Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Inclusive Days of Prayer Catching On Around the Country

The Christian Science Monitor has published an outstanding article asking "How inclusive is the National Day of Prayer?" The article shines a spotlight on increasing efforts to make the events more religiously inclusive.

Here in Oklahoma we will be celebrating our FIFTH annual "Interfaith Day of Prayer and Reflection" tomorrow at 11:00 AM on the South Steps to the State Capitol in Oklahoma City.

Here's one positive trend in which Oklahoma has been leading the country.

Turkey To Respect Free Speech

Turkey has long made it illegal to "insult Turkishness" which meant, in general, to hint that Turkey might have been involved in a genocidal event in Armenia ninety years ago. Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk was frequently jailed for making such suggestions in his writings.

BBC is now reporting that Turkey is recinding this controversial law and joining the rest of the democratic world in beginning to respect free speech. They still have a ways to go.

Kudos to the current political leadership in Turkey. The solution to speech that offends you is dialogue, not censorship.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Forum Criticises Oklahoma Health Care

Michael Porter, a student at the OU College of Medicine and a moderate Baptist, helped organize a conference at the OU Health Sciences Center to call attention to the need to do something to assure medical care for the inordinate number of Oklahomans who lack health insurance. Here's a quote from an article in the OU Daily about the conference:
Nearly 700,000 Oklahomans are without health insurance, according to a 2005 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. For years, Oklahoma’s uninsured population has been higher than the national average. The lack of access to quality health care in Oklahoma makes the state 49 out of 50 in an overall health-care rating.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Podcast: Interview with Tammy Snively

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 4-27-08 "Religious Talk" radio interview (27 MB MP3) with Tammy Snively about the challenges facing families who have children with autism. Tammy's son, Jake (pictured above with Todd and Tammy and Emily), has been in therapy for autism for about 18 months. The picture was taken about six months before his treatments began.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Phillips Draws the Curtain on Financial Cabal

Adam Smith suggested that there was an "invisible hand" guiding the free markets of capitalist economies. Kevin Phillips, formerly the senior White House strategist for Richard Nixon and author of a new book entitled "Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism," unveils the "invisible hands" guiding the U.S. financial markets in an article in the Washington Independent.

Phillips indicates that a "Plunge Protection Team," authorized by Presidential Proclamation and not by act of Congress, has been acting covertly to prop up U.S. financial markets since 1988. Here's a quote:

A year after the PPT group's launch, a retiring Fed board member, Robert Heller, wrote a much-discussed article in The Wall Street Journal that in the case of an another emergency like 1987, there might be a better alternative than the Fed's usual remedy -- interest rate reduction. "Instead of flooding the entire economy with liquidity, and thereby increasing the danger of inflation," Heller wrote, "the Fed could support the stock market directly by buying market averages in the futures market, thereby stabilizing the market as a whole." No public mention was ever made of the Fed or the Working Group embracing the Heller scheme, but that may have happened privately.

Such accusations are a long way from being conclusive. But they do help explain the milieu in which the Working Group, or PPT, was set up by presidential proclamation -- Congress had no role -- in March 1988. The proclamation authorized the Working Group to "enhance the integrity, efficiency, orderliness and competitiveness of financial markets" -- language that may have been intended to provide a broad and loose authorization for intervention in the 1987 mode, should it be required again.
Shadowy cabals like the PPT help explain why U.S. financial markets have been slow to respond to the plethora of negative financial indicators over the past eighteen months. All the neo-conservative libertarian talk about the virtues of "unfettered free markets" is just that -- talk. Insiders have known for decades that the entire game has been rigged to fleece unwitting small investors while providing a safety net for the fat cats.

Perhaps that is part of the explanation for why information recently posted by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities discloses that in 2006 the average income for the bottom 90% of Americans rose by a mere $20 while the income for the top 10% rose by $73,000.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright on Bill Moyers Tonight

Bill Moyers will have Obama's controversial former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as a guest tonight on his program on PBS.

Truthdig has posted some excerpts from the interview.

Wright says the meaning of his sermons has been deliberately distorted to achieve a political goal.

Since 1979 moderate Baptist preachers and educators have observed that happening to them time after time again -- with statements that were much less controversial.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Is Petraus Coordinating a Strike Against Iran?

Common Dreams has posted an essay by Gareth Porter, a defense policy analyst, that General Petraus has been placed in a position to coordinate alliance that he and Vice President Cheney are forming to support a U.S. military strike against Iran. Here's a quote:

Fallon’s resignation announcement on Mar. 11 was followed less than a week later by a 10-day Cheney trip to the Middle East in which the vice president talked explicitly about the military option against Iran during visits to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. That suggested that Cheney felt freer to wield the military threat to Iran with Fallon neutralised.

Cheney aggressively solicited political support from Turkish leaders for a U.S. strike against Iranian nuclear facilities during his visit to Turkey last month, according to a source familiar with Cheney’s meeting in Ankara.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Calvinism Leads SBC into Decline

While Oklahoma's Baptist Messenger is publishing popularizations of the Calvinist inspired Dominion Theology, Lifeway Resources is publishing news that for the first time in its history the membership figures of the Southern Baptist Convention reveal that the denomination is in decline.

Total membership for the SBC fell by more than 39,000 members from 2006 to 2007.

Mainstream Baptists have been predicting for decades that the Calvinism being taught in the SBC's fundamentalist dominated seminaries would have an adverse impact on evangelism. Now those concerns have been confirmed.

This decline comes entirely on the watch of the fundamentalists who seized control of the SBC in the 1980's. Moderate Baptists never experienced a single decline in membership during their tenure of leadership over the Convention.

Oklahoma Baptists Popularizing Dominion Theology

It is not hard to find evidence of the influence of "Dominion Theology" in Southern Baptist circles in Oklahoma -- if you are familiar with this form of theocratic Christianity. Rarely is it so openly on display as in the current issue of Oklahoma's Baptist Messenger. In an article entltled "Rite of Passage: Dominion versus duties," Walker Moore is so bold as to insert it into his own idiosyncratic interpretation of scripture:
As Paul told young Timothy, "Show yourself to be faithful in all that you do. When given a duty, do it as an act of worship unto the Lord, without complaining or belly-aching. That, my young friend, will show the world you can be faithful in little. Then God will give you a man-sized dominion." 1Tim. 4:12, WMT (Walker Moore translation.)

Teach your children to do their duties faithfully. This is the path to discovering the dominion God has planned for them.
Actually, Walker Moore's interpretation of scripture is not that idiosyncratic among Baptists in Oklahoma. He's just making transparent the deepest desires and intentions of Dominionist Southern Baptists across the country.

Cliff Vaughn Deconstructs Ben Stein's Expelled

Kudos to Cliff Vaughn for his review of Ben Stein's docuganda film "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed." I've not had an opportunity to view the movie myself, so I'll not comment on it further until I have. Vaughn should provide a healthy corrective to the unqualified endorsements of Stein's film coming from the pages of the Baptist Messenger in Oklahoma.

Vaughn highlights the issues that everyone should raise regarding "Intelligent Design."

I've read a lot of the literature, attended a number of lectures and debates, and scanned a host of material on the internet. I've yet to find anyone in the "Intelligent Design" camp doing any actual scientific research that could either prove or disprove it.

A position that is neither verifiable nor falsifiable is an affirmation of faith, not science.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

On Losing a Champion for Religious Liberty

Steven Gey, professor of law at Florida State University, has been courageously battling ALS for the past two years. He's about to lose that battle, but his infectious smile, winsome personality and sense of justice as fairness will leave a lasting impression on all who knew him.

Gey and I became friends when he came on the national board for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He's one of the brightest advocates for religious liberty in the nation.

We're gonna miss you Steve.

Monday, April 21, 2008

On Shorthand for the First Amendment

Don Byrd at Blog from the Capital has posted an outstanding response to Martha Nussbaum's suggestion that the language of "separation of church and state" be replaced by "equal liberty of conscience" as a shorthand description of the meaning of the First Amendment.

Nussbaum's new book, Equal Liberty of Conscience is excellent. I highly recommend it. Her suggestion has merit. The language of "separation of church and state" is dated in a society as pluralistic as ours. We separate "synagogue and state," "mosque and state," "temple and state" and a host of other houses of worship and state.

"Equal Liberty of Conscience" is a better summary of the early Baptist position and more precisely mirrors the original wording suggested for the First Amendment.

Nevertheless, as Byrd suggests, to give up the language of separation will not lay modern Christian Nationalism to rest. The challenge we face is not one of mere misunderstanding of the First Amendment. Christian Nationalists no more accept the "equal" right to liberty of conscience than they do the "separation" of church and state.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gaza Blockade an Atrocity

Reuters is reporting that Former President Jimmy Carter has called Israel's blockade of Gaza a "crime and atrocity." Here's a quote:
Speaking at the American University in Cairo after talks with Hamas leaders from Gaza, Carter said Palestinians in Gaza were being "starved to death", receiving fewer calories a day than people in the poorest parts of Africa.

"It's an atrocity what is being perpetrated as punishment on the people in Gaza. it's a crime... I think it is an abomination that this continues to go on," Carter said.

Israel has been blockading Gaza most of the time since Hamas took control of the impoverished coastal strip in June last year, allowing only basic supplies to enter.

Pew Predicts Nationwide Home Foreclosure Crisis

A new report by Pew Charitable Trusts entitled "Defaulting on the Dream" predicts a nationwide crisis in home foreclosures over the next two years.

The report indicates that 20,157 subprime loans were issued in Oklahoma. 14,727 of them are expected to default over the next two years. 1 out of every 47 homes in Oklahoma is projected to be in foreclosure over the next two years. That will reduce home values as adjustable rate mortgages for prime loans are adjusted. Increased interest payments on ARM's for devalued homes will lead to further foreclosures through 2011.

The subprime mortgage lending fiasco will effect Oklahoma less than it will most of the rest of the country. In the Southern region of the country 1 of every 26 homes in Florida, 1 of every 27 homes in Georgia, 1 of every 33 homes in Virginia, 1 of every 35 homes in Texas, 1 out of every 36 homes in Tennessee, and 1 of every 38 homes in Missouri is expected to be in foreclosure over the next two years. Nationwide, 1 of every 33 homes is expected to be in foreclosure over the next two years.

Few can expect to see much appreciation in the value of their home over the next five years. Many, if not most, will see a decline in their home's value.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Backdoor School Prayer Bill Passes OK Senate

The misnamed "Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act" passed the Oklahoma State Senate yesterday in the form of an amendment tacked on to other legislation. As Religious Right lawyer Kelly Shackelford made clear at an AU forum last November, the bill is really designed to circumvent the Supreme Court's 2000 Santa Fe ISD vs. Doe decision.

The Santa Fe decision prohibited schools from forcing students of minority faiths to participate in prayer services held over the loud speakers at the beginning of football games. Some people in Santa Fe, Texas, like some members of the Oklahoma State Legislature, were relentless in their efforts to create an atmosphere of public intolerance toward persons of minority faith convictions. So much so that, as the case was under review, the District Court had to issue the following warning to members of the School District:
"[A]ny further attempt on the part of District or school administration, officials, counsellors, teachers, employees or servants of the School District, parents, students or anyone else, overtly or covertly to ferret out the identities of the Plaintiffs in this cause, by means of bogus petitions, questionnaires, individual interrogation, or downright ‘snooping’, will cease immediately. ANYONE TAKING ANY ACTION ON SCHOOL PROPERTY, DURING SCHOOL HOURS, OR WITH SCHOOL RESOURCES OR APPROVAL FOR PURPOSES OF ATTEMPTING TO ELICIT THE NAMES OR IDENTITIES OF THE PLAINTIFFS IN THIS CAUSE OF ACTION, BY OR ON BEHALF OF ANY OF THESE INDIVIDUALS, WILL FACE THE HARSHEST POSSIBLE CONTEMPT SANCTIONS FROM THIS COURT, AND MAY ADDITIONALLY FACE CRIMINAL LIABILITY. The Court wants these proceedings addressed on their merits, and not on the basis of intimidation or harassment of the participants on either side.”
The language of the "Religious Viewpoint Antidiscrimination Act" is designed to make it permissible for students to pray not only over the loud speakers at football games, but to make it legal for select students to pray, read scriptures and religious devotions over public address systems during morning announcements at the beginning of each day of school.

We'll find out how popular this legislation is the first time a student of minority faith exercises his/her right to lead prayers to his/her god(s) over the loud speaker at a High School football game. You can be sure that school officials will make sure that doesn't happen for a very long time.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

On Elevating All Ten of the Commandments

Bill Berkowitz at Media Transparency has published a valuable essay about a couple resolutions on the ten commandments that are being considered in Congress.

Most Americans dismiss public displays of Ten Commandments monuments and Congressional resolutions promoting the decalogue as harmless symbols of civic religion. That is a mistake.

Americans have been debating the propriety of the state enforcing both tables of the ten commandments since Roger Williams landed in Boston in the 1630's. Roger Williams, a Baptist preacher, was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for, among other things, insisting that civil government should only enforce the second table of the ten commandments.

The first table of the decalogue prescribes rules for relations with God. The second table of the decalogue prescribes rules for relations with other people. Williams contended that relations with God was a matter of individual and personal conscience and outside the bounds of propriety for civil legislation.

The earliest colonists were theocrats. They made matters of worship the subject of public policy and civil law.

Many on the long list of politicians and preachers who are now promoting ten commandments monuments and resolutions are theocrats whose most earnest desire is to return to the days before the U.S. Constitution separated church and state. Like the earliest colonists, they think civil government should enforce purely religious laws on every citizen without regard for personal faith and convictions.

Theocrats don't take symbols lightly. Neither should those who believe in equal liberty of conscience.

If theocrats insist on promoting biblical law as the foundation for our legal system, they need to cut their monuments and resolutions down to the second table of the ten commandments. No one will quibble over displays and monuments prohibiting murder and theft and lying.

If you think I exaggerate the theocratic impulses of modern decalogue promoters, ask yourself if you can imagine Roy Moore or James Dobson or Rick Scarborough or Rod Parsley or John Hagee being satisfied to see their monuments and posters cut in half and only the second table put on display in the public square.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Videocast of "Dr. Tom Boyd on Educators and Clergy Working Together"

27 min 15 sec - Apr 15, 2008
Average rating: (1 rating)
Description: Click on the picture to watch Dr. Tom Boyd, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Oklahoma, speaking at the OEA/NEA sponsored "Educator-Clergy Conference" in Norman, OK on 3-26-08.

Israel Refuses to Let Carter Enter Gaza

Reuters is reporting that Israel has refused to let former President Jimmy Carter visit Gaza. Israel controls all of the entries and exits between Israel and the Gaza Strip.

While Israel routinely treats Palestinians with contempt, it is unusual to see them treating a former U.S. President and Nobel Peace Prize winner with such contempt.

On Oklahoma's Drip Down Economy

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has issued a report about American income inequalities under the title "Pulling Apart: A State by State Analysis of Income Trends."

Their analysis for the state of Oklahoma reveals that the income gap between our richest families and our middle income families is the largest in the nation. Over the last two decades the richest 20 percent of our families saw an increase in their income of over 40% while the middle 20 percent of our families only saw an 11% increase.

It doesn't look like there's much evidence for 'trickle down' economics in Oklahoma. We must be a 'drip down' state.

To see their analysis for your state, click here and then click on your state on the U.S. map.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Boone Pickens as Windfarmer

The Guardian has published a story about T. Boone Pickens' windfarms in West Texas. Pickens seems determined to solve the energy crisis all by himself. Here's a quote:
The biggest problem facing the United States in the next 50 years is energy and nobody has come up with a solution."

Pickens, being Pickens, has come up with a solution - and it makes his own gargantuan plans for a wind farm in the panhandle look tiny. For the benefit of the Guardian, he draws on a white board his master scheme. He carves out an enormous corridor of land running north to south through the middle of the US - along the great plains - where he would build an army of wind farms. Then he draws an equally enormous corridor running east to west from Texas to southern California which he would similarly dedicate to solar energy.

"You need a giant plan for America. Not the pissant 83 megawatt [windfarm] deals being stamped all over the country. There needs to be a huge plan from someone with leadership. It's going to take years to do, but it has to start now." Only then, he explains, can the US stop what he regards as the madness of a flood of money flowing out of America to the oil producers of the Middle East. "That money is going God knows where - a few friends, a lot of enemies. We've got to stop it."

Israel Snubs Carter

Reuters is reporting that, in an unprecedented move, the Israeli government has refused to provide security assistance for the Secret Service protecting former President Carter on his visit to Israel and Palestine.

Carter must getting used to being snubbed by power brokers who favor holding a one-sided, exclusivist, hard line rather than negotiating for peaceful co-existence. Southern Baptist leaders have been snubbing Carter for years.

Solar Energy on the Horizon

Salon has posted an article about solar energy with the hyperbolic title "The Technology that Will Save Humanity." Despite the pretentions of its title, the article demonstrates how promising concentrating solar energy with mirrors may be as a means for providing an abundant and inexpensive source of electricity. Here's a quote:

CSP (concentrated solar power) makes use of the most abundant and free fuel there is, sunlight, and key countries have a vast resource. Solar thermal plants covering the equivalent of a 92-by-92-mile square grid in the Southwest could generate electricity for the entire United States. Mexico has an equally enormous solar resource. China, India, southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia also have huge resources.
. . .
The technology has no obvious bottlenecks and uses mostly commodity materials -- steel, concrete and glass. The central component, a standard power system routinely used by the natural gas industry today, would create steam to turn a standard electric generator. Plants can be built rapidly -- in two to three years -- much faster than nuclear plants. It would be straightforward to build CSP systems at whatever rate industry and governments needed, ultimately 50 to 100 gigawatts a year growth or more.

Legless Land

When Richard Land criticizes members of the New Baptist Covenant of political partisanship, he doesn't have a leg to stand on.

Bob Allen at Ethics Daily has posted a fine essay addressing the partisan nature of the speakers that Richard Land invites to his conferences.

Land's partisanship, however, is so obvious and the evidence is so widely disseminated over the internet that his statements are hardly worthy of refutation. The reporters who cite them without question are either biased themselves or too lazy to do any research.

Every day in every way Richard Land works to secure votes for Republican candidates. The most obvious and blatant example is to be found in his "values voter" campaigns. It is ridiculous for the national news media to credit his "values voters" with electing President Bush in 2004 and then pretend that he is non-partisan.

There were no voter campaigns at the New Baptist Covenant meeting and none are in the works.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Rovian Rule in Alabama

Former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman says the mainstream media continues to refuse to report his allegation that the 2002 election was stolen from him. Siegelman recounts his story in the video above. Here's a quote from an e-mail that he sent to Mark Crispin Miller that is referenced in an entry on The Brad Blog:
Rove's fingerprints are found there too. First, in that Rove's friend Jack Abramoff hires Dan Gans,was in charge of " electronic ballot security" in Baldwin County, Alabama,where the votes were stolen. Gans, working for the Alexander Strategies Group, claims credit for the win on his website, which he then takes down when Abramoff gets arrested. The second is Rove's business partner, Kitty Mc Cullough (a/k/a Kelly Kimbrough) is given credit for the electronic vote switch by the state Republican Party.
Meanwhile, Congress has filed a motion in the federal courts to hold two former white house aides in contempt of congress for refusing to testify about this administration's termination of U.S. Attorneys who refused to prosecute Rove's political opponents on demand.

Would You be Okay if Your Kid was Called to be a Baptist Minister?

Al Mohler has posted a blog that purports to find "tremendous confusion" among homosexuals about the sexual orientation they desire for their children. He cites the findings of a British magazine article that asks homosexuals "Would You Really Be Okay if Your Kid Was Gay?"

First, I'm surprised that Al has time to spend reading gay men's magazines. Second, Mohler appears oblivious to the misery that all the scapegoats of fundamentalism must endure in societies dominated by militant fundamentalists.

You don't have to be gay to comprehend this.

I'm fairly certain that you would get the same conflicted answers, if you conducted a survey of moderate Southern Baptist preachers and asked them whether they hoped God would call their children to ministry in Baptist churches. Mohler and his cronies have made life hell-on-earth for a lot of Baptist ministers. Who would wish the same for their children?

It's not just gays and moderates that have been scapegoated by Mohler and his cronies. I suspect that you would get similar answers from public school teachers.

Ever since schools were integrated, fundamentalists have been doing their best to vilify, malign and undermine public education. Their desire is to get Christians to pull their kids out of public schools, deprive public schools of funding, and create a network of primary and secondary religious indoctrination centers. Mohler and his cronies have made life hell-on-earth for public school teachers -- regardless of their social, political or sexual orientation. Who would knowingly encourage their children to enter a field that is under relentless attack, woefully underfunded, about to implode from nihilistic micromanagement by its ideological enemies?

Actually, it appears that the only people who don't find "tremendous confusion" in this life are fundamentalists. They are the only people with the arrogance to pretend that they know all the answers to life's questions.

Boyd on Christianity and the Environment

The Norman Transcript has posted a story about a recent speech Dr. Tom Boyd gave on "Christianity and the Environment." Boyd is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma. He has long been one of the most respected academicians in the state of Oklahoma. An ordained Presbyterian minister, he's also one of the state's most popular speaker's at civic events and volunteer associations -- including churches. Here are a couple quotes from his recent speech on the environment.
A rising group of "evangelical liberals" are beginning to focus on the environment. This group is led by people such as Jim Wallis and includes many young and new evangelicals, Boyd said. The younger generation comes with a new perspective, he said.
. . .
There is no quick fix to the environment, he said. Instead, it will take lifestyle changes, he said, which is hard for Americans to do. The key to this, though, is Christians working together on this issue regardless of their place on the liberal-conservative spectrum.

"The how runs as deep as the problem," Boyd said. "Consequently, we have to learn how to listen to each other."
Dr. Boyd also gave an outstanding speech at a recent Educator-Clergy Conference sponsored by the Oklahoma Education Association and the NEA. I have video of that speech and will try to get excerpts from it posted online over the weekend. Audio excerpts from the speech will be broadcast on the Religious Talk radio program this Sunday at 10:00 AM.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Christianity Through Muslim Eyes

Raw Story has posted a six minute video that proved too hot for YouTube to handle. It is one Muslim's response to Dutch filmmaker Geert Wilder's film Fitna which attacks Islam by lifting verses from the Quran out-of-context and juxtaposes them with the actions of extremists.

Raed al-Saeed made his film Schism to show that Christianity can also be made to appear evil when passages of scripture are lifted out-of-context and juxtaposed with the actions of extremist elements within that religion.

Wilder's film is still available on YouTube, but not al-Saeed's.

More Evidence that U.S. Officially Sanctioned Torture

ABC News has broadcast a story alleging that "Top Bush Advisors Approved of 'Enhanced Interrogation'" techniques. Here's a quote:

Highly placed sources said a handful of top advisers signed off on how the CIA would interrogate top al Qaeda suspects -- whether they would be slapped, pushed, deprived of sleep or subjected to simulated drowning, called waterboarding.

The high-level discussions about these "enhanced interrogation techniques" were so detailed, these sources said, some of the interrogation sessions were almost choreographed -- down to the number of times CIA agents could use a specific tactic.

The advisers were members of the National Security Council's Principals Committee, a select group of senior officials who met frequently to advise President Bush on issues of national security policy.

At the time, the Principals Committee included Vice President Cheney, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as CIA Director George Tenet and Attorney General John Ashcroft.
Instead of prosecuting and punishing the GI's who abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib, we ought to be filing charges against the leaders who authorized these medieval techniques and ordered their underlings to use them.

Democrats Walk Out of Statehouse in Oklahoma

A few weeks ago I went to the Oklahoma State Capitol to speak against some legislation and was refused permission to speak at the House education committee meeting. It became obvious to me that day that the only people permitted to speak at committee meetings, other than the state representatives on the committee, were those who spoke in favor of legislation favored by the Republican majority.

Apparently this tactic has become standard operating procedure in most House Committees now that Republicans have control of the House of Representatives. Today the Democrats at the Capitol have had enough. They just walked out of the Capitol to protest the Republican leadership's censuring citizens who wish to express opinions in opposition to their agenda.

As news of their walkout reached me, I could not help but note the similarities between the tactics of Republicans at the Oklahoma statehouse and the tactics of the fundamentalist leadership at the SBC's International Mission Board that Wade Burleson is blogging about in my previous post.

It should come as no surprise. In many instances, the leaders of the SBC takeover and the leaders of the Republican party in Oklahoma are intimately related. A prime example is State Representative Sally Kern who introduced the legislation that I went to the Capitol to oppose. Her husband, Steve Kern, pastor of Olivet Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, is a prominent member of the fundamentalist takeover movement in Oklahoma.

Burleson Pulls the Curtain on SBC Politics

Wade Burleson has written a blog on "Pulling the Curtain on SBC Power Politics" that succinctly summarizes some of his experiences as a trustee on the board of trustees for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.

For Mainstream Baptists, Burleson's blog is a painful reminder of the fundamentalist takeover years when moderates were vilified, marginalized, ostracized and expelled from all SBC boards and agencies.

The tactics are the same. Only the names have changed.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Is the Israeli Military Preparing for Something "Big"?

Gulf News, a leading newspaper in the United Arab Emerates, has some worrisome news about drills that the Israeli military is currently conducting. Here's a quote:

The drills, which started the moment Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said, "the war has started", have been dubbed "turning point 2" by the government.

Military analysts, including military analyst for Israeli Channel 10 Alun Bin Ami, said the first turning point was in the 33-day war on Lebanon.

"There is no doubt that these drills come in preparation for something huge. No one knows what the nature of this thing is but the Israeli army has been training around the clock to significantly improve its attack and defence techniques for the near future," Bin Ami told Gulf News.

Preparing Kids for Christian Theocracy

Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite has posted an essay on the Center for American Progress website entitled"What I Learned at Jesus Camp: Freedom, Indoctrination and Children." The essay raises some important questions about the education and training of children in a pluralistic society. For the most part, she only raises questions because there are no facile and simple answers to these questions in a society that believes in religious liberty for all. Here's a quote:

Jesus Camp raises a number of troubling questions. Should children be used as a means for their parents’ political and religious ends, or do they have their own rights to some religious and political freedom in a democracy? How can they learn to be free if they’re not allowed to achieve goals separate from their parents and be with those who expose them to different views? How can they become effective citizens in a pluralistic democracy without learning a definition of freedom that includes the public good?

W.A. Criswell on Racial Segregation and Integration

Thanks to Ben Cole at the SBC Outpost and Sam Hodges at the Dallas Morning News for calling attention to Curt Freeman's article on "Criswell's 'Change' on Racial Segregation." (12p. .pdf)

Freeman traces a history often recounted by hearsay on the moderate Baptist grapevine. I have never seen it fully documented before.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

AU Simulcast Online

Americans United hosted a simulcast about "Everything You Wanted to Know About Separation of Church and State . . . but Were Afraid to Ask" in theaters around the country on March 26th.

Now you can view the simulcast online. Here's a link.

Monday, April 07, 2008

On the Dangers of Secular Fundamentalism

An essay by Chris Hedges "On Secular Fundamentalism" on the Truthdig website succinctly addresses the overweaning naivete of some secularists regarding the perfectibility of man and the advance of civilization. Here's a quote:
The folly of humankind, however, is pervasive. It infects all human endeavors. It has not exempted itself from institutional religion or the cult of science and reason. The greatest danger that besets us does not come from believers or atheists. It comes from those who, under the guise of religion, science or reason, imagine that we can free ourselves from the limitations of human nature and perfect the human species.

Those who insist we are morally advancing as a species are deluding themselves. There is nothing in science or human history or human nature to support this idea. Human individuals can make moral advances, as can human societies, but they also make moral reverses. Our personal and collective histories are not linear. We alternate between periods of light and periods of darkness. We can move forward materially, but we do not move forward morally. The belief in collective moral advancement ignores the endemic flaws in human nature as well as the tragic reality of human history. This belief in inevitable moral progress, whether it comes in secular or religious form, is magical thinking. The secular version of this myth peddles fables no less fantastic, and no less delusional, than those preached from many church pulpits.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Mainstream Baptists Sponsor Conference on Violence and Islam

Mainstream Baptists served as one of the sponsors of an International Conference on "Denouncing Violence in the Name of God: The Case of Islam." The conference was held at Oklahoma City University and was attended by around 400 persons.

Here's a link to coverage of the conference in today's Oklahoman. Thanks to religion writer Carla Hinton for her outstanding coverage of the event. Unfortunately, the person who posted her story on the internet linked the name of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists with stories in the Oklahoman about Southern Baptists.

Southern Baptists did not sponsor the event and I hesitate to mention the names of the few who did for fear of their being retaliated against and ostracised by their fellow Southern Baptists. Southern Baptists in Oklahoma held their own meeting at the State Capitol a couple days ago affirming their full support for statements State Representative Sally Kern made equating Islam with terrorism.

The Grid is Coming

Times Online is reporting that a world-wide lightening-fast fiber optic internet system called "The Grid" will come online this summer. Developed to handled the information processing for the large particle accelerator at CERN, it will transmit information ten thousand times faster than existing broadband networks. Here's a quote:

The grid has been built with dedicated fibre optic cables and modern routing centres, meaning there are no outdated components to slow the deluge of data. The 55,000 servers already installed are expected to rise to 200,000 within the next two years.

Professor Tony Doyle, technical director of the grid project, said: “We need so much processing power, there would even be an issue about getting enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at Cern. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send the data instantly to research centres in other countries.”

That network, in effect a parallel internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the Far East, Europe and around the world.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Historians Harshly Criticize Bush

An unscientific History News Network poll shows that 98% of historians say Bush's presidency is failing. 61% of them rank him as the worst president ever. Here's a quote from one of the many historians who are critical of Bush:
“No individual president can compare to the second Bush,” wrote one. “Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world’s goodwill. In short, no other president’s faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large.”

Another Mountain to Climb

Service Employees International Union has posted a report about the challenges facing African-American workers 40 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Entitled "Beyond the Mountaintop: King's Prescription for Poverty" (24p. pdf.), the report reveals how little economic progress has been made for the average person within the black community in America. Here's a quote from a summary of the report by Isaiah Poole:
That report concludes that 40 years after King spoke of a promised land of social and economic justice, “we seem to be paralyzed outside the gates of the city.” It is true that African Americans “have made amazing progress to get where we are. Black educational attainment is three times higher than in 1968, for example. Our out-of-wedlock birthrate has fallen in half. And countless positions of authority—from school boards to political offices to the boardrooms of Fortune 500 corporations—are now filled with black women and men.”

And yet, today African Americans still face what the report calls “a two-dimensional job crisis: high unemployment and low wages.” Four out of 10 black people over the age of 16 were jobless in 2006, the report notes, and 31 percent of black full-time workers earned less than $25,000. Thus, even as the education gap between black people and white people has narrowed dramatically in the past 40 years, the racial economic disparities have not.

The unemployment rate among African Americans today, 7.9 percent, is higher than it was in 1969, when it was 5.3 percent, and in 1999, when it was 6.3 percent. The median income for black men actually fell between 2001 and 2006 in inflation-adjusted terms, from $23,673 to $22,609. Childhood poverty, after being cut in half during the Great Society years of the late 1960s, is now at 32.6 percent, only slightly lower than it was in 1969 and higher than it was in 2000.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

South Rising Again in Hearts of Missouri Southern Baptists

The residue of racism lurking in the hearts of the fundamentalists who tookover the SBC is on display again in Missouri. Ethics Daily reports that the editor of the SBC's fundamentalist state Baptist newspaper in Missouri is defending the Confederate flag and the Confederate Constitution.

The SBC's biblical literalists have indeed returned to their historic roots. Richard Land may have gotten them to approve a resolution repudiating racism, but, as their leaders in Missouri demonstrate, they still long to return to the culture, mores, and strict, biblical literalism of the old racist South.

How can any conscientious Christian defend their support of this kind of leadership?

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Southern Baptists Stand With Kern

Baptist Press is reporting that hundreds of Southern Baptists flooded the State Capitol in Oklahoma City to show their support for State Representative Sally Kern. Kern still unapologetically contends that homosexuality is a bigger threat than terrorism.

There's little chance that many Southern Baptists will be overcoming either their homophobia or their Islamophobia any time soon. Their fascination with even the slightest hint of anything that might portend death and destruction is worse than that of teenagers watching horror flicks on Halloween night.

Torture Policy Pushed From White House

Vanity Fair has posted a carefully researched article about the "Green Light" that the White House gave to torturing prisoners at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. Here's an excerpt:

Not everyone at Guantánamo was enthusiastic. The F.B.I. and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service refused to be associated with aggressive interrogation. They opposed the techniques. One of the N.C.I.S. psychologists, Mike Gelles, knew about the brainstorming sessions but stayed away. He was dismissive of the administration's contention that the techniques trickled up on their own from Guantánamo. "That's not accurate," he said flatly. "This was not done by a bunch of people down in Gitmo -- no way."

That view is buttressed by a key event that has received virtually no attention. On September 25, as the process of elaborating new interrogation techniques reached a critical point, a delegation of the administration's most senior lawyers arrived at Guantánamo. The group included the president's lawyer, Alberto Gonzales, who had by then received the Yoo-Bybee Memo; Vice President Cheney's lawyer, David Addington, who had contributed to the writing of that memo; the C.I.A.'s John Rizzo, who had asked for a Justice Department sign-off on individual techniques, including waterboarding, and received the second (and still secret) Yoo-Bybee Memo; and Jim Haynes, Rumsfeld's counsel. They were all well aware of al-Qahtani. "They wanted to know what we were doing to get to this guy," Dunlavey told me, "and Addington was interested in how we were managing it." I asked what they had to say. "They brought ideas with them which had been given from sources in D.C.," Dunlavey said. "They came down to observe and talk." Throughout this whole period, Dunlavey went on, Rumsfeld was "directly and regularly involved."

Less than Half of Students in Oklahoma City Graduate

A new report from America's Promise documents the graduation rates of our 50 largest cities and compares that rate with the graduation rates in the suburbs that surround them. The graduation rates for inner city schools is much lower than expected. The gap between the graduation rates for inner city schools compared to the rate for suburban schools is larger than expected. Here's a link to the full report (16p pdf.)

Only 47.5% of the students entering Oklahoma City schools graduate from High School. 81.2% of the students entering schools in the suburbs around Oklahoma City graduate from High School. This is the ninth largest performance gap in the country.

Here's a link to another article that has some bearing on our poor performance. The state of Oklahoma ranks 47th in the nation on spending per student. Oklahoma allocates $6,961 per student per year. The national average is $9,138.

Given our poor educational performance, perhaps it should come as no surprise to find that Oklahoma County "locks up people at a higher rate than all but eight counties in the United States."

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Podcast: Dr. Barbara Forrest Interview

Dr. Bruce Prescott's 3-30-08 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Dr. Barbara Forrest (27MB MP3), Professor of Philosophy at Southeast Louisiana College. We talk about her book "Creationism's Trojan Horse," her testimony in the Intelligent Design trial at Dover, Pa. We pay special attention to the relation of Southern Baptists to the wedge strategy.

"Dr. Bruce Prescott's lecture at the AUOK forum at OCCC"

Dr. Bruce Prescott's lecture at Oklahoma City Community College

42 min 52 sec - Mar 29, 2008
Description: Dr. Bruce Prescott of Mainstream Baptists gives a powerpoint presentation of the history and nature of faith-based initiatives at both the state and national levels.

Thanks to Damion Reinhardt for taping and posting the video.