Wednesday, January 31, 2007

On The Rise of American Fascists

I first learned about the work of Chris Hedges from Tom Boyd, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. Boyd, a Presbyterian minister, is one of the most highly and most widely respected educators in the state of Oklahoma. Years ago, he recommended Hedges book War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning. Naturally, with such a high recommendation, I read the book. I found it very insightful.

In that book Hedges, once a Christian seminary student, took an unflinching look at what he had observed and concluded while working as a reporter in war zones around the world.

Hedges latest book takes an unflinching look at what he observed and concluded while reporting on the Christian Right's culture war in America. This book is called American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.

Here's a link to a short essay derived from the book. The essay comes from material in the last chapter of the book. It comes from the precise section where Hedges finally succeeded in convincing me that it is no longer a stretch to couple the word "fascist" with "Christian" when describing the Christian Right. Here's a quote:

[James Luther] Adams saw in the Christian right, long before we did, disturbing similarities with the German Christian Church and the Nazi Party, similarities that he said would, in the event of prolonged social instability or a national crisis, see American fascists rise under the guise of religion to dismantle the open society. He despaired of U.S. liberals, who, he said, as in Nazi Germany, mouthed silly platitudes about dialogue and inclusiveness that made them ineffectual and impotent. Liberals, he said, did not understand the power and allure of evil or the cold reality of how the world worked. The current hand-wringing by Democrats, with many asking how they can reach out to a movement whose leaders brand them "demonic" and "satanic," would not have surprised Adams. Like Bonhoeffer, he did not believe that those who would fight effectively in coming times of turmoil, a fight that for him was an integral part of the biblical message, would come from the church or the liberal, secular elite.

His critique of the prominent research universities, along with the media, was no less withering. These institutions, self-absorbed, compromised by their close relationship with government and corporations, given enough of the pie to be complacent, were unwilling to deal with the fundamental moral questions and inequities of the age. They had no stomach for a battle that might cost them their prestige and comfort. He told me, I suspect half in jest, that if the Nazis took over America "60 percent of the Harvard faculty would begin their lectures with the Nazi salute." But this too was not an abstraction. He had watched academics at the University of Heidelberg, including the philosopher Martin Heidegger, raise their arms stiffly to students before class.

Two decades later, even in the face of the growing reach of the Christian right, his prediction seems apocalyptic. And yet the powerbrokers in the Christian right have moved from the fringes of society to the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Forty-five senators and 186 members of the House before the last elections earned approval ratings of 80 to100 percent from the three most influential Christian right advocacy groups -- the Christian Coalition, Eagle Forum, and Family Resource Council. President Bush has handed hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid to these groups and dismantled federal programs in science, reproductive rights and AIDS research to pay homage to the pseudo-science and quackery of the Christian right. Bush will, I suspect, turn out to be no more than a weak transition figure, our version of Otto von Bismarck -- who also used "values" to energize his base at the end of the 19th century and launched "Kulturkampf," the word from which we get culture wars, against Catholics and Jews. Bismarck's attacks, which split Germany and made the discrediting of whole segments of the society an acceptable part of the civil discourse, paved the way for the Nazis' more virulent racism and repression.

Other recent writers have coupled the terms "fascist" and "Christian," but they did so cautiously and with reserve. Hedges does so boldly and with little reservations. His experience with the ideology, propaganda and the vortex of violence in bombed-over bullet-ridden war zones around the world gives his writing a sense of urgency that is lacking in the writings of others.

I recommed both of Hedges' books, but warn readers that they may find it hard to sleep soundly when they are finished.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Confronting Lies about Church-State Separation

Fred Clarkson has posted a diary at the Daily Kos that quotes extensively from Brent Walker's speech on "Answering Ten Lies about Separation of Church and State." Daily Kos is a key part of the liberal wing of Democratic Party's netroots. It is one of the most popular sites on the Internet.

Thanks to Fred for turning the spotlight on the work of the Brent Walker and BJC for an audience that rarely finds much good to say about Baptists.

On Faith-Based Scientology

The State of New Mexico has reportedly distributed $300,000 of state tax-funds and $350,000 of federal tax-funds to an alternative treatment program for non-violent criminals. The treatment program is based on the teachings of science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard's "Scientology."

Here's a quote:

The program costs $55 per inmate per day. "There's a lot of use of sauna with the idea that you sweat out toxins in the system," said addiction expert Bill Miller, who reviewed the program at the request of the city of Albuquerque. "I don't know of any scientific basis for that. It wasn't clear to me what sort of scientific basis there was even for the conception of the program to begin with."

I thought Bill Richardson might make a viable candidate for President until I read this. Democrats have shown the same contempt for the First Amendment as Republicans. It was Bill Clinton who willingly signed "Charitable Choice" legislation that started us down this slippery slope.

Where it will end, nobody knows.

Blunders in Iraq

A national-security policy analyst writing in the Asia Times says President Bush is making a "three-front blunder" by adopting "a new strategy of fighting all three major Iraqi Arab political-military forces simultaneously."

Here's an excerpt about one of the three fronts:

One veteran military expert on Iraq, retired US Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor, said Bush's new policy is a "war against all" in Iraq and called it "a blunder of Hitlerian proportions".

Macgregor likened the policy of fighting all three Iraqi anti-occupation forces at once to Adolf Hitler's insistence on continuing a two-front war against the Soviet Union and the Allied powers during World War II, which is widely regarded as having ensured the defeat of Nazi Germany.

Macgregor is no stranger to military planning in Iraq. He led combat troops in destroying a brigade of Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard troops in the most significant tank battle of Desert Storm in February 1991 and prepared a proposal for a limited-duration attack on Baghdad at the request of a personal representative of then secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld in autumn 2001.

"It is ideology pushing violence to extremes," Macgregor said of the latest turn in Bush's Iraq policy. "They are trying to reverse the damage they have already done to themselves by having built up a Shi'ite state and army. But it is too late, and it is bound to be counterproductive."

US forces defeated the Mehdi Army of 2,000 men in Najaf in August 2004. Since then, however, Muqtada has emerged as the most popular and powerful figure in Baghdad and the Shi'ite south, muscling aside the previously dominant Badr Organization. The Mehdi Army is now believed to be many times as large as it was in 2004, and it has significant support within the Iraqi security forces.

US officers in Baghdad were telling reporters last September that they opposed doing battle with the Shi'ite militia. Colonel Joseph DiSalvo, commander of the 3rd Infantry Division in eastern Baghdad, told Tom Lasseter of McClatchy News Service in December that it would be all but impossible for the US military to defeat the Mehdi Army. "You'd have to have more manpower than is feasible," said DiSalvo.

The well-informed CNN Baghdad correspondent Michael Ware has just reiterated that warning about taking on the Mehdi Army. On Wolf Blitzer's The Situation Room last Wednesday, he said US troops can no longer crush the Mehdi Army. That army, Ware observed, "is much more than just a force, it's a movement. And it has mobilized the great disfranchised, impoverished Shi'ite population". The Sadrist "genie is out of the bottle", he warned, and "it can't be put back in".

Monday, January 29, 2007

Who Pays Attention to Whistle Blowers?

CQ has published a story asking "National Security Whistle Blowers: The 'Undead'?" Here's a quote:

During the Vietnam war, a single national security whistle blower, like Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon official who leaked a classified, sordid history of U.S. machinations in Vietnam, could cause an uproar, even play a role in bringing down an administration.

Today, with so many of them walking around Washington, they’re almost ho-hum.

And nothing seems to happen despite their airing their hair-raising tales.

None have had Ellsberg’s impact or notoriety. Most Americans have never heard of any of them.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Podcast: Mitch Randall Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 1-28-2007 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Mitch Randall (28 MB mp3). Mitch is the new pastor of NorthHaven Church in Norman, OK. NorthHaven is a new church affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Among other things, we talk about Mitch's experiences at Southwestern Seminary at the time when former Southwestern Seminary President Dr. Russell Dilday was terminated by the school's fundamentalist dominated board of trustees.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

America's Democracy Crumbling

U.S. Attorney General Roberto Gonzales' approval of secret renditions and torture has already undermined respect for both the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. Now he is determined to politicize and undermine confidence in our entire federal system of justice.

McClatchy Newspapers have published a story about "Gonzales appoints political loyalists into vacant U.S. attorneys slots." The vacant slots are being created by Gonzales' purging of independent-minded prosecutors.

The foundations of this administration's concept of rule-of-law are becoming crystal clear. It is the law of the jungle: might makes right. As long as this administration holds the mechanisms of political power, it can and it will do whatever it pleases.

This administration's contempt for the rule of law and it's cynical manipulation of the institutions of constitutional democracy are criminal.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Beware of Affluenza

Reuters has published a report about a new book by British Psychologist Oliver James entitled Affluenza. Here's a quote:

"We have become addicted to having rather than being and confusing our needs with our wants," he told Reuters in an interview to mark publication on Thursday of "Affluenza."

Globe-trotting from New York to Sydney, Singapore and Shanghai via Copenhagen, Moscow and Auckland, he concluded after interviewing 240 people that "selfish capitalism" has run riot.

Bigger houses, more cars, larger televisions, younger faces -- these goals are frenetically pursued by middle-class workaholics afflicted by "Affluenza."

"Studies in lots of different nations show that if you place high value on those things, you are more likely to suffer depression, anxiety, addictions and personality disorders," he said.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Long Road to War with Iran

Raw Story has posted an exclusive investigative report about "Escalation of US Iran Military Planning Part of a Six-Year Administration Push." The report makes it clear that preparations for war with Iran are not a response to some sudden increase of Iranian influence in Iraq. Here's a quote:

While Iran was named a part of President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" in 2002, efforts to ignite a confrontation with Iran date back long before the post-9/11 war on terror. Presently, the Administration is trumpeting claims that Iran is closer to a nuclear weapon than the CIA's own analysis shows and positing Iranian influence in Iraq's insurgency, but efforts to destabilize Iran have been conducted covertly for years, often using members of Congress or non-government actors in a way reminiscent of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal.

What You Should Know About Kids Online

AlterNet has published a helpful article entitled "What Adults Should Know About Kids Online Networking." Here's a quote:

There are sort of four properties and one key practice that are fundamentally different online. The key practice is that you have to write yourself into being. To a certain degree we do this offline as well, whereby you have a body that you're working with that you then accessorize to hell. Online you don't have a body, you don't have a presence, you don't have anything that sort of marks your existence.

There are four functions that are sort of the key architecture of online publics and key structures of mediated environments that are generally not part of the offline world. And those are persistence, searchability, replicability, and invisible audiences. Persistence -- what you say sticks around. Searchability -- my mother would have loved the ability to sort of magically scream into the ether to figure out where I was when I'd gone off to hang out with my friends. She couldn't, thank God. But today when kids are hanging out online because they've written [themselves] into being online, they become very searchable. Replicability -- you have a conversation with your friends, and this can be copied and pasted into your Live Journal and you get into a tiff. That creates an amazing amount of "uh ohs" when you add it to persistence. And finally, invisible audiences. In unmediated environment, you can look around and have an understanding of who can possibly overhear you. You adjust what you're saying to the reactions of those people. You figure out what is appropriate to say, you understand the social context. But when we're dealing with mediated environments, we have no way of gauging who might hear or see us, not only because we can't tell whose presence is lurking at the moment, but because of persistence and searchability.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

"Evangelical" Becomes a Dirty Word

USA Today has published a revealing article entitled "Can the 'E-word' Be Saved?"

After giving Baptists a bad name, fundamentalists have given Evangelicals a bad name.

Now no one claims to be an evangelical any more.

Perhaps if they had focused more on the "evangelion" (good news) and less on the "GOTV" (get-out-the-vote), the name "evangelical" would not be discredited.

Best Quote from Last Night

Like millions of other Americans, I watched the President give his 2007 State of the Union speech last night. I applaud him for his early emphasis on the historic significance of being introduced by the first female Speaker of the House.

The biggest surprise and the best quote of the evening was not in the President's speech. It was the unexpectedly straightforward criticism levelled against the Iraq war in Senator Jim Webb's Democratic Response to the President's SOTU. Here's the quote:
The President took us into this war recklessly. He disregarded warnings from the national security adviser during the first Gulf War, the chief of staff of the army, two former commanding generals of the Central Command, whose jurisdiction includes Iraq, the director of operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and many, many others with great integrity and long experience in national security affairs. We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable -- and predicted -- disarray that has followed.
Now we need congress to free our "hostage" nation from the curse of this misbegotten war.

Underwood's Response to Baptist Covenant Critics

Associated Baptist Press has published a story entitled "Politics Not Behind Plan to Unite Baptists, Underwood says." Here's a quote:

Clinton's involvement in the celebration is merely to provide a bigger platform to the effort to unite Baptists around a positive message, Underwood said.

"I think that when he described himself as a cheerleader, I think that's a good description," he said. "But I think beyond that you have two men who, as former presidents of the United States, have a platform that very few other people in the world have."

He continued: "I think that presidents Carter and Clinton have been very generous to share their platform with a wide array of Baptists and stand on that platform and declare the good news of Jesus Christ. And I think that's a cause for celebration."
Underwood was reponding to criticisms by Richard Land and Rick Scarborough who have tried to discredit the New Baptist Covenant by charicaturizing it is as a movement within the Democratic party rather than as a movement within the Kingdom of God.

Land and Scarborough were both leading organizers of efforts to take over the SBC. They were also leading organizers of efforts by the Religious Right to take over the GOP. The Religious Right has taken over the GOP. Land and Scarborough are both leading organizers of thinly disguised get-out-the-vote campaigns for Republican candidates. It is natural for Land and Scarborough to equate movements of Baptists with secular politics. They have been doing it for more than thirty years.

Carter has been working to unify Baptists for years. SBC leaders have often been participants in dialogue sessions with Carter discussing that goal in the past. Carter's desire for Baptist unity has nothing to do with secular politics.

Bill Clinton is a Baptist, a fact that SBC leaders readily acknowledged when they were calling for his church to exercise discipline over him for marital infidelity during his presidency.

Long before Clinton got involved, SBC leaders made it clear that they have no concern for Baptist unity. Instead, they incessantly deny the spiritual fidelity of any and all Baptists who do not share their goal of unifying the GOP around the "Christian Nationalist" political agenda of the Religious Right.

Clinton's presence at the Baptist Covenant meeting served to attract additional media attention to Carter's efforts on behalf of Baptist unity. Any time two former U.S. Presidents hold a press conference, it certainly attracts attention.

For the record, by my recollection, Hillary's name was not mentioned at the meeting. Clinton did offer to work on finding a prominent Baptist politician in the GOP to speak at the convocation next year. He seemed to think that that would not be a difficult task.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Scarborough's Folly

Kudo's to Ethics Daily for exposing the incendiary rhetoric and tone of Rick Scarborough's latest fund-raising letter. Scarborough, a former fundamentalist candidate for President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas -- now a full-time organizer for the Religious Right -- blasts the "Clinton-Carter Baptist Confab" as a means of raising funds for his Dominionist Vision America organization.

Initially an organizer of young pastors for the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, Scarborough once took credit on the front page of Jerry Falwell's Liberty Journal for organizing his Pearland Church politically to get former Republican U.S. Representative Steve Stockman elected to Congress. Scarborough's church was investigated by the I.R.S. for that boast.

Stockman, a one-term Congressman, had strong ties to militia movements and reportedly received advance notice by fax that the federal building in Oklahoma would be bombed. Stockman was defeated for his House seat by Conservative Democrat Nick Lampson, a Roman Catholic.

Lampson recently was elected to fill indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's redistricted seat. DeLay was a member of First Baptist Pearland when Scarborough pastored the church.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mid-America Weary of War

McClathchy Newspapers have published a story entitled "Opposition to Iraq War Simmers in America's Heartland." Here's a quote:

"You're not going to see anti-war demonstrations here," Jennison said. "That's not reflective of Kansas. It's not in their nature. But that doesn't mean they want their friends and relatives in the military sent back to Iraq."

Caroline McKnight, a hospital fundraiser in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, said the war has her fellow Republicans flummoxed.

"Those who are with him are barely speaking up, and everybody else is keeping their lips zipped for fear of making an enemy," said McKnight, who opposes Bush's troop-increase plan for Iraq.

"People are fit to be tied over all of this."
The story is about public sentiment in Kansas but it is also true in Oklahoma.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Baptists No Longer Dominated by Elephantine SBC

Today's Washington Post has a story about the New Baptist Covenant. Here's a quote:

The covenant would not be not a new denomination but a coalition of four historically black Baptist churches -- including the 7.5-million-member National Baptist Convention USA and the 2.5-million-member Progressive National Baptist Convention -- and several predominantly white Baptist groups, including the 1.4-million-member American Baptist Churches USA and the 500,000-member Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Together, they have more than 20 million members, outnumbering the SBC, which was not invited to the Atlanta meeting.

"The elephant is no longer in the room. There's been a convergence of the rest of the Baptists in North America," said the Rev. Daniel Vestal, national coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a group of present and former Southern Baptists unhappy with the SBC's course.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

War -- Not Surgical Strike -- Planned for Iran

Reuters is reporting that a former U.S. intelligence analyst has warned that the Bush administration is planning for war, not a surgical strike, against Iran. Here's a quote:

"I've seen some of the planning ... You're not talking about a surgical strike," said Wayne White, who was a top Middle East analyst for the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research until March 2005.

"You're talking about a war against Iran" that likely would destabilize the Middle East for years, White told the Middle East Policy Council, a Washington think tank.

Paige Patterson Strikes Again

Paige Patterson, President of Southwestern Seminary, has decided that women can no longer teach men at the Seminary. He has informed Hebrew Professor Dr. Sheri Klouda to look for another job. Here's a quote from Southwestern Trustee chair Van McClain:

Women have long taught at Southwestern outside the school of theology --in music and certain other areas. That continues. But under Dr. Patterson, the only woman still teaching in the school of theology is his wife, Dorothy. And she teaches women's studies courses that aren't attended by men, Dr. McClain said.

He added that precedent for women teaching theology in SBC seminaries is "extremely rare."

"I do not know of any women teaching in any of the SBC seminaries presently in the area of theology or biblical languages," Dr. McClain said. "In my estimation all of the seminaries have sought to be more consistent with most Southern Baptists' understanding of Scripture on the matter."
To his credit, SBC blogger Wade Burleson has written an extensive blog challenging Patterson for his overly restrictive view of the role of women. Here's a link to Burleson's blog.

A Breakthrough in Optical Processing

The holy grail in information processing is the ability to harness light waves for use in computers and fiber optics. Using light waves for information processing has proven elusive.

The Washington Post has published an article indicating that a team at the University of Rochester has demonstrated a means for harnessing light waves in a way that could prove useful for information processing. Here's a quote:

Optical image processing could allow automated comparisons of facial images from security cameras to images maintained by law enforcement officials. It could also become a valuable tool for scientists studying subtle changes in microbes or other kinds of cells over time.

Optical processing also is likely to ease the storage of holographic images directly on hardware and could lead to breakthroughs in cryptography, the science of making and breaking codes.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Krugman Predicts Two Years of "Rolling Constitutional Crisis"

Paul Krugman has written an alarming essay about the Bush administration's "Surging and Purging." He reveals that the administration, fearful of investigations into political corruption, has been purging the federal government of independent-minded prosecutors. Here's a quote:

Since the day it took power this administration has shown nothing but contempt for the normal principles of good government. For six years ethical problems and conflicts of interest have been the rule, not the exception.

For a long time the administration nonetheless seemed untouchable, protected both by Republican control of Congress and by its ability to justify anything and everything as necessary for the war on terror. Now, however, the investigations are closing in on the Oval Office. The latest news is that J. Steven Griles, the former deputy secretary of the Interior Department and the poster child for the administration's systematic policy of putting foxes in charge of henhouses, is finally facing possible indictment.

And the purge of U.S. attorneys looks like a pre-emptive strike against the gathering forces of justice.

Moyers on the Need for Media Reform

Bill Moyers recently gave a noteworthy speech entitled "Life on the Plantation" to the National Conference for Media that was held at Memphis, Tennessee. Here's a quote:

What does today's media system mean for the notion of the "informed public" cherished by democratic theory? Quite literally, it means that virtually everything the average person sees or hears outside of her own personal communications is determined by the interests of private, unaccountable executives and investors whose primary goal is increasing profits and raising the company's share price. More insidiously, this small group of elites determines what ordinary people do not see or hear. In-depth news coverage of anything, let alone of the problems people face day-to-day, is as scarce as sex, violence, and voyeurism are pervasive. Successful business model or not, by democratic standards, this is censorship of knowledge by monopolization of the means of information. In its current form -- which Barry Diller happily describes as oligopoly -- media growth has one clear consequence: there is more information and easier access to it, but it's more narrow in content and perspective, so that what we see from the couch is overwhelmingly a view from the top.

The pioneering communications scholar Murray Edelman wrote that "Opinions about public policy do not spring immaculately or automatically into people's minds; they are always placed there by the interpretations of those who can most consistently get their claims and manufactured cues publicized widely." For years the media marketplace for "opinions about public policy" has been dominated by a highly disciplined, thoroughly networked ideological "noise machine," to use David Brock's term. Permeated with slogans concocted by big corporations, their lobbyists, and their think-tank subsidiaries, public discourse has effectively changed how American values are perceived. Day after day, the ideals of fairness and liberty and mutual responsibility have been stripped of their essential dignity and meaning in people's lives. Day after day, the egalitarian creed of our Declaration of Independence is trampled underfoot by hired experts and sloganeers who speak of the "death tax," the "ownership society," the "culture of life," the "liberal assault" on God and family, "compassionate conservatism," "weak on terrorism," the "end of history," the "clash of civilizations," "no child left behind." They have even managed to turn the escalation of a failed war into a "surge" -- as if it were a current of electricity charging through a wire, instead of blood spurting from a soldier's ruptured veins. We have all the Orwellian filigree of a public sphere in which language conceals reality and the pursuit of personal gain and partisan power is wrapped in rhetoric that turns truth to lies and lies to truth.
This was an exceptionally good speech. Here's another quote:

The greatest challenge to the plantation mentality of the media giants is the innovation and expression made possible by the digital revolution. I may still prefer the newspaper for its investigative journalism and in-depth analysis, but we now have in our hands the means to tell a different story than big media tells. Our story. The other story of America that says free speech is not just corporate speech, that news is not just chattel in the field, living the bossman's story. This is the real gift of the digital revolution. The Internet, cell phones and digital cameras that can transmit images over the Internet, make possible a nation of story tellers . . . every citizen a Tom Paine. Let the man in the big house on Pennsylvania Avenue think that over. And the woman of the House on Capitol Hill. And the media moguls in their chalets at Sun Valley, gathered to review the plantation's assets and multiply them. Nail it to their door -- they no longer own the copyright to America's story -- it's not a top-down story anymore. Other folks are going to write the story from the ground up and the truth will be out, that the media plantation, like the cotton plantation of old, is not divinely sanctioned, and it's not the product of natural forces; the media system we have been living under was created behind closed doors, where the power brokers meet to divvy up the spoils.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Regarding Religious Authority

Beth Newman has written an interesting essay challenging Pat Robertson's claim to have heard the voice of God. Like her, I question whether the voice that Robertson is hearing is really the voice of God. Unlike her, however, I don't view Pat Robertson as an example of the dangers of "autonomous individualism."

Newman writes:

The testimony of the church universal is that we as individuals alone do not get to interpret the Bible or the voice of God. Certainly there are those who have believed otherwise. It is commonplace among Baptists to claim for the individual the right to interpret the Bible. Yet, if this is true, Pat Robertson's claim cannot be taken as wrong simply on its face.

The claim for the individual right to interpret the Bible is really more akin to gnosticism than Christianity. The Gnostics embraced a "spiritualized" faith that did not ultimately need the gathered community, the common Table, the preaching of the Word or the pools of baptism for the faithful living out of the gospel. Rather, they believed that they had unmediated access to God that bypassed God's revelation through Israel and the church.
Does anyone really see Pat Robertson -- the TV preacher with an audience of millions worldwide -- as a lonely, solitary figure on the religious landscape? Does Pat Robertson shirk the "gathered community, the common Table, the preaching of the Word or the pools of baptism"? Does Pat Robertson believe he has "unmediated access to God" that bypasses "God's revelation through Israel and the church"?

Exactly what is "autonomous individualism?" A straw man? A fill-in-the-blank with an adversary?

Roman Catholics have been filling in this blank for nearly five hundred years. It is anyone with the audacity to say:

Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
There are a lot more Baptists who think like Catholics than there used to be.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Serial "Event"

"Imagine if everything the Religious Right believes about the End Times is true, except the Rapture doesn't take them and the antichrist turns out to be their favorite politician."

That's a teaser from a serial novel being published online by Mick LaSalle, film critic for the San Francisco Chonicle.

Imagine an "event" like the "rapture" (episode one) and then learn that welfare queens, homosexuals, and liberals are the ones who disappear (episode two). Imagine that the Dome of the Rock in Israel gets blown away by an act of terrorism (episode three).

What would the world be like then? (stay tuned for more exciting episodes of "The Event.")

Centrist Party Being Organized

Atlantic Monthly has published an intriguing article about a new "centrist" political party called "Unity08" that is organizing online. The party plans to run a candidate for president who must choose a running mate from an opposition party. If a Democrat wins the party's nomination, he must choose a Republican running mate, and vice versa. Here's a quote:

Unity08's online convention will be the first party convention since 1952 to feature runoff balloting for a presidential candidate. The rules committee is still nailing down specifics, but the working plan calls for interested candidates -- including those who have been the subject of a draft -- to declare themselves at the outset of the convention. Once the balloting has winnowed the field to four, each of the remaining candidates will have to choose a running mate from the opposite party: Democrats must choose Republicans they can work with, and vice versa. Independents can choose someone from either party, but in the spirit of unity, they must also name a senior Cabinet officer from the remaining major party -- for instance, a Democratic running mate and a Republican secretary of state. Whoever is slated on the official Unity ticket will take on the Democratic and Republican tickets in November. "We're not in this to play around," Bailey vows. "We intend to elect the first truly bipartisan presidential ticket in American history."
The organizers of the party are former national political consultants that have grown alarmed at the polarization that has taken place in American politics over the last forty years. Here's a quote from Doug Baily, former political consultant for former President Gerald Ford:

"The two-party system has worked well for 200 years and can continue to do so," Bailey says, "but only when elections are fought over the middle. Our goal is to jolt the two parties into recognizing this, by drawing them into a fight over the middle rather than allowing them to keep maximizing the appeal to their bases at the extremes."
I will be keeping an eye on this. I hope their efforts succeed.

"Hollywood Bob" -- Spending God's Money

Thanks to Ethics Daily for calling attention to Mary Kinson Branson's new book, Spending God's Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry, former Director of Marketing at the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. Branson's book is an expose of the profligacy and waste at NAMB under former mission board President Robert Record -- earning him the nickname "Hollywood Bob." Here's a quote from Branson:

"Wouldn't it be great if we gradually stopped feeding the mega agency dinosaurs, possibly moving 1 percent of our giving each year from national to state/association/church level--until we reduced our national and international agencies to a reasonable size?" she asks. "I believe Southern Baptists could give much less than the current $190 million to national and international cooperative efforts and see no measurable difference in advancing the Kingdom. And if that money were redirected to effective ministries, we could see a positive difference."

Day of the Lone Woman

The New York Times has reported that census figures reveal that for the first time 51% of American women are living without a spouse.

This is a surprising statistic even when you discover that women as young as 16 years old are included in the statistic.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Who'll Be Watching You?

Do you know how many ways every breath you take and every move you make is being recorded?

Much more than you think.

The Washington Post has published an informative and revealing article about the variety of ways you are under electronic surveillance.

Homeschool Movement Profiled

Thanks to Bob Allen at Ethics Daily for his report about "PBS Profiles Homeschool Movement." Investigative reporters certainly need to pay more attention to this phenomenon. Here's a quote from Allen's article:

One reason, according to homeschool families interviewed by PBS, is secular schools' teaching of evolution.

"I believe in the story of Genesis," said Rena Sumbera. "That's what I've been taught, that's what I believe and that's what I my kids to believe."

"We are Christian," added Sumbera, who schools her two children at home in an upscale Houston suburb. "That was not introduced in the school, will never be introduced into the school, and it was something that was important to us."

Another is studies that show students educated at home routinely outperform their counterparts in public schools.

. . .

Stanford Professor Robert Reich said he is skeptical of studies showing homeschooling to be superior, because most are based on research done by homeschool advocacy groups.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Investors Weighing Risks of Military Strike on Iran

Raw Story is reporting that ING Global Financial Services has issued a couple memos authored by Charles Robinson -- ING's Chief Economist for Emerging Europe, the Middle East and Africa -- about the market risks involved in a military strike on Iran. Here's a quote:

In his Jan. 15 update, Robertson points to a political reason that could make the assault more likely - personnel changes in the Bush administration may have sidelined opponents of attacking Iran.

Preisdent Bush recently removed General John Abizaid as commander of US forces in the Middle East and John Negroponte as Director of National Intelligence, both of whom have said attacking Iran is not a priority or the right move at this time. The deployment of Patriot missile batteries, highlighted in President Bush's recent White House speech on America's Iraq policy, also pointed to a need to defend against Iranian missiles.

The Consequences of the Global Energy Race

TomDispatch has posted a worrisome essay by Michael Klare about "The Global Energy Race and Its Consequences." He suggests the Pentagon is becoming a "global oil-protection service." Here's a quote that provides an explanation:

A growing number of energy experts believe that the global output of "conventional" (liquid) crude oil will soon reach a peak -- perhaps as early as 2010 or 2015 -- and then begin an irreversible decline. If this proves to be the case, no amount of inputs from Canadian tar sands, shale oil, or other "unconventional" sources will prevent a catastrophic liquid-fuel shortage in a decade or so, producing widespread economic trauma. The global supply of other primary fuels, including natural gas, coal, and uranium is not expected to contract as rapidly, but all of these materials are finite, and will eventually become scarce.

Evangelicals Joining Scientists to Fight Global Warming

Associated Press is reporting that "Faith and Science Join Forces" to fight global warming. Here are some quotes:

"Whether God created the Earth in a millisecond or whether it evolved over billions of years, the issue we agree on is that it needs to be cared for today," said Rich Cizik, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 churches.

Eric Chivian, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, agreed, saying: "Scientists and evangelicals have discovered that we share a deeply felt common concern and sense of urgency about threats to life on Earth and that we must speak with one voice to protect it."

Brian Kaylor on Richard Land

Last week I wrote that Richard Land had a more moderate tone to his remarks about the New Baptist Covenant than other SBC leaders. I was wrong.

Brian Kaylor, communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri, sets the record straight. In an essay entitled, "Richard Land Doesn't Get Baptist 'Covenant'", Kaylor examines the very intemperate tone of Richard Land's remarks. Here's his conclusion:

Richard Land seems quite upset and pessimistic about this new gathering of Baptists. Perhaps he is worried that the SBC's monopoly on the Baptist image will be threatened. Or perhaps he is worried that Baptists may start focusing more on working together for spiritual goals instead of merely supporting the Republican Party. Regardless of the reason, Land's recent statements prove that he just doesn't get it.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Young Southern Baptists Criticize Elders

Associated Baptist Press has published some comments by young Southern Baptist leaders that challenge the severely critical reaction that SBC denominational leaders have had toward the New Baptist Covenant group. Here's an excerpt:

Wade Burleson, a leader in the network of reform-minded conservatives who elected Page as president, said Chapman's and Page's criticisms are uncalled-for.

While not familiar with Covenant and it's leaders, Burleson said, "it would be difficult for me to criticize any evangelical Christian movement whose stated goals are to live out the gospel through doing justice and loving mercy."

"There comes a time when we as Southern Baptists should simply remain silent if we cannot say anything supportive of other Baptist attempts at addressing pressing social and cultural issues in a prophetic manner," Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor, told Associated Baptist Press. "To provide a public defense of our convention's record, while at the same time criticizing others, seems to be acting in a manner contrary to the spirit of our Lord and the good of His kingdom at large. I wish nothing but success for all Baptists who seek to live out the gospel for a world in need of a Savior."

Ben Cole, another leader of the young reformers and a blogger at, also criticized his SBC colleagues.

"I am not surprised to see a response movement beginning to develop to provide balance to the fundamentalist tire-slashers who have managed to arrest the microphone of public witness among Southern Baptists," Cole said in a statement to ABP. "Neither am I surprised to read the prejudicial criticisms already being lobbed at Carter and Clinton by some of my fundamentalist brethren."

"Southern Baptists had better be careful when it comes to criticizing efforts to unite people of faith who seek social justice for the poor and oppressed," said Cole, a Southern Baptist pastor in Arlington, Texas "The role of the Levite or the priest in Christ's parable of the Good Samaritan is not one to be preferred. It could be that men whom the Southern Baptist fundamentalist elites regard as undesirable are the very ones who gain heaven's blessing in their efforts to bind up the wounds of those in our society who have fallen among thieves."

Cole said he shares the Covenant group's desire for more Baptist voices to be heard.

"The Southern Baptist Convention has gained a great deal of media attention in the last quarter-century, and our spokesmen have not always reflected with fairness the diversity of Baptist identity on issues of political or social importance," he said.
The reaction of young SBCers should be a hopeful sign for David Goatley pictured above as he spoke at the New Baptist Covenant press conference. Goatley is Executive Secretary of Lott Carey Foreign Missions and President of the North American Baptist Fellowship. He has been working diligently to bring all Baptists in North America together in a regional grouping of the Baptist World Alliance.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Is the President Surging into Iran?

Robert Parry at Consortium News has posted an alarming essay entitled "The U.S.-Iran-Iraq-Israeli-Syrian War" that indicates that President Bush is elevating troops levels in Iraq to prepare for war with Iran. Here's his conclusion:

While some observers believe Israel or the Bush administration may be leaking details of the plans as a way to frighten Iran into accepting international controls on its nuclear program, other sources indicate that the preparations for a wider Middle Eastern war are very serious and moving very quickly.

Without doubt, Bush's actions in the past two months -- reaffirming his determination to succeed in Iraq and warning about a possible regional explosion if he fails -- suggest that his future course is an escalation of the conflict, not some "graceful exit."

New Baptist Covenant Healing Racial Wounds

Greg Warner at Associated Baptist Press has written an outstanding story about "'Baptist Covenant' offers chance to heal racial wounds." Here's a quote from Bill Leonard:

"Probably not since 1845 has this kind of effort been made to bring together Baptists black and white . . . and of diverse theological and regional backgrounds," said Bill Leonard, a Baptist historian who is dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School. "And that means it is terribly historic."
Pictured above is William Shaw, President of the National Baptist Convention USA, as he was saying, "We will be addressing issues in non-partisan ways but in prophetic ways."

Robert Parham at Ethics Daily identifies New Baptist Covenanters as "Golden Rule Baptists" and has written a helpful essay about how they should address issues prophetically. Here's quote:

Golden Rule Baptists recognize that neither party is thoroughly moral nor completely immoral; that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.

Golden Rule Baptists favor democracy as a way to advance a moral agenda, not the theocracy embedded in fundamentalism.

Golden Rule Baptists know the need to speak with humility about applied Christianity, instead of dogmatic absolutism about the will of God in the fine print of legislation.

If I'm right about Golden Rule Baptists, who see the limits of and value to faith in politics, then we let the bullets of partisanship fly by and charge forward with the clear conscience in a commitment to the prophetic witness.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

SBC Leaders Respond to the New Baptist Covenant

In the picture above, all eyes are on former President Clinton as T. DeWitt Smith, President of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, recounts how impressed his son was to learn that his father would be meeting with the man that he considers "the first African-American president."

Southern Baptist leaders, however, found little humorous about the meeting of New Baptist Covenant leaders. Morris Chapman, President of the Southern Baptist Convention, attacked the credibility of former President Carter saying:
"He has been one of the most vocal critics of Southern Baptists, using 'fundamentalist' as a pejorative and drawing a caustic comparison between Ayatollah Khomeini's rise to power in Iran and the resurgence of conservative leadership being elected in the SBC," Chapman wrote to Baptist Press.

Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Seminary, launched a broadside against Baptists associating with Bill Clinton:
Come to think of it, President Clinton's involvement might be just what the Baptist left needs. After all, for years they've been trying to convince Baptist churches that they represent "traditional Baptist" beliefs . . . They've been a lot of things, but never slick. Perhaps they needed all along someone to teach them how to triangulate more skillfully. Is Jesus the only way to the Father? Is an unborn fetus a baby worthy of protection? It depends on what the meaning of the word "is" is.

Richard Land, President of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, had a more moderate tone to his comments. He said:

Land cautioned that the North American Baptist Fellowship will have to work hard to make its January 2008 meeting not be seen as "overly political" during a presidential election year.

"Had I been invited I could have come, but I couldn't come to this meeting because I was meeting with Jews and Muslims and Christians searching for common ground," Land said. "It's easy to write a covenant and sign it and easy to hold a meeting. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating thereof. We'll see who represents Baptist views."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

New Baptist Covenant Making News

Several news agencies are reporting about the New Baptist Covenant press conference.

I'll post links to the stories in this blog.

Religion News Service
Dallas Morning News
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram
Houston Chronicle

New Baptist Covenant Gains Momentum

Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton held a press conference with about 80 Baptist leaders to announce the Celebration and Convocation that will be held Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Atlanta.

Marv Knox and Greg Warner at Associated Baptist Press have published an outstanding review of the press conference.

Key leadership for organizing the Covenant group has been exerted by Bill Underwood, President of Mercer University. Underwood (with the purple tie) is pictured above in a picture taken by Billy Howard. Key leadership for organizing the Convocation has been exerted by Jimmy Allen, former President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Allen (at the podium) is pictured below in a picture taken by yours truly. Also in this picture (to the right of Jimmy Carter) is Thelma Chambers-Young of Holy Temple Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. She was representing a Baptist Women's organization.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Carter and Clinton to Meet with Baptist Covenanters

Associated Baptist Press is reporting that former President Bill Clinton has agreed to join former President Jimmy Carter to encourage the North American Baptist Covenant group. Here's the lead paragraphs:

The nation's two living Baptist ex-presidents are calling for a historic convocation in Atlanta next year, intended to improve the "negative" image of Baptists in North America and to unite the majority of Baptists into a loose-knit network to address social ills.

President Jimmy Carter and President Bill Clinton will announce the 2008 convocation in a Jan. 9 press conference in Atlanta, following a meeting of about 80 diverse Baptist leaders at the Carter Presidential Center.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Baptist Covenant Group Gaining Traction

Last April a group of Baptist Convention leaders got together and signed the North American Baptist Covenant.

Today Mercer University is hosting the annual meeting of the North American Baptist Fellowship.

Tomorrow Jimmy Carter will host another meeting of Baptist Convention leaders.

Exciting things are happening in moderate, mainstream Baptist life.

I'll post an update about Carter's meeting sometime tomorrow.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

On Dominionist Infiltration

Chris Hedges has written an alarming essay about Dominionist Christians infiltrating our military and police departments. Hedge's title is "America's Holy Warriors." Here's his lead paragraph:

The drive by the Christian right to take control of military chaplaincies, which now sees radical Christians holding roughly 50 percent of chaplaincy appointments in the armed services and service academies, is part of a much larger effort to politicize the military and law enforcement. This effort signals the final and perhaps most deadly stage in the long campaign by the radical Christian right to dismantle America's open society and build a theocratic state. A successful politicization of the military would signal the end of our democracy.
All I would add to what Hedges has written is a mention of Bill Gothard's Character Cities initiative and its focus on influencing police departments. Here's a link to a blog I wrote a year ago on "Whatever became of Bill Gothard?"

Friday, January 05, 2007

Christian Reconstructionism is not the Baptist Way

Jeph Holloway, Professor of Religion at East Texas Baptist University, has posted a valuable essay on the Baptist Standard website about Christian Reconstructionism. Here's a quote:

"The Bible does not allow the imposition of top-down bureaucratic tyranny in the name of Christ," North insists. Personal regeneration and the work of the Spirit, Reconstructionists say, are what enable sinful humanity to live in keeping with the law of God. But qualifying words like "minority" and "pervasively" indicate Reconstructionists are up to something. "Let's get this straight; Christian Reconstructionism depends on majority rule," North says. "It depends on overwhelming acceptance of the biblical covenant, perhaps as high as the 80 percent range of adult acceptance." Reconstructionists believe that with such an overwhelming majority of Christians populating a nation, "God's laws should (then) be passed and enforced according to the rules of the democratic process." In this way, Christians can invoke an important biblical principle -- "that civil government is a legitimate means of evangelism."

So, in spite of what Reconstructionists say about the need for personal regeneration and the work of the Holy Spirit, that really is only the case for about 80 percent of a given population. Evidently, fulfillment of the law of God in the lives of the remaining 20 percent can be achieved through the coercive power of the state; and Reconstructionists do mean coercive. One of the main features of biblical law they seem eager to promote is a widening application of the death penalty. They do not flinch one bit when the Old Testament applies the death penalty not simply to murder, but to homosexuality, violation of the Sabbath, the rebellious son, adultery, sorcery and any number of violations of law and order. One must expect their disappointment when in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul does not invoke Leviticus 20:11 and call for the death of the offending church member. When Deuteronomy 13:1-11 insists that any within the covenant community who advocate apostasy shall be put to death, we perhaps get the full sense of what Reconstructionists mean when they speak of "evangelism through law." Baptists have seen this sort of "evangelism" before. The very origins of Baptist history are a rejection of this strategy. Does Christian Reconstructionism run counter to historic Baptist distinctives? Indeed it does.

Put an End to Clergy Sex Abuse

Ethics Daily has posted yet another outrageous story about a Baptist pastor with a long history of sexually abusing church members.

Denominational leaders clearly need to take action to address this issue. SBC leaders, however, have been ignoring the problem:

Christa Brown, an advocate for survivors of sex abuse by Southern Baptist clergy, said the case points to the need for a central office in the Southern Baptist Convention where people like Canida could report people like Myers and expect someone to look into it.

Brown and other members of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) asked leaders of the SBC to establish such an independent review board and to adopt a "zero tolerance" policy toward churches that shield suspected sex offenders in a letter hand-delivered to SBC headquarters Sept. 26. SBC leaders have yet to officially respond.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Shiites in the Crosshairs

Thanks to Thabet Swaiss for calling my attention to the foreboding essay in the Times Online about "An Unholy Alliance Threatening Catastrophe." Here's a quote:

Most people think that the bungled invasion of Iraq, climaxing last week with the bungled execution-assassination of Saddam Hussein, will go down in history as the ultimate symbol of the Bush Administration?s hubris and incompetence. They should think again. With the dawning of a new year, the Bush-Blair partnership is working on an even more horrendous foreign policy disaster.

What now seems to be in preparation at the White House, with the usual unquestioning support from Downing Street, is a Middle Eastern equivalent of the Second World War. The trigger for this all-embracing war would be the formation of a previously unthinkable alliance between America, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Britain, to confront Iran and the rise of the power of Shia Islam.

Parham Weighs in Against "Human Sacrifice"

Followng the lead of Keith Obermann, Robert Parham, Executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has weighed in firmly against the pretense of using the term "sacrifice" to describe a proposed "surge" of troops in Iraq. Here's a quote from Parham:

We need to oppose now and loudly Bush's surge and disingenuous call for sacrifice.

While we need the church to serve as our society's moral surge protector with clear statements by church leaders against the war, we also need individual Christians to reframe the debate.

When the president and his pro-war Neoconservatives rationalize the troop surge, think "human sacrifice." Every time you hear surge, think human sacrifice. Every time you hear some pro-war Christian advocate the surge, talk about the surge as human sacrifice. At every opportunity, link surge and human sacrifice.

Let's speak up against human sacrifice.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Keith Obermann on Presidential Sacrifice

Keith Obermann at MSNBC has delivered and unflinching critique of the President's policy in Iraq. Here's a quote:

Our policy in Iraq has been criticized for being indescribable, for being inscrutable, for being ineffable.

But it is all too easily understood now.

First we sent Americans to their deaths for your lie, Mr. Bush.

Now we are sending them to their deaths for your ego.

If what is reported is true -- if your decision is made and the "sacrifice" is ordered -- take a page instead from the man at whose funeral you so eloquently spoke this morning -- Gerald Ford:

Put pragmatism and the healing of a nation ahead of some kind of misguided vision.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Moyers on the "Axis" of Corrupt Stewardship

Bill Moyers has written an astute essay about the negligent stewardship of an "axis of corruption" in American politics under the title "A Parable for Our Times." Here's a quote:

Political dynasties fall from negligent stewardship. One thinks of the upward redistribution called "tax relief"; of the Iraq invasion sold as critical to the "War on Terror"; of rising poverty, inequality, crime, debt, and foreclosure as America spews its bounty on war and a military so muscle-bound it is like Gulliver. It would be hard to imagine a more catastrophic failure of stewardship, certainly in the biblical sense of helping the poor and allocating resources for the health of society. Once upon a time these errant stewards boasted of restoring a culture of integrity to politics. They became instead an axis of corruption, joining corporate power to political ideology to religious self-righteousness.