Thursday, May 31, 2007

On the SBC's Domesticated god

Fundamentalist Southern Baptists have been working tirelessly at domesticating God for more than a quarter century.

The first stage of the domestication process came in the year 2000, when the SBC adopted the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message and officially elevated the Bible above Jesus. They did that because first and foremost, Southern Baptists believe in the Bible and the Bible they believe in is perfect and inerrant -- like God himself. Without the Bible, they say, "we wouldn't know anything about Jesus" and if you could prove that there was a single error in the Bible, "we couldn't know anything for certain about salvation." First and foremost, Southern Baptists puts their faith in the perfection and inerrancy of a book. Without that, they think faith is in vain -- even if a person has faith in Jesus.

So, when Southern Baptists quote Jesus saying, "No man comes to the Father but by me." they think he really meant, "No man comes to the Father but by the Bible and me." In their eyes, if Jesus doesn't receive the blessing and imprimateur of a perfect and inerrant Bible, he's not worthy of worship by a Southern Baptist. That's why Fundamentalist Southern Baptists have been waging war against people like me, who say that the Bible is authoritative -- but not inerrant, for more than a quarter century. In their eyes, we don't give the Bible the esteem and reverence that is its due.

The second stage of the domestication process is being carried out by Holman Bible Publishers, a subsidiary of the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention. At Holman, the SBC has begun bolstering the authority of the Bible by inscribing it with the seal of the U.S. Army, the Air Force, the Navy, or the Marines. Bob Allen, at Ethics Daily, posted a story yesterday that seems to me to reveal that Southern Baptists now think the blessing and imprimateur of a military seal could add weight to the message of the book that they worship.

Either that, or, by emblazening military seals on the Christian religion's holiest book, they are blasphemously demonstrating to the entire world that they view the Almighty God as though he were the domesticated deity of a single nation and/or military tribe.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Why is Saritha Prabhu Angry?

Thanks to Tom Brown, a self-described "refugee from the SBC," for calling my attention to the op-ed "Angry? Only if you can see this administration clearly" by Saritha Prabhu, a recently naturalized citizen.

Prabhu provides a perspective that is sorely lacking from the mainstream media where I live. Here are some of the reasons why she is so angry at this administration:

In a way, it has been a feeling of deja vu for me. We, my husband and I, left our native India in part because of the chronic cronyism, incompetence and corruption in government and many walks of life.

No government can be perfect, but these past six years here have been an echo of what we left behind.
A lot of native born Americans thought cronyism, incompetence, and corruption had been left behind us too. Discovering the extent of our naievete has been unwelcome, painful and infuriating to a lot of us.

On Herb Reynolds' Forgotten Vision

Robert Parham at Ethics Daily has published a thoughtful essay entitled "Herb Reynolds' Forgotten Vision" for a Baptist Convention of the America's.

The New Baptist Covenant group that is coming together for its first Celebration this January foregoes the emphasis on the formal unity of a "Convention," but it will certainly contribute to some functional unity in worship and service among Baptists. There's no reason why Baptists can't worship together and work together while maintaining our unique organizational identities.

Parham mentions Reynolds speech at the Texas Baptists Committed annual breakfast in November 1998. A year later, at a Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists luncheon in November 1999, Reynolds amplified his ideas in a speech on "The Stewardship of Freedom." At the beginning of that 1999 speech Reynolds said:

What is more important to our progeny than freedom of conscience, religious liberty and the opportunity to participate in a civil society? I can think of nothing that you or I could do economically, socially, culturally or otherwise, that should have a higher priority and that will have more ultimate meaning.
Reynolds succinctly described the ecclesiastical task for this generation of Baptists. He led the way on this leg of our journey and has finished his course. Now the baton has been passed to another generation. The best way to honor the memory of Herb Reynolds is to share his concern for the "Stewardship of Freedom."

As Providence would have it, it looks like Bill Underwood and Mercer University have taken the lead for the next leg of the Baptist journey.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Herb Reynolds Dies

Associated Baptist Press is reporting that Herb Reynolds, President Emeritus of Baylor University and Founder of Truett Seminary, has died. He was 77 years old.

Reynolds was a towering figure in Baptist life. Mainstream Baptists will sorely miss him.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Is Cheney Going Around Bush on Iran Policy?

Raw Story is reporting that Washington insiders are saying that Vice President Chency is employing "an end run strategy" around President Bush and Secretary of Defense Gates in regard to policy with Iran.

Quoting Steve Clemons of the Washington Note:

The zinger of this information is the admission by this Cheney aide that Cheney himself is frustrated with President Bush and believes, much like Richard Perle, that Bush is making a disastrous mistake by aligning himself with the policy course that Condoleezza Rice, Bob Gates, Michael Hayden and McConnell have sculpted.

According to this official, Cheney believes that Bush can not be counted on to make the "right decision" when it comes to dealing with Iran and thus Cheney believes that he must tie the President's hands.
If this is true, it may be time to impeach Chency for "criminal insubordination."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Chris Hedges Challenges Sam Harris

Chris Hedges, author of American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, engaged in a debate with atheist Sam Harris, author of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason, about "Religion, Politics, and the End of the World." Truth Dig has published Hedges opening statement in the debate under the title "I Don't Believe in Atheists."

Hedges made a sweeping and insightful case for theism. Here are the opening paragraphs of Chris Hedges' statement:

Sam Harris has conflated faith with tribalism. His book is an attack not on faith but on a system of being and believing that is dangerous and incompatible with the open society. He attacks superstition, a belief in magic and the childish notion of an anthropomorphic God that is characteristic of the tribe, of the closed society. He calls this religion. I do not.

What he fails to grasp is not simply the meaning of faith — something I will address later — but the supreme importance of the monotheistic traditions in creating the concept of the individual. This individualism — the belief that we can exist as distinct beings from the tribe, or the crowd, and that we are called on as individuals to make moral decisions that at times defy the clamor of the tribe or the nation — is a gift of the Abrahamic faiths. This sense of individual responsibility is coupled with the constant injunctions in Islam, Judaism and Christianity for a deep altruism. And this laid the foundations for the open society. This individualism is the central doctrine and most important contribution of monotheism. We are enjoined, after all, to love our neighbor, not our tribe. This empowerment of individual conscience is the starting point of the great ethical systems of our civilization. The prophets — and here I would include Jesus — helped institutionalize dissent and criticism. They initiated the separation of powers. They reminded us that culture and society were not the sole prerogative of the powerful, that freedom and indeed the religious life required us to often oppose and defy those in authority. This is a distinctly anti-tribal outlook.

Kindred Spirits: Paige Patterson and Alberto Gonzalez

James B. Comey, formerly the #2 official in John Ashcroft' Justice Department and now General Counsel for Lockheed Martin, recently testified before Congress about the bizarre way the current administration tried to get approval for its unconstitutional domestic wiretapping powers. He described how Alberto Gonzales –- then White House Counsel –- was going to try and coerce a seriously ill, medicated and hospitalized John Ashcroft to sign off on the authorization.

What kind of person would try to take advantage of a sick person in a hospital bed?

A person like Paige Patterson, architect of the takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, Past-President of the SBC and current President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

A couple days ago SBC blogger Ben Cole revealed in a blog that when he was President of the Criswell Center, Paige and his wife Dorothy succeeded in securing sick bed signatures from a hospitalized Nelson Farry conveying all his worldly property to the Criswell Center. Cole provides links to the legal documents substantiating this claim. Here's a quote:

Paige Patterson is the president, and Dorothy Patterson is the secretary of the Criswell Center. Beginning approximately three (3) weeks prior to [Nelson] Farry’s death, Paige Patterson and Dorothy Patterson began a series of visits to Mr. Farry and Velma Farry, who was attending him in the hospital. During these visits the Pattersons made strenuous efforts to persuade the Farrys to convey all their belongings immediately to the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies, on several occasions even bringing a typewriter and deed forms to the hospital for this purpose. Finally, by the use of threats, intimidation, and misrepresentations, the Pattersons induced Mr. Farry and Velma Farry to sign the deeds, copies of which are attached hereto . . . conveying to the Criswell Center all of the real property owned by the Farrys. They also induced Mr. Farry and Velma Farry to execute the document attached hereto . . . conveying to the Criswell Center all of the personal property owned by the Farrys.

Hat Tip to Bob Stephenson who, in a private conversation with me, immediately perceived the parallels between current news about Gonzalez and Cole's blog about Patterson.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

On America's Legitimacy Crisis

Jeffrey Feldman has written a helpful essay on our nation's current crisis over the constitutional balance of powers under the title: "The Double Bind of Iraq." Feldman seems to hold that the constitution generates "power," I would prefer to describe it as generating "legitimacy" in the exercise of power. Aside from that, he has put his finger on one of the deepest roots of our postmodern crisis of democracy.

Here's a quote:

America is in a situation it has never seen: a foreign policy burning out of control and our federal system of government in dire need of restoration before it can wield enough power to put out the fire.

Never in my lifetime--in any of our lifetimes--could I have imagined that the task facing a new Democratic majority in Congress would be to rebuild the very constitutional structures they were elected to maintain.

The Democrats in Congress have not been perfect, but if there is someone out there who has been perfect amidst all the constitutional chaos created by Bush and the Republicans in the past 7 years, -- let that person fly forward on their wings.

In the end, then, we must all realize a very basic point. The politics we are seeing this week are not about the Democratic Party, but about the future of this country -- about America itself. And America is not negotiating with a strong policy held hostage by a strong President. We are trying to recover, trying to patch things back together after the constitutional train wreck caused by the current President -- so we can plow past the car crash that is the Bush administration -- so that we can put out the out-of-control forest fire that is the Iraq policy.

Al Gore on the Relation of Faith and Politics

Thanks to Don Byrd at the Blog from the Capital for calling attention to Al Gore's comments on Larry King last night. Here's a quote:

When America was founded, they -- our founders said, OK look, we are not going to pretend that whoever is elected to office has been ordained by the almighty to be the decision maker. The person who is elected is elected by us, the people of this country. And the divine right of kings was rejected by the founders of the United States.

And what replaced that, the divine right of individuals in this sense, we believe that we are all created equal. And that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights. So the relationship that our founders believed was appropriate for -- between America and God was their belief that every individual has certain rights and has dignity because that person is a child of God.

Now, for those who don't believe in God, I'm not proselytizing. I'm just telling you what I believe and what our founders believed. But what -- but this has been twisted around in recent times by some people who want to convey the impression that God belongs, if not to a particular political party, that God has a particular political ideology and that those who disagree with a right-wing approach to this or that are against God.

That is an anti-American view. That is completely contrary to the spirit of America. It is an American heresy and people in both parties ought to reject that and fight against it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Why Bush Has Not Been Impeached

Gary Kamiya has published an outstanding essay about Why Bush Hasn't Been Impeached. Here's a quote:

The problem is that the American people are not judging Bush by the standards of law. The Bush years have further weakened America's once-proud status as a nation of laws, not of men. The law, for Bush, is like language for Humpty Dumpty: it means just what he chooses it to mean, neither more nor less. This attitude has become disturbingly widespread — which may explain why Bush's illegal wiretapping, his approval of torture, and his administration’s partisan purge of U.S. district attorneys have not resulted in wider outrage.

This society-wide diminution of respect for law has helped Bush immeasurably. It is not just the law that America has turned away from, but what the law stands for — accountability, memory, history and logic itself. That anonymous senior Bush advisor who spoke with surreal condescension of "the reality-based community" may have summed up our cultural moment more acutely than anyone else in years. A society without memory, driven by ephemeral emotions, which demands no consistency from its leaders but only gusty patriotism, is a society that is not about to engage in the painful self-examination that impeachment would mean.

A corollary to the decline of logic is our acceptance of the universality of spin. It no longer seems odd to us that a president should lie to get what he wants. In this regard, Bush, the most sanctimonious of presidents, must be seen as having degraded traditional American values more than the most relativist, Nietzsche-spouting postmodernist.
If you need additional evidence for the contention that America has become a nation of angry men, not of laws, just glance at the criticisms of Carter, Cole and Burleson along with the justifications of Bush in the comment section of Ben Cole and Wade Burleson's blogs about their meeting with Carter and Underwood.

General Boykin to Retire

Army General William Boykin, who likened this administration's foreign policy to a "war against Satan," is retiring from the military.

I'm not a gambling man. If I were, I'd bet that we will soon learn that Boykin will working as a mercenary for Blackwater. He's just the kind of "Holy Warrior" that Eric Prince wants to lead his private army.

Who's Afraid of Marian Wright Edelman?

Mike Huckabee.

Here's one of the reasons he gave for withdrawing from participation in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant:

Huckabee cited the involvement of the "very, very liberal" Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund, as an example of the liberal leaning of the gathering.
When did defending the interests of children become an exclusively "liberal" issue?

When Huckabee was involved in the denominational politics of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, refusing to associate with moderate and liberal Baptists was understandable. Conservatives and fundamentalists think they would be defiled by associating with people of different opinions.

Huckabee is running for President of the United States of America. He can't be President of conservatives and fundamentalists only. What kind of President would limit his speeches to a mere third of the citizenry?

Monday, May 21, 2007

SBC Heat Too Hot For Huckabee

The Florida Baptist Witness has published a story announcing that Republican Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is withdrawing from participation in the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.

Huckabee says it was to protest Carter's harsh critique of President Bush. Anyone who knows the heat that SBC leaders put on those who cross their political lines, knows that the heat in the SBC kitchen got too hot for Huckabee.

There has been no dialogue within the Southern Baptist Convention for more than 28 years. They want the microphone all to themselves and they are known for cutting it off whenever anyone raises a voice in dissent.

Now we will see if the heat gets too hot for Graham, Grassley and the SBC bloggers who met with Carter and Underwood last week.

On Preaching the Whole Gospel

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to John Kuhrt's insightful essay on "What Does Salvation Mean in the Urban Context?" Here's a quote:

The current divisions between 'evangelical' and 'liberal' mean that there is a danger of two separate and distinct gospel messages being proclaimed. One is a message primarily of personal salvation and the other a message focussed on a social salvation. Our division along these lines tragically undermines the Church's witness because both sides are undernourished by the division. The truth is that neither narrow evangelicalism or woolly liberalism are good news for the city.

We have to go deeper. The crisis of violence, poverty and meaninglessness in our urban areas desperately needs the good news of the kingdom of God. How can we share a holistic gospel which integrates the personal, social and political imperatives of salvation?

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Bob Herbert on America's Uninsured Children

Bob Herbert, columnist for the New York Times, has published a sad but enlightening op-ed about the plight of the "Young, Ill and Uninsured" in America. He tells the tragic stories of a couple children who died while bureaucrats passed the buck for their medical needs. Here's a quote:

"People don't understand the amount of time and stress parents are going through as they try to get their children the coverage they need, in many cases just to stay alive," said Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund and a tireless advocate of expanding health coverage to the millions of American children who are uninsured or underinsured.

Medicaid and the State Children's Health Insurance Program provide crucially important coverage, but the eligibility requirements can be daunting, budget constraints in many jurisdictions have led to tragic reductions in coverage, and millions of youngsters simply fall through the cracks in the system, receiving no coverage at all.
Marian Wright Edelman will be one of the participants at the New Baptist Covenant celebration in Atlanta Jan.30-Feb. 1, 2008.

Vestal on Falwell's Legacy

Daniel Vestal, Coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, gave one of the best appraisals of Falwell's legacy that I have seen in print. Here's his conclusion:

Perhaps many of us are seeking a third way, a radical way. We desire to hold our Christian faith close to our hearts, but we also desire to have genuine friendship and dialogue with people of other faiths to build a human community. We desire to be involved in political decision making from our faith perspective, but we don't believe that any one party has a corner on the truth. We do believe that the story and truth of Scripture come from God, but we want to preserve the freedom of conscience that allows for different interpretations.

In contrast to seeking a "moral majority," which seems to have the connotation of partisan power, it seems that as followers of Christ we should seek to be bold witnesses, humble servants, compassionate ministers in our society. Of course this will mean engagement in the political process and public advocacy as well as prayer and worship, but not in a way that so clearly identifies the eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ with partisan politics.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Carter Blasts Bush as "Worst in History"

In an interview with Frank Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, former President Jimmy Carter used unusually harsh words to describe the current administration's foreign policy. He was equally critical of President Bush's faith-based initiatives. Here's a quote:

But the Baptist Sunday School teacher saved some of his harshest criticism for Bush's "faithbased" agenda.

Citing an article in The New York Times, Carter said hundreds of millions of dollars in federal earmarks are now going to fund religious institutions.

"Individual churches and religious seminaries and other strictly religious organizations have their own lobbyists now in Washington to make sure they get their share of taxpayers' funds. And, as you know, the policy from the White House has been to allocate funds to religious institutions, even those that channel those funds exclusively to their own particular group of believers in a particular religion. Those things in my opinion are quite disturbing," Carter said.

"As a traditional Baptist, I've always believed in separation of church and state and honored that premise when I was president, and so have all other presidents, I might say, except this one."

Friday, May 18, 2007

SBC Bloggers Have Productive Meeting with Jimmy Carter

Several SBC Bloggers met with Jimmy Carter and Bill Underwood to discuss the Celebration for a New Baptist Covenant and came away with a positive impression.

Ben Cole and Wade Burleson wrote about their experiences on their blogs today. Both emphasized the need to overcome differences for the sake of the gospel.

It's a shame that so few entrusted with leadership positions in the SBC do not share their spirit. Perhaps a generation of younger pastors will unite with other Baptists in renewing our commitment to matching words with deeds when sharing the good news about the love for all people that God has revealed in Jesus Christ.

Southern Ocean Saturated with CO2

Der Speigel is reporting that scientists have found that the Southern Ocean around Antarctica is saturated with carbon dioxide and is losing its capacity to serve as a "carbon sink" to mitigate global warming. This has happened about forty years ahead of predictions. Here's a quote:

The decline of Antarctica's Southern Ocean as a carbon sink may raise future CO2 levels and speed up global warming. Climate scientists have predicted this would happen. The trouble is that the changes appear to be happening some 40 years ahead of schedule.

"We thought we would be able to detect these only in the second half of this century, say 2050 or so," lead researcher Corrine Le Quere told Reuters. Data from 1981 to 2004, however, show the waters have been saturated with carbon dioxide since at least the 1980s. "So, I find this really quite alarming," she said.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Republican Baptists Join Democrat Baptists in Celebration of New Baptist Covenant

Organizers of the New Baptist Covenant met at the Carter Center today in Atlanta to announce the participants and preachers that will be on the program of the Celebration in Atlanta on Jan 30-Feb 1, 2008.

Contrary to the fears expressed by many Southern Baptist leaders, the celebration will not be a rally to organize support for the Democratic party or for Hilary Clinton's presidential bid. The only presidential candidate who will participate in the celebration will be Southern Baptist Republican Mike Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas. Huckabee will be joined by Republican Senators Lindsay Graham of South Carolina and Charles Grassley of Iowa. Democrat participation will include former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton as well as former Vice President Al Gore.

Instead of a political rally, the celebration will be a revival and renewal of an authentic and prophetic Baptist voice that will emphasize "Unity in Christ" as based on Jesus sermon to his hometown of Nazareth in Luke 4:18-19. Emphasis will be given to unity in seeking peace with justice, unity in bringing good news to the poor, unity in respecting religious diversity, unity in welcoming the stranger, and unity in setting the captives free.

A number of prominent Baptist preachers will also be on the program. This meeting will truly be of historical significance. All Baptists, including Southern Baptists, who share our common concern for renewing and unifying Baptists around humble service and ministry, rather than around partisan politics, are invited and encouraged to attend.

On Preaching an Ethical Gospel

Mark Woods, editor of the U.K's Baptist Times, has published an outstanding essay on the need to preach and practice an ethical discipleship. Using William Carey as an example, he concludes:

There's a direct line between the sort of action which William Carey was able to take for granted--refusing to be guilty of perpetuating the evil system of slavery by taking advantage of its products--and the choices open to us today.

It's just as wrong for us to buy clothes produced by sweatshop labor or to eat chocolate produced by slave labor as it was for 18th century Baptists to eat West Indian sugar.

As Baptists, we are good at evangelism. We are not always quite as good at identifying the content of our evangelical message. But the notion of freedom is not a bad place to start, and freedom, as John F. Kennedy said, is indivisible.

Even the hymn written for the Assembly and sung every evening, "Cry Freedom," contains the line, "None of us is truly free/ While anyone is bound."
Woods did not mention the horrid practices surrounding the African diamond trade, but he could have.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Roy Medley on the New Baptist Covenant

Roy Medley, Executive Director of the American Baptist Churches -- U.S.A., has an essay about his excitement for the New Baptist Covenant celebration that is published in the current issue of Mercer University's Baptist Studies Bulletin. Here are the opening paragraphs:

The North American Baptist Covenant is an exciting step forward in pan-Baptist cooperation in North America. As such, it is one more way in which Baptists of North America are cooperating in common mission, common ministry, and common witness.

Such cooperation will only serve to strengthen our witness for Christ within the world.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Profiting from Poverty

Business Week has published an illuminating story about "The Poverty Business." Here's a quote:

Nobody, poor or rich, is compelled to pay a high price for a used car, a credit card, or anything else. Some see the debate ending there. "The only feasible way to run a capitalist society is to allow companies to maximize their profits," says Tyler Cowen, an economist at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. "That will sometimes include allowing them to sell things to people that will sometimes make them worse off."

Others worry, however, that the widening income gap between the wealthy and the less fortunate is being exacerbated by the spread of high-interest, high-fee financing. "People are being encouraged to live beyond their means by companies that are preying on low-income consumers," says Jacob S. Hacker, a political scientist at Yale.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Bush Woos Religious Right to Support War with Iran

Max Blumenthal reports that last week President Bush met with James Dobson and a dozen other religious right leaders to drum up support for a war with Iran. Here's a quote:

Dobson described Bush as "upbeat and determined and convinced," adding, "I wish the American people could have sat in on that meeting we had."

Dobson went on to enumerate a series of meetings convened by Christian right leaders in Washington to discuss the supposedly existential threat to the United States from a nuclear Iran.

Older Americans Most Pessimistic About Iraq War

A recent Gallup poll reveals that older Americans are the most pessimistic about the propriety of the war in Iraq.

30-39 males view the war in Iraq most positively.

Podcast: Hali Thomas Does Bach

Hali Thomas' flute solo of "Sheep May Safely Graze" (2.8MB mp3) by Bach performed at NorthHaven Church in Norman, OK on Mother's Day -- May 13, 2007. She is accompanied by June Price on the piano.

Here's a link to another flute solo by Hali.

Sacred Pigs at the Government Trough

Sunday's New York Times published a story about the sacred pigs who are lining up at the federal trough. Now that the federal government has been endowed with the ability to bless select faith groups with funding, some religious groups are hiring lobbyists to secure a bigger share of the faith-based pie. Here's a quote:

A New York Times analysis shows that the number of earmarks for religious organizations, while small compared with the overall number, have increased sharply in recent years. From 1989 to January 2007, Congress approved almost 900 earmarks for religious groups, totaling more than $318 million, with more than half of them granted in the Congressional session that included the 2004 presidential election. By contrast, the same analysis showed fewer than 60 earmarks for faith-based groups in the Congressional session that covered 1997 and 1998.

Earmarks are individual federal grants that bypass the normal appropriations and competitive-bidding procedures. They have been blamed for feeding the budget deficit and have figured in several Capitol Hill bribery scandals, prompting recent calls for reform from White House and Congressional leaders.

They are distinct from the competitive, peer-reviewed grants that have traditionally been used by religious institutions and charities to obtain money for social services.

As the number of faith-based earmarks grew, the period from 1998 to 2005 saw a tripling in the number of religious organizations listed as clients of Washington lobbying firms and a doubling in the amount they paid for services, according to an analysis by The Times.
For those who love the church, this is not a happy development. We are reverting to the corrupt union of pseudo-piety, power politics and worldly wealth that led to centuries of religious strife and conflict.

Why is David Barton's Mythology in JROTC Textbooks?

Chris Rodda has published an important and alarming essay about the U.S. Department of Defense using David Barton's Dominionist mythology in textbooks for the JROTC. Around 1/2 million young people are in JROTC courses in public schools around the country.

Here's a quote from Rodda:

Before even getting to the historical inaccuracy of the Barton explanation of Jefferson's letter, and disregarding the disturbing fact that anything by Barton appears in an official Department of Defense history text being used in our high schools, I think an important question needs to be asked. Why is the issue of separation between church and state in this chapter in the first place? The lessons in this chapter teach the cadets to decide on a position on an issue by majority rule, and then form a plan to promote that position. This is appropriate for the other examples that follow in the textbook, such as whether or not the voting age should be lowered to sixteen, but to foster the notion that a fundamental principle like church/state separation is subject to majority rule is incredible. To present what is described as "one perspective" on this issue when that "perspective" is based on inaccurate history is beyond incredible.
Chris also offers a valuable summary of the historical context in which Thomas Jefferson wrote his famous Letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.

Moyers on the Influence of Regents University

Last week, Bill Moyers Journal reported on the growing influence of graduates of Pat Robertson's Regents University within the federal government. Monica Goodling, who was given power to hire and fire all U.S. Attorneys by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, is just one example of the power that Robertson's theocratic law graduates have attained in the last six years.

Here's a quote from Moyer's report:

The dean has reason to be pleased. Just consider the missionaries Regent has already sent to what the religious right once considered the heart of darkness - the government in Washington. Their website boasted that 150 of the university's students have worked in the Bush administration since 2001.

Many have this woman to thank: Kay Coles James. For four years she ran the Office of Personnel management for President Bush. Her reach stretched across the entire Executive Branch.

Before her White House assignment, she had been vice president of the Christian lobbying group known as the Family Research Council and dean of the Robertson School of Government at Regent University.

Throughout the Bush administration, the Regent network has spread — offering jobs, mentoring and promotions to bright young religious conservatives in the Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, USAID, Homeland Security, The Drug Enforcement Agency, The Office of the Special Counsel, Senate and House staffs, Commerce, Education, Defense Veterans Affairs, The Air Force, The Army, The CIA, NASA…. and the Department of Justice.

For the Christian Right these doors open on the promised land, where Biblical law can influence the law of the land.
I think it is naive to believe that a change of administration will restore the neutrality of government in matters of religion. It is hard for me to believe that Robertson's 150 theocrats and their staffs will simply disappear when a different administration takes power. That's why Mark Crispin Miller's criticisms of Jon Stewart and Bill Maher are on target. For those who value pluralistic democracy, the theocratic infiltration of our government is no laughing matter.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Rise of the Non-Geographic Association

The Baptist Standard has published an interesting and informative report about the changing nature of Baptist associations. First published in Virginia's Religious Herald, Robert Dilday chronicles the rise of non-geographic associations. Here's a quote:

Geography or affinity? Proximity was a standard feature of associations for most of the last three centuries. While the initial Philadelphia Association included churches as far south as Virginia, the impulse to localize was strong. In fact, it came to define associations.

Growing Baptist diversity — as well as communication innovations and ease of transporation — may be breaking down that former key associational characteristic. Many churches are seeking fellowship with congregations with which they share important identifying factors such as size, demographics, culture, theology or mission philosophy.

"Nongeographic associations are developing for a variety of reasons — some theological, some missiological, some ecclesiological," said Leonard.

Many megachurches — such as Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., and Saddleback Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif. — essentially are nongeographic associations, he said.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Berkowitz on the American Family Association

Bill Berkowitz has published a valuable update on the influence of Don Wildmon's American Family Association under the title "AFA Still Cranky After All These Years." Here's a quote:

"He has perhaps one of the largest databases of supporters," said the Rev. Jimmy Porter, executive director-treasurer of the Mississippi Baptist Christian Action Commission, which sometimes works in concert with the American Family Association. "It is a substantial voice for the Christian conservative movement."

The organization's "e-mail blasts" "prompt supporters to shower TV and corporate executives with e-mail messages protesting objectionable TV shows or a company's apparent support of homosexuality," Gordon pointed out.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Scahill Testifies On Capital Hill

Jeremy Scahill, author of the book "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army" testified before the House Appropriations Sub-Committee for Defense yesterday. He testified about the effects of our outsourcing the war in Iraq to private military contractors. Here's a quote:

More disturbing is what this means for our democracy: at a time when the administration seems unwilling to subject its war strategy to oversight by the Congress, we face the widespread use of private forces seemingly accountable to no effective system of oversight or law.

While tens of thousands of these contractors provide logistical support, thousands are heavily armed private soldiers roaming Iraq. We do know that there are some 48,000 employees of private military companies in Iraq alone.

These forces work for US companies like Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp as well as companies from across the globe. Some contractors make in a month what many active-duty soldiers make in a year. Indeed, there are private contractors in Iraq making more money than the Secretary of Defense and more than the commanding generals. The testimony about private contractors that I hear most often from active duty soldiers falls into two categories: resentment and envy.

Parham Puffs Huckabee

Robert Parham, Executive Director of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has published an editorial asking "Should GOP Pay Debt to Southern Baptists with Huckabee Nomination?"

If Parham was a Republican, his editorial could have been considered an endorsement. Unless he's had a recent dramatic political conversion, Parham is not a Republican. Nevertheless, the point he is making has validity:

No group has been more loyal to the Republican Party--and gotten less--than Southern Baptists.

Southern Baptist fundamentalists endorsed Ronald Reagan at a religious rally in 1979 and then invited Republican presidents, vice presidents and other notables to speak--live or by teleconference--at almost every one of their annual June meetings ever since.

Baptist preachers demonized Democrats as the anti-God party, while christening the GOP as God's Only Party.

What have Southern Baptists gotten in return? Beyond a few presidential cufflinks and Oval Office photo-ops, not much.

Roe v. Wade is still the law of the land. Gay marriage is gaining ground. Divorce is widely ignored. Homosexuals are embraced openly and defended widely in the Republican Party. The Ten Commandments remain off public walls. Schools began each day without public prayer. Intelligent design is a third-rank idea behind evolution. Out-of-wedlock births are high. Culture is coarse.

Suffering from loose lips, one SBC agency official told a New York Times reporter he wanted a wedding ring from the Republican Party. He wanted the Republicans to consummate their relationship with Southern Baptists. It has not happened.

Southern Baptist preachers have certainly earned the right on the field of political battle to have one of their own lead, and Mike Huckabee looks like the one.
If Richard Land ever gets that wedding ring that he was demanding from the GOP for his efforts, 2008 may be the year. I agree with Parham, Huckabee would make an ideal bridegroom for the Fundamentalists who took over the SBC.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Purple Drought

USA Today has posted a story that predicts average temperatures in the Southeastern U.S. could rise an average of 10 degrees by 2080.

Areas in purple on the map will have average temperatures around 108 degrees with no rain.

It looks like Oklahomans will need a lot more air conditioning in 2080.

Military Brass See Global Warming as Security Threat

AFP has reported that a number of former senior military officers have testified before the Senate Foreign Relations committee that global warming could pose a threat to national security. Here's a quote:
"Climate change poses a serious threat to America's national security," said retired admiral and former US ambassador to China Joseph Prueher, one of eleven retired generals and admirals who compiled a recent report on the issue.

"Climate change will exacerbate many of the causes of instability that exist today -- those instabilities are part of the underpinnings of extremism."

Prueher said the US military should start planning now for the new era of environmentally spawned security threats, in the hope of mitigating some of the worst impact.

D. James Kennedy Lets Political Organizing Slide

The Miami Herald is reporting that D. James Kennedy, one of the most vocal and visible theocrats in America, has decided to put more emphasis on expanding his media empire than on political organizing.

Here's a quote:

The Center for Reclaiming America, founded in 1996 as the political-action arm of the Rev. D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, once stood at the forefront of the fight to ban same-sex marriage, outlaw abortion and promote religion in schools and public life.


The center helped rally Christian activists during the Terri Schiavo controversy, gathered thousands of signatures for a statewide referendum on a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and sent 196,422 signatures to the U.S. Supreme Court urging the justices to uphold the ban on what is known as partial-birth abortion, which they did last month.

Advancing a conservative Christian agenda remains central to the ministry's mission, but the organization will deliver its message through its media channels rather than lobbying, said John Aman, a spokesman for Coral Ridge Ministries, which had $38 million in revenue in 2005.

"It is a shift in means but not ends," he said. "It's going back to doing what we're best at, which is creating media."
Kennedy is probably the most politically astute leader in the Religious Right. In my opinion, Kennedy's decision to let political organizing slide is a pragmatic decision regarding the best use of his time, energy and resources in the current political climate.

Unlike the Herald's reporter, I don't think Kennedy gives a hoot about what Joel Hunter and Rick Warren think.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Land Offers Half-Baked Theocracy

Ethics Daily is reporting that Richard Land denies the influence of Christian Reconstructionism on the leadership of the SBC. Meanwhile, as Bob Allen at Ethics Daily points out, the influence of Dominionism on Wiley Drake, current second Vice President of the Convention, is easily discerned.

Land is also promoting a book that he wrote to put a kinder and gentler face on the increasing influence that he is exercising over the GOP. The fact is, Land ranks fourth on the list of Christians who are attempting to exercise "dominion" over the secular and civic life of all Americans. When the next election nears, and Land cranks up his SBC paid get-out-the-values-voters political machine, you won't be hearing him calling people who "want to try to reconstruct a biblical country with Christians being the ones in control" kooks. Then he'll be rousing them to polls with the rhetoric of a culture war against the onslaught of secularism.

There are real differences between Christian Reconstructionism, Dominionism and Christian Nationalism. Land and most other Southern Baptists are Christian Nationalists who would settle for half of the loaf that Christian Reconstructionism would bake for America. Some Southern Baptists are Dominionists who want three quarters of the loaf. A few Southern Baptists want the whole loaf.

The half-baked idea that America is a Christian nation in which the Christian religion is privileged by government and by law rather than a pluralistic democracy in which the government and the law remain neutral in regard to religion is what all three movements within the Religious Right have on their plate.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Bush Still Twisting Truth About Iraq

Robert Parry has written an astute analysis of "The Ongoing Iraq Intel Fraud." Here's a quote:

When Bush mocks Democratic "politicians in Washington" who supposedly seek to substitute their judgments for those of experienced commanders on the ground, the national news media stays silent on Bush's hypocrisy. It's almost never mentioned that he was the Washington politician in December who overruled the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the two top generals in Iraq on the escalation of the war.

Bush not only rejected the advice of the Joint Chiefs and his field generals, John Abizaid and George Casey, but then replaced Abizaid and Casey with new commanders who were compliant to Bush's wishes. Though the removals fell within Bush's Commander-in-Chief powers, it can't be said he was respecting the judgments of the combat generals.

Herod's Tomb Discovered

Hebrew University in Jerusalem has announced the discovery of Herod's Tomb.

Here's a quote:

The tomb was discovered by Hebrew University Professor Ehud Netzer, who is considered one of the leading experts on King Herod. Netzer has conducted archeological digs at Herodium since 1972 in an attempt to locate the grave and tomb.

The discovery solves one of Israel's greatest archeological mysteries.

Beinhart's Proposal Makes Sense

Larry Beinhart has made "A Modest Proposal" for an equitable resolution of the war in Iraq. I think his proposal has a lot of merit.

It is a proposal that recognizes our responsibility to assure that the Iraqis live in peace when we leave. It is also a proposal that recognizes the responsibilities of our elected leaders and the burden that is involved in making difficult choices.

Here's a quote:

The pro-war position that we cannot abandon the mess we’ve made does have great certain moral authority. There are now millions upon millions of Iraqis whose lives have been ruined in this war and millions upon millions more whose lives continue to be at risk due to the chaos that was unleashed by the war and during the time that America has been in charge of the country. To abandon them and fail to establish a secure and decent level of civilization is reprehensible.
Here's another quote:
There are a lot of people who supported the war. Lots and lots of them.

They should go. George Bush likes wearing uniforms. Let him march in Baghdad. We might say that Dick Cheney is old and feeble, but he can certainly do secret administrative duties from an undisclosed location in Iraq. John McCain can run the POW camps. Hillary Clinton, who voted for the war, can serve, as an example to women. John Kerry, who promised to fight the same war better and smarter, and who voted for it, can serve. I would pay good money to see Bill Kristol and Paul Wolfowitz in uniform. Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity would make great MPs, or failing that, do great at KP, or digging latrines.
Beinhart makes a few more proposals that make sense.

Ethanol Running Into Big Oil Roadblocks

Ethanol will not solve the problem of America's dependence on fossil fuels, but it is part of the solution.

At least one Republican politician has discovered a big reason why it has been so difficult getting Americans to switch to alternative fuels. Here's a quote from Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa:

"Renewable fuels are a key factor in our energy future," Grassley said in a statement Friday. "And it appears Big Oil is throwing up roadblocks every chance they get."

Saturday, May 05, 2007

How Credible is Wiley Drake? Updated

Wade Burleson has posted a blog saying "Dr. Drake Told Me He Never Signed the Petition." The petition in question was a petition in support of James Kopp after he assassinated a doctor who performed abortions.

Fred Clarkson has responded with a blog asking "An Earnest Denial or a Wiley Evasion."

It looks like a Wiley evasion to me.

5-7-07 Update: Ethics Daily has posted a story with additional valuable details regarding this story.

Friday, May 04, 2007

On the Evangelical Takeover of the U.S. Military

Robert Koehler has published a provocative essay entitled, "The Crusaders: 'The Christian Taliban is Running the Department of Defense'" Central to his essay is information in Michael Weinstein's new book "With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military." Here's a quote from Koehler:
Until I read the newly published “With God on Their Side” (St. Martin’s Press), Michael Weinstein’s disturbing account of anti-Semitism at the U.S. Air Force Academy, I shrugged off each of these remarks, and so much more, as isolated, almost comically intolerant noises out of True Believer Land. Forgive them, Lord, for they know not what they do . . .

Now my blood runs cold. Weinstein, a 1977 graduate of the Academy and former assistant general counsel in the Reagan administration, and a lifelong Republican, has devoted the last several years of his life to battling what he has come to regard as a fundamentalist takeover of the Academy, turning it, in effect, into a taxpayer-supported Evangelical institution. He charges that the separation of church and state is rapidly vanishing at the school, which routinely promotes sectarian religious events, tolerates the proselytizing of uniquely vulnerable new recruits and, basically, conflates evangelical interests and the national interest.
I've written blogs about "America's Thoroughly Evangelical Airforce" on several occassions.

This Sunday, May 6, 2007, I will interview Weinstein and talk about his book on my "Religious Talk" radio program. The program airs live at 11:00 AM CST and is broadcast in streaming audio over the internet at this link.

Weinstein is a graduate of the Air Force Academy and a former Assistant General Counsel for the Reagan administration.

I'll also be posting a podcast of the interview on Sunday afternoon.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Louisiana College Hijacking Student Government

A Louisiana College student just posted the following comment on an earlier blog about Thomas Howell leaving the college:

I am a student at LC. It has gotten a lot worse here recently. The administration has hijacked our student government election because they want a certain student to become student government president. His mother just happens to be on board of trustees. They have suspended the current SGA president for posting on, a site which we can no longer access from our dorm rooms. We are scared to speak out because no one wants to get suspended or expelled. Please help us any way you can.
It is hard to imagine how Fundamentalists could do more damage to that institution, but every day seems to be worse than the day before.

Latinos Changing the Face of American Religion

Pew Forum has published some valuable information about "Latinos and the Transformation of American Religion." Here's a quote:

These two defining characteristics — the prevalence of spirit-filled religious expressions and of ethnicoriented worship — combined with the rapid growth of the Hispanic population leave little doubt that a detailed understanding of religious faith among Latinos is essential to understanding the future of this population as well as the evolving nature of religion in the United States.
Hat Tip to ABP for calling attention to the Pew Forum report.

Expect More Public School Bashing at the SBC

Ethics Daily has posted a story entitled "Proposed 2007 SBC Resolution Seeks to Boost 'Exodus' Agenda." The "Exodus" agenda refers to the growing movement within the Southern Baptist Convention to pull all Southern Baptist children out of public schools to make sure they are indoctrinated in Christian schools or home schools.

Here's a review of one of the textbooks that are popular in their schools.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Regarding Christian Zionism

Thanks to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to the current issue of the Journal of Lutheran Ethics. The May 2007 issue is devoted to a timely discussion of Christian Zionism.

Here's a description of some of the essays:

2] Robert O. Smith reminds readers of the historical and existential context for Jewish sensitivities regarding Christian discussions of this topic. He contends that discussions pertaining to Christian Zionism must also take into account important conversations concerning proper Jewish-Christian relations.

[3] JoAnn G. Magnuson presents the case for Christian Zionism, based on both biblical and historical considerations. As someone with long involvement in the Christian Zionist movement, she argues that not all Christian Zionists are committed to dispensational theology. She provides a Christian Zionist perspective on the way forward in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

[4] Bishop Munib Younan provides a robust theological critique of the topic, and speaks from the vantage point of his personal experience as an Arab Palestinian Lutheran Christian. He examines the theology of the Promised Land based on an examination of scripture. He notes that the Bible is a “complex narrative that shows God’s intent to transform the world and its people into a new community of shalom/salaam/peace.” He leads readers through a litany of problems with Christian Zionism from the point of view of someone who lives daily with this issue.

[5] John Hubers describes the ethical dilemma created by the displacement of many thousands of non-Jewish residents brought about by the creation of the state of Israel. He lifts up elements of the historical context for the discussion of the ethical issues involved, and lays out the implications of the discussion of Christian Zionism for the contemporary situation in Israel/Palestine. Like Bishop Younan, Hubers provides a theological critique of the main Christian Zionist assertions.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Regarding Our Deregulated Student Loan Industry

Today's Washington Post has a story about how the current administration derailed rules in 2001 that would have regulated the unethical practices of student lenders.

It is clear that this administration was more interested in spreading wealth to the well-connected than in assisting students get a good education.

Sooner or later, students who are overloaded repaying loans for an education they were told would get them good jobs (now being outsourced overseas) are going to balk at taking the blame for their declining standard of living.

These same students are being counted on to pay the bills for the baby boomer's impending social security and medicare expenses, for this administration's budget deficits, and for the Iraq war debt.

In time, some of these students are going to figure out that the system was rigged against them from the very beginning.

Was Cheney Behind Forged Intelligence on Iraq?

Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst, announced on television yesterday that the forged intelligence that was used to launch the war in Iraq can be traced to Vice President Cheney.

I suspect that the evidence behind McGovern's claim is what is prompting calls for Cheney's impeachment.