Strike Iran?

From today's Washington Times:

A former Navy intelligence officer weighs in on how the world will stop Iran from building nuclear bombs:

"I really believe the Israelis are going to strike [Iran's] several uranium processing factories soon. They cannot survive a first strike. This time, unlike when they sent eight F-16s to destroy the Iraqi reactor Osirak, I think they will use the Jericho missiles and the submarine-launched, nuclear-tipped Tomahawks to do nuclear strikes. Most of the factories are 150 meters underground and too deep for bunker busters."

Albuquerque's Balloon Fiesta Under Way

I just found this story about Albuquerque's Hot Air Balloon Fiesta. Albuquerque was my home when the Hot Air Balloon Fiesta began.

Norman is home now, but I still miss seeing the balloon fiesta. There's nothing quite like it.

I guess I'll just have to console myself by watching Oklahoma beat Texas in the Cotton Bowl tomorrow. There's nothing quite like an OU-Texas football game either.

Evangelicalism's Paranoid Style

The New York Times has published a story about "Evangelicals Fear the Loss of their Teenagers." It reports how some teenagers are losing interest in church and how the size of the loss is being magnified by evangelical preachers.

Evangelical preachers know how to motivate people by guilt and fear better than anyone else in our society. Some don't know anything else.

When the children of evangelicals become teenagers they either meekly submit to having their emotions manipulated at will by their preachers, or they resist it. Those who submit become loyal church members. Those who resist it either drop out of church or find a church that offers a fuller and more mature form of worship. This has been going on for decades.

Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Disciples and Cooperative Baptist churches are amply sprinkled with former Southern Baptists and other evangelicals whose faith outgrew the early adolescent spirituality of their childhood preachers.

Ashcroft Avoided Airliners Before 9/11

Thanks to the Blue Meme for calling attention to a CBS News report from July 26, 2001. In a news story entitled Ashcroft Flying High CBS reported:

In response to inquiries from CBS News over why Ashcroft was traveling exclusively by leased jet aircraft instead of commercial airlines, the Justice Department cited what it called a "threat assessment" by the FBI, and said Ashcroft has been advised to travel only by private jet for the remainder of his term.
Ashcroft, however, does not remember a terrorist briefing by George Tenet complete with Power Point presentation on July 17 that gave advance warning of an attack like 9/11.

This is yet another sign that the official report of the 9/11 Commission was a whitewash. 9/11 widows are now blasting the administration over these ommissions from the 9/11 report.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

On Post-Christendom Christianity

Associated Baptist Press has posted an interesting essay by David Gushee on "Post-Christendom Christianity." He says,

A growing number of Christian writers are embracing the idea that the United States is moving into a post-Christendom phase and that the church should not resist this transition. This has significant implications for the very hotly debated question of how faith intersects with politics.
In my opinion, these writers are a little late to the table. American culture moved to a post-Christian phase long ago.

American Christianity itself, in it's most visible public persona, also moved to a post-Christian phase long ago. Southern Baptists and other evangelicals gave up on the foolishness of preaching a quarter century ago. Instead, they have been slowly taking over the GOP in order to restore Christendom by force of law.

Post-Christian partisan political loyalty is the obvious explanation for why Ethics Daily is running a story today about "Religious Right Muted in Criticism of Foley."

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Christian Coalition Moderating?

Associated Baptist Press has published a story about "Christian Coalition names Moderate Joel Hunter to President's Position."

Hunter apparently has a broader agenda than Richard Land and the other leaders of the religious right. He is interested in the environment and the poor as well as in the other standard right-wing issues.

I'll have to see the Christian Coalition moderate to believe it. His actions in office will speak louder than his words out of it.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Regarding School Shootings

The best news analysis I've seen is at the Christian Science Monitor in a report entitled, "A Pattern in Rural School Shootings: Girls as Targets."

The best blog I've seen is by Michael Broadway in a blog on "Earth as it is in Heaven". Thanks to Michael Westmoreland-White at the Mainstream Baptists group blog for calling attention to it.

Broadway does a good job of expressing the bewilderment, frustration and concern that many of us feel about these senseless acts of violence.

This violence must have some connection with the aggressiveness that our society condones and encourages in the male psyche.

That the victims were very young and female also indicates that the perpetrators were searching for very weak and vulnerable subjects over which to exercise power -- signifying an internalized impotence in relation to strong and mature femininity.

A Clear Violation of First Amendment

Today's Washington Post has published a story about an incident in a public school in which a student was prohibited from reading the Bible at school on her own time.

This is a clear violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment.

Teachers and public school administrators, as servants of civil government, may not promote religion on school time. Neither may they prohibit students from freely exercising their religion in a non-disruptive manner on their own time.

Preachers Leading GOP Get-Out-The-Vote Drive

The LA Times published an interesting story about "Pastors Guiding Voters to GOP." Texas Southern Baptist pastor Rick Scarborough is among those mentioned as leading vote getting efforts. Here's a quote:

The Rev. Rick Scarborough, a leading evangelical in Texas, has recruited 5,000 "patriot pastors" nationwide to promote an agenda that aligns neatly with Republican platforms. "We urge them to avoid legal entanglement, but there are times in a pastor's life when he needs to take a biblical stand," Scarborough said. "Our higher calling is to Christ."

The campaign encourages individual pastors to use sermons, Bible studies and rallies to drive Christians to the polls -- and, by implication or outright endorsement, to Republican candidates.
These preachers are demonstrating a remarkable capacity to ignore every sign of scandal, incompetence, decadence and corruption within the GOP.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Dominionism at Southwestern Seminary

Ethics Daily has published a revealing report that "Seminary Speaker Advocates Christian Rule." Shelby sharpe, general counsel for the Southern Baptists of Texas, spoke to a full house in a Southwestern Seminary chapel service on September 5th and, in effect, advocated that Christians takeover the government to influence the culture.

The only sign of dissent from Christian Reconstructionism in Sharpe's sermon was a quick disclaimer that "We're not going to bring in the millenial kingdom. That's not going to happen." Other than this short signal that his eschatology envisions a pre-millenial Dominionism and not a post-millenial Reconstructionism, everything else Sharpe had to say is indistinguishable from Christian Reconstructionist theocratic political ideology.

The radical political agenda espoused in Sharpe's address is not exceptional in Baptist pulpits these days. It is unusual to find it so openly and forcefully avowed from the pulpit of a Southern Baptist institution.

Readers ought to watch the video of the chapel service for themselves to see how persuasively this sermon was delivered and how favorably it was received. Here's a link to the video.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

On Fear of Pirates and Terrorists

Thanks to Will Prescott for calling my attention to Robert Harris' Op-Ed on "Pirates of the Meidterranean." Harris draws a lesson from a terrorist incident in ancient Rome. Here's a quote:

By the oldest trick in the political book -- the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting voice could be dismissed as "soft" or even "traitorous" --powers had been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire.

Those of us who are not Americans can only look on in wonder at the similar ease with which the ancient rights and liberties of the individual are being surrendered in the United States in the wake of 9/11. The vote by the Senate on Thursday to suspend the right of habeas corpus for terrorism detainees, denying them their right to challenge their detention in court; the careful wording about torture, which forbids only the inducement of "serious" physical and mental suffering to obtain information; the admissibility of evidence obtained in the United States without a search warrant; the licensing of the president to declare a legal resident of the United States an enemy combatant -- all this represents an historic shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the executive.

An intelligent, skeptical American would no doubt scoff at the thought that what has happened since 9/11 could presage the destruction of a centuries-old constitution; but then, I suppose, an intelligent, skeptical Roman in 68 B.C. might well have done the same.

In truth, however, the Lex Gabinia was the beginning of the end of the Roman republic. It set a precedent. Less than a decade later, Julius Caesar -- the only man, according to Plutarch, who spoke out in favor of Pompey's special command during the Senate debate -- was awarded similar, extended military sovereignty in Gaul. Previously, the state, through the Senate, largely had direction of its armed forces; now the armed forces began to assume direction of the state.