Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Texas Republican Opposes Iran War

Texas Republican Ron Paul has voiced some sound words regarding the build-up for war with Iran:

It's a bad idea.

There's no need for it.

There's great danger in doing it.

America is against it, and Congress should be.

The United Nations is against it.

The Russians, the Chinese, the Indians, and the Pakistanis are against it.

The whole world is against it.

Our allies are against it.

Our enemies are against it.

The Arabs are against it.

The Europeans are against it.

The Muslims are against it.

We don't need to do this.

The threat is overblown.

The plan is an hysterical reaction to a problem that does not yet exist.

Hysteria is never a good basis for foreign policy.

Don't we ever learn?

Have we already forgotten Iraq?

The plan defies common sense.

If it's carried out, the Middle East, and possibly the world, will explode.

Oil will soar to over $100 a barrel, and gasoline will be over $5 a gallon.

Despite what some think, it won't serve the interests of Israel.

Besides – it's illegal.

It's unconstitutional.

And you have no moral authority to do it.

We don't need it.

We don't want it.

So, Mr. President, don't do it.

Don't bomb Iran!

Some in Military Opposing Iran Attack

Robert Parry of Consortium News has published an insightful essay about "Bush Faces Opposition on Iran Attack." Here's an excerpt:

It also is conventional wisdom among American neoconservatives – as well as many Israelis – that Bush may be the only U.S. leader who would countenance a preemptive military strike against Iran.

So, if the bombing raid is going to happen, these neocons believe it must occur within the next two years, preferably as soon as possible. They want Bush to have the maximum remaining time in office to manage any consequences from the attack.

But Bush and the neocons may have been taken aback by the intensity of opposition from an unexpected front, the U.S. military. To order the nation into another war against the counsel of top commanders would put Bush in dangerous political territory.

If the new war with Iran went badly and American interests were further damaged, Bush might finally face a broad consensus for his impeachment and removal from office.

The Sanity and Humanity of Jimmy Carter

Nation Magazine has published an editorial in defense of Jimmy Carter at a time when his bold and frank voice on behalf of the marginalized and dispossessed is being severely criticized. Here's the conclusion from "The Sanity of Jimmy Carter:"

At a time when there is too little honesty or boldness in our politics, Jimmy Carter speaks his mind, with sanity and humanity. His ideas deserve discussion and debate, not vituperation and ad hominem attack.

On Baptists and Freedom

Associated Baptist Press has published a report about the National Mainstream Baptist Convocation last week.

The title, "Mainstream Baptist Leaders Credit Freedom with Keeping them Baptist" is an accurate summary of the themes presented under the title "Why I am Still a Baptist."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Falwell Cheerleading for War with Iran

Ethics Daily reports that "Falwell Newspaper Says War with Iran Prophecied in Bible." As ususal, he sees the pieces falling into place that will lead to the battle of Armageddon.

Nothing could be crazier than basing foreign policy on literal interpretations of apocalyptic passages of scripture. That is a sure fire way to usher in an apocalypse.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Nation At Risk

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) has published a dire report about federal debt that is "spiraling out of control."

Here's a link to its January 2007 update of "The Nation's Long Term Fiscal Outlook" with the headline: Federal Fiscal Policy Remains Unstable.

This is an eight page pdf file. You'll need a free copy of Adobe Reader to view it.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Israel Preparing to Bomb Iran

The Telegraph UK has published a report that "Israel Seeks All Clear for Iran Air Strike."

Israel needs an "all clear" from the U.S. to be able to safely fly over Iraq to bomb Iran.

If Israel attacks Iran, some U.S. Generals may not be forced to resign rather than obey an order that they cannot conscientiously fulfill. Today's UK Times Online is reporting that "U.S. Generals "will quit" if Bush orders Iran attack."

Crooks and Liars has the video and a transcript of Seymour Hersh revealing some of the reasons why John Negroponte has resigned the National Intelligence directorship. Here's a link to Hersch's full New Yorker magazine essay about "The Redirection" of the Bush administration's Middle East policy.

Meanwhile, the L.A Times is reporting that the "U.N. calls U.S. data on Iran's Nuclear Aims Unreliable."

It does not look like anything will stop this administration from precipitating another war in the Middle East.

I predict that the leaders of America's war denomination -- the Southern Baptist Convention -- will be at the forefront of those cheering this administration's efforts to align the forces that "Left Behind" theologians believe will lead to Armageddon.

Council for National Policy Eyes 2008 Election

The Council for National Policy, a secretive and influential right-wing political coalition, recently met to discuss who the Religious Right should support for President in 2008. David Kirkpatrick at the New York Times has published what he could learn about their secret deliberations.

Kirkpatrick leaves the impression that these leaders, which include many of the takeover leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, are undecided about who they will support. I suspect that their loyalties are divided between Brownback and Huckabee.

Huckabee has been posturing as a moderate, centrist candidate. The fact that Huckabee is firmly connected with the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC and that Tom Delay has already endorsed him on CNN, should give ample indication of who can be expected to emerge as their most blessed candidate.

Mike Huckabee has been invited to speak at the New Baptist Covenant meeting that former U.S. President's Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton helped publicize. Southern Baptists have loudly criticized this religious meeting to celebrate Baptist unity as being a covert rally to elect Hillary Clinton as President. Hillary has not been invited to speak. She's not a Baptist. The meeting will not be a political rally for either party. It will be a religious celebration.

Huckabee has been invited to speak because he is a Baptist preacher. If Huckabee does not participate, it will not be for lack of an invitation.

Colson's Attorney in Iowa Shifting Blame

Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, has already lost Chuck Colson's case for a government funded faith-based prison wing in Iowa. The conservative Republican District Judge ruled strongly against them. Now that the case is under appeal, Picarello is trying to shift blame from Prison Fellowship should the appellate court uphold the decision. Here is what he is quoted as saying in today's Washington Post:

"We think Prison Fellowship did it right," Picarello said. "If at the end of the day the court agrees with them and not us, the way to resolve it is to make some clear rules about how to do it right, rather than banish and punish us."
Picarello's contention that the rules were not clear is duplicitous. The rules have been clear for more than 200 years. The First Amendment of the Constution of the United States forbids the government from establishing any religion. It has never been legal for the government to fund religious proselytization.

Religion is not a tool that government can use to maintain social control. Neither are prisoners tools that religions can use to secure government funding to extend their influence and outreach.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

On Religious Liberty

I'm live blogging from the fourth annual Mainstream Baptist Convocation. This year the meeting is in Dallas.

Yesterday's higlights were Tyrone Pitts, General Secretary of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, explaining why he is an "American-African Baptist" and Bill Underwood, President of Mercer University, addressing his commitment to Baptist Principles. Both of them were outstanding.

The most electrifying moments came when Pitts, Underwood, and Jimmy Allen spoke about their hopes and dreams for the New Baptist Covenant meeting that will be held in Atlanta on January 30-February 1, 2008. Dr. Clyde Glazener, pastor of Gambrell Street Baptist Church in Fort Worth and former President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, admitted outloud that he was so enthusiastic about what they were saying that he felt like jumping up and down. I never did actually see him kick up his heels, though.

David Currie, Executive Director of Texas Baptists Committed, Joe Lewis, pastor of Second Baptist Church of Petersburg, Virginia and soon to be President of the Baptist General Association of Virginia, and I also spoke. Here's a link to an earlier version of the speech that I gave. (I'll make some modifications and get it updated to the speech I actually gave later today or tomorrow.)

When all is said and done, hearing songwriter-musician George Gagliardi and Cynthia Clauson sing together was most memorable.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Was 2006 a Year that Changed the World?

Steve Fraser, at Tom Dispatch, has published an essay that suggests that it was.

Severe Poverty Rising in U.S.

The Bradenton Herald has reported that the "U.S. economy is leaving record numbers in severe poverty." The 2005 census reveals that 16 million Americans -- a 32 year high -- are living in extreme poverty.

Extreme poverty is defined as a family of four living on less than $9,903 a year.

Looks like the Bush administration's tax breaks didn't trickle down to them.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Richard Land as Grand Inquisitor

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, notorious for his authorization of the use of torture in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, has deputized the Southern Baptist Convention to help it identify violations of the First Amendment. That gives Richard Land, head of the SBC's political action committee, a status somewhat equivalent to that which Tomas de Torquemada held in the Spanish Inquisition.

Kudos to Brent Walker and Don Byrd of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty for calling attention to the threat that this poses to separation of church and state.

Patterson Says Oral Contraceptives Are Abortive

Little by little, with painstaking slowness, the Fundamentalists controlling the Southern Baptist Convention are revealing the full implications of the 2000 addition to the Baptist Faith and Message that declares Baptists "should speak on behalf of the unborn and contend for the sanctity of all human life from conception to natural death." Previously, only Roman Catholics held such a rigidly defined position.

If Southern Baptists knew that they were voting to condemn the use of birth control pills and keep people like Terri Schiavo on artificial life support, they would not have accepted these changes in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message so passively.

If fundamentalists had an ounce of integrity, they would have been forthright in explaining their beliefs and convictions and would have spelled out their implications before the convention voted to affirm the 2000 BF&M. They knew that few Southern Baptists are opposed to birth control and that most Southern Baptists who plan their parenthood use oral contraceptives. So, they have been unveiling the agenda that they hid within the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message in piecemeal fashion.

The latest piece to emerge is a statement by Dorothy Patterson, wife of takeover architect and Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson, that the "function of the pill is not contraceptive but abortive."

Patterson also said, "taking an oral contraceptive is certainly not equal to purposely getting an abortion." This statement is uncharacteristically timid and reserved. Fundamentalists like Dorothy Patterson and her husband pride themselves on speaking boldly and plainly. They do not hesistate in the least to declare that aborting a fertilized ovum is equivalent to murder.

Why is she afraid to use the same kind of incendiary rhetoric when describing the use of oral contraceptives? Could it be that Southern Baptists, like many Roman Catholics, would balk at equating the use of birth control pills with murder?

Southern Baptists like Dorothy Patterson know that if people realized that they want to bestow eight-cell blastocysts with a sanctity equal to that of fully developed infants, they might be more likely to reconsider opposing stem cell research and first trimester abortions.

You can't have it both ways Dorothy. Either taking an oral contraceptive is equal to purposely getting an abortion, or it is not. If all abortions are murder, all use of oral contraceptives is murder.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ethics Daily Videocasting

Ethics Daily has begun posting videocasts along with news stories.

Yesterday's story about Christa Brown trying to get the SBC's Executive Committee to address clergy sex abuse features a video of Christa Brown being interviewed in front of SBC's headquarters in Nashville.

Keep Looking for Domestic Terrorists

Today's Salt Lake Tribune reports that an affidavit has been filed in a Utah court that alleges that co-conspirators in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City are still at large.

The chief allegation in this affidavit -- that a high ranking FBI official was involved -- seems highly unlikely.

That other co-conspirators do remain at-large is not a stretch.

The FBI or the Department of Homeland Security needs to re-open this investigation and examine whatever leads it has that might lead to the arrest of other conspirators.

Heads Up on Home Values

Home values have been dropping this past year. Economists and market analysts are busy trying to determine the effect that further devaluations could have on our economy.

Analysts that discuss the recent laxity in controls over the mortgage lending industry are making some dire predictions. Here's a quote from Joseph R. Mason and Joshua Rosner's report "How Resilient are Mortgage Backed Securities to Collateralize Debt Obligation Market Disruptions?" (36 page .pdf):

High yields in mortgage-backed securities in the past several years led to a massive infusion of collateralized debt obligation "hot money" into the mortgage-backed security sector in an environment similar to that of the thrift crisis of the late 1980s. Like the thrift crisis and its aftermath, therefore, recent events not only threaten these institutions, but also threaten the U.S. consumer and taxpayer as well.

Kaylor Challenges Scarborough

Brian Kaylor, author of "For God's Sake Shut Up!", offers a needed critique of Rick Scarborough's response to Stephen Colbert. Scarborough and a sizeable number of SBC fundamentalists have a penchant for questioning the faith of anyone and everyone who dares to disagree with them.

Here's a quote from Kaylor:

When Jim Wallis appeared on "The Daily Show" in January of 2005, he stated that comedian Jon Stewart was similar to the Hebrew prophets, since he used humor and telling the truth to make his points. It seems that Colbert has followed in this unconventional but important prophetic role. His critique of Scarborough suggests as much.

So I will pray for Stephen Colbert, that he may continue to influence our culture and provide a much needed critique of religious leaders when they start preaching "truthiness" instead of the Truth.

And I will pray for Rich Scarborough that he will stop falsely attacking the faith of others and will start being a more positive influence for our culture. In essence, I will pray that Scarborough will be more like Colbert.
I agree with Kaylor that Colbert exerts a more positive influence on our culture than Scarborough, but I will pray for both Colbert and Scarborough to be more like Jesus. He's the only person any Christian should strive to emulate.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Parham Responds to Limbaugh

Robert Parham, Executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has posted a response to Rush Limbaugh's attack on board member Joe Phelps and others who signed a pastoral letter to Walmart asking the company to practice the Golden Rule. Here's a quote:

Explicitly attacking Christians appears to be a new target for him [Limbaugh]. Attacking them discloses how little Limbaugh knows about authentic Christianity and that truth appears not to matter for him.

When he defines Christianity in terms of gay marriage, abortion and stem-cell research, he ignores the much larger Christian community that is concerned about these and other issues. He overlooks the growing consensus that faith calls Christians to care for the environment, to advocate for an accessible and affordable health-care system for all, to ensure that the working poor have a living wage, to work for the end of war in Iraq and to treat immigrants kindly.

He apparently is unfamiliar with the Hebrew prophets and with Jesus, who kept their distance from political power and kept their prophetic voice. Similarly, he offers no appreciation for the needed wall of separation that protects both the church and the state. Instead he distorts the facts about Christian faith in the public square.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Post Religious-Right Era?

Jima Wallis has an article in Time Magazine announcing "The Religious Right's Era is Over."

While there are hopeful signs and Wallis is right about there being a new "dialogue" rather than a "monologue" by the Religious Right regarding politics in the public square, Wallis is premature in his diagnosis predicting the demise of the Religious Right.

The Religious Right has spent more than 30 years organizing politically at the grassroots level. They get out the vote consistently.

The progressive religious community is not organized politically and every attempt to get them organized is frustrated by premature obituaries from people like Wallis.

In politics, all that matters is the number of voters that turn out for an election. Had moderate Baptists not been so slow in grasping that fact, the Southern Baptist Convention would not be controlled by fundamentalists. Texas Baptists and Virginia Baptists understood this fact. That is why they are still led by moderate, Mainstream Baptists.

Friday, February 16, 2007

CREW files FEC Complaint against Coburn

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a non-profit that I support, has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) against Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn. The complaint charges Coburn with failing to file legally required reports regarding the sources of contributions to his Senate campaign.

Tom Coburn is my U. S. Senator. I am identified as a party to this complaint.

Here is a link to the CREW press release. Here is a link to the legal file (.pdf) of the complaint against Coburn.

The Federal Election Campaign Act requires candidate committees to file reports identifying contributors who donate more than $200. The FEC also requires campaign committees to file, within 48 hours of receipt, the identity of any contributor who gives $1,000 or more within 20 days of an election ("48-hour reports"). Coburn for Senate failed to file, within 20 days of 2004 primary and general elections, 202 48-hour reports that totaled of $349,100 in contributions that exceeded $1,000.

Political candidates need to know that they must play by the rules. Candidates who violate the rules put candidates who abide by the law at a disadvantage during elections. It is high time that politicians be held to the same strict standards of accountability that are required of all other Americans.

Southern Baptists Predisposed to Accept Lies

Editor and Publisher has posted some quotations from the interviews in the PBS Frontline documentary that aired Tuesday evening. In that documentary Carl Bernstein was asked to compare the lying in the Nixon administration with the lying in the present administration. Here's what he had to say:

I think what we're talking about with the Bush administration is a far different matter in which disinformation, misinformation and unwillingness to tell the truth -- a willingness to lie both in the Oval Office, in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in the office of the vice president, the vice president himself -- is something that I have never witnessed before on this scale.

The lying in the Nixon White House had most often to do with covering up Watergate, with the Nixon administration's illegal activities. Here, in this presidency, there is an unwillingness to be truthful, both contextually and in terms of basic facts that ought to be of great concern to people of all ideologies. ...

This president has a record of dishonesty and obfuscation that is Nixonian in character in its willingness to manipulate the press, to manipulate the truth. We have gone to war on the basis of misinformation, disinformation and knowing lies from top to bottom.

That is an astonishing fact. That's what this story is about: the willingness of the president and the vice president and the people around them to try to undermine people who have effectively opposed them by telling the truth. It happened with [Sen.] John McCain in South Carolina. It happened with [Sen.] John Kerry. It's happened with [Sen.] Max Cleland in Georgia. It's happened with many other people. That's the real story, and that's the story that [the press] should have been writing. ...

It's very difficult, as a reporter, to get across that when you say, "This is a presidency of great dishonesty," that this is not a matter of opinion. This is demonstrable fact. If you go back and look at the president's statements, you look at the statements of the vice president, you look at the statements of Condoleezza Rice, you go through the record, you look at what [counterterrorism expert] Richard Clarke has written, you look at what we know -- it's demonstrable.
As I read this I was struck by how easily the names could be changed to apply to the Fundamentalist takeover leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention. Then the central paragraph would read something like this:
That is an astonishing fact. That's what this story is about: the willingness of the SBC president and the vice president and the people around them to try to undermine people who have effectively opposed them by telling the truth. It happened with Winfred Moore of Texas. It's happened with Richard Jackson of Arizona. It happened to Daniel Vestal. It's happened with many other people. That's the real story, and that's the story that [Baptist Press] was trying to write until their editors were terminated.
When 16 million people grow accustomed to hearing their leading evangelists, mega-church preachers and denominational executives spreading blatant lies about other ministers of the gospel, they are predisposed to accept lies from politicians. That is probably why, at this late date in this administration's tenure, Southern Baptists continue to be this President's strongest supporters.

Whatever Became of Susan McDougal

Truth Dig has posted a video and a transcript of an interview with "Susan McDougal: The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk."

Susan McDougal was imprisoned in an attempt to get her to fabricate evidence against former president Bill Clinton in the Whitewater Scandal. The scandal is that it was no scandal, just a failed business investment.

The self-righteous religious and political ideologues that put her in jail and kept her there for years will have to face their maker someday. Then they will have to explain why they never even blinked an eye at the crooked business practices that W engaged in before being elected to political office.

Common Ground With Richard Land

Ethics Daily has published a helpful essay about "Romney Candidacy Spotlights 'Mormon Question'." The essay provides one of those rares quote from Richard Land, the head of the Southern Baptist Convention's political action committee, with which I can agree:

"Governor Romney's being a Mormon shouldn't be a deal breaker for most people of faith," Land told the Austin American-Statesman. "After all, we're electing a commander-in-chief, not a theologian-in-chief."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Christians Should Not Strip Uniform Regulations

The Air Force has stripped a female Air Force drill sergeant of her status for posing in Playboy magazine. She was demoted from staff sergeant to senior airman -- not for posing nude, but for posing fully clothed -- in her Air Force uniform.

She violated the Air Force's uniform regulations. It is not appropriate for military personnel to display the uniform and give the appearance that the United States government promotes erotic photo layouts.

There are other places that it is not appropriate for military personnel to display their uniform. It is not appropriate for military personnel to display the uniform to give the appearance that the United States government promotes any religion.

We expect the Air Force to apply the same standard to the military personnel who appeared in uniform in the Christian Embassy's promotional video.

Paige Patterson Exposed

Southern Baptist blogger Ben Cole has posted a couple blogs exposing "The defenseless and inequitable employment practices of Leighton Paige Patterson" -- with documentation.

Here's a link to part one. Here's a link to part two.

Here's an excerpt from part two:

For more than a year now, Wade Burleson and I have been told that we were making “unfounded claims.” We’ve been accused of rumor and falsehood, slander and lies. We’ve been told to put up or shut up, to release documentation or stop protesting.

Today, the slow but steady release of documentation begins, and I’m willing to make a few predictions:

1. Those who have called for documentation will attempt to shame Wade Burleson and me for providing it.

2. People will argue that I have acted without charity for Claude Thomas and his family by releasing this information, but they will forget that this would never have happened if Paige Patterson wasn’t permitted to throw Southwestern Seminary into a vortex of liability.

3. Southwestern Seminary trustees will either be forced to deal with the Klouda matter by paying her a hefty settlement, issuing an apology to her, and formally censuring Paige Patterson, or they will circle their wagons and watch the seminary suffer repeated embarrassment, enrollment declines, and loss of faculty morale.

4. Paige Patterson will either announce his retirement from Southwestern Seminary, or he will make one last ditch effort to hold onto the reins of his power through an attempt to change the subject, most likely by attempting to coerce Dwight McKissic’s resignation from the board of trustees. If Patterson thinks his head is on the chopping block, he will try to make sure his neck isn’t the only one that’s severed.

5. Documentation regarding Patterson’s attempts to manipulate the International Mission Board will begin to surface, and Wade Burleson will be exonerated for having made so bold a claim.
It is sad to see Paige continue run what was once a fine seminary into the ground. When are the trustees going to prove worthy of their trust and remove Patterson?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Faith and Evolution

Joan Roughgarden, professor of biological sciences and of geophysics at Stanford University, has written a valuable book on “Evolution and Christian Faith.”

The daughter of Episcopal missionaries, Joan is a devout Christian who views evolutionary biology and Christian faith as complementary. She unapologetically couples lucid explanations of the facts of evolution with thoughtful exegesis of scripture. Her repudiation of the “selfish-gene” social Darwinism espoused by biologists like Richard Dawkins is unyielding. “Intelligent Design” also receives a succinct and devastating critique in this book.

Here’s my favorite quote:

For me the position that God created the world, and continues to create it, through natural processes is not a compromise. God created those very processes as part of nature, so why should he jump outside of them? The Bible offers no grounds to believe that God would rather work in ways inexplicable as natural processes, even though he could do so if he wished. Just the opposite – jumping outside natural processes would imply something inadequate in the ability of natural processes to carry out his design. When God saw his creation, he said “it was good.” (Gen. 1:12) You can’t be consistent with the Bible on this point and yet also say that natural processes are inadequate to achieve God’s design for his creation. [p. 35]
Roughgarden provides additional insights from the biological sciences that are pertinent to ethical discussions regarding gender identity, sexuality, conception and cloning. Moreover, she does it all in an inexpensive, easy to read, pocket size book.

This book is worthy of space on every thoughtful Christian’s bookshelf.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Rob Boston Rolls the Log in Richard Land's Eye

Rob Boston, Assistant Director of Communications for Americans United, refers Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention's political action committee, to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in his blog today. He addresses Land's critique of Jimmy Carter's work to unify Baptists around a New Baptist Covenant (Scroll down the page at this link) by saying:

So please, Dr. Land, spare us the lamentations over possible political work by Jimmy Carter’s new group. There isn’t any evidence that Carter plans such activity, but even if there were, you’d be in no position to call him on it. We advise you to take some advice from the holy book you claim so much to treasure, specifically Matthew 7:3: "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?"

Stop obsessing over the political mote in Carter’s eye and work on getting the log out of your own.
Like the prophet who came down from the hills of Tekoa, Boston does not mince words when denouncing hypcrisy. He says:

Land’s hypocrisy is so audacious as to be breath-taking. Under Land and his fundamentalist cronies, the SBC has more or less become a Religious Right organization and an arm of the Republican Party. Land is so intertwined with the GOP that he is openly quoted in the media on internal Republican Party politics and handicaps candidates as if he were a ward boss.
Preach on Brother Boston. You'll get an "Amen!" here.

Moyers on the Meaning of Democracy

Tom Paine has published a transcript of Bill Moyers speech entitled "Discovering What Democracy Means" that was delivered to the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Here's a quote:

Jesus would not be crucified today. The prophets would not be stoned. Socrates would not drink the hemlock. They would instead be banned from the Sunday talk shows and op-ed pages by the sentries of establishment thinking who guard against dissent with the one weapon of mass destruction most cleverly designed to obliterate democracy—the rubber stamp.

A stock broker who makes bad picks doesn’t last too long. A baseball player in an extended slump gets traded. A worker made redundant by cheaper labor abroad or by a new machine—well, she’s done for, too. But four years after the invasion of Iraq—the greatest blunder in foreign policy since Vietnam—the public apologists and advocates of the war flourish in the media, while the costs of their delusions accrue in body counts and lost treasure. A public that detests the war is relegated to the bleachers, fated to watch from afar the playing out by political and media elites of a game that has been rigged.

Yet the salvation of democracy requires a public aroused by the knowledge of what is being done to them in their name. Here is the crisis of the times as I see it: We talk about problems, issues, policies, but we don’t talk about what democracy means—what it bestows on us—the revolutionary idea that it isn’t just about the means of governance but the means of dignifying people so they become fully free to claim their moral and political agency. "I believe in Democracy because it releases the energies of every human being." So spoke Woodrow Wilson, the namesake of your foundation and, I would suggest, still your guiding spirit.

Monday, February 12, 2007

On the Culture of Waste at NAMB

Ethics Daily has posted a story about yesterday's "Religious Talk" radio interview with Mary Kinney Branson under the title "Author Describes Culture of Waste at Baptist Agency."

It provides a very good summary of what Branson revealed on my radio program. Here's a link to a podcast of the program (35 mb mp3).

There's a lot more information in her book: Spending God's Money.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Branson's Law

Mary Kinney Branson's groundbreaking new book begins and ends with a statement that every Christian should learn about stewardship. She says,

"It all boils down to a simple formula: The extent of misuse is directly proportionate to the distance between the giver and the spender."
Mary is much too humble to call it this, but I think it should be called Branson's law. She has spent years agonizing and analyzing what goes wrong when Christian institutions become so large and so unaccountable to the people who fund them, that they lose touch with the higher purposes that they were intended to serve.

Branson is not talking about geographical distance between the giver and the spender. She's not talking about organizational distance or social distance either. She is talking about the most fundamental distance possible in a religious community -- spiritual distance.

The spiritual distance is enormous between the humble widows who give their last mites for what they believe is God's work and the arrogant denominational executives or wanna-be mega-church preachers who spend their money to "brand" their names in the Christian marketplace.

Spending God's Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry ought to be in the library of every church and on the bookshelf in every Christian home.

Every church and every Christian has a responsibility to make sure that the resources they give for God's work are spent wisely.

Podcast: Mary Kinney Branson Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 2-11-07 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Mary Kinney Branson author of the new book "Spending God's Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry." Click here to download the 35 MB mp3 file. We talk about the unconscionable profligacy and waste of God's money that she saw during her seventeen years as an Editing Director at the Home Mission Board and a Director of Marketing at the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.

On Euthanizing Israel

Ray McGovern, former CIA analyst, has written an alarming essay that likens the war plans of this administration to the work of Dr. Jack Kevorkian.

He thinks we will be "Helping Israel Die" if either Israel or the U.S. bombs Iran.

Actually, I think Kevorkian has more compassion and he certainly exercises more skill when he assists his clients in killing themselves.

This administration's tactics do fit well with the nuclear holocaust predicted in the Middle East by Armageddon theologians and "Left Behind" novels.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Can Congress Stop a War With Iran?

John Dean, former White House Counsel during the Nixon Administration, has posted an essay about the conclusion of a bi-partisan group of Constitutional scholars.

They conclude that Congress does have power under the Constitution to stop this administration from launching a war with Iran.

Alberto to be Investigated

California Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, Chair of the House Judiciary Sub-Committee on Commercial and Administrative Law, plans to hold hearings into the legality of the Bush administration's firing of seven U.S. attorneys.

The king is beginning to lose his divine rights again.

Friday, February 09, 2007

On Alberto's coup d'etat

Salon Magazine has published an enlightening essay by Joe Conason on "Alberto Gonzalez's coup d'etat."

Alberto has got to be the most despotic Attorney General in U.S. history.

For a National Moratorium on the Death Penalty

David Gushee says it is Time for a National Moratorium on the Death Penalty in an Op-Ed for Associated Baptist Press.

I'll second that motion.

There was a time when I naively believed that those who served within our system of justice would be too conscientious to leave any stone unturned when making a case for a capital offense. I spent five years serving as a police officer. Where I served, standards of proof were very high in capital cases. Then I moved to Oklahoma.

Early on, after moving to Oklahoma, people began to tell me stories about the work of Oklahoma City District Attorney Bob Macy and Oklahoma City Police Crime Lab Director Joyce Gilchrist. I ignored them. I could not believe that other people within the justice system would go along with what was supposedly going on. Too many people would have to be complicit -- either in their actions or in their silence -- for them to put so many innocent people on death row.

Thankfully, competent DNA testing at the FBI exonerated some of their hapless victims. No one knows how many perished before the FBI began reviewing their cases. For more information see the book Death and Justice by former LAPD Detective Mark Furman.

I doubt that the criminal justice system in Oklahoma is unique. It is application of the death penalty that is flawed.

The strongest case for the application of the death penalty is that of Timothy McVeigh, but even the logic of that sentence is flawed. Timothy McVeigh certainly deserved to die for his crimes, but he took valuable information about his co-conspirators with him to his grave. Now that he has been executed, the FBI admits that it failed to adequately follow-up on leads about others who were involved in the plot to bomb the Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Iran Equals Iraq Redux

Vanity Fair is reporting that by the end of the month there will be enough American air and naval forces in the Persian Gult to launch a strike against Iran. Here's a quote from an article in the current issue:
According to Sam Gardiner, the most telling sign that a decision to bomb has already been made was the October deployment order of minesweepers to the Persian Gulf, presumably to counter any attempt by Iran to blockade the Strait of Hormuz. "These have to be towed to the Gulf," Gardiner explains. "They are really small ships, the size of cabin cruisers, made of fiberglass and wood. And towing them to the Gulf can take three to four weeks."

Another serious development is the growing role of the U.S. Strategic Command (StratCom), which oversees nuclear weapons, missile defense, and protection against weapons of mass destruction. Bush has directed StratCom to draw up plans for a massive strike against Iran, at a time when CentCom has had its hands full overseeing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Shifting to StratCom indicates that they are talking about a really punishing air-force and naval air attack [on Iran]," says Lang.

Moreover, he continues, Bush can count on the military to carry out such a mission even without congressional authorization. "If they write a plan like that and the president issues an execute order, the forces will execute it. He's got the power to do that as commander-in-chief. We set that up during the Cold War. It may, after the fact, be considered illegal, or an impeachable offense, but if he orders them to do it, they will do it."

Lang also notes that the recent appointment of a naval officer, Admiral William Fallon, to the top post at CentCom may be another indication that Bush intends to bomb Iran. "It makes very little sense that a person with this background should be appointed to be theater commander in a theater in which two essentially 'ground' wars are being fought, unless it is intended to conduct yet another war which will be different in character," he wrote in his blog. "The employment of Admiral Fallon suggests that they are thinking about something that is not a ground campaign."

Pat Robertson Threatens Bodybuilder

PilotOnline reports that Pat Robertson has been accused of threatening the lives of a bodybuilder and his family. The bodybuilder is suing Robertson.

Pat must be addicted to hyperbole.

Queen Pelosi?

House Republicans are bristling over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's request that a larger military plane be used to transport her around than was used to transport Dennis Hastert when he was the Speaker.

They've got a point. When are our elected leaders going to stop expecting to be treated like they were royalty?

On Defragging and Rebooting the Church

Associated Baptist Press is reporting that Leonard Sweet spoke at Truett Seminary and said:

"I think God is defragging and rebooting the church. I think what he is doing is getting us back to the original operating system of Christianity."
Sweet has provided an apt metaphor for the reconfigurations that are taking place within Christianity in the West.

If I quoted all that is valuable in what Sweet had to say, I would be quoting the entire speech.

I hope the Seminary plans to post a transcript or podcast of Sweet's address. I'm looking for it and will post a link if I find one.

Meanwhile, be sure to read the full ABP story.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Must See TV

Kiri Davis is a teenage filmmaker. Her 8 minute high school documentary has re-ignited a powerful debate over race in America. Here is video to a brief news report about her documentary.

This is must see TV. It's worth watching even if you have a slow internet connection and have to wait a while for it to download. You'll also have to endure a thirty second commercial about fireplaces at the beginning.

Another Boondoggle in Iraq

Reuters is reporting that there is no accounting for where $8.8 million of $12 million in Iraqi money that U.S. government was overseeing has gone.

$4 million of it was sent into Iraq in plane loads of cash. We have records of how much it weighed -- 363 tons -- but we have no record of where it went.

Republicans gave an excuse heard every day in America's bankruptcy courts about much smaller sums of money. They said we are doing the best we could do under the circumstances.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Cecil Staton As Carpetbagger

Ethics Daily has posted another story about ultra-conservative publisher Cecil Staton. This time he is casting votes in favor of vouchers for private and religious schools.

Cecil reminds me of a carpetbagger. Carpetbaggers are people who move into an area to exploit it but don't intend to stay.

Cecil Staton moved into moderate Baptist circles, he published our books on Baptists upholding separation of church and state, he took Cooperative Baptist Fellowship money to help produce many of his books, he has pocketed a handsome profit off of us, and now he is moving on. I doubt he ever intended to stay.

It is time for Mainstream Baptists to move on from Cecil Staton and from Smyth & Helwys.

I'm not buying anything produced by Smyth & Helwys that I can find for sale in the used book market.

Amazon Books has a good search service for used books and so does Alibris.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Podcast: Ashley McNeil Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 2-4-07 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Ashley McNeil with Lott Carey International. We talk about the "New Baptist Covenant" and the work of Lott Carey International.

On Media Manipulation

Crooks and Liars has posted a report in which Rupert Murdock, owner of News Corp (FOX News), admits that his media companies have tried to shape the agenda of the war in Iraq.

This is a prime example for why every American should read Jeff Chester's book Digital Destiny.

Democracies depend upon citizens making decisions upon accurate information that recognizes input from as many perspectives as possible. Democracies are undermined when propaganda, delivered under the slogan of "fair and balanced," skews the news to serve the political and ideological objectives of media kingpins.

Celebrating Baptist History

Historic First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina will host a Baptist History Celebration August 1-3, 2007.

Here's a link for further information.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Worse than a Thief

I got an e-mail from my Congressman yesterday. U.S. Senator Tom Coburn was trying to explain to me why he voted against raising the minimum wage. He was one of only three Senators to vote against the bill.

The following statement within brackets proved to be incorrect. See comment below. I stand by the rest of my blog. My apologies to Senator Coburn. His serving his patients pro bono is commendable. [ This is the same man who complained that he could not afford to live on his government salary and needed to continue practicing medicine while in office.]

What does a medical doctor know about living on minimum wage?

Over the past thirty years, Coburn has been the beneficiary of a system that granted him one of the most disproportionately inflated salaries in the history of the world. Fees for services in his profession have increased so dramatically that many businesses can no longer afford to provide medical benefits for their employees. Since the last time the minimum wage was raised, literally tens of millions more Americans have been forced to live without health insurance.

Does anyone on minimum wage make enough to pay for a single trip to the hospital?

Coburn thinks most of the people working on minimum wage are teenagers. He says he's saving jobs by keeping wages low. It's obvious that he's never seen the greeters at Walmart.

In reality, Tom Coburn has become a spokesperson for a fraud that Wall Street and Main Street have been perpetuating on America for decades.

It is a gross distortion of the truth to say that raising the minimum wage costs jobs. Raising the minimum wage does increase the rate of inflation. That means goods and services will cost more as businesses adjust their prices and fees to cover their costs.

Figuring out how much to raise prices and fees to balance the books makes work for business owners and managers.

Those business owners and managers who oppose raising the minimum wage are really telling you that they are either lazy or incompetent or both. They would rather rob honest working men and women of the real value of their time and energy than spend the time and energy necessary to make sure that their least paid employees are fairly compensated.

The last time the minimum wage was raised, I was pastoring a church with a large daycare center and private school. We had dozens of employees who were working at minimum wage or close to it. Yes, some of them were teenagers. Most, however, were middle aged and elderly women who had worked at or near the prevailing minimum wage rate for decades.

I worked long hours with others to make sure that we raised rates high enough to cover their salary increases -- while still providing affordable daycare for the lower socio-economic neighborhood that we were serving. Inasmuch as I was doing it for the least compensated among my brothers and sisters, I never regretted a single minute of the time and effort that was required to balance the books whenever there was a step increase in the minimum wage.

In my eyes, to rob those good people, or to diminish their lives in even the slightest way, would have made me worse than a thief.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Accusations, Accusations at the IMB

T Thomas, Coordinator for the CBF Oklahoma, sent me this response to news reports about investigations into allegations of impropriety at the SBC's International Mission Board. Here's T's advice:

As a Southern Baptist foreign missionary for nearly 18 years and then Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's (CBF) first missionary for an additional 8 years, my perspective on the latest "rhubarb" at the International Mission Board (IMB) may be a bit unique.

A fellow Oklahoman, Wade Burleson, continues to make headlines as his accusations are dealt with at the IMB. While you might think that someone who now works “for those other Baptists” would rejoice in all of these squabbles, I am in fact deeply saddened.

All of my missionary friends (IMB and CBF) are dedicated and self-sacrificing missionaries who need our on-going support and prayer. By continuing to use the IMB as a punching bag or perhaps even a political football ("Who wants to be the next IMB president today?"), we are only weakening the Baptist and Christian witness abroad.

Frankly the Good News of Jesus-Christ is a bit difficult to hear over all of the accusations and counter-accusations coming from the IMB's home office. Perhaps the current leaders of Southern Baptist missions could cease firing at each other and get fired up again about the Gospel and task of Global Evangelism?

This would certainly be a change and it might even bring a smile to God's face! (Psalm 133)

Americans United Befriends Oklahoma Appeal

Americans United has filed a "Friend-of-the-Court Brief" with the Appeals Court handling the Haskell County Oklahoma Ten Commandments case. Here's a quote from AU's press release:

The AU brief demonstrates that the Commandments have become a flashpoint for Religious Right activism in recent years and that the Decalogue's display on public property in recent times is often part of a Religious Right-led crusade to assert Christian dominance.

"Against this historical backdrop, contemporary displays of the Ten Commandments convey to the public a different message than displays erected 50, 40, 30, or even 20 years ago," asserts Americans United. "After a decade-long campaign to reclaim America from religious heterogeneity, the Christian Right has transformed the Commandments into a potent symbol of Christian supremacy and ergo, a symbol of the inferior status of non-Christians in the political and legal spheres."
Here's a link to previous blogs I have written about this case.

The Mainstream Baptist Network has also filed a "friend-of-the-court brief" in this case. That brief was prepared by Rick Tepker, Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma. I'll post a link to that brief when it becomes available.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Shameful Losses

Ethics Daily has published a valuable essay by Pam Durso about "The Migration of Baptist Women to Other Denominations." Anyone who has spent any time in Mainstream Baptist circles knows several gifted and spiritually mature women who had to leave Baptist circles to answer their calling from God.

These losses to Baptist life and work are shameful and unnecessary. Thanks to Pam for telling some of their stories.