Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why Baptist Families are Fracturing

Wade Burleson raised a provocative question on his blog yesterday. He asked "Do Southern Baptists Set Women Up for Abuse?" His blog called attention to a guest column by Mary Gruben in the Abilene Reporter News entitled "Southern Baptist View of Women Needs Update."

Southern Baptist leaders have been working tirelessly to subjugate their women since 1979. That was the year when both Leon McBeth's Women in Baptist Life was published and the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC began. McBeth's book revealed the remarkable advances that women were making within the ministries of the SBC. The Fundamentalists thought resubjugating their women would save their families, but all they did was to accelerate the fracturing of families and divide their denomination.

By 1999, the Bible Belt, the heartland of the Southern Baptist Convention, had the highest divorce rate in America. Only Nevada, home of the quickie-divorce, had a higher rate of divorce than Alabama, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

SBC leaders still think the solution to the problem of divorce is to tell wives to “submit” to their husbands. “Submissive” wives don’t question their husband’s directions and they hold their tongues when they know their husband is leading the family astray. In the words of Dorothy Patterson, a drafter of the SBC’s 1998 family statement, "When it comes to submitting to my husband, even when he’s wrong, I just do it. He is accountable to God." In the Fundamentalist’s world, husbands give orders and wives obey. All relationships, even families, are structures of power and servility.

Unfortunately for Fundamentalist’s, most women in the real world of twentieth century America believe that marriages are built on love and respect. They got that idea from the Bible (Eph. 5:33), not from their culture, and they expect to be equal partners in a regenerate relationship. They got that idea from the Bible too (Gal. 27-28; Eph. 5:21-33).

Fundamentalists don’t deny that love is the basis for marriage. They just define love in the terms of pagan Roman culture rather than in the terms of biblical Christianity. For Fundamentalist’s, love is a struggle for power and marriage is a relationship between a master and a slave.

Christ, on the other hand, demonstrated in word and in deed, and in life and in death, that true love is sacrificial and self-giving. Christian love concerns itself with serving others not with ruling over them. That is the only kind of love with power to reconcile fractured and broken relationships.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Secondly Truth About Gaza

Brain Mclaren has posted a couple e-mails about the Israeli bombardment of Gaza from Hannah Mermelstein, a Jewish peace and justice worker in Israel.

She describes heartwrenching conversations with Palestinian friends as they endure the bombings. Regarding the Israeli rationale for their attacks, Mermelstein quotes Mourid Barghouti in his 2003 book I Saw Ramallah:
"It is easy to blur the truth with a simple linguistic trick: start your story from 'Secondly.' Yes, this is what Rabin did. He simply neglected to speak of what happened first. Start your story with "Secondly," and the world will be turned upside-down. Start your story with "Secondly," and the arrows of the Red Indians are the original criminals and the guns of the white men are entirely the victim. It is enough to start with "Secondly," for the anger of the black man against the white to be barbarous. Start with "Secondly," and Gandhi becomes responsible for the tragedies of the British. You only need to start your story with "Secondly," and the burned Vietnamese will have wounded the humanity of the napalm, and Victor Jara's songs will be the shameful thing and not Pinochet's bullets, which killed so many thousands in the Santiago stadium. It is enough to start the story with "Secondly," for my grandmother, Umm 'Ata, to become the criminal and Ariel Sharon her victim.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Israel's Response Disproportionate in Gaza

Editor & Publisher has posted a compilation of news analyses about Israel's response to the sporadic rockets coming from Gaza. The title, "Attack on Gaza -- Self Defence or Mass Murder?" suggests the thrust of some of the opinions.

Nearly all of the opinions cited are coming from newspapers within Israel and from Jewish writers outside Israel. Here's one of the most insightful quotes:

Daniel Levy, a political analyst in Israel who once served as an adviser to Ehud Barak, who is leading the military campaign against Hamas: "I don't see how this ends well, even if, in two weeks time, it looks like it ends well."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Adobe Complaint

Three weeks ago Adobe Systems announced that they were laying off 600 people -- about 8% of their workforce -- because sales of their new CS4 software was not meeting estimates.

I made personal note of these layoffs because I have been trying without success to buy Adobe's software and have found the company to be one the least customer friendly businesses on the planet. Here's a copy of a letter of complaint that I have been holding to send to their CEO on December 24th:

December 24, 2008

Shantanu Narayen, President
Adobe Systems Incorporated
345 Park Avenue
San Jose, CA 95110-2704

Dear Shantanu,

This letter is written to call your attention to policies and procedures that have undermined my confidence in your company and irritated me to the point of exasperation. Frankly, I do not understand why your company insists on making it so difficult for customers to purchase your software.

On November 20, 2008 I attempted to purchase an academic version of the Adobe CS4 Master Suite. I filed the necessary paperwork and authorized a charge of $999.00 on my credit card and then had to wait for my academic credentials to be approved.

That evening I talked to my son about this purchase and he advised me that I really should purchase the full version of Adobe CS4 Master Suite in order to be able to take advantage of discounts on future upgrades.

On November 21, 2008 I received confirmation that my academic version had been approved and that it was available for download. I did not download any software. I called Adobe customer service and your agent confirmed that I needed the full version if I wished to receive a discount on future upgrades. I advised your agent that I wanted to pay the difference between the academic version and the full version and then be able to download the full version. He advised me that he was unable to upgrade my purchase. He also stated that he was unable to cancel the order for my academic version on that date and that I should try to cancel the academic order and then purchase the full version after November 24th.

Since November 24th I have contacted agents with your customer service on at least three additional occasions and have spoken to a customer service supervisor once. On two different occasions I have faxed statements to your offices swearing that I will destroy the academic version of the software that I never downloaded and have never had in my possession. Agents from your office have confirmed that they have received my faxes but they insist that they cannot give me a credit on my credit card. Instead, I must wait for a check with nothing but a promise that it will be mailed in three or four weeks.

Every time that I have spoken to your customer service agents I have informed them that I do not want a refund check, nor do I want a charge credit. All I want is to pay the difference between the academic version and the full version and then download the full version. All of your agents as well as your customer service supervisor have advised me that that is impossible. I find it incomprehensible that your company makes it so difficult for customers to pay an additional $1500.00 for your product.

I have been trying to resolve this problem for more than a month now. I still do not have any software in my possession. I still do not have a charge credit or a refund. For more than a month, your company has tied up $999.00 of my money and my credit.

I have a question I wish you would answer. If you were in my place, why should I continue to do business with your company?


Dr. Bruce Prescott
Customer ID Number : 170243379
Customer Service Case: 201526534

Cc: Dr. Charles M. Geschke, Co-Chair of the Board of Directors
Dr. John E. Warnock, Co-Chair of the Board of Directors
Brandon Bailey, Mercury News

Monday, December 22, 2008

Reflections on the Life of Penni Bourque

Penni's funeral was held at St. Therese Catholic Church in Canton, Texas this afternoon. Here's the reflection on her life that I gave at her funeral.

I've been asked to reflect briefly on Penni's life and influence. I am her oldest brother. I was eleven when she was born. She was eleven when I got married. Most of my memories of her are from her childhood. All of those memories are fond memories.

From the moment that Penni was born she was unflappable. Her happy, positive, self-assured spirit is visible even in her earliest pictures. Like every happy child, she didn't have a care in the world. And when she grew older and the circumstances of life began to weigh on her, she always found a way to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. No matter how bad the cards were in the hand that she was dealt, she found a way to perceive it to be a blessing and make the most of it. She did that to the very end.

Penni's life is best summarized as a life that was lived caring for others. Most of her working life was devoted to caring for new born babies who were born with lungs that were too pre-mature to sustain their lives. There are a lot of babies who would not be alive today had it not been for Penni staying beside them keeping their lungs filled with just the right amount of oxygen at just the right pressure. After she was sick with cancer herself, she was constantly by our mother's side caring for dad in the final stages of his struggle with pancreatic cancer.

My nieces on my wife's side of the family have remarked on several occasions that she was the most easy-going and pleasant person on either side of the family. Penni was a very unassuming person. I've never known her to be self-assertive, arrogant or conceited. She was a team player, a calming influence, someone you could always count on to pitch in and help without complaint.

Her one ambition in life was to be a good wife and mother. Nowhere is that more visible than in the stories about palliative care that were told by Lee Hancock of the Dallas Morning News and by the photos taken and the video produced by Sonya Hebert of the Dallas Morning News and WFAA TV. They made it possible for others to see what made Penni such a remarkable woman, wife and mother -- and my entire family is deeply grateful to them and the Dallas Morning News and WFAA TV for what they have done with her story.

All I have to add are three brief vignettes from moments in Penni's life that are revealing of her humanity and personality.

The first moment is from a time when Penni was a child. Once, when Penni was in pre-school, my mother invited one of her friends to our house for dinner. Her friend was a full-blooded Navajo and she had a little girl about Penni's age. At that time, none of us was sophisticated enough to call Navajo’s Native Americans. Mom just told Penni that "a real Indian" was coming to visit and she needed to be sure to share her toys with her. Later, after the woman and her daughter had been in our home for nearly an hour, mom sent me to get Penni and the little Navajo girl to come to dinner. As I went to Penni's room where the two were playing and having the greatest time, I heard Penni say to the little girl -- "After dinner a real Indian is coming to play. We have to make sure we share our toys with her too."

That was Penni all her life. She was completely color-blind, class-blind and race-blind. She always believed that all children are God's children and she treated everyone with equal dignity and respect.

The second vignette is from a moment when Penni was twelve or thirteen. The incident made a deeper impression on her than it did me. I forgot about it, she reminded me about it the last time I saw her.

When Penni was entering her teenage years, I was already married, out of the home and working as a police officer for the Albuquerque Police Department. One night when I was on duty, I saw a couple young girls walking down the street, after midnight, in a bad part of town. It was dangerous. I stopped my patrol car and got out to ask the girls what they were doing. Much to my surprise, one of the girls was Penni and much to her surprise, the policeman questioning her was her older brother. She didn't know if she was more frightened to be stopped by the police or by her big brother.

I discovered that Penni was spending the night with a friend and they decided to sneak out of the house and go to a K-Mart that was open all night. They didn't think anyone would ever know. From what Penni told me, she never thought she could get away with something like that again.

The last vignette is from a moment a few months ago when Penni talked to me about dying. Penni was raised a Baptist, made a profession of faith in Christ at the age of twelve, and was Baptized as a believer. Near the end of her life she became a Catholic and took great delight in the rituals of the mass and holy communion. She was not afraid to die, she was ready. But as death was becoming an ever present reality, she had some tough questions to ask and she expected her brother, now a Baptist minister, to give her some straight answers.

Essentially, Penni wanted to know why God ever created a world where people had to die. She knew that death was the result of sin, but she also knew that God foreknew that sin would enter the world before he ever created it. "So, what's the point?" She asked. "Why do we all have to go through this?"

She put me on the spot. I've talked to lots of people about death. If questions like this were on their mind, none of them were ever so bold as to ask their preacher. But, Penni wasn't talking to her preacher. She was talking to her brother and she expected me to have an answer for her.

By the grace of God, I had an answer that seemed to put her mind at rest, but it is the kind of answer that Baptist preachers are reluctant to express. We would much prefer to read a passage from the Bible than to suggest an analogy that is not clearly expressed in scripture. I share this analogy, then, as an example only of a thought that gave Penni a sense of inner peace.

I told Penni that "the world of death," as she called it, in which we now live only has meaning if there is something better beyond the grave. I reminded her of the premmie babies that she cared for at Children's hospital. Every one of those babies lived in an almost perfectly happy blissful world inside their mother's womb. It is the only life they had ever known. Then without notice and without their own consent their life was rudely interrupted by the painful experience of child birth. However happy they were with life in the womb, and however painful the experience of childbirth was, they were better off being born. They were created for something more than an isolated life in their mother's womb.

I didn't have to draw out the analogy for her. A tear came to her eye and a slight smile came across her face and she said, "You know, some of my premmie babies up there never had a chance to have a mother."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Penni's Obituary

The Dallas Morning News gave special attention to Penni's obituary. She died the day before she was featured in a story about palliative care.

The picture above is my last picture with Penni.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Penni's Story

Penni's Story was published in a front page article in today's Dallas Morning News -- "Baylor teams help families understand death, face it together."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Penni Passes Away

My sister Penni Bourque passed away this morning. She died of ovarian cancer. Here are a couple of my favorite pictures of her. Recent photos and video of her can be found here at the Dallas Morning News. She will be featured in a story about end-of-life care tomorrow.

The picture above is my favorite picture of Penni. I think this photo of Penni with my brother Pat and I was taken in the summer of 1980. She was about 17 years old.

In the picture below I am holding her the day she came home from the hospital. I was eleven years old.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CBF Missionaries and Unease in North Africa

The Washington Post has published a story distributed by Reuters entitled "Christian missionaries stir unease in North Africa." Cooperative Baptist Fellowship missionaries are mentioned in a misleading way in the story. Here's a quote:

Mission groups in North Africa range from broad alliances such as Partners International and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to small Baptist and Pentecostal churches based in the Americas and Europe, according to their Web sites.

Their activity is growing as churches turn their focus to places where the Christian message is rarely heard, said Dana Robert, world Christianity professor at Boston University.

"With the internet and the increase in travel, you have a democratization of missions where anyone who feels like it can go anywhere they want," said Robert. "The new breed of missionary doesn't have the same historical training as the older established denominations, nor necessarily the cultural training, so there's a bull-in-a-china-shop effect."
It is misleading and just plain wrong for Tom Pfeiffer to leave the impression that CBF missionaries lack historical and cultural training. Many groups send untrained missionaries to the mission field, but CBF is not one of them. It is also wrong to insinuate that anyone associated with CBF might be among those who lack "restraint and discretion."

Pfeiffer owes the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and its missionaries an apology and a retraction.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Podcast: Frank Schaeffer Interview

My 12-14-08 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Frank Schaeffer (28 MB MP3). Frank is the son of the late Francis and Edith Schaeffer. He is the author of several novels and books and the producer of the "How Should We Then Live?" and the "Whatever Happened to the Human Race" film series. We talk about his latest book, "Crazy For God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or almost all) of it Back."

My interview picks up where Terry Gross's Fresh Air interview with Frank for NPR left off. We talk about his and his father's involvement in the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, about their relations with Christian Reconstructionists, and about statements in his book regarding Billy Graham's family.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

At the Edge of Life and Death

The Dallas Morning News has published a significant and extensive investigative series entitled "At the Edge of Life: Life and Death in 21st Century Medicine."

This series provides valuable information and help for ministers, families and physicians regarding end of life care.

I would recommend it highly even if my sister's story was not part of the series.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Living Fully to the End

The Dallas Morning News has been working on a feature story about palliative care for more than a year. My sister, Penni Bourque, who is terminally ill with ovarian cancer is one of the subjects of the story.

The article and still photos will be in this Sunday's edition of the newspaper. WFAA TV in Dallas (Channel 8) will run some of the Dallas Morning News video feature at 10:00 PM this evening.

Here's a link to a clip of the video of my sister -- "Penni Bourque: Living Fully to the End"

Prayers for Penni would be appreciated. Her latest goal is to make it to her birthday in the middle of next month.

Paperless Advent Calendar

Someone has created a very special "paperless advent calendar."

Be sure to click the pictures to see the videos. There's a video for each day of the advent season.

Hat Tip to Xpatriated Texan for the link.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On God and Abortion

Robert Tapp, in an essay on Religion Dispatches, asks a question that the anti-abortion movement refuses to address. He asks, "Is God the Supreme Abortionist?" The question arises from our knowledge of the number spontaneous abortions that occur by natural processes:

A major controversy in contemporary culture is the question of when human life begins. Religions have given different answers and the consequences that have followed have been very divisive. Does life begin at conception, or at implantation, or at quickening, or at birth, or…? Family planning and contraceptives have further complicated these controversies. Is pregnancy the normal/natural purpose/result of our sexuality—or is it an outcome that can be either intended or accidental (and thus probably undesired)?

We know now that perhaps 30 percent of fertilized human eggs spontaneously cease development and are thus aborted in the early stages of pregnancy—often undetected. A considerable number of embryos miscarry during later stages of pregnancy. If we use the phrasing of the country’s founders — Nature and Nature’s God — what do we make of this reality? Should we view Nature or God as the supreme abortionist? A friend of mine who is a churchgoing fertility specialist speaks of such events as “accidents” but the theological and philosophical implications are enormous. A current metaphor is that not every acorn can or does or should become an oak tree.
If nature is so wasteful toward human embryos, how can anti-abortionists be so sure that there is a divine imperative to preserve embryos that were produced by rape, incest and in instances where the life and health of the mother is at risk?

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Frank Schaeffer on Fresh Air Today

Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Francis Schaeffer, will be on NPR's Fresh Air today at 3:00 PM ET. The promo suggests that he will be explaining why he is "Pro-Life -- and in favor of keeping abortion legal."

After listening to the interview, if you would like to ask Frank a question, send me an e-mail. Frank will be a guest on my radio program this Sunday morning. We will be discussing his new book "Crazy for God."

A Rare Medium Well Done

Ethics Daily has posted a brief video review of the work it has done over the past year. There's no other place like it on the web. It is truly a rare medium well done.

Here's a link where you can show them your appreciation by making a year end donation. Please be generous.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Podcast on NeoVouchers

My 12-7-08 "Religious Talk" radio interview (27 MB MP3) with Dr. Kevin G. Welner, associate professor of education and director of the Education and Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder. We talk about Dr. Welner's book "NeoVouchers: The Emergence of Tuition Tax Credits for Private Schooling."

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Televangelist's Jet Not Tax Exempt

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is reporting that the Tarrant County Appraisal District has denied televangelist Kenneth Copeland a tax-exemption on his jet. The exemption was denied because his ministry refuses to disclose the salaries of the ministry's directors.

Perhaps Copeland needs to take a cue from automotive company executives and start travelling by hybrid.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Whitten Responds to Jeffress

Dr. Mark Whitten, author of the Myth of Christian America and Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Tomball College, has written a response to Dr. Robert Jeffress' assertion in a comment on this weblog that no "substantive error" had been demonstrated regarding his claim that America was a Christian nation. Jeffress is pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. Here is the text of Whitten's response to Jeffress:

Dr. Jeffress,

You posted on Bruce Prescott's blog that it had yet to be demonstrated that you had made a substantive error in your claims that America is a 'Christian nation' and that the Supreme Court declared that Christianity was the 'established religion.'

Here is that demonstration of factual and interpretive error.

The Supreme Court decision Church of Holy Trinity v. United States (1892) was not a church-state decision. The issue was neither to decide nor to declare whether the America was a 'Christian nation.'

Like many advocates of the claim that America is a 'Christian nation' you fail to distinguish between two senses of 'Christian nation':

1. the institutional -- legal sense, in which the laws and political institutions have Christianity as their doctrinal-philosophical foundation.

2. the historical -- cultural sense, in which the American people and their cultural-social institutions are predominately influenced by Christianity.
Josiah David Brewer's majority decision makes it quite clear that he held that America was a Christian nation in the second sense, not the first,

"This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of the continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation. We find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth . . . These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation." [emphases added]
Brewer later wrote a book entitled The United States: A Christian Nation (1905) in which he made clear his view:

"But in what sense can the United States be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that people are compelled to support it. . . . Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition for holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal institution is independent of all religions." [emphases added]
Brewer's words are a part of the 'dicta,' providing the rationale of the decision. They were not a part of the 'findings' of the decision. Even if Brewer were asserting that America is a Christian nation in a legal-political sense, and he was not, dicta establish no precedent and establish no principle of law.

Nowhere in the decision is the term 'established' used to describe the relation of the Christian religion to the legal-political institutions of American government.

Beware of basing your case upon a corrupted text of the decisions that is widely disseminated among those who advocate your position. (The following words in italics are spurious -- they are not contained in the Holy Trinity decision.)

"Our laws and institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise. And in this sense to the extent that our civilization and institutions are emphatically Christian . . . This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of the continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation. We find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth . . . These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation."
I will look forward to your acknowledgment that factual and interpretive errors in your case have now been demonstrated.

You can demonstrate your integrity by acknowledging this on Prescott's blog comments section.

Mark Weldon Whitten

Setting the Record Straight

The Baptist History and Heritage Society, the most prestigous and reliable source for historical information about Baptists since 1938, recently released its Summer/Fall 2008 issue of their journal. The entire issue deals with "Baptists and the First Amendment."

Doug Weaver's historical overview of Baptists and the First Amendment alone is worth the price of a year's subscription. Particularly noteworthy is Weaver's treatment of the influence of Baptist Supreme Court Justices like Charles Evan Hughes (1862-1948) and Hugo Black (1886-1971) on the Supreme Court's decision making.

I just received my order of about a dozen single copies of this recent issue and plan to send copies of it to the Baptist county supervisors in Henrico County Virginia and to Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas. These prominent Baptists have been confused or misguided about the Baptist legacy in regard to separation of religion and government long enough. It's time we set the record straight.

Then again, you can lead a horse to water, but . . .

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

American Christianity Facing Shock Treatment

In my mind, Robert Parham's essay contending that "Financial Crisis Will Shape Long-Term Religious Ethos" considerably understates the challenges that American Christianity is about to face. Churches have not faced the economic challenges we are about to face and we are ill prepared to meet them.

Economists are warning that a protracted recession is just beginning and job losses are going to mount. The housing market, the credit market, and the financial markets have all experienced seismic shocks in the past year. More shocks are on the way. Our economic future is a mess. The balance of economic power is rapidly shifting from the west to the far east.

Every family in America is being effected and that includes church families. Will Willimon cites research on his blog that indicates serious conflict within the congregation is the number one predictor of congregational decline. Nothing creates serious conflict within families and churches like financial distress.

Willimon suggests that the keys to church growth in the future will be reaching out multi-racially, keeping people happy, and having more active males.

I tend to think that the economic strains we are about to face will alter the landscape of our churches. It's not the growth of churches that is important but the growth of God's kingdom. Big churches with their enormous economic footprints are a huge drain on the work of God's kingdom. They have too much real estate to maintain in a depression economy. Megachurch complexes and the mammoth debts that have been accumulated to build them may well make fine museums.

I pray that we see a revival of small churches that grow by multiplying and reproducing more small churches. The kind that are frugal with expenses on brick and mortar in order to devote the bulk of their resources to meeting the human needs of their communities. In my mind, the future of the church looks more like a mission outpost or a house church than a megachurch.