Monday, April 30, 2007

Whither Turkey?


United Press International (UPI) is reporting that Turkey is dangerously close to another military coup.

The Turkish military ardently defends the country's secular constitution. Three times in the last 35 years the military has overthrown democratically elected governments for being too religious.

The two leading candidates for the presidency of Turkey are moderate Islamists who believe in democracy. The military and others say they are worried that such leaders will work to repeal the secular principles of the country's constitution.

The problems in Turkey serve to demonstrate the wisdom of the framers of the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment to our constitution has two clauses. One separates the government from religion. The second secures the free exercise of religion. Turkey seems to have the first clause without the second.

Turkish secularists are offended that the wife of one of the presidential candidates wears a headscarf as a symbol of her faith. By way of contrast, the second clause of the U.S. Constitution assures that candidates for political office, as well as their wives, are free to wear symbols of their personal faith. In fact, many of them frequently campaign by wearing their faith prominently on their sleeves.

The U.S. Constution also prohibits forcing people to wear symbols of faith and/or treating those of other faiths or of no faith as second class citizens. If that is what the Turkish military is worried about, they need to address the disease instead of the symptoms.

On Defining "Centrist" Baptists


Robert Parham is suggesting that "centrist" Baptists should call themselves "goodwill" Baptists.

Every adjective used to describe moderate, mainstream Baptists has its own strengths and weaknesses.

The adjective "goodwill" is helpful, but "goodwill" is already associated with a well known charitable institution.

Personally, I would prefer that we call ourselves "New Covenant" Baptists, with "Golden Rule" Baptists as an additional modifer.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Power to Bless

The Religion News Service has published a story about the ten religious leaders that GOP candidates are wooing. Fourth on the list of most powerful religious leaders is Richard Land. Here's a quote:

Enormously respected and eminently quotable, Oxford-educated Richard Land plays political guru for the nation’s 16 million Southern Baptists. With the early campaign’s focus on religion and divorces, Land, 60, has been outspoken in declaring what is acceptable in a candidate (Mormonism) and what is not (infidelity).
Land's influence on Republican Party politics is exceeded only by that of Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, broadcaster James Dobson and Michael Farris, head of the Home School Legal Defense Association.

Prior to the ascendance of Richard Land, I know of no instance when a Southern Baptist denominational executive was ever mentioned as someone with enough power to influence the outcome of a political candidacy.

Before the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC, Baptist denominational executives were all staunch advocates for separation of church and state. Since the takeover, they have all been endowed with the power to bless political candidates -- GOP only, of course.

Friday, April 27, 2007

On the SBC's Scandalous Leadership

There was a time when extremists like Wiley Drake were at the fringe of life in the Southern Baptist Convention. That was before the Fundamentalists took over the SBC. Today Wiley Drake is Second Vice President of the SBC.

Still, it should be scandalous for the SBC to elect a leader who is publicly on record as supporting the assassination of abortion doctors.

Ethics Daily has posted a story about a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center that discusses Wiley Drake's signature on a "Declaration of Support for James Kopp" who was convicted of assassinating an abortion doctor as he was talking to his wife and children in the family's kitchen.

On Voluntary Sacrifice

The Dallas Morning News ran a story about the controversy over Paige Patterson's instructions for students and faculty to rush any gunman who entered Southwestern Seminary's campus.

Shortly after the Virginia Tech shooting, Patterson made some spontaneous remarks which became the subject of a critique by Ethics Daily. I responded with a blog that supported the thrust of what Patterson was suggesting.

Later, Patterson issued a statement explaining his instructions. Sam Hodges, reporter for the Dallas Morning News asked me to comment on Patterson's statement.

This is one of those increasingly rare occasions when my remarks were accurately reported. Here's a quote:

"Paige rambled on a lot more than I would have on this issue," Dr. Prescott said after reviewing Dr. Patterson's statement. "He also speaks as though he is giving orders to subordinates, as if he had a right to demand the supreme sacrifice. He has no authority to order people to sacrifice their lives."

Dr. Prescott added, "I do think it wise for persons who are willing to voluntarily sacrifice themselves to be prepared to respond aggressively if they find themselves confronted by a gunman like the one at Virginia Tech."

Thursday, April 26, 2007

On Conflicting Truth Claims

Jim Evans has written a thoughtful essay on The Bible, Science and Homosexuality. Here's a quote:

Science offers the best hope for finding a way to end the war. If science could some how definitively prove that homosexuality occurs naturally in humans, it would force us to re-think our religious prohibitions. After all, behaviors that are somehow part of the natural order cannot be regarded as matters of choice and are therefore beyond judgment. It would be like condemning someone for being left handed.

And without a religious prohibition the fuel for the political engine would evaporate. Politicians would be forced to find some other culture war issue to scare us with.

Unfortunately, there's one problem with relying on science. Many people of faith will never accept a scientific view that contradicts their biblical understanding about homosexuality. They would be forced to find other scientists--faith-based scientists--to refute the findings. Or at least that's what happens with global warming and evolution.
My chief complaint with those who refuse to accept the claims that the sciences make for truth is that they are willing to accept the technological benefits that derive from the truths they denounce as false.

The veracity of evolutionary science is demonstrated almost on a daily basis by technological breakthroughs in medical science, pharmacology, and genetics. Most fundamentalists readily accept the benefits of this research, yet they refuse to acknowledge this as evidence for scientific truth claims.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Reagan's Assistant General Counsel Speaks Out

Mikey Weinstein, formerly Assistant General Counsel for Ronald Reagan and founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, has posted an essay at OpEd News about his struggle to combat religious discrimination in the U.S. military. Weinstein filed the suit against the Air Force Academy that is still in litigation.

Here's a quote:

We can expect violence. The head cleric of St. David's Episcopal Church of Topeka, Kansas came out to support me; five hours later his church was burned to the ground. A synagogue where I spoke was desecrated. My home has been targeted by feces and beer bottles; our tires slashed; dead animals have twice been placed on our front porch. The death threats come in ceaselessly. It is not convenient and safe to confront and defy those in power; I know that but I refuse to back down. They may try to harm me but I will not go quietly; I will be a Jew from the Warsaw Ghetto, not Berlin. I will be an American from Lexington and Concord, not an American from Halliburton and Blackwater.

Inside Higher Ed Features Louisiana College

Inside Higher Ed, a news source for academics, posted a story today featuring some of the changes at Louisiana College since the Fundamentalist takeover of the campus. Here's a quote:

The college says that since the fall of 2005, 15 members of the faculty have left voluntarily, 10 have retired and none have been terminated. A comparison of different versions of the college’s online faculty directory, however, suggests that 33 of 74 instructors have left since January 2005. An ongoing count by Bennett Strange, an associate professor of communication arts who has been affiliated with the college for some 53 years and is retiring at the end of this term, puts the tally at 49 who have left, for various reasons, out of 71 faculty members since the 2004-5 academic year — over two-thirds of the total who were there just before Aguillard became president.

Not all of the faculty members who left necessarily did so as a result of Aguillard's presidency, his interpretation of the college's mission, or any new policies. "I'm pretty sure the vast majority of those left for the same reasons I did," said R. Thomas Howell, who was the chair of history and political science at Louisiana, where he taught for 40 years, and now serves as history chair at William Jewell College, in Missouri. Like him, a vocal contingent of former professors and mainstream Baptists has been monitoring the college and decrying what they see as an unwelcome move toward a more conservative orientation that has placed basic academic freedoms in jeopardy.

"Education has been replaced by indoctrination," Howell said. "They've made it very clear that you will do nothing but advocate the fundamentalist position, or you’re not welcome there."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and Religious Liberty


Rev. Carolyn Staley, Minister of Education at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, has written a reflection about a conversation that Bill Clinton had with Boris Yeltsin that encouraged Yeltsin to respect religious liberty and freedom of conscience in the Russia. With her permission, I post it here in its entirety:

A reflection on Boris Yeltsin, Bill Clinton and religious liberty

By Carolyn Staley

I have just read the news about the death today of Boris Yeltsin. It brought to mind a conversation that Bill Clinton related to me about a meeting he had with Yeltsin in 1994 -- a meeting during which he shared his faith with Yeltsin.

I was in Russia in January 1994 when President Clinton's mother, Virgina Clinton Kelley, died. Sarah Caldwell, director of the Boston Opera, and guest conductor the Sverdlovsk Symphony in Yeltsin's hometown of Ekatirnberg, Russia, had invited me to join her for a trip to Russia where I was soprano soloist for the Verdi "Requiem Mass." It was in Ekatirnberg that I received a faxed letter from President and Mrs. Clinton telling me of Virginia's death just after CNN had carried the story. I called the president from Russia the minute I heard the news, and we planned the music for the funeral together.

About a week later, the president traveled to Russia, keeping his long-standing commitment to President Yeltsin.

Sarah Caldwell took a chamber orchestra to Moscow to perform for Clinton at Spaso House, the home of the American attaché (then Thomas Pickerington), and I sang a group of American hymns with them to honor Clinton's visit and his mother's memory.

After the concert, Clinton asked me to please come by the hotel where his staff was staying in Moscow, so that we might visit for a while about his mother's funeral after an official trip to Yeltsin's dacha for dinner earlier that evening.

Clinton's trip to Russia came after the beginnings of efforts at democracy in Russia. Yeltsin had embraced the idea of helping the Russian people live in a free and democratic society, and wanted to learn all he could from Clinton about how democracy works. Clinton had traveled to Russia to continue the important gains in this new relationship of freedom.

Clinton told me that Yeltsin asked him many questions about how a democratic society worked. Clinton even offered to have Yeltsin come to the United States and visit him for several days in the White House, so that Clinton could serve as a mentor to Yeltsin as he learned how to govern in a democratic way.

When I met with Clinton, he shared with me an account from dinner that evening as he and Yeltsin continued to explore democracy and what it meant to live in freedom. Clinton told me the amazing story of sharing his faith with Yeltsin that night. He said that during dinner, Yeltsin leaned over to him and asked, "You're a Christian, aren't you?"

"Yes," President Clinton answered. "My faith is the most important thing in my life."

"Well, I have to do something about all these Christians coming to Russia. They are ruining our country. Everyone is becoming a new Christian, a born-again Christian, and they are being rebaptized and putting crosses around their necks. It is ruining our country's culture."

President Clinton told me he looked at Yeltsin and said, "Democracy doesn't work that way. Either you're free or you're not. You can't have it both ways. You need to allow Christians the freedom to come into your country and preach and teach, and you have to allow the Russian people the freedom to choose their faith."

I thought to myself, "what a remarkable exchange. In sharing his faith and his encouragement with Yeltsin that Christian workers be allowed to come into Russia as missionaries, Clinton may very well have helped keep the doors to Russia open for Christians and the spread of Christianity beyond Russian Orthodoxy. President and also advocate for religious liberty."

Just months before this exchange, Yeltsin had come very close to closing the country to Christian missionaries. The ban was not implemented, as it turned out.

The concern had been that the Russian Orthodox faith, the national church of the country, was being threatened with demise, as born-again converts began to affiliate with smaller Protestant churches spawning across Russia. Instead of being born into their cultural and historical/political Russian Orthodox church faith, people were now choosing to follow Christ in a personal faith.

I have often wondered what might have been if Clinton and Yeltsin hadn't formed a warm friendship that allowed Yeltsin to ask such questions of Clinton as he did about his faith.

Now, on learning of his death, I can't help but wonder how Clinton's sharing of his personal faith and encouraging Yeltsin to allow the Christian faith to grow unhindered in Russia, may have impacted the country. I am thankful that my friend took that opportunity to share his faith with Yeltsin. Somehow I think and hope it made a personal difference for him as well.

Readers can contact Carolyn Staley by email at carolynstaley@phbcarkansas.com

On Disgraceful Departures

Trying to get the neo-conservatives to leave office has filled the morning news with a plethora of stories about the disgraceful way they are leaving office. Here are just a few links from today's news:

National Public Radio (NPR) suggests Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez' refusal to resign as Attorney General is about to cause an explosion.

The Washington Post is reporting that Paul Wolfowitz, a chief architect of the war in Iraq, has hired an attorney to fight to keep his job as head of the World Bank, rather than resigning as directed by the Bank's Board of Directors.

Raw Story is reporting that Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich will announce articles for the impeachment of Vice President Cheney today.

The LA Times is reporting that there will be a new sweeping federal investigation of chief White House political strategist Karl Rove.

The volume, breadth and severity of scandal and disgrace being uncovered in our political system seems to me to be unprecedented in our history. Even the depths of the Watergate era cannot match this.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Paige Has Got a Point

Ethics Daily has posted a story about Paige Patterson's response to the Virginia Tech massacre.

Patterson's instructions to the student body at Southwestern Seminary was for students to rush any gunman that entered a classroom.

You don't have to be a fan of big game hunting to see that he's got a point. His point is not a criticism of the victims of the shooting, they did not have time to prepare a response to such a situation.

Patterson's remarks are addressed to those who have plenty of time to prepare a response should an incident like the shooting spree that happened at Virginia Tech recur.

If a gunman invades a space that you occupy, it well worth contemplating whether it would be best to die trying to shield someone else from his bullets.

Remaining passive in the face of this kind of hostility could only give the shooter time to reload and injure more people.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Ordination Registry for Baptist Women in Ministry

Baptist Women in Ministry has enlisted an online survey site (Surveymonkey) to help them create an ordination registry for all Baptist clergywomen who were ever ordained by a Baptist church.

If you are an ordained Baptist clergywoman, or you know an ordained Baptist clergywoman, encourage them to follow this link and fill out the information in this brief survey.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Moyers Critique of Press called "Devastating"

Editor & Publisher, America's oldest journal covering the newspaper industry, has published a story labeling Bill Moyer's PBS documentary on "Buying the War" a "devastating" probe of the role of the press in promoting the war in Iraq. The documentary is scheduled to appear on Wednesday evening.

Here's a quote from the story on Editor & Publisher:

Of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news in the six months before the war, almost all could be traced back to sources solely in the White House, Pentagon or State Dept., Moyers tells Russert, who offers no coherent reply.

The program closes on a sad note, with Moyers pointing out that "so many of the advocates and apologists for the war are still flourishing in the media." He then runs a pre-war clip of President Bush declaring, "We cannot wait for the final proof: the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud." Then he explains: "The man who came up with it was Michael Gerson, President Bush's top speechwriter.

"He has left the White House and has been hired by the Washington Post as a columnist."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Unofficial "New Baptist Covenant" Weblog Launched

News and interest concerning the Celebration of the New Baptist Covenant has been picking up since they launched their website.

I've launched a new unofficial New Baptist Covenant weblog to serve as a center for discussion in the blogosphere about the Celebration in Atlanta on January 30-February 1, 2008.

If you are interested, take a look.

If you are very interested, click here to sign-up to become a member of MyBlogLog community for the New Baptist Covenant weblog.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Coburn Said it Best

Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn made a very strong statement today regarding the need for U.S. Attorny General Alberto Gonzalez to resign. Here's a quotation from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

To me, there has to be consequences to accepting responsibility. And I would just say, Mr. Attorney General, it's my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled. And it was handled incompetently. The communication was atrocious. It was inconsistent. It's generous to say that there were misstatements. That's a generous statement. And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered. And I believe that the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.
Nobody said it better.

OK Governor Makes Courageous Veto

Oklahoma's popular Democratic Governor made the most controversial move of his political career yesterday. He vetoed a bill that would restrict access to abortion.

Under the advice of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the Oklahoma section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Osteopathic Association and the Oklahoma Nurses' Association, Governor Brad Henry vetoed a bill that did not include exemptions for rape and incest victims or for women with fetuses that have fatal birth defects.

Here's a quote from Governor Henry:

I do not issue this veto lightly. I believe every abortion is a tragedy, and I have a strong record of support for commonsense, reasonable restrictions on abortion. Although I have no doubt SB 714 is well-intentioned, I have grave concerns that its inadvertent consequences would prove disastrous.

First and foremost, the measure is flawed in that it does notinclude exemptions for cases of incest and rape. That means many victims of rape or incest would have no option but to carry a fetus to term, no matter how horrific and violent the circumstances.

In addition, I share the concerns of a majority of medical experts who believe this bill would severely compromise healthcare in our state by placing undue restrictions on the sacred relationship between doctor and patient. Under this measure, a woman may have no option but to carry to term a fetus with a fatal birth defect. There are a number of fatal birth defects in which there is no chance of survival, and yet SB 714 would add to a family's suffering and medical costs by forcing a woman to carry that fetus to term.
I commend Governor Henry for the courage he demonstrates with this veto.

It will not be a popular veto in Oklahoma and may well be overturned in the state legislature.

It was just the right thing to do for women facing tragic decisions.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Rest of the Story on Attorneygate

In These Times has posted an essay on "The Fraudulence of Voter Fraud" that reveals the rest of the story on attorneygate.

Here's a quote:

It appears that, under Rove’s direction the White House has been planning to use U.S. attorneys to fan national fears of voter fraud. In his speech to the GOP lawyers, Rove listed 11 states that would play a pivotal role in the 2008 elections. Since 2005, Bush has appointed new U.S. attorneys in nine of those states: Florida, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, Arkansas and New Mexico.

What’s more, the firings of U.S. attorneys in New Mexico, Arkansas and Washington appear directly related to this Republican plan to exploit the issue of voter fraud and suppress Democratic turnout.
In essence, U.S. Attorneys who were loyal to the rule of law were terminated to make room for the appointment of U.S. Attorneys with no qualms about using their office to undermine democracy.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

How to Prevent Massacres


I wasn't going to comment on the massacre at Virginia Tech, but reading Missy Randall's blog shamed me into it.

There's no way to make sense out of what happened yesterday at Virginia Tech. It doesn't make sense.

There is a way to reduce the possibility that such things will recur.

No, I'm not talking about gun control. The second amendment of the U.S. Constitution preserves the right for every American to keep and bear arms.

I agree with the tragi-comic wisdom of comedian Chris Rock. We don't need gun control. We need bullet control. Guns don't kill people. Bullets do.

If bullets cost $5,000 dollars apiece and the gun man could only afford to beat people over the head with his pistols, a lot more people would still be alive today in Virginia.

Podcast: Paul Pressler, Gary North and Dominionism

Dr. Bruce Prescott's April 15, 2007 "Religious Talk" radio program on "Paul Pressler, Gary North and Dominionism" (28MB mp3). This program gives audio quotations of Paul Pressler revealing the strategy used to takeover the Southern Baptist Convention to Gary North, a leading Christian Reconstructionist. North holds this strategy up as a model for how "conservatives" can takeover other organizations.

The program also discusses the theocratic views of Christian Reconstructionists. The program includes audio quotations of Bill Moyers questioning R. J. Rushdoony, the father of Christian Reconstructionism, about the political views of his son-in-law, Gary North, and about the Reconstructionist belief that civil government should enforce the death penalty on adulterers, homosexuals, and delinquent children.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Southern Baptists Unable to Control Missouri Attack Dog

Thanks to Harold Phillips for calling my attention to the article in yesterday's Saint Louis Post-Dispatch on "Baptist leader's firing suggests conflicting conservative agendas."

Years ago the fundamentalists who took over the SBC unleashed the human equivalent of a Rottweiler attack dog on Baptists who opposed their takeover. They used to laugh and cheer the vicious attacks by the Missouri Baptist Layman's Association on moderate Baptists.

Now, as Rottweiler's have been known to do, their attack dog has gone for the jugular of one of their own. Here's a quote from David Clippard about the reasons that were given for his termination as Executive of the Missouri state convention associated with the Southern Baptist Convention:

"I specifically asked if any of their charges included anything they found which was immoral, unethical, unbiblical, financially mismanaged or inappropriate," he wrote. "Their response was, 'No.'"
When the newspaper reporter inquired about the reason for Clippard's dismissal, he got a familiar response:
While Whitehead characterized Clippard's downfall as a management issue, other Baptist pastors say the crisis over Clippard's leadership is actually the result of a political clash over control.

"This is a battle between conservatives about who rules the roost," said the Rev. Gerald R. Davidson, pastor emeritus of First Baptist Church in Arnold and a former president of the Missouri Baptist Convention. "This is a matter of a struggle for power."
It is a little late for Fundamentalists to be concerned about putting a muzzle or a leash on their attack dog. They let this hound get a taste for blood when he was chewing on moderates. Now that the moderates are gone, he's got nothing left to bite except the hand that feeds him.

Regarding Registering Abuse

Ethics Daily is reporting that Frank Page, President of the SBC, told an ABC News reporter for 20/20 that Southern Baptists were looking into the possibility of creating a registry to record clergy sex offenders. He did so after the reporter asked him why the denomination was more concerned about investigating whether SBC churches have women pastors or ordained homosexuals than they are with whether SBC churches have predatory preachers.

The reporter's question was devastating. SBC leaders have been on a witch hunt for more than 25 years. They investigated and terminated hundreds of denominational executives, professors, and missionaries for refusing to toe-the-line of their fundamentalist theology. Why do they hesitate to address clergy sex abuse?

A couple reasons for their hesitancy come to my mind. One is that they are afraid to address this issue for fear of what they might find. Their authoritarian, patriarchical, pastor-as-ruler-of-the-church theology might be proven to be highly congenial to predatory preachers. Another reason might be, knowing how flimsy their rationale was for firing so many denominational employees over theological issues, that they are justifiably worried that unscrupulous persons could use the registry to unjustly blackball select ministers.

It is this latter concern that prompts my admiration for the courage of Ben Cole and Wade Burleson who have announced their intentions to encourage the Convention to address the issue of clergy sex abuse at the SBC meeting this June in San Antonio.

These two preachers are at the forefront of a movement of young SBC pastors who are taking a stand against some of the unaccountable and despotic leaders of the SBC. Should they succeed in getting the SBC to address this issue and start a database of SBC ministers convicted of sex abuse, they need to make sure that the names on the database are open to the public. A secret database, that could not be publicly verified, might accidently be seeded with the names of innocent, but dissident, ministers.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

A Devastating Critique of Globalization

William Greider has called attention to a devastating critique of globalization from an unexpected quarter.

In an essay entitled "The Establishment Rethinks Globalization" Greider interviews Ralph Gomory, formerly a senior vice president of IBM, and discusses the conclusions of his book Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests. Here's a quote:

At IBM back in the 1980s, Gomory watched in awe as Japan and other Asian nations captured high-tech industrial sectors in which US companies held commanding advantage. IBM invented the disk drive, then dropped out of the disk-drive business, unable to compete profitably. Gomory marveled at Singapore, a tiny city-state, as it lured American manufacturers with low-wage labor, capital subsidies and tax breaks. The US companies turned Singapore into a global center for semiconductor production.

"It was an unforgettable transformation," Gomory remembers. "And it was pretty frightening.

"The offer that many Asian countries will give to American companies is essentially this: 'Come over here and enhance our GDP. If you are here our people will be building disk drives, for example, instead of something less productive. In return, we'll help you with the investment, with taxes, maybe even with wages. We'll make sure you make a profit.' This works for both sides: the American company gets profits, the host country gets GDP. However, there is another effect beyond the benefits for those two parties--high-value-added jobs leave the U.S."
Heard that before? Here's the rest of the story:

"What made America much wealthier than the Asian nations in the first place?" Gomory asks. "We invested alongside our workers. Our workers dug ditches with backhoes. The workers in underdeveloped countries dug ditches with shovels. We had great big plants with a few people in them, which is the same thing. We knew how, through technology and investment, to make our workers highly productive. It wasn't that they went to better schools, then or now, and I don't know how much schooling it takes to run a backhoe.

"The situation today is that the companies have discovered that using modern technology they can do all that overseas and pay less for labor and then import product and services back into the United States. So what we're doing now is competing shovel to shovel. The people in many countries are being equipped with as good a shovel or backhoe as our people have. Very often we are helping them make the transition. We're making it person-to-person competition, which it never was before and which we cannot win. Because their people will be paid a third, a quarter of what our people are paid. And it's unreasonable to think you can educate our people so well that they can produce four times as much in the United States."

As this shift of productive assets progresses, the downward pressure on US wages will thus continue and intensify. Free-trade believers insist US workers can defend themselves by getting better educated, but Gomory suggests these believers simply don't understand the economics. "Better education can only help," he explains. "The question is where do you put your technology and knowledge and investment? These other countries understand that. They have understood the following divergence: What countries want and what companies want are different."

The implication is this: If nothing changes in how globalization currently works, Americans will be increasingly exposed to downward pressure on incomes and living standards. "Yes," says Gomory. "There are many ways to look at it, all of which reach the same conclusion."

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Krugman on the Dominionist Infiltration of the Government

Paul Krugman has an enlightening Op-Ed entitled "For God's Sake" about the infiltration of the U.S. Government by Dominionists and Christian Reconstructionists. Here's a quote:

The infiltration of the federal government by large numbers of people seeking to impose a religious agenda -- which is very different from simply being people of faith -- is one of the most important stories of the last six years. It's also a story that tends to go underreported, perhaps because journalists are afraid of sounding like conspiracy theorists.

But this conspiracy is no theory. The official platform of the Texas Republican Party pledges to "dispel the myth of the separation of church and state." And the Texas Republicans now running the country are doing their best to fulfill that pledge.
It looks like someone in the mainstream media is finally waking-up to the threat that the Religious Right poses to democracy.

It's about time.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Happy Birthday, Thomas Jefferson



April 13th is Thomas Jefferson's birthday.

Today would be a good day to read Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (1779).

It would also be a good day to sign the First Freedom First petition.

It's Official




Charli Thomas, daughter of T and Kathie Thomas, signed her letter of intent to play Tennis for Carson Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

Charli began playing Tennis in France where her parents were missionaries with the SBC. T & Kathie became the first missionaries appointed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and ministered to the Gypsy people group.

T & Kathie are now coordinating the work of CBF in Oklahoma. Charli is the captain and star player on the Norman North High School Tennis Team in Norman, Oklahoma.

Watch Out for Water Shortages

Reuters is reporting that scientists predict that North America will soon be facing water shortages due to global warming.

For someone whose household depends on a relatively shallow private well into the Ogallala aquifer, it is a little disconcerting to read:

Droughts would also occur more often in the U.S. Midwest and Southwest as warmer temperatures evaporate soil moisture.

Those droughts could diminish underground supplies like the Edwards Aquifer in Texas, which supplies 2 million people with water, by up to 40 percent, and cut levels of the Ogallala aquifer which underlies eight U.S. states, the report said.

During droughts like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, U.S. farmers pumped water from underground aquifers to save their fields through irrigation. "Much of that water is now gone," said MacCracken. "We've used up our savings bank."

King of the Chickens

Scientists have identified proteins from the bones of a 68 million year old bone from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. The proteins are related to those of modern chickens.

I guess that makes Rex the king of the chickens.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

New Baptist Covenant Website Online

The official website for the New Baptist Covenant was launched yesterday.

Ethics Daily has a story about the launch.

Here's a link to a video cast of the Press Conference at the Carter Center in Atlanta on January 9, 2007 featuring Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Bill Underwood, Jimmy Allen, William Shaw, T. DeWitt Smith, David Goatley, and others.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Freedom Fighters?

Three days after the First Freedom Bloggers swarmed the blogosphere with blogs against theocracy, Christianity Today has posted a story about First Amendment "Freedom Fighters".

Do you think it could be about the incredible number of bloggers who, with their pulse firmly on American public opinion, know that Americans are fed up with the Christian Nationalist-Dominionist-Reconstructionist infiltration of government offices within this administration? Dream on.

For Christianity Today the "Freedom Fighters" are the Southern Baptists and other Right-wing evangelicals who are being deputized by the Bush-Cheney-Rove Department of Justice's First Freedom Project.

There was a day when Southern Baptists would have been strong allies in the struggle to preserve liberty of conscience for all persons. Those days are over.

Be suspicious when Christian Nationalists tell you that America is "a nation of tolerance." There was a time when Baptists objected to mere tolerance for the faiths of others.

On May 16, 1920 George W. Truett, then pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, TX, stood on the East steps to the Capitol in Washington, D.C. and spoke these words to 15,000 Baptists:

Baptists have one consistent record concerning liberty throughout all their long and eventful history. They have never been a party to oppression of conscience. They have forever been the unwavering champions of liberty, both religious and civil. Their contention now, is, and has been, and, please God, must ever be, that it is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience, and, as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty. There is a wide difference between toleration and liberty. Toleration implies that somebody falsely claims the right to tolerate. Toleration is a concession, while liberty is a right. Toleration is a matter of expediency, while liberty is a matter of principle.  Liberty is a gift from God. It is the consistent and insistent contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion must be forever voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the perogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel men to conform to any religious creed or form of worship, or to pay taxes for the support of a religious organization to which they do not believe. God wants free worshipers and no other kind.
In 1920, all Baptists agreed with Truett. Today's Southern Baptists are the heirs of Truett's successor at First Baptist Dallas.  In the 1980's, W.A. Criswell informed a CBS News crew that, "Separation of church and state is the figment of some infidel's imagination."

The Southern Baptists who continue to honor the Baptist legacy of church-state separation left the SBC in the early 1990's when Southern Baptists defunded the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Representatives of all the Baptist Conventions in North America who genuinely honor the Baptist legacy in regard to religious liberty will be converging at a meeting called by Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton to form a New Baptist Covenant. That meeting will be in Atlanta, GA from January 30 to Feb. 1, 2008. Encourage all your free and faithful Baptist friends to go to that meeting.

BCE Offers "New Baptist Covenant" Bible Study

Ethics Daily has announced that "BCE Offering Luke 4 Bible Study to Support 'New Baptist Covenant' Gathering. The study was written by leaders from across the conventional lines that have divided North American Baptists and will be provided online free of charge. Here's a quote from the press release:

Movements that last come because of deep spiritual roots," (Jimmy) Allen continued. "The nurturing of those roots to fruit will be greatly enhanced by congregations and prayer groups using the series of studies on Luke 4 developed by the Baptist Center for Ethics. I hope it sweeps the nation."

The historic gathering is an attempt to unify what have been termed "Golden Rule" Baptists around shared concerns of care for the poor, war and care of the environment. Planners hope a "Luke 4" agenda will transcend racial and doctrinal lines that have divided Baptists too long.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

On Unaccountable Leaders

Further revelations are coming to light about the impropriety of Paul Wolfowitz giving his girl friend, Shaha Riza, a lavish salary at the World Bank. IPS is reporting that she has "undisclosed parallel employment" and several other conflicts of interest that are gross violations of World Bank staff rules.

While at the Pentagon, Wolfowitz was one of the chief architects of the American war in Iraq. The Wolfowitz-Riza scandal at the World Bank comes as Wolfowitz is spearheading a campaign to fight corruption, cronyism and promote good governance in Bank projects and loans.

There is hope that the Board of the World Bank will begin to hold Wolfowitz accountable.

Unfortunately, there is little hope that the messengers or agency boards of the Southern Baptist Convention will take similar action against the unaccountable leadership of the SBC.

Wade Burleson thinks the election of Frank Page to the presidency of the SBC marks the beginning of a pendulum swing back to the center of Baptist life. I think the pendulum has been broken by a seismic shift in the theo-political landscape in American religious life.

After years of outrageous mismanagement (see Mary Kinney Branson's Spending God's Money), Bob Reccord was removed from his position at the North American Mission Board. His replacement, however, comes from the Dominionist-leaning group that left the Baptist General Association of Virginia to form the Southern Baptist Convention of Virginia. The editor of Virginia's Religious Herald is already asking how Geoff Hammond can work with BGAV without compromising his integrity.

A clear indication of the continued unaccountability of SBC leadership is the failure of all but a few to disclose the information that Ben Cole has been requesting of them. These same leaders made much of the need for "doctrinal accountability" regarding missionaries who refused to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. Financial accountability for their own stewardship of God's money, however, remains off-the-table.

Dominionist Law School in Spotlight

Domininists think Christians should takeover the institutions of government and rule the country according to religious principles. Pat Robertson founded a law school to train lawyers to do that.

Today, more than 150 graduates of that law school hold influential positions in the federal government. One of them, Monica Goodling, was a top aide to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. She recently resigned her position in order to preserve her fifth amendment right against self-incrimination when testifying before Congress.

The Boston Globe published a revealing story about Goodling and Pat Robertson's Regents University School of Law in an essay entitled "Scandal puts spotlight on Christian law school." Here's an excerpt:

Because Goodling graduated from Regent in 1999 and has scant prosecutorial experience, her qualifications to evaluate the performance of US attorneys have come under fire. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, asked at a hearing: "Should we be concerned with the experience level of the people who are making these highly significant decisions?"

And across the political blogosphere, critics have held up Goodling, who declined to be interviewed, as a prime example of the Bush administration subordinating ability to politics in hiring decisions.

"It used to be that high-level DOJ jobs were generally reserved for the best of the legal profession," wrote a contributor to The New Republic website . ". . . That a recent graduate of one of the very worst (and sketchiest) law schools with virtually no relevant experience could ascend to this position is a sure sign that there is something seriously wrong at the DOJ."

The Regent law school was founded in 1986, when Oral Roberts University shut down its ailing law school and sent its library to Robertson's Bible-based college in Virginia. It was initially called "CBN University School of Law" after the televangelist's Christian Broadcasting Network, whose studios share the campus and which provided much of the funding for the law school. (The Coors Foundation is also a donor to the university.) The American Bar Association accredited Regent 's law school in 1996.

Not long ago, it was rare for Regent graduates to join the federal government. But in 2001, the Bush administration picked the dean of Regent's government school, Kay Coles James , to be the director of the Office of Personnel Management -- essentially the head of human resources for the executive branch. The doors of opportunity for government jobs were thrown open to Regent alumni.

"We've had great placement," said Jay Sekulow , who heads a non profit law firm based at Regent that files lawsuits aimed at lowering barriers between church and state. "We've had a lot of people in key positions."

The Haunting Eyes of Iraqi Children

Ben Cole has posted a poignant excerpt from the journal of an American Marine in Iraq.

This entry really needs to be read in its entirety. Here's a link to Ben's blog "From the Frontlines." Here's the paragraph that strikes me as most memorable:

I have tried to prepare myself for loss of blood, for bullets flying over head, for bombs, and for destruction. The little boy’s eyes were not on my checklist of reality. They were a distant thought. They were and often are an after thought. These eyes do not shape the mission while it takes place but do affect while you lay at night. The glass over these eyes will most likely prove to be haunting all the days of my life.

Podcast: Faith, Freedom and Mary Magdalene

A podcast of my 4-8-07 "Religious Talk" radio program on "Faith, Freedom and Mary Magdalene." (27 MB mp3)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Regarding Our Unbalanced Lives

The Washington Post has published an incredible story about the "koyaanisqatsi" of American life. "Koyaanisqatsi" is Hopi for "life out of balance."

What would happen if the world's most outstanding violinist, playing on one of the world's finest violins, played some of the most beautiful music in the history of the world -- for tips in a subway station? How many people would stop and listen? How much money would he make in tips?

The answer may, or may not, surprise you. It could depend on your level of "koyaanisqatsi."

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Faith and Freedom

Today, all around the world, Christians are proclaiming their firm belief in Jesus of Nazareth and their hope for the resurrection of the body. Today, all around the blogosphere, people of all faiths and people of no faith are proclaiming their firm belief in democracy and their hope for its resurrection.

Christians at worship today believe that God sent his Son to redeem mankind from its sins by dying an unjust death on a cruel cross. First Freedom Bloggers on the internet today believe that democracy is slowly dying in America because Christian theocrats have been sending their followers to takeover the public square with the intention of unjustly imposing a single religious belief system on all society.

Christians believe that the Easter message about the resurrection of the body is good news. For us to keep such news a secret would be callous and insensitive. First Freedom Bloggers believe that any theocratic takeover of the public square is dangerous. For us to keep such news a secret would be callous and insensitive.

First Freedom Bloggers affirm the right of Christians to share their message and to use persuasion to encourage others to accept it. They deny the right of anyone to compel others to accept a religious message and they oppose everyone who tries to force unwilling people to order their lives in accord with any system of religious beliefs. To do so would disregard the sanctity of personal conscience and violate the civil liberties of those of different convictions. It also turns whatever has been proclaimed as “good news” into “bad news.”

We hope that democracy might be revived by reminding theocratic Christians that the Easter message can only be “good news” when it is voluntarily received and freely accepted.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

America's Morally Deficient Intellectuals

Those who are wise in the ways of the world have always treated the rest of the naïve world with smug contempt. Anyone who reads their intellectually self-congratulatory and mutually sycophantic writings about how the world should be ruled could learn that. The unlearned, however, are preoccupied by the struggle for existence and the naïve are too busy working to alleviate the injustices that make life a struggle to read the writings of the worldly wise.

In a nutshell, here is what America’s ruling intellectuals believe: 1) The world is a cold and cruel place. Only the strong (or, manipulatively smart) survive. That is how it is and that is how it ought to be. 2) A world at peace -– working for universal dignity, respect, and equality for all persons -– would be unbearably boring and ignoble. A world at peace -– under the domination and exploitation of the worldly wise -– would be utopia. 3) Might makes right. To the victor go the spoils and the right to interpret history. 4) Do unto others before they can do anything to you. 5) Those with the gold make the rules. 6) Religion is the opiate of the masses. Pay homage to it and use it to keep the masses in check.

Unfortunately for America’s ruling elite, they completely botched their war in Iraq.

So, what has become of our morally deficient intellectuals? The Think Progress website has a helpful essay on "The Architects of War: Where are they Now?"

Paul Wolfowitz, supposedly the smartest of the worldly wise men, now heads the World Bank where he is cleaning out the graft and corruption by giving his girl friend a 35% salary increase (23% above what is permissible).

Friday, April 06, 2007

Why Church Weblogs Are Important

Thanks to ABP for calling attention to Bill Seaver's Blog on "Understanding Attack Blogs."

Seaver's case is a bit overstated, but he's got the general principles right.

The community grapevine for every church has become much more public and open since the advent of blogging. Churches will have to develop a feel for how quickly and how forcefully they will respond to criticisms in the blogosphere.

I don't think churches need to be defensive about criticism, but they do need to have a line of communication open before any criticisms might develop into a full-blown web controversy.

For a good example of a positive, pro-active approach to church weblogging, check out the blogs of Mitch and Missy Randall at NorthHaven Church in Norman, OK.

The Secret of Sound Acoustics

Want to build a 14,000 seat amphitheater that won't need amplification?

Use limestone.

That's the secret to the amazing acoustics of the theater at Epidaurus in Greece.

Here's a link to a Live Science report.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Warriors Against Disestablishment?

The Washington Spectator has published an informative essay by Sarah Posner about the Alliance Defense Fund entitled "Army of God: The Legal Muscle Leading the Fight to End the Separation of Church and State."

My experience with the ADF convinces me that the organization is more successful in winning legal decisions for free speech than in challenging disestablishment. Their successful (but under appeal) argument defending the Haskell County Courthouse's Ten Commandments Monument was to defend the free speech rights of a private citizen to express his opinions by erecting a permanent granite monument on the courthouse lawn.

If this ruse passes muster with the higher courts, I predict that we will eventually see granite monuments expressing the free speech rights of private citizens of other faiths and of atheists on the courthouse lawn in Haskell County, Oklahoma.

There is no doubt that that is not what the Haskell County Commissioners had in mind when they approved the Ten Commandments monument, but that is what their testimony in court said they intended to permit.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bush's Secret War

ABC News has published a report about "The Secret War with Iran." Here's a quote:

Pakistani government sources say the secret campaign against Iran by Jundullah was on the agenda when Vice President Dick Cheney met with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in February.

A senior U.S. government official said groups such as Jundullah have been helpful in tracking al Qaeda figures and that it was appropriate for the U.S. to deal with such groups in that context.

Some former CIA officers say the arrangement is reminiscent of how the U.S. government used proxy armies, funded by other countries including Saudi Arabia, to destabilize the government of Nicaragua in the 1980s.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Life-Changing Experience


Last Saturday at a retreat for seminary students sponsored by the T.B. Maston Foundation, Suzy Paynter, Director of the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention, told a memorable story about her efforts to help a young boy learn to read. I think her story provides a good example of a process by which conscience is formed.

Suzy was doing some private tutoring in a reading recovery program that was designed to help school children who were behind grade level learn to read and write. She was assigned a particularly challenging child with a history of failing to meet expectations in school. Suzy knew that the child came from a poor family that could not afford to buy him play toys. Her strategy was to show him a toy and then use his interest in the toy as motivation for learning to read and write. She chose a jack-in-the-box.

Suzy showed him how the box made music when you wound the handle and how a clown would spring out from the top of the box. Then she put the clown back in the box, closed the lid and asked the boy if he would like to play with the jack-in-the-box.

"Oh, yes!" the boy said with glee. "I want to play with the jack-in-the-box!"

"First we have to write a story," Suzy said. "Let's write a story that says, "I like the jack-in-the-box."

Then she handed him a pencil and a piece of paper and together they began to write that sentence out in large letters. Suzy helped by telling the boy the letters that he needed to write. She knew that he only knew a handful of letters, so she also helped him by writing the letters that he did not know on his paper for him.

Slowly, as they wrote out the letters the boy's face began to light up as he began to make connections between the sounds that he knew with symbols that were being written and the meanings that were being signified.

When they got to the end of the sentence, the boy did not know the letter "X," so Suzy wrote it down for him. When she did, the boy's face suddenly flushed red with rage and anger.

"What's wrong?" Suzy asked.

"Nothing's wrong!" the boy responded and then he doubled up his fist and hit her with all his might squarely on her jaw.

At that moment, while wincing from the pain and the shock of the boy's blow, Suzy Paynter made a decision that would give her a much broader and deeper perspective on how to relate to others.

She had every right to dismiss the boy from her tutoring and send him to higher authorities to be disciplined, but that is not what she did. Instead, she determined to try to comprehend why the boy reacted the way he did. In her mind, using memory and imagination, she tried to look at the experience through the eyes of this young boy. In the process, she caught a glimpse of herself through the eyes of another.

She remembered that the tutoring experience had been positive until she wrote the letter "X."

The boy did not know the sign "X" as a letter of the alphabet. He knew the sign "X" only as a symbol of failure. It was the mark he received on every paper when he was "wrong," "in error," and had failed. In his eyes, when Suzy put an "X" at the end of his story, she was signifying that his story was "not right" -- it did not measure up, it did not meet standards, it was another example of him making too many mistakes. In his eyes, "X" was only a symbol for failure.

Suzy’s question, "What's wrong?" only reinforced the perception that she was condemning him. "Nothing's wrong" he said as he hit her. His verbal response was right, while his physical response was wrong. His physical response was a childish overreaction to his perception that he had either been deceived or was being judged a failure.

Suzy told him that he could play with the toy if he wrote a story. He trusted her and she deceived him. He wanted to write a story for her. He tried his very best. Then, in his eyes, Suzy was judging him and marking his entire being with the sign of failure.

Once Suzy saw herself through his eyes, she found a way to correct his misperception about her and taught him about other uses of the sign "X." Later, the boy successfully learned the alphabet and learned to read and write.

Suzy says this was "a life-changing experience" for her. I think it is an outstanding example of how conscience is formed. Conscience is looking at yourself (with humility) through the eyes of another.

Only a conscientious person would have the humility to look at herself through the eyes of an angry child and recognize that she has a responsibility to do better. That's one of the reasons why Suzy has been so effective working with legislators on social issues at the State Capitol in Texas.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Blogging Producing Freedom in China

Technology is making it hard for totalitarian regimes to control the thoughts and expressions of their citizenry.

AFP recently published a story about "Blogger Leads China to Free-Thinking Revolution." Here's a quote:

In Communist Party-ruled China, the media -- including the regular Internet -- is tightly controlled by the government.

But blogs offer a means of dodging the censors, allowing more freedom of expression and, ultimately, freedom of thought.

"It's only natural for human beings to express themselves and share their views. But the Chinese people have been repressed for so long and they have always kept silent. They couldn't find an exit," (Isaac) Mao (a website developer) said.

"They need this tool to give them the freedom to express themselves. Blogs can be a very empowering tool to them," he said.

Left Behind on Purpose?

Paul Krugman has written an insightful essay about how, until recently, Americans were too distracted to realize that the middle class had been disenfranchised.

Is the current level of material inequality in our society providential? Or, is the inequitable distribution of wealth in our society by human design?

Who was it that called the rich man a "fool" for pulling down his barns to build bigger ones in which to hoard his wealth? (Luke 12:16-21)

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Could the Religious Right Support Giuliani?

With the exception of religious "values voters," Rudy Giuliani is showing strong support among Republicans in his run for president.

Does Giuliani have any hope of gaining the support of the Religious Right?

Bob Altemeyer, author of a new book on The Authoritarians, thinks so.

Here's a link.