Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Convenient Excuse

Ken Camp's explanation for the close vote between Joy Fenner and David Lowrie for President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas is about half true and is therefore misleading. He said:

Many convention messengers attributed the close margin of Fenner’s election less to her gender and more to dissatisfaction with current BGCT leadership, as well as the other nominee’s West Texas ties.
Camp neglected to mention that many convention messengers do attribute the close margin of Fenner's election to her gender -- and less to dissatisfaction with current BGCT leadership. The other nominee's West Texas ties were also a factor.

The supposed messenger dissatisfaction with current BGCT leadership was not evident on the votes for first and second vice president -- both of whom were males.

It's time to stop pretending that there are not sizeable pockets of Baptists within the BGCT that still resist the placement of women in positions of key leadership.

All it takes to confirm that is to count the number of churches in West Texas who permit women to serve as deacons within their churches.

Frankly, it is amazing that a woman was elected president of the state convention before more than 95% of the churches have ever elected a woman to serve as deacon.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Texas Baptists Elect First Woman President

By a narrow 51 to 49 percent margin, Texas baptists elected Joy Fenner president of their convention.

Meeting in the conservative west Texas city of Amarillo, Baptists showed that they are overcoming decades of opposition to women in positions of key leadership within the denomination.

More later.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Podcast: Preston Clegg Interview

Will Prescott's 10-28-07 "Courageous Church" profile for the "Religious Talk" radio program is of Spring Creek Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. Will interviews Pastor Preston Clegg (6MB MP3).

News to My Ears

The New York Times has posted a story about divisions within evangelicalism that is news to Mainstream Baptist ears. Here's a quote from Terry Fox, the chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board:

"The pendulum in the Christian world has swung back to the moderate point of view. The real battle now is among evangelicals."
Fox was recently pressured to resign from his church for his political activism in the pulpit.

On Terror and Ideology

Today's New York Times features an editorial by Francois Furstenburg, professor of history at the University of Montreal, that traces the derivation of the word "terrorist" to the Jacobin reign of terror after the French Revolution. Here's a quote:

If the French Terror had a slogan, it was that attributed to the great orator Louis de Saint-Just: “No liberty for the enemies of liberty.” Saint-Just’s pithy phrase (like President Bush’s variant, “We must not let foreign enemies use the forums of liberty to destroy liberty itself”) could serve as the very antithesis of the Western liberal tradition.

On this principle, the Terror demonized its political opponents, imprisoned suspected enemies without trial and eventually sent thousands to the guillotine. All of these actions emerged from the Jacobin worldview that the enemies of liberty deserved no rights.

Though it has been a topic of much attention in recent years, the origin of the term “terrorist” has gone largely unnoticed by politicians and pundits alike. The word was an invention of the French Revolution, and it referred not to those who hate freedom, nor to non-state actors, nor of course to “Islamofascism.”

A terroriste was, in its original meaning, a Jacobin leader who ruled France during la Terreur.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

This One's For Randy (Corrected)

Dr. Randy Ridenour, professor of philosophy at Oklahoma Baptist University, is an Army Reserve chaplain now stationed in Baghdad.

His daughter, Rachael, (pictured above) plays Cello in the Norman High School orchestra. Tonight she performed in the school's presentation of Rogers & Hammerstein's musical Oklahoma. (A fitting selection for the year our state is celebrating its centennial.)

Here's a link to a one minute podcast (1MB MP3) with an excerpt from tonight's performance of the Overture to the musical.

(Sorry about the poor picture and sound quality. It's the best I could do with an i-phone camera and an inexpensive digital voice recorder. Somehow, I don't think he'll have any difficulty recognizing either his daughter or the tune.)

Subprime Catastrophe to Get Worse

Paul Krugman has written a scathing essay about how predictions of catastrophe in the subprime mortgage markets were ignored.

The most alarming information in the essay is the revelation about how severe the losses will be when the interest on loans made in 2005 and 2006 adjust. Here's a quote:

Much if not most of the subprime lending that is now going so catastrophically bad took place after it was clear to many of us that there was a serious housing bubble, and after people like Mr. Gramlich had issued public warnings about the subprime situation. As late as 2003, subprime loans accounted for only 8.5 percent of the value of mortgages issued in this country. In 2005 and 2006, the peak years of the housing bubble, subprime was 20 percent of the total — and the delinquency rates on recent subprime loans are much higher than those on older loans.
It looks to me that the rollercoaster our economy is on is going to take a steep dive over the next couple years. That means that stories about declining budgets at religious institutions -- like this one from the Baptist Standard -- are not likely to go away very soon.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Rumsfeld Charged With Torture in France

Raw Story is reporting that a criminal complaint of "torture" was filed in a French court against former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. Here's a quote:

The filed documents allege that during his tenure, the former defense secretary "ordered and authorized" torture of detainees at both the American-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the US military's detainment facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Since neither President Bush nor the U.S. Congress will hold Rumsfeld accountable for violating the Geneva Conventions, perhaps the courts in France will.

Counting Down to Armageddon

The Asia Times is reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and agreed that an attack on Iran would be viewed as an attack on Russia.

The Times thinks that assurance will nullify President Bush's desire to launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran.

What they don't realize is that such an alliance between Iran and Russia is exactly what Bush's Christian Zionist advisors expect. It fulfills the predictions of Armageddon theologians.

Was Bush pre-ordained to become one of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse? Some evangelicals think so.
They've got the future of the Middle East all laid out in their end-times charts. Nothing will take them by surprise until they discover that they are not going to be raptured out of the great tribulations that they are praying will come to pass.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

On Emergency Appropriations For Bombing Iran

Moments ago, Secretary of State Rice and Treasury Secretary Paulson announced new economic sanctions against Iran.

The news they are trying to bury is the disclosure by ABC News that the Bush administration has hidden a $88 million request for funds to equip B-2 bombers with bunker buster bombs inside its recent request for emergency funding.

This is more evidence that preparations are being made for an air-strike against Iran. Bush doesn't appear to have been joking about starting World War III.

DeBorde Challenges Oklahoma Lawmakers

Darryl DeBorde, pastor of Braden Park Baptist Church in Tulsa, challenges the lawmakers who are publicly insulting their Islamic constituents in Oklahoma. Here's a quote from today's Tulsa World:

The Rev. Darryl DeBorde, pastor of Braden Park Baptist Church and a board member of the Tulsa Interfaith Alliance, criticized the legislators.

"The Tulsa Interfaith Alliance expects all of our elected officials to treat all of their constituents with dignity and respect," he said.

"To purposefully condemn and denounce all Oklahomans who are members of one religious body is just wrong, whether they be Muslim, Baptist or anything else."
Well said, Darryl.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

On Ritual Defamation

The Campaign for America's Future weblog has posted an outstanding essay on "The Art of the Hissy Fit" that describes the practice of ritual defamation.

The essay is about the tactics that conservatives use to manipulate political discussion in American politics, but it also describes a practice that fundamentalists employed to marginalize moderates and progressives in order to take over the Southern Baptist Convention. Here's a quote:

But it's about more than simple political distraction or savvy public relations. It's actually a very well developed form of social control called Ritual Defamation (or Ritual Humiliation) as this well trafficked internet article defines it:

Defamation is the destruction or attempted destruction of the reputation, status, character or standing in the community of a person or group of persons by unfair, wrongful, or malicious speech or publication. For the purposes of this essay, the central element is defamation in retaliation for the real or imagined attitudes, opinions or beliefs of the victim, with the intention of silencing or neutralizing his or her influence, and/or making an example of them so as to discourage similar independence and "insensitivity" or non-observance of taboos. It is different in nature and degree from simple criticism or disagreement in that it is aggressive, organized and skillfully applied, often by an organization or representative of a special interest group, and in that it consists of several characteristic elements.
The article goes on to lay out several defining characteristics of ritual defamation such as "the method of attack in a ritual defamation is to assail the character of the victim, and never to offer more than a perfunctory challenge to the particular attitudes, opinions or beliefs expressed or implied. Character assassination is its primary tool." Perhaps its most intriguing insight is this:

The power of ritual defamation lies entirely in its capacity to intimidate and terrorize. It embraces some elements of primitive superstitious belief, as in a "curse" or "hex." It plays into the subconscious fear most people have of being abandoned or rejected by the tribe or by society and being cut off from social and psychological support systems.

Regarding Your Bill for Bush's Wars

USA Today has divided the cost of Bush's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq by the number of American citizens.

They estimate that every man, woman and child in our country will owe $8,000.00 toward the war debt.

The bills for that debt won't land in your mail box until long after Bush has left office.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Podcast: Interview with Dr. Katherine Scheirman

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 10-21-07 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Dr. Katherine Scheirman (27 MB MP3). Scheirman is a Senior Advisor at She is a retired Air Force Colonel who was the Chief of Medical Operations at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany from 2004-2006.

We talk about the failure of the current U.S. administration to provide adequate personnel and resources to care for the soldiers that are being wounded in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Oklahoma Representatives Make Religious Bigotry Official

Oklahoma State Representative Rex Duncan gladly received a copy of a centennial edition of a Bible provided by the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. The Bible was printed to celebrate the centennial of Oklahoma's statehood.

Duncan and six other state representatives, however, refused to accept a centennial copy of the Quran that was provided by members of the Oklahoma Muslim community.

Duncan refused the Quran on the grounds that, "I don't know on another religion or ideology that employs terrorism and the threat of terrorism."

It appears that Duncan has not read the Bible that BGCO gave him. 1 Samuel 15:2-3 says:

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"
Had Duncan queried BGCO leaders about their belief regarding the Bible he would learn that they believe the Bible is inerrant and infallible from cover to cover and that 1 Samuel 15:2-3 is a literal description of God's will.

So Duncan is either misinformed or shading the truth when he says, "Most Oklahomans do not endorse the killing of innocent women and children in the name of ideology."

I'm not accusing Oklahoma Baptists of being terrorists. I'm just trying to point out the fallacy of any argument that quotes the scriptures of any faith apart from an interpretive context.

Allison Moore is correct to assert that Duncan is taking the Quran out of context. Moore, a convert to Islam, told the Tulsa World, "We do not condone suicide bombers any more than the Christians."

On Crony Capitalism

Robert Kuttner has an insightful explanation of the solution that our Treasury Department has invented to solve the banking crisis being caused by the speculative investments of American banks. In an article entitled "Banking on a Bailout" posted at the American Prospect, Kuttner says,

Who are these nice people at the Treasury who say they believe in free markets, but spent the past month arm-twisting other banks to mount this government-induced rescue of Citigroup? The Treasury secretary is Hank Paulson, who served as a senior executive at Goldman Sachs with Robert Rubin, currently chairman of the executive committee of none other than Citigroup. Several other senior Treasury officials are alums of Goldman Sachs where they were associates of Rubin, Paulson or both. Very clubby.

So, consider: If you lose your job to outsourcing or your pension plan to an engineered company bankruptcy or your health coverage to a corporate takeover or your home to a subprime loan shark, hey - that's the free market working and the free market makes America great. Tough break.

But if you are Citigroup, and you just squandered billions of depositors' money on speculative bets that went bad, the whole economy will tank if you fail and the government will rush to your rescue.

Call me old fashioned, but the idea that a big bank can have "off-balance-sheet" deals reeks of wrongdoing. Banks are government-chartered, government-examined, and most deposits are government-insured.

The purpose of a balance sheet is to show all assets and liabilities. Why should a bank be permitted to create an affiliate whose main function is to extract fees and disguise risks? It's shades of Enron.
The transparent hypocrisy of our economic practices is one of the reasons why the New York Times is reporting that poor countries are wagging fingers at rich ones at the current semi-annual meeting of the world's top banking and finance officials.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Regarding Our Perilous Economy

The dollar soared today against foreign currencies. Foreign newspapers are already indicating that it is a fool's rally.

In the UK the Telegraph is reporting that a "new credit crunch looms" because the dollar is about to collapse. Here's an excerpt:

There are concerns that a $75bn (£37bn) rescue operation put together by US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to stabilise the sub-prime market is intended to mask the scale of the crisis.

"This rescue has back-fired," said Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas. "The central banks don't want anything to do with it. There is a fear that the big four US banks are trying to hide their debts," he said.

. . .

"The dollar is going to fall further because long-term funding for US assets has collapsed since the sub-prime crisis."

Outgoing IMF chief Rodrigo Rato warned yesterday that the adjustment may be brutal. "An abrupt fall in the dollar could either be triggered by, or itself trigger, a loss of confidence in dollar assets," he said.

Bill Moyers' October 12th interview with Robert Kuttner and William Donaldson -- about the similarities between 1929 and 2007 -- provides a succinct analysis of the challenges that we may soon be facing.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Tracy's SCHIP Testimonial

Tracy Brown, a regular reader and commenter on this weblog, sent me a testimonial related to the value of SCHIP yesterday. I thought others would benefit from reading it. He's given me permission to publish it.

I grew up in a poor family. My mother did not work outside our home, and she suffered from a debilitating mental illness. My dad was a Type I diabetic who made no more than minimum wage up to age 65 when he retired. We had no telephone. We had no hot running water in our house. We had no indoor bathroom when I was a very small child.

My sister died of pneumonia in 1936 at about age 3. At the time, my mom and dad lived in a rural area with poor medical care. They eventually got my sister to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville---but by then it was too late. Long after my dad died, my uncle James (who was a minister in a small Pentecostal church) pulled me aside one day and told me a story that I had never heard. As my sister lay dying in her hospital bed, my dad walked down the hall of the hospital to get something (maybe a drink of water). When he walked back to her room, but well before entering the room, he saw something that stopped him dead in his tracks. A human-like figure, bathed in glowing light, was standing over my sister's bed in a prayer-like pose and with a demeanor of enormous concern. He stood and watched it until it vaporized. There was no SCHIP program back then -- not even Medicaid. Poor folks had to depend on limited local charity to get into a hospital -- sometimes when it was too late -- like it was for my sister -- and there was certainly not enough of this charity to go around to everyone who needed it. I wonder what that mysterious figure bathed in light would say about the Bush veto of SCHIP?

Every parent who loses a child lives in fear of losing another one because they have learned the hard way that it can really happen. Twenty-two years after my sister's death, I was a late-in-life child who became sick with a strep infection that turned into a nasty bout with rheumatic fever, which can destroy your heart and kill. My parents were frightened out of their wits. They were still very poor, and they had another seriously sick child. I survived the first attack of the fever intact but had to go into the hospital to get my tonsils removed. The medical bills were no doubt enormous, and I have no idea how they paid them. Even after coming home from the hospital, I appeared to still be a strep magnet. The germs would come after me often, leaving me with heart murmurs until the infection could be driven away. My doctor's last resort was to put me on a prophylactic daily dose of something newfangled for that time (oral penicillin tablets). However, they were enormously expensive -- far beyond my dad’s miniscule paycheck. I saw the pain and concern come over his face when the doctor told him how expensive the medicine would be. Just for a second, it must have transported him back to that sad room so many years before at Vanderbilt Hospital. However, something happened. Suddenly, in that examination room, the figure bathed in light showed up once again, not as a visible figure, but interposing itself in a different way, this time with just a few words that spilled out of my doctor's lips:

"Mr. Brown. I don't know all of the details right now, but there is a new federal program here in the county. If my hunch is correct, this program may be able to pay for most of this medication until he no longer needs it. I'll check into it and get back to you."

Just a day or two later, an enormous bottle of penicillin tablets showed up at my house. I took one every day until I was 12 years old. The strep never came back. My parents were still able to buy food and the other basics that we used to (as the old folks say) "...barely get by." I am alive today because of God’s mercy, His love, and someone in our government who was touched with compassion for the plight of the poor.

This is the point where those who appreciate people like Ann Coulter, Newt Gingrich, or Richard Land stop the story to make an intermission statement that goes something like this:

"Yeah, but that medicine was paid for with someone's hard-earned dollars. Those dollars were wrongly taken from them by an unjust government and redistributed to some no good lazy person across the tracks in the bad part of town. These people are all alike. You throw money at them, and it achieves nothing. Sure, maybe the kid never got a strep infection again, but you know he is going to end up just like his parents: poor, high school dropout, barely employed (if at all), probably on drugs, maybe headed to jail, and certainly a drain on someone's wallet for the rest of his life. We might as well have flushed the money for those penicillin pills down the toilet for all it got us."

Now, I have something very personal to say to them and everyone else who opposes the SCHIP bill. My mom and dad were both evangelical Christians -- just like you. Sure, my dad was poor. He was a member of what is called the "working poor." He got up every morning of his life until age 65 and went to work at a real 40-hour per week job that paid almost nothing. His employers (all of them) told him that they could not afford to pay him as much as the other workers (even though his technical skills were light years beyond theirs) because of his Type I diabetes. They said it was too much of a risk to their liability insurance to even have him on their property -- so he had to give them a break by allowing them to pay him peanuts. He did not drive a car because he could not afford one. Because he had occasional bouts with insulin shock (poor access to medical care), he also knew it was unsafe to drive a car even if he could afford it. His was a heart that would have rather saved your children's lives on the highway than to have fed his own convenience behind the wheel of a car. No, my dad walked two miles to get to work and back each day. That was my dad. Even though he had very little, he was kind and sensitive to the needs of other people. As small children often do, I watched my dad be generous to friends and strangers with what little he had. It must have struck some chords somewhere in life. My dad died from pancreatic cancer in 1986 -- a horrible way to die for a person who had already suffered too much in life. At the funeral home, I watched as one of his former employers (by then a multimillionaire and evangelical Christian) bent over his open casket. He broke down with nearly hysterical tears and sobs. I never saw anything like it before that time and have never seen anything like it since that time. I guess there was some measure of Christian love for my dad in that moment, along with the deadly weight of guilt for the way he and others like him had treated my dad during his work life. If Jesus is anything more to you than just the prime mover behind the weekly broadway-style show down at the megachurch, this is the kind of thing that happens to you.

Oh, and whatever happened to that kid after he quit taking the penicillin tablets. He almost certainly followed in the inevitable downward tracks of mom and dad -- right? I am sorry to disappoint you, but he did not. Some bleeding-heart socialist with a secular humanist bent took some more of your hard earned money (probably the money you were saving for that new bass boat) and sent me to college. Those unwisely given federal grants and loans soon turned into an A+ average, huge private scholarships, research assistantships, and two college degrees from a large and very well-known university. My student loans from your pocket were paid off fully -- with the interest. I have a great career and an income that would have been beyond my dad’s wildest dreams. I have paid an enormous amount of that to the government in taxes. And you know what? I do things with that money that you would probably define as crazy -- like supporting a Compassion International child all the way through high school in a poverty-stricken place like Bolivia. You know what else? I DO NOT think my taxes are too high. Someone helped me once with some penicillin tablets. If the government wants to raise my taxes sky high to help another kid who needs penicillin, I am all for it. Bring SCHIP on!!!

I hear a lot these days from evangelical Christians about how the Federal income tax is wrong because it is "...not the Biblical and Christian way for a government to raise money." Do you seriously think that Jesus cares even one flip about that two-bit excuse from Satan while some child in Mississippi tonight is hungry, beaten, sick, and in need of your help? Ask yourself what Jesus would do!!! Would he cut off any form of possible help to this child -- and let her slide into the abyss? Please wake up to the fact that the evangelical church organizations in our country, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, have been seduced by political charlatans and sold out by hungry preachers lusting after the things of this world -- position, power, wealth, political influence, and accolades from the highly placed on this earth. In the old days on the front porch, we had a word called "selfishness." It had a solid meaning, and everyone knew what that meaning was. That meaning has been forgotten in this day and time. The conservative evangelical church in the United States has taken the rank selfishness in our society, blessed it, anointed it, and turned it into a Christian virtue.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Romney's Star Rising in Religious Right

Bob Jones III has endorsed Mitt Romney for President. Al Mohler thinks that endorsement is very significant.

I rarely agree with Al Mohler, but in this instance I agree. I think this endorsement is significant. It shows that even Fundamental Baptists like Bob Jones can relearn the value of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution which prohibits religious tests for public office.

Candidates for political office should be elected on the basis of their values, their competence and their policies, not on the basis of their religious affiliation.

Now, if we could just get them to learn that preachers have no business endorsing political candidates.

Oklahoma Representatives Uphold SCHIP Veto

Oklahoma's U.S. Representatives voted overwhelmingly to sustain President Bush's veto of the State Children's Health Insurance Program.

Representatives Tom Cole, Mary Fallin, Frank Lucas and John Sullivan cast votes to sustain the veto.

Representative Dan Boren was the lone Oklahoma vote in favor of the bill.

Dan Schultz at Street Prophets offered a succinct appraisal of this vote. He wrote, "May God have mercy on their souls and voters none on Election Day."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rally to Support SCHIP

I spoke today at the Oklahoma State Capitol at a rally to encourage Congress to overturn President Bush's veto of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP). Here's what I said:

I am here to insist that our nation devote the resources necessary to protect the health of our children. I have a message to deliver to our elected leaders.

Stop sacrificing the health of our children. We can’t afford to be so short-sighted. Invest in their future. Their future is our future.

I am also here to declare that I am weary of the war that the wealthy in our society are waging against the poor. No one chooses their parents. There’s no virtue in being born into a wealthy family and it’s not a crime to be born into a poor family. No matter who their parents are and what their financial status -- every child born on American soil should have a fair chance to live a healthy life. Every life is precious.

President Bush! You are a multi-millionaire and you raised millions to get elected -- yet taxpayers foot the bill for your health care. You have no moral authority to veto health benefits for poor children. You don’t need a safety net. Poor children do.

Mr. President, before God and all these witnesses I implore you -- stop sacrificing the health of our poorest children. Stop being so short-sighted. Invest in their future. Their future is our future.

Members of Congress! More than a third of you are millionaires and all of you have raised millions to get elected -- yet taxpayers foot the bill for your health care. United States Senators! Almost half of you are millionaires and all of you have raised millions to get elected -- yet taxpayers foot the bill for your health care. You have no moral authority to deny equal benefits to the children of the poor. You have a safety net and don’t need one. Poor children need a safety net and don’t have one.

Congressmen Cole, Fallin, Lucas, and Sullivan and Senators Coburn and Inhofe, before God and all these witnesses I implore you – don’t let the President sacrifice the health of our poorest children. We can’t afford to be so short-sighted. Invest in their future. Their future is our future.

My fellow Americans! Rich children and poor children are equally Americans. They are all our children. Every American child deserves a fair chance to grow up healthy. Every child in America deserves a fair chance to have the health, vitality and strength that is needed to become a productive member of society.

We all need to work to see that our nation stops sacrificing the health of our poorest children. We can’t afford to be so short-sighted. We must invest in their future. Their future is our future.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Huckabee's Hollow Critique of the Religious Right

Ethics Daily is reporting that Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee says the leadership of the Religious Right is "more intoxicated with power than principle." Huckabee's complaint follows repeated refusals by them to endorse his candidacy.

Huckabees complaints ring hollow to anyone familiar with his participation in the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. Unprincipled character assassinations, lies, and dirty tricks were the stock-in-trade of those who took over the SBC and made it a power center within a broader right-wing movement to takeover the local, state and federal government.

The Religious Right has been more intoxicated with power than principle from the very beginning. Huckabee, very much an insider and leader within that movement, has known that from the outset.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Noble Avenue Baptist in Guthrie Profile

Will Prescott's Profiles of Courageous Churches for the 10-14-07 "Religious Talk" radio program was on Noble Avenue Baptist Church in Guthrie, Oklahoma. Will interviewed Dr. Larry Stevens, pastor of Noble Avenue.

Here's a link to a seven minute podcast (6.2 MB MP3) of his interview with Larry.

Wilkey Enters Blogosphere

Don Wilkey, pastor of First Baptist Church of Onalaska, Texas and a tireless researcher of the religious right, has started his own weblog.

Wilkey's essays about the religious right have been posted on the Ethics Daily website and the Talk to Action weblog, printed in the Oklahoma Observer, and discussed on Baptist Life forums. He has also been acknowledged by Michelle Goldberg, author of Kingdom Coming, for providing some of the valuable information in her book.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Muslim Leaders Speak Out for Peace

Muslim leaders around the world have addressed an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian religious leaders -- including David Coffey, President of the Baptist World Alliance. The first of its kind letter, entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You," is designed to promote understanding between Muslims and Christians. Here's a quote:

"Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world's population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

"The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour. These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity. . .

"So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us. Let us vie with each other only in righteousness and good works. Let us respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual goodwill."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

UCC Leading Opposition to War in Iraq

Rev. John H. Thomas, President of the United Church of Christ, was arrested outside the White House trying to hand deliver a pastoral letter condemning the war in Iraq.

Thomas said, anti-war efforts "require more than the old kind of lobbying, and need extraordinary witness."

It is becoming increasingly apparent to many Christians that Thomas may be right. Extraordinary times require an extraordinary witness.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Podcast: "Politics in the Pulpit?"

Here's a podcast of my 9-30-07 speech on "Politics in the Pulpit?" (20.5 MB MP3) for the First Annual Religious Liberty Conference at NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma.

Here's a link to the text of the speech.

Podcast: "One Nation Under Surveillance"

The Constitution Day Town Hall Meeting (9-17-07) where I spoke on the topic "One Nation Under Surveillance" aired on Oklahoma Voices on KGOU (the local NPR affiliate) last Sunday (10-7-07).

Audio of the meeting has been posted in two MP3 files at the KGOU website. My speech is midway through the first MP3.

Here's a link to the podcast containing my speech. Here's a link to the text of my speech.

Can a Peace Movement-Military Leadership Alliance Stop War with Iran?

Nation Magazine has published a story about "How the Military Can Stop an Iran Attack" that talks about the possibility of an alliance between the American Peace Movement and leaders within the military who are opposed to an impending war with Iran. Here's an excerpt:

In ordinary times, peace activists would hardly be likely to turn to the military as allies. Indeed, they would rightfully be wary of military officers acting on their own, rather than those of their civilian superiors--in violation of the Constitution's provisions for civilian oversight of the military. But these are hardly ordinary times. While the public is highly dubious of getting into another war in the Middle East, there now appear to be virtually no institutional barriers to doing so.

Military-Civilian Alliance

Is there a basis for cooperation between the military brass and citizens who believe an attack on Iran would be criminal and/or suicidal? Perhaps. The brass can go public with the truth and ask Congress to provide a platform for explaining the real consequences of an attack on Iran. They can call for a national debate that is not manipulated by the White House. (They can also inform other players of the consequences: tell Wall Street the effects on oil and stock prices and tell European military and political leaders what it is likely to mean in terms of terrorism.) The peace movement has already forged an alliance with Iraq War veterans who oppose the war and with high military officials who oppose torture; a tacit alliance with the brass to halt an attack on Iran is a logical next step.

Such an approach puts the problem of civilian control of the military in a different light. The purpose of civilian control, after all, is not to subject the military to the dictatorial control of one man who may, at the least, express the foolishness and frailty that all flesh is heir to. The purpose is to subject the military to the control of democratic governance, which is to say of an informed public and its representatives.

What contribution can the peace movement make to this process? We can cover military officials' backs when they speak out--no one is better placed than the peace movement to defend them against Bushite charges of defying civilian control. We can help open a forum for military officers to speak out. Many retired officers have spoken out publicly on the folly of the war in Iraq. We can use our venues in universities and communities to invite them to speak out even more forcefully on the folly of an attack on Iran. We can place ads pointing out military resistance to an attack on Iran and featuring warnings of its possible consequences from past and present military officials. And we can encourage lawmakers to reach out to military officials and offer to give them cover and a forum to speak out. Says petition initiator Marcy Winograd, "I'd like to see peace activists and soldiers sit down, break bread, march together, testify together and forge a powerful union to end the next war before the bloodletting begins."

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

First Baptist Church of Norman Profile

Will Prescott's Profiles of Courageous Churches for last week's "Religious Talk" radio program interviewed Dr. Wade Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church of Norman, Oklahoma.

Here's a link to a seven minute podcast (6.3 MB MP3) of his interview with Wade.

The Insidious Implications of the Missing Nukes

Robert Stormer, a retired lieutenant commander with the naval reserve and a specialist in weapons retrieval, has an alarming editorial published by the Houston Chronicle. Entitled "Nuke transportation story has explosive implications," the essay says the nukes were delivered "to an operational bomber base that just happens to be the staging area for Middle Eastern operations."

Stormer offers a list of questions that an investigation into this incident needs to answer. Here are a few:

1 Why, and for what ostensible purpose, were these nuclear weapons taken to Barksdale? . . .

6 How many other nuclear command and control non-observations of procedure have there been? . . .

8 How does this incident relate to concern for reliability of control over nuclear weapons and nuclear materials in Russia, Pakistan and elsewhere?

9 Does the Bush administration, as some news reports suggest, have plans to attack Iran with nuclear weapons?

Monday, October 08, 2007

On Shopping While the Constitution Burns

Amy Branham, mother of Sgt. Jeremy R. Smith -- a casualty of the war in Iraq, has an insightful and impassioned essay on Buzzflash entitled, "America Went Shopping While Our Consitution Burned." Here's an excerpt:
Good American citizens across the country wanted to know what they could do to help. Go shopping, the President told us. Travel, and do the things you have always done. Don't change your lives. Don't let the terrorists win.

So we went shopping in droves. We bought up gas guzzling SUVs and RVs, went to Wal-Mart en masse to buy up cheap goods from China, and we traveled the country. We continued to take our kids to soccer and baseball practice, went to movies and football games and did what we in America do best. We spent money. We bought homes and got mortgages we couldn't really afford and the housing industry went through the roof.

We shopped until we dropped. We did this for years. We ran up our credit card debt and spent every penny we had to pay our bills. Savings went down and spending went up. But we were being good little patriotic citizens to win our war on terror. We couldn't let the terrorists change our lives. And we didn't.

The average American citizen did not go to war and did not see it. There was no draft. Our military men and women, America's sons and daughters, were called upon time and time again to go to Iraq for longer and longer periods of time. And the government would not give them equal time at home with their families. Veterans benefits were cut and those who returned home with PTSD and other disabilities were not helped and cared for as they should have been. Our military was broken.

We were too mind-numbed and shopping happy to see that our Constitution was being disassembled piece by piece. The enemy of freedom and democracy was not a foreign terrorist -- although they do exist and are a threat. The enemy was our own government.

Behind the scenes, in the name of the Great War on Terror, people were being quietly picked up around the world and flown to secret bases and tortured for information -- policies strictly forbidden in the Geneva Convention. This is called Rendition. We put hundreds of men and young boys into Guantanimo Bay and held them without charge for years on end, away from their country and their family and all they hold dear.

American citizens were spied on, had their phone calls listened to, and e-mails read without the benefit of warrants and the FISA court.

In the name of the Great War on Terror and all Americans, prisoners at Abu Ghraib were tortured in the most hideous of ways and further humiliated by having their pictures taken by their torturers.

How Does God Speak in Interfaith America?

I spoke on the topic "How Does God Speak in Interfaith America?" at an interfaith breakfast sponsored by the Western Region of Planned Parenthood last Saturday. I'll post a video of the speech when it becomes available. Here's the text of the speech:

We live in a world of religious conflict. There is conflict both between faith traditions and within faith traditions. Between faith traditions much of the conflict centers on differing claims for the absolute authority of competing religious texts, practices and rituals. Within the same faith tradition much of the conflict centers on differing interpretations and understandings of texts and practices and rituals that are considered to be authoritative by all within the tradition. Both within our faith traditions and between faith traditions there is a post-modern legitimacy crisis that makes it essential for all of us to develop and exercise some measure of humility whenever we talk about our faith.

Once we have learned that faith must be discussed in an atmosphere of humility, we still have to find some common ground of shared understanding. I have become increasingly convinced that conscience comprises that point of contact or common ground between people of different faiths and convictions. I believe that God speaks to everyone through the voice of conscience. But what is conscience?

Conscience is often spoken of as being the "voice of God." When I think about the voice of God, the images that come immediately to my mind are associated with the Hebrew prophet Elijah. After a great contest between Elijah and 450 prophets of a lesser god -- a contest that the Bible says Elijah won singlehandedly -- Elijah ran to a cave in terror. He was running to escape the wrath of the Israelite Queen Jezebel who was singularly unimpressed by the "shock and awe" of Elijah's power to call fire down from heaven. The battle that Elijah won against the prophets of Baal utterly failed to accomplish his mission. All it did was bury 450 leaders of a competing faith. Elijah still lived in fear. Then, while he was hiding in the cave there came a mighty wind and then an earthquake and then a fire -- but the scriptures say the Lord was not in these spectacular manifestations of power. Instead, the Lord spoke to him in "the sound of a gentle blowing" or as the King James Version of the Bible calls it, "a still, small voice."

When I think of the voice of God, I think of that passage. The spectacles and disasters that society calls "acts of God" are not privileged mediums of communication from the Divine. God speaks in a voice that is best described as "the sound of a gentle blowing" or a "still, small voice." It is a voice that I believe is heard within each of us -- no matter what our faith group or religion. It is a voice from either outside ourselves or from deep within ourselves that calls us to look at ourselves from a perspective other than our own. Our main problem is learning to distinguish the voice of God from all the other voices that speak to us.

It is a problem that is most acute when people of different faiths come together in pluralistic society like America. Each faith group and each religious tradition has attuned their ears to hearing God's voice in certain tones and themes. The volume and clarity and force with which God's voice is perceived to resonate on certain issues probably varies in accord with the emphases of a person's religious tradition. I do not believe that any faith group hears everything clearly. None has perfected the art of discerning God's voice. I do believe that some traditions have a broader range of hearing than others and that one tradition in particular, my own of course, hears most clearly.

How, then, do we distinguish what is truly God's voice from all the other voices that speak to us. How do we know whether the voice we associate with conscience is truly God's voice and not merely the voice of our imperfect fathers, or mothers, or families, or friends, or teachers, or preachers, or society, or culture?

Here is where I think we need to switch metaphors and analogies. Very often there are too many voices shouting at us for us to be able to hear the soft and quiet voice of God. When that happens, I think the best thing for us to do is to stop listening for a while and open our eyes. First, we need to start looking at things from the perspective of others. This is simply practicing the golden rule. Do unto others and you would have them do unto you. That is all it takes to create the mutual respect and trust on which civil society is based.

Someone popularized this by saying, "Walk a mile in my shoes." A friend of mine, (Foy Valentine) once told me that doing this had proven to be highly profitable to him. He said that, whenever he could do that he got a new pair of shoes and was a mile away before the poor guy he took them from knew what was happening.

Seriously, I don't think practicing the golden rule is enough. It is just the first step toward civil society. If we truly want to hear God's voice in an interfaith society, then we are going to have to start listening again. We need to listen to one another. We need to listen to people from other religious backgrounds and perspectives. We need to listen to learn what they hear when they are listening for God's voice. We need to see if they have heard themes and tones and resonances in God's voice that have been neglected by our own religious traditions. Most of all, we need to listen to how they perceive us -- What are they hearing from us? What are they seeing in us? Are they hearing any echo of the voice of the God that we are striving to hear? Are they seeing anything of the holiness or justice or love of the God that we are striving to serve and worship?

After we have listened to one another we need to find some solitude. We need to go to someplace like Elijah's cave where we can be alone with God. And when we are alone, we need to open our eyes once again. This time we need to look at ourselves through the eyes of others. Christians need to look at themselves through the eyes of Jews -- particularly, through the eyes of those who were herded into boxcars and slaughtered like cattle in the holocaust. Jews need to look at themselves through the eyes of Muslims -- particularly, through the eyes of those who have been and still are being displaced from their homes in Palestine. Muslims need to look at themselves through the eyes of Bahai's. We all need to look at ourselves through the eyes of the hungry and the homeless, the impoverished and the imprisoned.

If we have the courage to honestly look at ourselves through the eyes of others who are strange and foreign to us or who have been injured and ignored by us, then I believe our hearts will open and the whispering of God's still, small voice will begin to ring loud and clear in our ears.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Pathological Mendacity

President Bush is loudly proclaiming that the US "does not torture."

That, after revelation after revelation that that is exactly what the US has done and is doing at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and in secret rendition camps around the world.

The man's mendacity is pathological.

Appointing legions of hack attorneys to redefine the meaning of the word "torture," does not alter the reality that cruel, inhumane and barbaric acts are being condoned and committed by agents of the US government.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Is America a Christian Nation?

Brent Walker, Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, has now become a featured panelist for the Washington Post's On Faith page. He addresses John McCain's assertion that America is a Christian nation in his most recent column.

Here's a quote from Walker:

The Constitution is a decidedly secular document. Yes, many of the Founders were men of faith and mostly Christian, but they opted to ensure religious liberty for all, not ensconce their own religious views in the nation’s founding document. When it comes to religion, our Constitution is not a religious document but a religious freedom document. The U.S. may be a Christian nation sociologically, but not constitutionally. That fact is easy to demonstrate. Living up to the religious freedom values embodied in the Constitution and not giving preference to the Christian majority is more difficult.

Politics in the Pulpit?

NorthHaven Church in Norman hosted its first annual Religious Liberty Conference last Sunday. I spoke on "Politics in the Pulpit?" at the conference.

I planned on providing more thorough documentation for what I said before I posted the speech, but discovered to my pleasant surprise that Sarah Posner's latest essay at the FundamentaList provides more than adequate documentation for many of the concerns discussed in my speech.

Kuttner on the Parallels Between 1929 and 2007

Robert Kuttner, a former investigator for the Senate Banking Committee now co-editor of the American Prospect, has posted his recent testimony before the House Financial Services Committee. He titled his remarks "The Alarming Parallels Between 1929 and 2007." The parallels he cites are indeed alarming. Here's an extended quote that gets at the heart of the problem:

A last parallel is ideological -- the nearly universal conviction, 80 years ago and today, that markets are so perfectly self-regulating that government's main job is to protect property rights, and otherwise just get out of the way.

We all know the history. The regulatory reforms of the New Deal saved capitalism from its own self-cannibalizing instincts, and a reliable, transparent and regulated financial economy went on to anchor an unprecedented boom in the real economy. Financial markets were restored to their appropriate role as servants of the real economy, rather than masters. Financial regulation was pro-efficiency. I want to repeat that, because it is so utterly unfashionable, but it is well documented by economic history. Financial regulation was pro-efficiency. America's squeaky clean, transparent, reliable financial markets were the envy of the world. They undergirded the entrepreneurship and dynamism in the rest of the economy.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the beneficial effect of financial regulations has either been deliberately weakened by public policy, or has been overwhelmed by innovations not anticipated by the New Deal regulatory schema. New-Deal-era has become a term of abuse. Who needs New Deal protections in an Internet age?

. . .

But I will focus on just one difference -- the most important one. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the Federal Reserve had neither the tools, nor the experience, nor the self-confidence to act decisively in a credit crisis. But today, whenever the speculative excesses lead to a crash, the Fed races to the rescue. No, it doesn't bail our every single speculator (though it did a pretty good job in the two Mexican rescues) but it bails out the speculative system, so that the next round of excess can proceed. And somehow, this is scored as trusting free markets, overlooking the plain fact that the Fed is part of the U.S. government.

When big banks lost many tens of billions on third world loans in the 1980s, the Fed and the Treasury collaborated on workouts, and desisted from requiring that the loans be marked to market, lest several money center banks be declared insolvent. When Citibank was under water in 1990, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York personally undertook a secret mission to Riyadh to persuade a Saudi prince to pump in billions in capital and to agree to be a passive investor.

In 1998, the Fed convened a meeting of the big banks and all but ordered a bailout of Long Term Capital Management, an uninsured and unregulated hedge fund whose collapse was nonetheless putting the broad capital markets at risk. And even though Chairman Greenspan had expressed worry two years (and several thousand points) earlier that "irrational exuberance" was creating a stock market bubble, big losses in currency speculation in East Asia and Russia led Greenspan to keep cutting rates, despite his foreboding that cheaper money would just pump up markets and invite still more speculation.

And finally in the dot-com crash of 2000-01, the speculative abuses and insider conflicts of interest that fueled the stock bubble were very reminiscent of 1929. But a general depression was not triggered by the market collapse, because the Fed again came to the rescue with very cheap money.

So when things are booming, the financial engineers can advise government not to spoil the party. But when things go bust, they can count on the Fed to rescue them with emergency infusions of cash and cheaper interest rates.

I just read Chairman Greenspan's fascinating memoir, which confirms this rescue role. His memoir also confirms Mr. Greenspan's strong support for free markets and his deep antipathy to regulation. But I don't see how you can have it both ways. If you are a complete believer in the proposition that free markets are self-regulating and self- correcting, then you logically should let markets live with the consequences. On the other hand, if you are going to rescue markets from their excesses, on the very reasonable ground that a crash threatens the entire system, then you have an obligation to act pre-emptively, prophylactically, to head off highly risky speculative behavior. Otherwise, the Fed just invites moral hazards and more rounds of wildly irresponsible actions.

While the Fed and the European Central Bank were flooding markets with liquidity to prevent a deeper crash in August and September, the Bank of England decided on a sterner course. It would not reward speculators. The result was an old fashioned run on a large bank, and the Bank of England changed its tune.

So the point is not that the Fed should let the whole economy collapse in order to teach speculators a lesson. The point is that the Fed needs to remember its other role -- as regulator.

Texas Baptists Likely to Get First Woman President

The Houston Chronicle recently published a story about Joy Fenner who has been nominated to be the President of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. If elected, Fenner will be the first woman to ever serve as President of the Texas Baptist Convention.

Here's a quote from David Currie as printed in the story at the Houston Chronicle:

David Currie, executive director of Texas Baptists Committed, said he doesn't believe Fenner will face opposition based on gender.

"The hard-core fundamentalists, theologically and emotionally, have supposedly left the state convention," he said. "So the folks that we have left are really folks that don't support fundamentalism."

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

On Neo-Con Secularism

A blogger who calls herself a "Neo-Neocon" has nothing but praise for militarily enforced secularism in Turkey. Under the spell of Robert Spencer at Frontpage Magazine, she's decided that moderate Islam will not stand up against fundamentalist Islam.

If her arguments were transposed to the United States, she would conclude that moderate Christians will not stand up against fundamentalist Christians.

She's wrong about moderate Christians. The Mainstream Baptist movement is witness to that.

She's wrong about moderate Islam. The Gulen movement within Turkey is witness to that.

Neo-neocon needs to learn the difference between a secular government (the U.S.) and a secularist government (Turkey). Here's a link that could help her learn the distinction.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

On the Religion of Fear

Jason Bivins, of North Carolina State University, has an interesting essay published in the Spring 2007 issue of The Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory. The article is entitled "The Religion of Fear: Conservative Evangelicals, Identity, and Anti-liberal Pop." Here's a quote:

Three factors distinguish the contemporary Religion of Fear from previous fear regimes. First, the conservative evangelical culture which produces and engages the politics of fear is committed to (and reliant upon) a declension narrative specific to this moment in American political culture. This narrative makes the perceived radicalism of the 1960s a touchstone, a moment when a previously safe and stable “Christian America” came under siege from the forces of secularism and moral permissiveness. Second, this incarnation of evangelical fear is far more explicitly politicized than its predecessors, dramatizing and indicting not just a range of personal and theological errors (which may have political resonance) but specific conceptions of, for example, the state, citizenship, and public policy. Finally, this fear regime is distinctive in the ubiquity of popular culture therein. In previous fear regimes popular culture has played a role and on occasion served as a vehicle for theologies of fear and redemption. In the Religion of Fear, however, popular creations constitute the substance of identity construction. Indeed, the rise of the NCR in the 1970s overlapped with the expansion of evangelical pop culture. While these entertainments have rarely been explicitly politicized, in recent decades it has become more common to discern the work of religio-political identity construction therein.
Hat Tip to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to this journal. This entire issue is devoted to the politics of fright.