Thursday, September 30, 2010

America's New Economic Creed

America's new economic creed: 
To those who have been given much, more will be added. 
Those who have done without will do with less.
Thanks to the Center for American Progress for the chart.

Another Good Reason to Boycott Walmart

The Arkansas Times has posted a story entitled "Who's Your Sugar Daddy?" that calls attention to the substantial financial resources that the Walton Family Foundation has been contributing to promote vouchers for religious schools.  The article makes it clear that Walton's  have an agenda that is hostile to public schools:
The Waltons and other super-rich Arkansans have for some time assailed the state's public schools and encouraged the formation of more charter schools.  They're cheered on by the state's largest newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, whose publisher, Walter Hussman, is another antagonist of public schools and teachers' unions.  The Walton Family Foundation also has a senior officer, Naccaman Williams, in a place where he regularly influences school policy in Arkansas as chairman of the state Board of Education.  He has said he sees no conflict in acting on school-choice matters the board considers.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cadets Faking Fundamentalist Christian Faith at Air Force Academy

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation has sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates demanding that results of a recent survey at the Air Force Academy be released to the public and asking the Defense Department conduct an investigation of cult-like religious activities at the Academy.

The letter contends that the religio-political atmosphere at the Academy has prompted more than 100 cadets to pretend to be fundamentalist Christians:
There now exists, according to a United States Air Force Academy cadet who recently wrote to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF;, an “underground” group of over one hundred Academy cadets who, in order to maintain good standing among their USAF Academy peers and superiors, are actually pretending to be fundamentalist Christians. They leave Bibles, Christian literature, and Christian music CDs lying around their rooms; they attend fundamentalist Christian Bible studies; they feign devoutness at the Academy’s weekly “Special Programs in Religious Education” (SPIRE) programs. They do whatever they have to do to play the role of the “right kind” of Christian cadets, in constant fear of being “outed.”
In the long run, the activities of the aggressively evangelistic Christians who have been in charge of the Airforce Academy will do nothing but undermine genuine faith.   Real faith is not the product of a coercive and oppressive atmosphere.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Baptist Historians Reaffirm Liberty of Conscience as a Baptist Distinctive

As CBF North Carolina contemplates changing its "foundational statements" to eliminate the freedom of individual conscience as foundational to Baptist identity, 14 Baptist historians in the "Baptist Classics Seminar Group" of the Baptist History and Heritage Society have reaffirmed liberty of conscience as a Baptist distinctive.

Their statement offers representative quotations from Sions Groans for the Distressed (1661) which is available for free download from Google Books from the volume Tracts on Liberty of Conscience and Persecution 1614-1661 (pp. 343ff), and from The Second London Confession of Faith (1677) which is available for free download from Google Books from the volume Baptist Confessions of Faith (pp. 215ff).

Their statement concludes:
In our tradition we find both the personal and communal elements of biblical faith; we find a believer’s church that preserves a place for unfettered individual conscience.
As historians of the Baptist story, we pledge anew our commitment to the vibrant Baptist witness of freedom that is responsive to the authoritative Scriptures and under the Lordship of Christ. We pledge anew our commitment to the relevance of Baptist identity for the twenty-first century.

AU Asks IRS to Investigate Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond

The national office of Americans United for Separation of Church and State has written a letter to the Internal Revenue Service asking the agency to investigate Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, OK for violations of the tax code.

In violation of U.S. law, AU contends that Fairview Baptist Church, through its pastor Paul Blair, officially endorsed Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate Mary Fallin when the congregation permitted and applauded his endorsement of the candidate from the pulpit last Sunday.

All tax-exempt 501(c)3 non-profit organizations are prohibited by law from endorsing political candidates.

Guess Who's Living in a Banana Republic

The chart below provides the actual wealth distibution for a country with economic disparaties worthy of a banana republic.  The estimated wealth distribution is what a representative sample of the people in the country think is the wealth distribution within their country.  The ideal wealth distribution is what the same people think would be an ideal distribution for wealth within their country.

Guess which country they are talking about.  Hint:  It's not in Latin America.

The fourth and fifth percentiles are too small to register on the "Actual" line.  Each percentile represents 20% of the population within the country.  The fourth percentile represents 0.2% and the fifth percentile represent 0.1% of the wealth within the country.

Source:  a report by Michael Norton of the Harvard Business School and Dan Ariely of Duke University.

I wonder how many of the megachurches are targeting their ministries toward the fourth and fifth quintiles? 

Where would Jesus focus his ministry?

Unfair Teacher Evaluations Destroying Lives

Rigoberto Ruelas, Jr. was a victim of the Manufactured Crisis in our Public Schools.

News reports indicate that Ruelas, a 5th grade teacher in a gang-ridden, low-income, predominantly Spanish speaking neighborhood in Southeast Los Angeles, committed suicide after he grew despondent when newspapers listed him as a "less effective teacher" based on his students' test scores.  Ruelas was shocked and angry that he would be judged solely on the test scores of his students.

Parents, colleagues and former students say that, in reality, Ruelas was a mentor to youth tempted to join gangs and a tireless booster that kids could make it to college.

Rather than assisting and rewarding the teachers who have the fortitude and life skills to work with the most difficult students under the most adverse conditions, we are publicly ridiculing and belittling them.

Will Americans ever learn to start measuring progress from the place where children start?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Paul Blair Endorses Candidate from Pulpit, Taunts IRS

David Stockman on the Folly of the Bush Tax Cuts

NPR's Guy Raz interviewed David Stockman, the Reagan administration's director of the Office of Management and Budget, about the GOP's "Pledge to America."  Stockman found much to criticize in John Boehner's plan saying "the plan just doesn't measure up." 

He also came out solidly against extending any of the Bush era tax cuts:
RAZ: David Stockman, let me ask you about the idea of making the Bush tax cuts permanent. Some economic analysts have said that if you do that, that by the year 2020, the government wouldn't have enough money to spend on anything except for Medicare, Social Security and defense if it's lucky. Do you think that sounds about right?

Mr. STOCKMAN: Yes, I do. We couldn't afford the Bush tax cuts when they were put in in 2001, 2003. Now, we're - eight years later, we're trillions in additional debt later, we're two unfinanced wars later, we're a trillion dollars of stimulus spending later, 800 billion of TARP, so it's pretty obvious if we couldn't afford them back then, in no way, shape or form can we even dream about affording them now.

RAZ: Do you think President Obama is being honest with the voters?

Mr. STOCKMAN: No, I don't think he is at all. I think when he said no taxes on the middle-class or on anyone below 250,000, he was being totally disingenuous. That's most of the people in the country. Sure, there...

RAZ: You're saying he has to raise their taxes as well?

Mr. STOCKMAN: Sure, absolutely. He should tell them, we're going to raise all your taxes because that's the only way we can support all these programs that I want to keep. He's for, you know, everything we have in the budget today, and a lot of it is meritorious and a lot of isn't. This president who ran on the ticket that I, you know, change you can believe in. I'm going to tell you -tell it to you like it is, can possible take that no tax pledge and then support all of this spending and all of this stimulus, just doesn't add up.

RAZ: Are you worried?

Mr. STOCKMAN: Yes, I'm very worried about it because I thought it would never come to this. When I was in the White House in the Budget Office in the early '80s, we had the deficit breakout, 100 billion or 200 billion. Admittedly, the economy was smaller then, but it was still four or 5 percent of GDP.

Here we are today with a deficit that's 10 percent of GDP and it doesn't look like there's any prospect that it's going to decline at any time soon or any willingness to even acknowledge the problem and address it. The idea that the economy is weak, and so we have to wait two or three years, is just an excuse.

The economy is weak because of our irresponsible fiscal and monetary policies over the last 10, 20 or even 30 years. And it's going to keep getting weaker unless we face up to the problem. So, yes, it's the chicken and egg. If we cut spending and raise taxes, it may slow down the economy even more, but that's unfortunately the choice that we face.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Baptist Joint Committee Stands Tall Against Pulpit Sunday Scheme

Both Brent Walker, Executive Director, and Hollyn Hollman, General Counsel, at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty have taken prominent stands against the Alliance Defense Fund's scheme to enlist preachers to engage in partisan politics in their pulpits.

Brent labelled the attempt "unnecessary, divisive and corrosive" during a panel discussion on "God and Caesar:  Church and State Issues" at Furman University yesterday.

Hollyn has an essay on "Why the Campaign for Politics in the Pulpit is a Bad Idea" that is featured on the front page of the Huffington Post today.  Holly's essay provides  a very  readable and succinct rationale for the wisdom of the laws that the ADF is flaunting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dan Schultz Interviews Walter Brueggemann

Dan Schultz, aka "Pastor Dan" co-founder of the Street Prophets weblog, has a valuable interview with Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann on the Religion Dispatches website.

The bulk of the interview discusses the taxonomy of scripts that Brueggemann developed in his Counterscript speech.  Schultz appropriated Brueggemann's taxonomy and expands on it in his recently released book Changing the Script.  The interview also touches on themes found in Brueggemann's latest book Journey to the Common Good.

Since the thought of Stanley Hauerwas and John Yoder has been very influential among Bapist communitarians, Brueggemann's critique of Hauerwas and Yoder caught my eye:

Dan: . . . Let me ask first, you said you had some sympathies with that post-liberal project. Do you tend toward that Hauerwas and Yoder stream of alternative witness within the church?
Walter: Yup, yup, I'm very much influenced by that. What I learned from Doug Hall...a Canadian Reformed theologian. What he said was that the Hauerwas line calls you to withdraw from society. And Doug said that for Reformed people, withdrawal from society is correct, but it's a first move and the second move that Hauerwas does not make, is to move back into society with transformative energy. So disengagement and re-engagement, and I think it's right for our Reformed tradition.
Dan: Right. It's absolutely fascinating how—just to do the intellectual history for a moment—how that comes out of that kind of Swiss and lower German reformation, and not Lutheranism. But it persists and it comes through the Evangelical and Reformed Church, among other places—and the Congregationalists pick up on it in their own way.
It's funny to me, because I think Hauerwas would resist that idea of withdrawing from society very much. He'd say, "No, no, we're not withdrawing, we're engaging in a different way."
Walter: But insofar as he appeals to the Mennonite tradition of Yoder, it is to some extent a withdrawal: we don't participate in the political process. I understand, you maintain another kind of presence, but yeah.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Roger Williams on "Soul Freedom" vs. "Christian Nation"

Religion Dispatches has published an outstanding interview with Bill Leonard that explores the legacy of Roger Williams with under the title "'Soul Freedom' versus 'Christian Nation'."   Becky Garrison asks:

How do you think Williams’ would respond to the current assertion made by some religious conservatives that the United States is a “Christian” country?

He thought that the ideology of “Christian nation” was the worst kind of idolatry. and denied the idea on the spot, suggesting that there are no Christian nations, only Christian people, bound to Christ by repentance and faith, not by nationality. He rejected the idea that the state should privilege any single religious voice. At the same time, he was an unabashed sectarian, fighting over theological fine points with anyone who came along including the Quakers. He did not hesitate to disagree with those whose religious views differed from his own, but he was willing for them to be his neighbors.

Williams is known for coining the term “soul liberty.” How does this concept inform the formation of the First Amendment?

I’d prefer to speak of liberty of conscience that, from Williams’ perspective begins with the idea of uncoerced faith. Williams is no secularist. He was a person of faith, highly sectarian faith, that put great emphasis on the sovereignty of God as the center of the universe. Williams and other sectarians of his time—especially Baptists—believed that the church is to be composed of believers only—those who can claim an experience of grace in their hearts. Efforts to thwart divine activity in drawing people to faith—to usurp the work of the Spirit by enforcing certain faith perspectives—were human creations that were unacceptable. God alone is judge of conscience, and therefore neither state nor established church can (in terms of salvation) judge the conscience of the heretic (the people they think believe the wrong things) or the atheist (the people who believe nothing at all).

Conscience should be free under God to act on its own without state sanctions. Such secular sanctions destroyed or undermined faith, rather than enhance it. Williams anticipates religious pluralism on the basis of uncoerced faith, not secularism, years before John Locke’s more secular approach to such questions.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Questions About North Carolina CBF's Proposed Foundational Statements

A reporter who is working on an article for a Christian Magazine sent me a list of questions about CBF North Carolina's proposed revisions to its foundational statements and asked for my response. Below are the questions and my responses. I'll post a link to the reporter's story when it becomes available.

1. What are the key issues / questions involved in this proposal?

In my opinion, the key issue being addressed by CBFNC’s new foundational statements is the issue of authority. It is yet another example of a post-modern legitimacy crisis – this time working itself out within the moderate Baptist movement.

Like the fundamentalists in the SBC, communitarians within CBF are primarily concerned to set “parameters” for the interpretation of scripture.

Would the proposed statement take the CBF in North Carolina in a more creedal direction?

Yes. The inclusion of the Apostle’s Creed within the foundational statements makes that obvious. Until 2000, all Baptists offered "confessions of faith" instead of creeds. “Creeds” are considered binding upon the consciences of those within a communion . “Confessions” are considered a consensus of the beliefs of the community at a moment in time, -- and not binding upon the consciences of those within the communion.

Until 2000, all Baptists were greatly concerned to protect the liberty of each person’s conscience. Conscience was understood as the heart and soul of an individual -– the depths of being from which a person answers the summons to relationship with God and responds to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in his/her daily life.

In 2000 SBC fundamentalists eliminated liberty of conscience from the Baptist Faith and Message (BFM) statement. They also elevated the Bible over Jesus and codified a narrow range of approved “parameters” for interpreting scripture. Then they made this binding upon all employees of the convention –- terminating missionaries and professors who refused to sign it.

Now in 2010 CBF communitarians in North Carolina are proposing to eliminate liberty of conscience (i.e., Priesthood of the Believer) from their statement of beliefs. CBF communitarians do not exalt the Bible over Jesus and they remain open to a broader range of interpretations of scripture. Their efforts to enforce uniformity of interpretation have a lighter touch than fundamentalists. Nevertheless, their emphasis on community is designed to set parameters on liberty of conscience within moderate Baptist life.

2. It seems that the tension of holding to denominational distinctives vs. modernizing them is at play here, along with questions over the best way to interpret Scripture (individual vs. collective wisdom; priesthood of all believers vs. creeds, etc.). Would you agree with that assessment?

No. I do not view this as an attempt to modernize Baptist beliefs. Liberty of conscience is basic to Baptist beliefs. To eliminate it is to make us indistinguishable from other mainline Christian denominations.

For evidence, just look at the emphasis on “community” that is prevalent in the creeds, confessions and rhetoric of all the other mainline denominations. Then look for any evidence of “liberty of conscience” in their creeds, confessions and rhetoric.

3. Is it accurate to say that the proposed new statement would include creeds?

Yes. See answer to question # 1.

remove soul competency?

Yes. The phrases “priesthood of the believer” and the phrase “soul competency” are often used synonymously with the traditional Baptist emphasis on “liberty of conscience.” In one way or another, each phrase is based on the personal and individual nature of the “born again” salvation experience. Baptists become Christians one-at-a-time as each believer responds personally to the gospel. Baptism -- the rite that symbolizes the individual’s entry into the community of faith -- follows the individual’s personal response to the gospel and a profession of faith. Baptists relate to God personally -– without clergy, priests, saints, etc. serving as mediators between them and God.

North Carolina CBF’s original founding documents summarize the traditional Baptist emphasis on the individual and on liberty of conscience under the heading of the “Priesthood of All Believers:”

We affirm the freedom and right of every Christian to interpret and apply scripture under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. We affirm the freedom and responsibility of every person to relate directly to God without the imposition of creed, the control of clergy or the interference of government.
The proposed revision of these documents deletes the emphasis on the individual and on liberty of conscience. These are replaced with an emphasis on the priority and authority of the community:

3. We confess that the Christian faith is best understood and experienced within the community of God’s people who are called to be priests to one another.
and diminish church autonomy?

Yes and No. Article four preserves church autonomy:

4. We confess that under the Lordship of Christ each congregation is free and responsible to discern the mind of Christ and to order its common life accordingly.
Article five could present a threat to the continued autonomy of the congregation if the church chooses to surrender its autonomy as it seeks unity with others:

5. We confess that through the Holy Spirit we experience interdependence with other believers and congregations who follow Christ, and we seek the unity of the church for which he prayed.
Autonomous churches are free to use their autonomy to surrender their autonomy.

4. How significant is this discussion in CBF circles beyond North Carolina?

Beyond North Carolina, I am not aware of much formal discussion about this. The influence of communitarians has been increasing in CBF circles over the past decade. I suspect that it will spread more rapidly if North Carolina adopts the new statement.

5. Any other comments or insight?

See my recent essay about this on Ethics Daily.

Monday, September 20, 2010

U.S. May Receive One Hundred Thousand Palestinian Refugees

Haaretz is reporting that former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert revealed that the Bush administration offered to receive up to 100,000 Palestinian refugees as part of a framework for peace in the Middle East:
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that the Bush administration had assured him that the United States would be willing to absorb some 100,000 Palestinian refugees immediately as American citizens, should Israel reach a permanent settlement with the Palestinian Authority.

The former premier told a Geneva Initiative conference in Tel Aviv that during negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008 he had offered a solution to the refugee problem that would have been in line with the Arab League peace plan and promised that any measures would be the result of a coordinated agreement.

The Bush administration had offered this American contribution to the refugee problem as part of what would be a framework of international compensation, he said.
You've got to give the Bush administration credit for offering a helpful suggestion in regard to the problem of resettling the Palestinian refugees. However, if the Obama administration makes the same offer I am fairly certain that the GOP will disown the idea.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Burleson Says NAMB Head Lacks Statesmanship

Wade Burleson, author of Hardball Religion and blogger at the Grace and Truth to You weblog, has commented on Kevin Ezell's disparaging remarks about bloggers.

Burleson speaks with grace, conviction and maturity.  It is a shame that most current SBC leaders can only muster one of those attributes.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

First Baptist Swansea Preparing for 350th Celebration

The First Baptist Church of Swansea, Massachusetts -- the First Baptist Church established in Massachusetts -- is preparing for their 350th anniversary in 2013. 

As part of their celebration they plan to publish documents from the church's founding.

The church is the third oldest surviving church in America.

What Would Roger Williams Do?

Charles Randall Paul and John W. Morehead have an outstanding essay entitled "I Believe You're Wrong: The Trouble with Tolerance" posted at Religion Dispatches. They ask how Roger Williams would respond to the erection of an Islamic Center near ground zero in New York City:

So what would Williams do about the current conflict over building a Muslim community center and mosque near the World Trade Center? More than likely he would welcome the arrival of yet another venue where, after listening carefully to his opponents, he would be afforded the opportunity to persuasively preach his form of religion to anyone who didn’t get it right (that is, everyone but him). He would be less likely to think of the nearby crime scene as a beachhead for Islam, than as a place where—yet again in the name of a higher “good”—humans were willing to shed the blood of their fellows. He would have remembered all the bloodshed in the name of Christ during his lifetime and shaken his head at the impotence of force when it comes to changing the human heart. In short he would have made the case that religious freedom of expression and practice are more important than trying to avoid offending the feelings of his fellow citizens. He would have carried a sign in front of the mosque:

I will die for the freedom of these Muslim citizens to build their church here, and I will work my whole life to engage and persuade them that Christianity is the only true path to salvation.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Jeffers Misunderstands Marital Customs

A number of people have asked for a response to attacks on Islam by the pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas.

First, let me make it clear that I am not an apologist for Islam. I am an apologist for the Christian faith. In my mind, that means we should be meticulous about being charitable, equitable, just and fair in relationships with others -- particularly with those with whom we differ.

Despite his disclaimers, Dr. Jeffers insists on blaming all Islam for the acts of a few extremists. He begins by saying "Islam does incite violence."

There is no doubt that verses of the Koran could well be interpreted to incite violence. The same is true of verses of the Bible. There is no doubt that throughout the centuries and into the present day some Islamic leaders have incited violence in the name of their faith. The same has been true of some Christian leaders throughout the centuries and into the present day.

I doubt that Jeffers and the members of First Baptist Dallas believe that the critics of Christianity are justified in saying that "Christianity incites violence." They should give no more credibility to similar accusations against Islam.

Second, the bulk of Jeffress' indictment of Islam stems from marriage customs. He arouses the indignation of his audience with examples of marriage rites involving children. Rites that were not uncommon throughout the ancient world and are still in practice in some underdeveloped places in the modern world.

Jeffers neglects to mention that under Jewish law the minimum age for marriage for women is 12 years old. Nor does he note that the traditional age given for Mary's betrothal to Joseph was 14 years of age and that Joseph is traditionally assumed to have been considerably older than his bride.

Is similar indignation in order for the Holy Spirit's use of Mary? Or, might it be wise to give some consideration to the average life expectancy of the era and the marital customs of the culture and time?

Monday, September 13, 2010

No Room for Prophets in CBF North Carolina

Cooperative Baptists in North Carolina are revising their “foundational statements” to delete traditional references to liberty of conscience and “soul competency” and assert the priority and authority of the community in matters of faith. Like the fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention, communitarians within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are determined to effect change within Baptist churches by redefining the traditional Baptist understanding of the “priesthood of the believer.”

Fundamentalists redefined “priesthood of the believer” to mean “submission to pastoral authority.” Communitarians are redefining “priesthood of the believer” to mean “submission to the authority of your church.”

Both are weary of the conflict of interpretations that are inevitable when finite and fallible human beings are passionate about reading scripture and living faithfully in accord with a revelation whose meaning is inexhaustible.

Both believe they are authorized to replace the Holy Spirit in the mind and heart of the believer. Fundamentalists replace the Holy Spirit with the authority of the pastor. Communitarians replace the Holy Spirit with the authority of the community. Either the pastor or your community serves to legitimate or delegitimate interpretations of scripture.

Neither fundamentalists nor communitarians make allowances for human imperfections. In the real world, both pastors and church communities often oppose valid interpretations of scripture and legitimate movements of God’s Spirit. That is why Baptists, historically, have been the Christian faith’s staunchest advocates for “liberty of conscience” or “soul competency.” Baptists, at their best, have always left room for the “prophets” – those who seem to be born out of due time because they are responding to a divine summons to serve the community in ways that challenge its consensus.

In my mind, it was a divine summons that led John Smyth to separate from the church of England and to adopt believer’s baptism. It was a divine summons that led Thomas Helwys to separate from John Smyth and return to England to start the First Baptist church in England. It was a divine summons that led Roger Williams to break with the state church in Boston and start the First Baptist Church in America. It was a divine summons that led John Leland in his struggle for religious liberty and his opposition to slavery. And, in more recent days, it was a divine summons that led Cecil Sherman, Daniel Vestal and others to form the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

If there is anything common to all these instances, it is that none of them were examples of submission to the prevailing opinion in their own community of faith. All of them are examples of submission to the authority of an inner voice that speaks in the heart and mind and conscience. In one way or another, all of them are examples of people who were constrained to obey God rather than men. All of them recognized that they would appear before the judgment seat of Christ and that when they appear there, they would all stand alone. No parents, no friends, no teachers, no pastors, no churches, and no denominations will be there to make excuses for them, -- and, they won’t be able to use any of these to make excuses for themselves.

Baptists, at their best, also realize that just as we are all called to be priests to each other, we are all also called to be prophets to one another. The Holy Spirit has been poured out on all of us. We all must learn to interpret scriptures and discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our church community plays a prominent role in helping us develop these abilities, but our primarily accountability is not to our community. Paul tells us,“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” (2 Cor. 5:10) When we appear there, we will all stand alone. Christ will know how many times He spoke to our hearts and minds and consciences through the voice of the Holy Spirit. He will also know how many times we listened and heeded His voice, -- and, he will know how many times we turned away and followed a different voice.

This individual and personal accountability before God is why liberty of conscience should always be held inviolable. It is inviolable for two reasons. First, because no human being or community interprets the voice of God infallibly – whether that voice is communicated through scriptures, through the community, or through a still, small voice at the heart of your being. Second, because everyone is personally responsible for learning to listen to God’s voice and to interpret it for themselves.

The Scariest Verses in the Koran?

Tia Lynn has posted a list of offensive verses at this link.

If dare to look, be sure to work your way down to the bottom of the list.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

50th Anniversary of John Kennedy's Religion Speech

Tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the speech on religion that then Presidential Candidate John F. Kennedy gave to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in Houston, Texas. It is the most significant statement on religion in American life since James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance.

At the time of Kennedy's speech, many Protestants questioned whether Kennedy's Roman Catholic faith would allow him to make important national decisions as president independent of the church. Kennedy addressed those concerns before a skeptical audience of Protestant clergy.

Here's a link to a video of JFK's speech.

Here's the text:

Kennedy: Rev. Meza, Rev. Reck, I'm grateful for your generous invitation to speak my views.

While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election: the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida; the humiliating treatment of our president and vice president by those who no longer respect our power; the hungry children I saw in West Virginia; the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills; the families forced to give up their farms; an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.

These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues — for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia's harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson's statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Finally, I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

That is the kind of America in which I believe. And it represents the kind of presidency in which I believe — a great office that must neither be humbled by making it the instrument of any one religious group, nor tarnished by arbitrarily withholding its occupancy from the members of any one religious group. I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.

I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.

I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.

This is the kind of America I believe in, and this is the kind I fought for in the South Pacific, and the kind my brother died for in Europe. No one suggested then that we may have a "divided loyalty," that we did "not believe in liberty," or that we belonged to a disloyal group that threatened the "freedoms for which our forefathers died."

And in fact ,this is the kind of America for which our forefathers died, when they fled here to escape religious test oaths that denied office to members of less favored churches; when they fought for the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom; and when they fought at the shrine I visited today, the Alamo. For side by side with Bowie and Crockett died McCafferty and Bailey and Carey. But no one knows whether they were Catholic or not, for there was no religious test at the Alamo.

I ask you tonight to follow in that tradition, to judge me on the basis of my record of 14 years in Congress, on my declared stands against an ambassador to the Vatican, against unconstitutional aid to parochial schools, and against any boycott of the public schools (which I have attended myself)— instead of judging me on the basis of these pamphlets and publications we all have seen that carefully select quotations out of context from the statements of Catholic church leaders, usually in other countries, frequently in other centuries, and always omitting, of course, the statement of the American Bishops in 1948, which strongly endorsed church-state separation, and which more nearly reflects the views of almost every American Catholic.

I do not consider these other quotations binding upon my public acts. Why should you? But let me say, with respect to other countries, that I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or persecute the free exercise of any other religion. And I hope that you and I condemn with equal fervor those nations which deny their presidency to Protestants, and those which deny it to Catholics. And rather than cite the misdeeds of those who differ, I would cite the record of the Catholic Church in such nations as Ireland and France, and the independence of such statesmen as Adenauer and De Gaulle.

But let me stress again that these are my views. For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.

Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.

But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.

But I do not intend to apologize for these views to my critics of either Catholic or Protestant faith, nor do I intend to disavow either my views or my church in order to win this election.

If I should lose on the real issues, I shall return to my seat in the Senate, satisfied that I had tried my best and was fairly judged. But if this election is decided on the basis that 40 million Americans lost their chance of being president on the day they were baptized, then it is the whole nation that will be the loser — in the eyes of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world, in the eyes of history, and in the eyes of our own people.

But if, on the other hand, I should win the election, then I shall devote every effort of mind and spirit to fulfilling the oath of the presidency — practically identical, I might add, to the oath I have taken for 14 years in the Congress. For without reservation, I can "solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution, so help me God.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Top 50 Christian Scholar Blogs

Top 50 Christian Scholar Blogs

Mainstream Baptist makes this top 50 list.

Baptist Communitarians Assert Themselves in North Carolina

Aaron Weaver at the Big Daddy Weave weblog and Tony Cartledge at the Baptists Today Blogs have offered strong critiques of the proposed "foundational statements" for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

I have not had time to review any of these statements, but you can be certain that I will weigh in about this as soon as I am finished with the other obligations on my time that are pressing this weekend.

With nothing but a quick glance at these documents and blogs, I would suggest that underlying the concern of the communitarians is the post-modern legitimacy crisis that began with the Protestant Reformation.

In my opinion, the hands on the clock of time won't turn back. Sooner or later, communitarians are going to have to learn to live with a post-modern world.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

News Coverage of the Solidarity with Muslims Press Conference

I've been getting e-mails all day from people who saw clips of yours truly on TV or heard audio of me on the radio from coverage of the Press Conference yesterday.

It made all four TV news channels in the Oklahoma City area.

Here are some links to the coverage:


The Daily Oklahoman and KTOK (CBS)

KOKH (Fox)

I saw the report on KFOR (NBC) myself, but they did not post the video on their website.

Capitol Beat OK

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Ken Starr and Uganda's Judiciary

A story posted on today's Boise Weekly offers some insight into the connection Baylor President Ken Starr has with the judiciary in Uganda -- a country where active homosexuals face the death penalty:

Kenneth W. Starr, former dean of law at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., is famous for championing conservative causes, like during his role as special prosecutor in the Clinton/Lewinsky investigations. In March 2009, representing Protect Marriage, a Christian conservative nonprofit, Starr argued the validity of Proposition 8 before the California Supreme Court.

BW left several messages for Starr at his office at Pepperdine, but neither calls nor e-mails were returned.

Starr is a long-time board member of Advocates International Inc., a group of conservative nonprofit Christian lawyers whose vision is to create "a worldwide fellowship of advocates bearing witness of Jesus Christ through the legal profession." AI links Christian lawyers across the globe, placing special emphasis on Africa.

Starr's associations as Pepperdine's dean of law includes one with the Ugandan Christian University, which is owned by the Church of Uganda. Although Archbishop Orombi is the "chancellor," the man who ran the show was Vice Chancellor, Rev. Prof. Stephen Noll, who after 10 years retired in August and returned home to Pittsburgh.

UCU is proud of its relationship with Starr. "Renowned American lawyer, Kenneth Starr, has praised the context in which Uganda Christian University provides education, saying it offers complete guidance for human behavior," states a UCU story.

Pepperdine's fall 2009 issue of Law Magazine reported that during Starr's last trip to Uganda, "Together with members of the Ugandan judiciary, Dean Starr signed a memorandum of understanding, a document that made official Pepperdine's clerkship program with the Ugandan judiciary. Starr committed Pepperdine would work collaboratively with the Ugandan judiciary to develop academic and legal reform measures."

Many are troubled by the mix of Starr's ideology and his power and influence within the Uganda judiciary, AI's Ugandan Christian Lawyers Fellowship and the students and educators at UCU he rubs elbows with.

Starr left Pepperdine in June to become president of Baylor University, the largest Baptist educational institution in the world.

Showing Solidarity with Muslims

The Interfaith Community held a press conference at the Church of the Open Arms in Oklahoma City this morning to show solidarity with Muslims at this time of unprecedented Islamophobia. Here's what I was prepared to say. What I actually said in front of a room full of cameras and reporters bore some resemblance to this:

On behalf of Mainstream Baptists I want to apologize to the Islamic community for the unconscionable actions of some extremist Americans. I also want to make it clear that we strongly disagree with those Christians who are demonizing Muslims and inciting hostility toward them. They do not speak for all conservative and evangelical Christians. Their intemperate remarks fuel hostilities between people of different faiths, their incendiary actions do not represent the teachings of Jesus or the Spirit of Christ, and their bellicose posturing endangers the lives of both Christians and Muslims around the world.

Rather than blaming all Islam for the actions of an extremist few -- who represent less than 1% of the 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, we should be in dialogue with and working together with the more than 99% of faithful Muslims who love justice and earnestly desire peaceful relations among all nations and between people of different faiths.

While Mainstream Baptists do not hold to the tenets of Islam, we acknowledge that both faiths worship the God of Abraham. We vigorously defend the right of all persons – whether they worship the God of Abraham or not -- to worship freely according to the dictates of their own consciences.

I suggest that on 9-11 this year faithful and mature Christians spend some time reading the Koran instead of burning it.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Unlearning Unproven Educational Theory

The New York Times recently ran an interesting article entitled "Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits." It suggests that we can also forget what we've been told about children having different learning styles:

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Neither France Nor Iran: Religious Freedom in America

The Washington Post announced Tuesday that Steven Goldberg, professor at Georgetown University's School of Law, passed away. Goldberg was the author of many highly regarded opinions on the first amendment.

The Post's obituary mentioned that Goldbergb had authored a book entitled, "Bleached Faith: The Tragic Cost When Religion is Forced into the Public Square." A title that I missed when the book was published in 2008.

I just got a copy of the book and the title of the penultimate chapter caught my eye as I perused the table of contents: "Neither France nor Iran: Religious Freedom in America." Here's a paragraph from that chapter that underscores the uniqueness of the form of religious liberty that we enjoy in America:
A simple examples demonstrates how differently religious exercise is treated in the United States than elsewhere. Consider a young Muslim woman who is attending public school. Can she choose whether to wear the head scarf that some Muslims believe their religion requires? In Iran she has no choice. She must wear the head scarf; indeed, women must be dressed according to conservative Islamic teachings whenever they appear in public. She also has no choice in France. Pursuant to a 2004 law, public school students cannot wear any apparel that conspicuously shows their religious affiliation. Jewish students cannot wear skullcaps, Christian students cannot wear large crosses, and Muslim students cannot wear head scarves. The law was clearly aimed at the growing number of Muslim women who had begun wearing head scarves to school. In the United States, the student has a choice. The government cannot make her wear a head scarf or forbid it. In reality, many students in American public schools choose to wear visible religious apparel, and many other do not. This result, strongly favored by liberals, moderates, and conservatives across the country, symbolizes the role of religion and religious freedom in the United States today.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

On Spontaneity and Creation (Corrected)

Stephen Hawking has written a book that contends that "creation was Godless" and proposes a doctrine of "spontaneous creation."

Hawking is undoubtedly a genious in the field of physics and astrophysics, but he's got no credentials to make pronouncements in metaphysics or ontology.

His doctrine of "spontaneous creation" resonates so clearly with the once popular but thoroughly discredited theory of "spontaneous generation" that it is hard to believe that he could be serious.

What Will You Be Doing on 10-10-2010?

Bill McKibben, founder of and described as "This nation's leading environmentalist," is organizing a Global Work Party for the environment on 10-10-2010.

Watch last night's interview with David Letterman to learn why it is needed.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Chief Sin of Southern Baptists

The chief sin of Southern Baptists is that they make the “Word of God” a dead metaphor. “Dead metaphors” are phrases that can be understood automatically – without thinking -- by simple, literal mental associations. Southern Baptist along with most Evangelicals automatically and literally associate the metaphor “Word of God” with the Bible.

The Bible itself almost always employs living metaphors. “Living metaphors” cannot be understood by automatic mental associations. Understanding living metaphors requires thought. There is a tension in living metaphors that points to a meaning that is greater than can be conveyed by a simple, literal mental association.

With few exceptions, the phrase “Word of God” as used in scripture, means more than simply “Bible” or “written word.” In scripture, the “Word of God” is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12-13 NASB), or “living and abiding” (1 Pet. 1:23). Jesus likened the “Word of God” to a “seed” that is planted and grows in a heart (Luke 8:11). After Pentecost, Luke wrote that the Word of God “increased” (Acts 6:7) and “grew and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). Most of the Bible verses about the “Word of God” relate to the dynamic spiritual processes involved in “preaching,” “hearing,” or “receiving” the “good news” about Jesus. John’s Revelation talks about one who is “clothed with a robe dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God.” (Revelation 19:13)

In almost every biblical instance, “Word of God” is best understood as a “living metaphor” that points beyond the “written word” to the “living Word” which “was with God and . . . was God” and “became flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1,14)

Most significant is the fact that, in the one instance in which Jesus used the metaphor “word of God” in a sense that primarily referenced scripture, he was complaining that the “traditions” of men had made the Word “of none effect” (Mark 7:13). No stronger denunciation of creedalism has ever been given. God told Isaiah that the Word “shall not return unto me empty, without accomplishing that which I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

Apparently, there is one thing that can “empty” God’s Word and make it “of none effect.” When men remove the “wiggle room” created by “living metaphors” and replace them with the “dead metaphors” of creedal interpretations, the “Word of God” is made “of none effect.”

What happens is that the place where God’s Spirit speaks to the heart and soul is filled instead by the automatic, literal mental associations of men.

This is precisely what the “tradition” codified in the Southern Baptist Convention's 2000 Baptist Faith and Message creed does to the “Word of God.”