Friday, May 28, 2010

Rally for Reproductive Justice

Oklahoma has passed some of the most restrictive laws in the nation in regard to abortion. I participated in a rally opposing the legislation at the state capitol today. The rally was sponsored by a new organization that calls itself the Coalition for Reproductive Justice. Here's what I said at the press conference:
The laws enacted by the Oklahoma legislature this session were deliberately designed to harass and intimidate women making one of the most intimate, personal, and painful decisions of their lives.

Such decisions should be made conscientiously and under the private counsel of their own doctors, ministers and family members.

The government has no business inserting themselves into these matters. In doing so it is infringing on one of the most basic and inalienable of human rights -- the right of fully conscious and sentient persons to make decisions about their own life and health under the liberty of a conscience formed by their own religious beliefs and convictions.

This legislation cannot stand. It will not stand. And, the ladies behind me are going to see that it does not stand.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dominionists Taking Over Government

Rick Scarborough's Dominionist Altar Call from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Thirty years ago a relatively small group of pastors who thought that fundamentalist pastors were authorized to exercise dominion over both their congregations and their denomination organized politically to takeover the Southern Baptist Convention. Rick Scarborough was one of them.

Shortly after Scarborough and other fundamentalists were successful in taking over the SBC, Scarborough became pastor of First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas where he led a successful effort to takeover City Hall. Sam Davis, a member of the Pearland community, has posted a blog entitled I remember Rick at the Pearland Progressive weblog that provides details about the effects of that political takeover on that city.

For the past few years Scarborough has been focused on mobilizing Christians across the nation to duplicate his efforts at Pearland. The video above is from a political revival meeting at First Baptist Church in Moore, Oklahoma on Sunday, January 17, 2008.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's Time for Leadership Change

Dr. Ron Crawford, President of the Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, has posted a thorough and insightful blog about the recent meeting of "CBF Leaders" at Callaway Gardens. Dr. Crawford revealed information that neither Associated Baptist Press nor Ethics Daily disclosed:
Dan Vestal mentioned a process of discernment about his retirement. He noted at the end of the meeting he is clear he should lead the organization through the June 2011 celebration of the 20th anniversary, but not clear about thereafter. I suspect Dan will become increasingly clear about his retirement plans as the June 2010 General Assembly approaches. Let me say what we all know, organizations are not apt to get much of anything done if the leader is unclear about a retirement date. Organizations can't live long with the kind of ambiguity that is natural and normal for individuals.
This makes it clear that a transition in CBF leadership is on the horizon. Only the timing is in doubt.

In my humble opinion, it's time.

The generation that gave birth to the organization needs to give a another generation responsibility for projecting a vision for the future while we still have the health and energy to assist them in achieving their goals and objectives.

I believe that the future of CBF will necessarily have to differ from the models for ministry and mission that have prevailed in CBF life. Both our churches and our institutions are proving to be too slow to adapt to the needs of our changing situation and we are not allocating our financial resources as efficiently as necessary.

In our first twenty years, CBF leadership has successfully created a network of institutions and agencies that can support ministry and missions with moral, spiritual and theological integrity. For too long, however, CBF has also been a safety net for ministers, educators, missionaries and denominational executives who were displaced by the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. It is time for the founding generation to move on to lower profile forms of service and let another generation fulfill their calling.

CBF has been blessed with an overabundance of highly qualified, well educated leaders, particularly women, who feel called by God to commit their lives to full-time Christian service. At the same time, the number of places where they can receive any monetary compensation while fulfilling their calling are too few.

The career missionary programs and the traditional church ministry models that served us well in the past are not providing an adequate number of opportunities for full-time service. Entrepreneurial people, full of faith and confident in their calling, are launching their own ministries and prompting the creation of new networks of support. CBF needs to stop being threatened by this movement of God's Spirit and start encouraging it while finding ways to forge some links to it.

It's time for another generation to begin the process of envisioning a future for CBF that is more interconnected, innovative, flexible and entrepreneurial than any of us in the founding generation can now imagine.

Monday, May 24, 2010

On Responsibility for the U.S. Budget Deficit

This chart from New Republic magazine needs no interpretation.

Baptists, Big Government & Rand Paul

Richard Greener has posted an interesting article about Rand Paul at the Huffington Post. Greener's focus is on what he calls Rand Paul's "transparent hypocrisy." His comments about Baptist institutions in Texas and Georgia caught my attention:
To become a doctor, Rand Paul had to go to college. No home schooling allowed. He attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Space does not permit the full listing of federal monies that flow into the coffers at this institution. But, take away the federal student loans and grants that help pay the bills at Baylor and that school is probably closed up tight. Strip away their tax exemptions -- and their donor's write-offs too -- and your university becomes an empty shell. After Baylor, Rand Paul went to medical school where his father did, Duke University in North Carolina - known below the Mason-Dixon line as the Princeton of the South. Fine school, but the amount of public money at Duke makes Baylor look like a beggar in a bad neighborhood.

After graduation, Dr. Rand Paul continued his medical training at what was then called Georgia Baptist Hospital in Atlanta. Georgia Baptist's attachment to the government teat was so fierce Duke and Baylor combined would have flinched. That hospital, now known as Atlanta Medical Center, and owned by healthcare giant Tenant, owes it very existence to government money. For 2009, the owners of the hospital that trained Dr. Rand Paul reported that 50.4% of its multi-billion dollar revenue came from these sources: Medicare, Medicaid and Managed Care Government. Employ any diagnostic test you like. You'll find no small government here, doctor. There are no libertarians in Accounts Receivable at Baylor, Duke or Georgia Baptist.

Friday, May 21, 2010

You Make the Cuts

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has created an online Budget Simulator to enable everyone to try their hand at stabilizing our nation's exploding national debt.

Click on the link above and see what it will take to stabilize the debt at no more than 60% of GDP.

Climate Choice Imperatives

The National Research Council, the educational arm of the National Academy of Sciences, held a press conference a couple days ago to announce the release of reports that demonstrate the strong evidence behind the consensus in the scientific community regarding anthropogenic climate change. The Council is calling for actions to reduce CO2 emissions and to adapt to the impact of global warming.

CLICK HERE for a link to a SLIDE SHOW of the panelists.

CLICK HERE to view a VIDEO of the press conference.


Grandchildren are So Much Fun!

Can you teach kids this young to ham it up for the camera?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Catholic Church in Need of a Conscience

Sister Margaret McBride, former administrator at St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, has a conscience. She approved an abortion for a gravely ill pregnant woman who had "right heart failure." The woman was eleven weeks pregnant with her fifth child and doctors said if the woman continued with the pregnancy, the risk of mortality was "close to 100 percent."

Sister McBride did what any person with a conscience would do when confronted with the overwhelming probability that the life of a mother and her baby were both in jeopardy. She let the fetus die to save the life of the mother.

Unfortunately, her bishop, Thomas J. Olmstead, does not have a conscience. He has a rule. When he heard about the abortion, he declared that McBride was "automatically excommunicated."

The Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix, explained Olmstead's decision:
She consented in the murder of an unborn child. There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can't do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means.
I don't believe for an instant that anyone but Jesus will be standing beside Sister McBride when she meets her maker. She's individually, personally, and directly accountable to God for her actions. But, just in case the Catholics are right and earthly ministers will be present as witnesses for or against disciples of Christ, I readily affirm that I would stand with her.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why are Voters so Angry with Politicians?

After yesterday's primary elections there is consensus on both the right and the left that those who voted are angry with political incumbents. Glenn Greenwald at Salon Magazine offers a succinct explanation why:
It makes perfect sense that the country loathes the political establishment. Just look at its rancid fruits over the past decade: a devastating war justified by weapons that did not exist; a financial crisis that our Nation's Genuises failed to detect and which its elites caused with lawless and piggish greed; elections that seem increasingly irrelevant in terms of how the Government functions; grotesquely lavish rewards for the worst culprits juxtaposed with miserable unemployment and serious risks of having basic entitlements (Social Security) cut for ordinary Americans; and a Congress that continues to be owned, right out in the open, by the very interests that have caused so much damage. The political establishment is rotten to its core, and the only thing that's surprising is that the citizenry's contempt isn't even more intense than it is. But precisely because that dynamic so clearly transcends Left/Right or Democratic/GOP dichotomies, little effort is expended to understand or explain it.
If you want to see change in Washington, D.C., you are going have to change the people you are sending there.

You are also going to have to change the mindset of the people you are sending there. It won't do any good to send more politicians who believe in trickle down economics and who continue to favor deregulating finance and private industry, cutting taxes for the wealthy, defering payments for preemptive wars, privatizing social security, excoriating the uninsurable and ignoring the unemployed.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Barth vs. Brunner

John W. Hart, pastor of Liberty Presbyterian Church in Delaware, Ohio, has provided a thorough and an eminently readable examination of the early thought of both Karl Barth and Emil Brunner in his book, Karl Barth vs. Emil Brunner: The Formation and Dissolution of a Theological Alliance, 1916-1936. The two influential theologians were allies in the development of the "dialectical theology" that supplanted "liberal theology" after World War I. Their partnership broke up in a very public dispute over the value of "natural theology" shortly before World War II.

Hart traces the thought of both Barth and Brunner before their alliance and demonstrates that the issues that ultimately divided them were present in their thinking from the beginning. Brunner was always put off by the "one-sidedness" of Barth's emphasis on election and God’s sovereignty. Barth never approved on Brunner's attempt to bring philosophy (– ultimately, Kantian ethics, Kierkegaardian existentialism and Ebnerian dialogicalism) "under one arch" with Reformation theology.

The book makes a unique contribution to an understanding Brunner's theology by discussing in-depth their different reactions to the Oxford Group Movement (OGM) . Barth was adamantly opposed pietistic revival movements like the OGM while Brunner’s thought always had a missionary impulse. His program of "eristics" (from the Greek word "to debate") -- a program that Barth belittled -- was designed to probe for the "point of contact" within man where an opening could be found for the Word. Brunner saw both dialectical theology and OGM as expressions of the same renewal movement within Christianity. Hart explains why the OGM movement meshed well with Brunner's program of eristics:
In essence, Brunner's eristics was a modernization of revivalism. In the revival pattern, the preacher spends considerable time upon the "bad news" (sin, judgment, hell), bringing people (on the "sinners' bench") to a "conviction of sin", in order that they would turn to Christ in faith. Brunner found the logic of evangelistic strategy impeccable, but its form had to be completely revised since modern people rejected the concepts of sin, judgment and hell. Therefore, Brunner updated it: the eristician (an intellectual) reasons (not preaches) with modern people about the weakness of their world-view by appealing to their feelings of existential despair and moral failure, in order that they would examine Christianity as an alternative and valid explanation of reality. This "updated revivalism" is precisely what appealed to Brunner in the Oxford Group Movement.
Hart also makes it clear that there is a broad divergence in the way that the two theologians made use of the thought of the Reformers:
In addition, their different appropriation of the Reformation partly explains why Barth and Brunner talked past each other in the natural theology debate. Barth wearied of Brunner's citations of Calvin, since Brunner missed "the intentions of Reformation theology." Brunner, for his part, was highly suspicious of Barth's claim that, in order to "adhere to the teaching of the Reformation" it was necessary to re-write "what Calvin wrote in those first chapters of the Institutes." Brunner was constantly exasperated with Barth’s historical argument because he assumed that Barth was using the Reformers in the same way as himself -- i.e., in a "Neo-Reformationist" manner – rather than Barth's free and radical manner.
Brunner's influence on theological thought has always been overshadowed by that of Barth. There is no point in denying that Barth is the more forceful and creative thinker of the two. Nevertheless, Hart's book could be helpful in restoring an appreciation of an interest in the thought of Emil Brunner. The book is also an excellent way for students of theology to penetrate the thought of Karl Barth.

Karl Barth Vs. Emil Brunner: The Formation and Dissolution of a Theological Alliance, 1916-1936 (Issues in Systematic Theology, Vol. 6)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Faith-based Prison Still On Hold

According to an article in today's Tulsa World, a proposed Christians-only faith-based prison concept being planned for Wakita, Oklahoma is still on hold.

Corrections Concept, a non-profit prison ministry, cannot get funds to build their facility until they line up states or legal jurisdictions willing to send prisoners to them.

So far, only the Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs has expressed interest in making use of their services.

I've written about this before -- here and here.

Again, I would suggest that 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.
The Tulsa World says the American Center for Law and Justice has agreed to represent Corrections Concepts if Constitutional challenges arise over public monies being used for a Corrections Concepts prison.

Frankly, if these religious right Christians are truly concerned about rehabilitating prisoners, it would be better for them to fully fund their prisons with private donations. Otherwise, this will continue to be perceived for what it truly is -- a blatant attempt to fund religious ministries at tax-payer expense.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Does the Prosperity Gospel Still Preach?

Last December Atlantic Magazine ran a story entitled "Did Christianity Cause the Crash?" The article linked the popularity of the prosperity gospel preached by Joel Osteen and others to the sub-prime mortgage crisis.

No, Christianity did not cause the crash. Yes, the prosperity gospel did something to contribute to the crash.

For the marginalized, it is hard to find a more attractive distortion of the gospel than the prosperity gospel. Who wants a homeless Savior with no place of his own to lay his head? (Luke 9:58) Who wants to listen to an impoverished itinerant preacher who proudly says "silver and gold have I none?" (Acts 3:6) The gospel they shared doesn't sell well with people who are desperate to climb the ladder of material wealth and success.

If you are picking yourself up by your bootstraps, avoiding "ungodly negative thinking", and "programming your mind for success" you need a checklist of things to do to be worthy to receive the "gift" of "victorious living." Join the Republican Party, send a check to the NRA, enlist in both the culture war and the clash of civilizations, endorse torture and berate the advocates for human rights, vote against fair and moral taxes, take a stand against equal rights for women and homosexuals, homeschool your children, advocate for teaching creation science and intelligent design in public schools, oppose all abortion and stem cell research, denounce universal healthcare as socialism. The implication is that if you can check off on all these issues you'll find yourself at the top of the ladder to prosperity. God will be bound to demonstrate his faithfulness by rewarding you with everything that your heart desires.

Now that the stock market has crashed, jobs are scarce, millions of homes are in foreclosure and thousands others have homes worth less than their mortgages, does the properity gospel still preach?

If the people listening to the prosperity gospel were reasonable it wouldn't, but they are not being rational, they are being faithful. They are full of faith in a gospel that has nothing to do with the gospel that Jesus preached. They are people who need to hear the "good news," but the news they need is not the news that they want to hear.

For those who have ears to hear, Atlantic Magazine found some who have a better grasp of the gospel of Christ:
Theologically, the prosperity gospel has always infuriated many mainstream evangelical pastors. Rick Warren, whose book The Purpose Driven Life outsold Osteen's, told Time, "This idea that God wants everybody to be wealthy? There is a word for that: baloney. It's creating a false idol. You don't measure your self-worth by your net worth. I can show you millions of faithful followers of Christ who live in poverty. Why isn't everyone in the church a millionaire?" In 2005, a group of African American pastors met to denounce prosperity megapreachers for promoting a Jesus who is more like a "cosmic bellhop," as one pastor put it, than the engaged Jesus of the civil-rights era who looked after the poor.
Unfortunately, Warren and others seem to keep a checklist similar to that of the prosperity gospelers as their measure for spiritual maturity.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Family Values: Red States vs. Blue States

National Journal Magazine has published an essay by Jonathan Rauch that makes a lot of sense. It discusses the findings of Naomi Cahn and June Carbone in their new book Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture. Here's an excerpt from Rauch's essay:
The new paradigm prizes responsible childbearing and child-rearing far above the traditional linkage of sex, marriage, and procreation. Instead of emphasizing abstinence until marriage, it enjoins: Don't form a family until after you have finished your education and are equipped for responsibility. In other words, adults form families. Family life marks the end of the transition to adulthood, not the beginning.

Red America still prefers the traditional model. In 2008, when news emerged that the 17-year-old daughter of the Republican vice presidential nominee was pregnant, traditionalists were reassured rather than outraged, because Bristol Palin followed the time-honored rules by announcing she would marry the father. They were kids, to be sure, but they would form a family and grow up together, as so many before them had done. Blue America, by contrast, was censorious. Bristol had committed the unforgivable sin of starting a family too young. If red and blue America seemed to be talking past one another about family values, it's because they were.

When you understand all of that, you also understand why you can do a good job of predicting how a state will vote in national elections by looking at its population's average age at first marriage and childbirth. In 2007, for example, the states with the lowest median age at marriage in 2007 were all red (Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Utah). The states with the highest first-marriage age were all blue (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island). The same pattern holds for age at first childbirth. Massachusetts is highest (about 28 years old), Mississippi lowest (about 23 years old).

A further twist makes the story more interesting, and more sobering. Cahn and Carbone find an asymmetry. Blue norms are well adapted to the Information Age. They encourage late family formation and advanced education. They produce prosperous parents with graduate degrees, low divorce rates, and one or two over-protected children.

Red norms, on the other hand, create a quandary. They shun abortion (which is blue America's ultimate weapon against premature parenthood) and emphasize abstinence over contraception. But deferring sex in today's cultural environment, with its wide acceptance of premarital sex, is hard. Deferring sex and marriage until you get a college or graduate degree -- until age 23 or 25 or beyond -- is harder still. "Even the most devout overwhelmingly do not abstain until marriage," Cahn and Carbone write. . . .

The result of this red quandary, Cahn and Carbone argue, is a self-defeating backlash. Moral traditionalism fails to prevent premarital sex and early childbirth. Births precipitate more early marriages and unwed parenthood. That, in turn, increases family breakdown while reducing education and earnings.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On Personal Responsibility Among Tea Partiers

Atlantic Magazine has published an essay by Michael Kinsey that contends there is nothing patriotic about the Tea Party Patriots. In it Kinsey makes an astute observation about the concept of personal responsibility among Tea Partiers:
"Personal responsibility" has been a great conservative theme in recent decades, in response to the growth of the welfare state. It is a common theme among TPPs -- even in response to health-care reform, as if losing your job and then getting cancer is something you shouldn't have allowed to happen to yourself. But these days, conservatives far outdo liberals in excusing citizens from personal responsibility. To the TPPs, all of our problems are the fault of the government, and the government is a great "other," a hideous monster over which we have no control. It spends our money and runs up vast deficits for mysterious reasons all its own. At bottom, this is a suspicion not of government but of democracy. After all, who elected this monster?

This kind of talk is doubly self-indulgent. First, it's just not true. Second, it's obviously untrue. The government's main function these days is writing checks to old people. These checks allow people to retire and pursue avocations such as going to Tea Party rallies. This basic fact about the government is no great secret.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lament for the Protestant Perspective on the Supreme Court

Diana Butler Bass has posted an essay on Belief Net lamenting the loss of a Protestant perspective on the Supreme Court. While attributing it to Protestantism as a whole, she presents a concise summary of the significance of the traditional Baptist perspective on religious liberty:
These three things--individual conscience, the power of symbols to inspire and convince, and the separation of church and state--are not merely areas of law to Protestants. No, these are the things that inflame the Protestant soul--the things we have fought over, left other churches and start new denominations to uphold, teach our children, sing of in our hymnody, of which we write books and hold theological debates, and why we do good on behalf of our neighbors. Protestants do not always agree on how these principles work out in the law, nor have Protestants always followed their own principles to their logical legal conclusions. But these are the things that guide Protestants, the insights that animate the followers of one of Christianity's great traditions.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Close Call

A large tornado demolished the marina at Lake Thunderbird in Norman this evening.

The marina is about a mile from our house as a crow flies.

We had surprisingly little wind or rain at our house. All we lost was electricity and that may last for two or three days.

The generator we bought for a backup after the ice storm a couple years ago is getting its first workout.

Podcast: David Smalley Interview

Podcast ( 27 MB MP3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 5-9-10 "Religious Talk" radio interview with David Smalley, editor of American Atheists Magazine and author of the Dogma Debate weblog. We talk about religious liberty, separation of church and state, and the new curriculum standards being adopted by the Texas State Board of Education.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Sandhya Shines in Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State held its spring meeting today. Sandhya Bathija, Communications Associate for the national office, gave the keynote address.

Sandya is also a blogger extraordinaire. Here's a link to her most recent blog posting. Sandhya is pictured above with Jim Huff, a founding member of the Oklahoma Chapter.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Not a Pretty Picture

This chart from the Calculated Risk weblog does not paint a pretty picture of employment opportunities in this recession.

Atheists More Conscientious than Baptists in Oklahoma

When the U.S. Constitution was circulated among the thirteen original colonies for ratification, Baptists in Virginia refused to vote to ratify it until an amendment was added to secure liberty of conscience for every citizen. In a letter to George Washington, written on behalf of Virginia Baptists, evangelist John Leland explained why Baptists refused to ratify the Constitution until the First Amendment was added. He wrote:
When the Constitution first made its appearance in Virginia, we, as a society, had unusual strugglings of mind, fearing that the liberty of conscience, dearer to us than property or life, was not sufficiently secured. Perhaps our jealousies were heightened by the usage we received in Virginia under regal government, when mobs, fines, bonds and prisons were our frequent repast. (The Writings of John Leland, ed. L.F. Greene. New York: Arno Press & the New York Times, 1969, p. 53).
For early Baptists conscience was something sacred and inviolable. They refused to give anyone the liberty to judge another person's conscience -- not even the conscience of a Jew or a Turk (their name for a Muslim) or an atheist. Isaac Backus, pastor of the Middleborough Baptist Church and chair of Massachusetts Baptists' "Grievance Committee" during the time of the American Revolution, explained why Baptists opposed the union of church and state:
It implies an acknowledgement that the civil power has a right to set one religious sect up above another . . . [and it] emboldens people to judge the liberty of other men's consciences. (Isaac Backus on Church, State and Calvinism, ed. By William G. McGloughlin. Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1968, p. 333.)
Those early Baptists were successful in securing an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The first amendment spells out their concern for liberty of conscience in the words, "Congress shall pass no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ." Then their tribe grew, prospered, assumed positions of civic leadership and they forgot about their concern for liberty of conscience for everyone.

Yesterday the Baptist Governor of the state of Oklahoma lent his voice and the authority of his office to an exclusively fundamentalist evangelical day of prayer event at the State Capitol. Those who invited him to speak are loud and vocal advocates of Christian Nationalism. An ever increasing number of them are Dominionists and Christian Reconstructionists who believe that Christians should set up a theocracy and exercise dominion over every aspect of civic life. The message that all of them intend to convey is that the State of Oklahoma is a Christian state and that persons of other faiths and of no faith are unwelcome or, at best, second-class citizens.

Most of the Baptists in this state and around the country would applaud our Governor. I find his actions and those of the Baptists and other Christians who applaud him deplorable.

More conscientious and more commendable are the actions of the Oklahoma atheists who were at the state capitol yesterday. Theirs were the voices for equal liberty of conscience yesterday:
Damion Reinhardt of Edmond, a member of Oklahoma Atheists, said his organization opposed the prayer service because it was not inclusive of all people.

"This is not National Day of Prayer. This is Christian Day of Prayer," he said.
Not only do Oklahoma atheists have a better grasp of the First Amendment than our Baptist Governor, they also seem to have a better understanding of prayer than most Baptists and evangelical Christians:
Members of an Oklahoma atheists group gathered across from the state Capitol service.

"Basically we wanted to come here to show that not everyone agrees with what's happening. It's a clear violation of separation of church and state. The idea is you don’t need the government to tell you when to pray and how to pray," said Nick Singer, president of Oklahoma Atheists.
The greatest irony is that Oklahoma atheists offer more evidence of Christ-like love and charity than many Baptists and evangelical Christians:
Singer, of Oklahoma City, and the group of about eight people held signs and a banner that read, "The hands that help are better than the lips that pray." Leaders of the group said the banner referred to a food drive they held Thursday
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. -- 1 John 3:18

Thursday, May 06, 2010

On Getting Respect

This cartoon was brought to my attention by David Smalley, Editor of American Atheist Magazine and blogger at the Dogma Debate weblog.

David will be a guest on the Religious Talk radio program this Sunday. We will be talking about what David will be saying at an upcoming rally at the Texas State Capitol against curriculum standard changes by the Texas State Board of Education.

Al Mohler's Muddleheaded Defense of Franklin Graham

Al Mohler's blog today offers a pathetic defense of Franklin Graham. After receiving complaints about statements Graham has made against Islam, Graham was removed from the list of speakers at today's National Day of Prayer ceremony at the Pentagon.

Mohler's defense of Graham offered a muddleheaded rant against theological pronouncements from the Pentagon:
Adding insult to injury, the spokesman for the Pentagon made a direct reference to Franklin Graham's statements about Islam, calling them "not appropriate." What is clearly "not appropriate" is for a Pentagon spokesperson to render a theological judgment about the statements of Franklin Graham.
Mohler's defense is muddleheaded because he is obviously oblivious to the fact that his complaint is a mirror image of the complaint lodged by Graham's critics. Graham's critics have no quarrel with Graham preaching his convictions. Their quarrel is with the Pentagon offering him a platform on which to preach them. They believe that the First Amendment requires that government remain neutral in regard to religion. Inviting Graham to speak leaves the impression that the Pentagon endorses his theology.

When the shoe is on the other foot, Mohler is quick to take offense. In his eyes, rescinding Graham's invitation and declaring his statements "not appropriate" make it look like the Pentagon opposes Graham's theology.

If Mohler's head was not so muddled he might perceive that it is best for the government and the Pentagon to remain strictly neutral in matters of religion. Both Graham's critics and Al Mohler ought to be able to agree that the government should not be officially promoting anybody's religion nor should it be officially denigrating anybody's religion.

Mohler and Graham, however, are both Christian Nationalists. They expect the government to privilege and endorse their brand of religion and denounce all others. That's another area in which Mohler is muddleheaded and not only in regards to the meaning and intention of the First Amendment. If Mohler wants the blessing of the government for Franklin Graham and his theology, then he has no right to complain if the government decides to bless someone else's theology.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

On Fearing God

My thinking has been so deeply influenced by the phenomenological hermeneutic of Paul Ricoeur that whenever I disagree with him, I do so with trepidation.

Nevertheless, I have always been uncomfortable with Ricoeur's interpretation of "the fear of God" as described in his book The Symbolism of Evil. The biblical text at issue is Jeremiah 32:40:
I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. (NIV)
Ricoeur's hermeneutic attempts to "re-feel" the full emotive force expressed by the word "fear." He does not reduce its literal evocation by reducing its affectivity to "awe" or "reverence" as many interpreters do. For him, fear has a positive function and exists in a dialectical relation with desire. Since fear cannot be completely cast out until the eschaton, in the world of time and history, it can only be transmuted. For Christians, the fear that God inspires is transformed from "fear of vengeance to love of order." Ricoeur goes on to explain that, "a whole part of human existence, the public part, cannot raise itself above the fear of punishment and . . . this fear is the indispensable means by which man advances toward a different order."

Ricoeur's interpretation betrays a predilection for giving weight to the corporate and communal perspective when viewing divine-human relations. Being a Baptist, I prefer to give weight to a more direct, intimate and personal perspective.

I would not treat this passage in isolation from previous verses (Jeremiah 31:28-33) where the "everlasting covenant" is described as a "new covenant" that is inscribed on individually transformed "hearts" and "minds." From this perspective, the "fear" associated with the everlasting covenant is not transmuted into a "love of order," but redirected toward the "law of love" that Jesus summarized by the command to love God with "all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and to "love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt. 22:37-39 NIV)

When the covenant is understood as the "law of love," the fear that God inspires takes on a different character. It becomes the "fear of not loving enough" that Ricoeur himself recognizes as "the purest and worst of fears."

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Racism and Homogenous Churches

The Other Journal has posted a thought-provoking interview with Peter Heltzel under the title, "Telling Evangelical Histories Otherwise."

In one brief section of the interview Heltzel offers an astute appraisal of the church growth movement's principle of homogeneity:
TOJ: How do you understand race?

PH: Emile Townes in Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil argues that race signifies power relations associated with skin color. Thus, racism is more than personal prejudice. Racism is prejudice plus power. In the Americas, racism manifests itself in an ideology of white supremacy. While Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence, in colonial America the only folks who were truly independent were white, land-owning men. White racism took on systemic forms in America's governing, financial, education, and religious institutions. Problems of systemic white racism and classicism remain intact and deeply rooted within the evangelical world today.

TOJ: Can you give an example?

PH: The homogenous unit principle of church growth used by many megachurches is one clear example of white racism. These churches seek to reach out to unchurched white suburbanites and to design ministries, worship spaces, and liturgies that appeal to affluent whites. These churches often look like malls, and have ATMs and Starbucks in order to make white folks comfortable. While this strategy has proven effective for growing a church, we need to be honest about the ways in which this model of church lulls people into comfort at the expense of challenging them on their exclusionary and racist attitudes and structures.
Hat Tip to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to this article.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Evangelicals without Conscience

Randall Balmer offers a scandalous insight into the conscience of right-wing evangelicalism in his new book, The Making of Evangelicalism:
When I was writing Thy Kingdom Come several years back, I asked eight Religious Right organizations to send me a copy of their group's position on the use of torture. Only two of the eight responded, and neither could bring itself to condemn the Bush administration's persistent and systematic use of torture. The very people who purport to hear a fetal scream turned a deaf ear to the real screams of fully formed human beings who were being tortured in the name of our government. And am I the only one who finds it a tad ironic that the same folks who sought to teach something called "intelligent design" in public-school classrooms seemed to evince precious little interest in the handiwork of the Intelligent Designer?