Monday, November 30, 2009

How Wade Burleson has Changed

Wade Burleson's blog entry today briefly describes how his thinking has changed over the past few years. Here's a change that I find most noteworthy:
Though I love doctrine as much, if not more, than I ever have loved it, I have absolutely zero interest in convincing people that I am "right" in my beliefs. I am always ready to give an answer for what I believe, but I'd rather people know that I love them and I have zero need to let them know I disagree with them.
If all Baptists could agree with this, there would be few divisions among us.

I would still feel the need, at times, to let others -- especially non-Baptists -- know that I do not agree with all the actions taken and pronouncements made by the leadership of the denomination.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Another Echo from the Radical Christian Right

Currently, there is a wave of discussion on the internet and over the airwaves about the Manhattan Declaration which is yet another echo from the sound chambers of the radical Christian right.

The signatories of the Manhattan Declaration are a Who’s Who of the Radical Christian Right in America. It was no surprise to see Richard Land, Jimmy Draper, Al Mohler, Bob Reccord and Daniel Akin along with Gary Bauer, Chuck Colson, James Dobson, Jonathan Falwell, Harry Jackson, Marvin Olasky, Tony Perkins, Alan Sears, Mark Tooley, George Weigel and nine Catholic archbishops. It was a surprise to see Robert Sloan’s signature on this list. I thought he would have had the wisdom to steer clear from aligning himself with such a blatant effort to fan the flames of cultural conflagration.

In my mind, there's something about Jesus' injunction to "let your yea be yea, and your nay be nay" (Matt. 5:37) that is applicable beyond oath-taking situations and confirms the truth that "anything beyond these is of the evil one." Christians have no business embellishing the truth and twisting it for political purposes and that is what the Manhattan Declaration does from beginning to end.

Nowhere does the Bible state that human beings are stamped with the image of God at the moment of conception. Theologians have been debating what the ancients called "ensoulment" for millennia without resolving the issue. There are good reasons for believing that "ensoulment" occurs at the moment of conception. There are equally good reasons for believing that consciousness is an essential component of the image of God. Before the biological substrate for consciousness develops -– sometime between 13 and 24 weeks -– it is reasonable to question whether the imago dei exists within the forming body. The answer to this question has enormous implications for the morality of not only abortion but also contraception and stem cell research. It deserves to be openly discussed and honestly debated, not stonewalled.

The Manhattan Declaration presumes that no honest debate exists over the inception of the image of God. It also strongly implies that those who disagree with their declaration sanction infanticide, euthanasia and Nazi death camps. It is dishonest for these signees to act as though their understanding of this issue is infallible and as though they are the sole possessors of faith, logic, truth and reason.

They give the same dishonest and disrespectful treatment to those who support homosexual unions. Their ability to proclaim biblical convictions from their pulpits are protected by the First Amendment. As long as the First Amendment is enforced, no law will ever be upheld that forces Christian ministers to perform gay marriages against their will. That same First Amendment, however, would also prohibit Christians from making the law conform to the bible and thereby prohibit the civil union of homosexuals. Homosexuals have an equal right to the same religious freedom and liberty of conscience that Christians enjoy.

I suspect that many of the signers of the Manhattan Declaration fully understand the implications of the First Amendment in relation to their opposition to homosexual unions. That's why some of them believe that our pluralistic democracy is heresy and hope to replace it with a Christian theocracy ruled by their interpretation of biblical law. That's also why their declaration carefully defines both religious liberty and conscience in exclusively biblical terms. Presupposed throughout the Manhattan Declaration is the belief that only Christians are assured the right to religious liberty. It is hard to find any evidence of even the slightest recognition that someone could conscientiously disagree with either their faith or their interpretation of the bible.

Those with consciences formed differently than those of the signers may well perceive that the purported call of conscience issued by the Manhattan Declaration is but another echo from the ever so gradually emptying chambers of the radical Christian right.

How Oklahomans Will Benefit from Health Care Reform

HHS has released information on the effect that proposed healthcare legislation will have on Oklahoma:

• 639,000 residents who do not currently have insurance and 142,000 residents who have nongroup insurance could get affordable coverage through the health insurance exchange.

• 319,000 residents could qualify for premium tax credits to help them purchase health coverage.

• 575,000 seniors would receive free preventive services.

• 102,000 seniors would have their brand-name drug costs in the Medicare Part D “doughnut hole” halved.

• 45,600 small businesses could be helped by a small business tax credit to make premiums more affordable.
These look like good reasons to support the legislation.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Americans United Opposes Christian Prison in Oklahoma

The legal department for Americans United for Separation of Church and State has sent a letter to corrections officials in Oklahoma warning them that the proposed "Christian prison" in Wakita cannot be supported with public funds.

In a press release today, AU Executive Director Barry Lynn said,
"It is wrong for government to take taxpayers" money and spend it on religious indoctrination," Lynn said. "That's a violation of the fundamental rights of every American.

"I strongly believe that inmates should have access to religious services of their own choosing," he continued, "but government should never favor one faith over others or coerce inmates to participate in religion."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Not a Country for Young Men or Young Women

Here are a couple quotes from an article on Alternet that shows that this is not a country for young men or young women:

In September, the unemployment rate for people between the ages of 16 and 24 hovered morosely at 18.1 percent, nearly double the national average for that month. At the same time, the actual employment rate for 16- to 24-year-olds dropped to a startling 46 percent, the grimmest such figure on record since 1948, the year the government began keeping track. Taken together, this same group of young people has lost more than 2.5 million jobs since the economy began deflating in December 2007, roughly one-third of all the jobs lost, making them the hardest-hit age group of the recession. . .

Between 1975 and 2005, for instance, the typical annual income for workers between the ages of 25 and 34 decreased across all educational brackets, with the exception of women with bachelor's degrees. Men without a high school diploma suffered most, their annual income plummeting by 34.2 percent, while men with a high school diploma or the equivalent earned the runner-up slot, with an income drop of 28.5 percent. As for women, those with less than a high school diploma, as well as those possessing just a diploma, lost less ground than their male counterparts; but then again, they're still doing worse than before and, perhaps more to the point, they still fare significantly worse than men their age.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Threats to Democracy and Civility

Currently there are a number of genuine domestic threats to our democracy and civic dialogue.

Foremost among them are those neoconservatives and others who believe that public discussion has become an empty formality in our democracy. In their eyes, the idea of openness and discussion has become outmoded.

In actuality, there are a number of reasons for that position. First, small and exclusive committees and coalitions are making key decisions behind closed doors and then "framing" the language they use to describe the issues in ways that conceal the effects of their decisions. Second, corporate interests and special interest groups are unduly influencing committees and key decision makers through lobbyists, campaign donations, and other favors. Third, the press and mass media have become subject to corporate and special interests that are using them to "manufacture consent" to further private interests.

Another threat to democracy and civility comes from those who believe that pluralistic democracy is heresy. Adherents of Christian Reconstructionism would replace democracy with a Christian theocracy. R. J. Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, opposed pluralistic democracy because:
"In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions."
-- Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 294.
They have embarked on a long term project to restore America to the rule of biblical law as practiced by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.

A broader movement, heavily influenced by Christian Reconstructionists, are the Dominionists who believe that conservative Christians are commanded to take control of civil government and, ultimately, to exercise dominion over all the earth.

The largest group threatening pluralistic democracy and civility are the Christian Nationalists. They believe that Christianity was the established religion of America until 1962 when the Supreme Court kicked God out of the public schools and established a religion of secular humanism by separating church and state. They are determined to have Christianity declared the established religion of our nation.

A more insidious threat comes from those who are actively working to takeover churches and the public square with the intention to undermine and/or exclude progressive voices from civil dialogue.

A number of philanthropists and corporations, believing that public discussion is a threat to their private interests, have funded an ever growing number of think tanks, political and media entities, publishing houses, colleges, universities, and law schools. These entitites are already playing a significant role in public life. A good example of this threat is the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

Finally, there are some who are deliberately working to manipulate and dominate the public dialogue. They are destroying civil conversation in the process. The consolidation of corporate media, the venom of talk radio, and the clamor of both the right-wing and the left-wing noise machines have completely overwhelmed all principled dialogue between opposing perspectives.

At this moment, more than anything else, we are in dire need of what Martin Marty has called a convicted civility:
"People who are civil often do not have very strong convictions, and people who have strong convictions often aren't very civil. What we need to cultivate is convicted civility."
It is time for those committed to pluralistic democracy and civil discussion as a means of governing to stand up and defend their convictions.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

On the Need for Civility

The prophet Jeremiah had some advice for those who are not at home in this world. He said,
"Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you . . . and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare." (Jeremiah 29:7)
At bare minimum, seeking the welfare of the city where we have been sent means to act with civility and work for the common good.

Americans live in a liberal democracy. Openness and discussion are essential to liberal democracies where governing by naked power and force is considered tyranny. Democracies control power by open discussion. Discussion forces those in authority to declare their positions and debate alternatives openly.

Democracies found the legitimacy of government on the "general will" -- the will of the majority, not the will of one or the will of a few. The "general will" or "common good" emerges from the dialectic of opinions and ideas that are expressed in open discussion.

In theory, the better informed and more enlightened the public, the better the discussion and the better the decisions that will be made. Freedom of speech and a free press are supposed to provide the public with information that is independent of what the authorities say, thereby serving as a safeguard against the manipulation of public opinion by those in power.

Americans live in a democracy that is pluralistic. Pluralism presumes that no one group or viewpoint has a monopoly on the truth. Minorities are protected from the "tyranny of the majority" by constitutional protections like the First Amendment which guarantees religious liberty, liberty of conscience and the separation of church and state.

There is a lot of talk on the street corner, on the airwaves, and on the internet that gives the appearance of a vehement objection to the principles stated above. The word "liberal" has become an epithet of contempt. Civil dialogue between persons of opposing perspectives is rare on the street corner, on talk radio, on cable news outlets, and on the internet. A politically active and aggressive segment of the majoritarian religion has declared war on pluralism and minority rights.

Why have we become so mean? There will be an open public forum on that topic tomorrow evening at 7:00PM at the United Ministry Center, 1017 Elm Ave. in Norman, OK. Dr. Tom Boyd, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Oklahoma (OU), Dr. Darian DeBoldt, former police captain and Norman city council member and Philosophy Program Coordinator at the University of Central Oklahoma (UCO), T. Thomas, Coordinator of the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma and Dr. Dara Fogel, Adjunct Professor at OU and UCO will be leading the discussion.

How can we create civil communications in these uncivil times? There will be a roundtable discussion on that topic Sunday evening at 5:00 PM as St. Stephen's United Methodist Church, 1801 W. Brooks in Norman, OK. Dr. Mike Crowson Professor of Educational Psychology at OU, Dr. Patrick Meirick, Professor of Communication at OU, and myself will be leading this discussion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Disgusted with Toshiba (Updated)

Eight days ago I cancelled an order with Dell for a new laptop because they could not deliver the computer in the time frame that they promised. I ordered a Toshiba laptop to replace it.

Today, I cancelled the order with Toshiba. They just advised me that they could not deliver it until next month. They were supposed to have delivered it by next week.

I ordered a Hewlett Packard laptop. They've assured me of a delivery before Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Podcast: Razi Hashmi Interview

Podcast (20 MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 11-08-09 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Razi Hashmi, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-OK). We talk about the reaction of the Muslim-American community to the recent shootings at Fort Hood.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Choice Involved in Responding to Fort Hood Shootings

Robert Parham has on Op-Ed posted on the Washington Post's "On Faith" webpage that indicates Americans have a choice in how they will respond to the rampage at Fort Hood:
The Fort Hood shootings present Americans with two choices about how they think about American Muslims. One choice is reactive and negative, taking a horrible act of one American Muslim, Major Nidal Hasan, and saying that he represents all American Muslims. Another choice is reflective and constructive, refusing to universalize harmful actions of one person to an entire faith group.
It's time for reflective and constructive persons to stand up and speak out.

Regarding the Violence at Fort Hood

There's a lot of talk on the airwaves and on the internet that tends to paint all persons of Arabic descent and Islamic faith with a broad brush.

It would be wise to remember the words of the Prophet Jeremiah at this time:

"In those days people will no longer say,
'The fathers have eaten sour grapes,
and the children's teeth are set on edge.'
Instead, everyone will die for his own sin;
whoever eats sour grapes—
his own teeth will be set on edge."
(Jeremiah 31:29-30)

One lone Muslim of Arabic descent ate sour grapes and responded with inexecusable violence.

There are millions of other Muslims of Arabic descent who want nothing to do with either his sour grapes or his violence.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Burleson on Quiverfull Theology

Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma has provided a critique of Quiverfull theology from the perspective of a Calvinistic evangelical.

It is worth a read.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

On Oklahoma and Dust Bowls

The most indelible image of Oklahoma in the popular mind is that of the dust bowl days in the 1930's. The dust bowls were caused by severe drought and unscientific farming practices.

When anthropogenic climate change causes the entire planet to be swallowed by either the sea or a dust bowl, history will record that an Oklahoman with a deficiency of scientific comprehension led the way:

Inhofe leads Republican boycott of Climate Change bill

Monday, November 02, 2009

Will Oklahoma Have an All-Christian Prison?

The Tulsa World has posted a story about a faith-based prison that the town of Wakita, Oklahoma is hoping to build and operate at public expense. It is being promoted as being America's first "all-Christian prison" -- only "born again" Christians need apply for positions as administrators, counselors, and employees.

Dwight Bushman, an economic development consultant for Wakita, initially promoted the private prison as an economic development project, but now promotes the project as a way to "reduce recidivism."

Bill Robinson, an ex-con who is now a prison minister and founder of Corrections Concepts, Inc., has an agreement with Wakita to manage the proposed 600-bed prison if it is built.

Bushman, Robinson, and the town of Wakita appear to be promoting on a grander scale something that has already been declared unconstitutional by the Courts.

I am a "born again" Baptist minister. I firmly believe that faith in Christ changes hearts and transforms lives. I am also deeply convicted that government has no role in promoting faith of any kind.

If some Christians in Oklahoma or elsewhere want an "all-Christian prison" it needs to be built and operated at "all-Christian expense."

I agree with the founding fathers of our state who made this clear in the Constitution of the State of Oklahoma (1907):
Section II-5: Public Money or Property — Use for Sectarian Purposes.

No public money or property shall ever be appropriated, applied, donated, or used, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, or system of religion, or for the use, benefit, or support of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher or dignitary, or sectarian institution as such.