Thursday, March 31, 2011

Multiple Views of the Mainstream Baptist Weblog

Blogger is now providing multiple ways for people to view weblogs. Here are links to the different ways that you can view this weblog:

My favorite -- Timeslide

If you prefer one of these views to the standard view, just bookmark the view you like.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On Being NIV Positive

While giving a speech to CBF members in North Carolina, Baptist historian Bill Leonard called attention to a recently identified religious stigma being carried by some preachers in the Appalachian mountains:

King James remains the only "orthodox text" Leonard said, as he told of one pastor relating a conflict in an associational meeting because "one of the young preachers stood up and announced he was NIV positive."

Our Guilty Silence

Mitch Carnell, editor of Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, offers some sound advice on Ethics Daily for how to respond to the uncivil rhetoric that permeates our public discourse:

Our democracy depends on lively, informed, healthy political debate. No American wants a society where nothing is challenged and everything goes. Debate is the life's blood of our way of life. If you have a better idea, put it on the table and let's see if it can stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

It is not the other group or the other person who is responsible for gutter language in our national debate, or for the shameless and often baseless attacks on individuals. It is any of us who engage in such tactics or fail to challenge them when and where we encounter them.
Well said.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On Moral Discourse at the University

Harvery Cox was at the University of Oklahoma yesterday speaking about "The University as a Community for Moral Discourse." During his talk he described the process he used to try to break through any impasse that might arise between competing perspectives when students were discussing ethical issues in his classes at Harvard. In my own words, this is the gist of the process that he described:

Facts -- try to get people from opposing perspectives to agree on the basic facts of the issue under contention.

Logic -- examine the strength of the moral reasoning used by each perspective. Is the reasoning valid, fair and consistently applied in other circumstances or situations.

Loyalties -- discover how each perspective ranks their loyalties. What loyalty is given highest priority -- God, faith community, country, family, self, etc.?

Worldview -- try to get opposing perspectives to view the world and the issue from the perspective of the other.
Cox said this was a helpful process to increase mutual understanding but was not a panacea for resolving moral conflict.

Note: The cameras on i-phones do a fairly good job doing close-up photos. They leave a lot to be desired on photos from a distance.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Podcast: Whitney Pearson Interview

Podcast (27MB Mp3) of Dr. Bruce Prescott's 3-27-2011 "Religious Talk" radio interview with Whitney Pearson, Associate Field Organizer for the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign in Oklahoma City. We talk about the EPA's Federal Implementation Plan for Oklahoma which will require three of Oklahoma's coal fired power plants to either install scrubbers or convert to natural gas, wind, solar or some other source of clean energy. We also talk about Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt's threat to litigate to prevent the EPA from implementing this plan.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Christians Making People Hurt

Documentary Teaser: Arkansas from EthicsDaily on Vimeo.

In an interview with Ethics Daily, Bishop Anthony Taylor, of the Catholic Diocese of Little Rock, put his finger on the real intention behind much of the anti-immigrant sentiment that is sweeping across our country:

"We're dealing with poor people who don't have the resources to go to their country of origin, wait a period of time – no way to support themselves, no way to provide for their families, no way to keep current on their house payments," he told us during an interview in his Little Rock office.

Taylor said there is "no logical reason" to advocate for the undocumented to go to the back of the line "except that we want to inflict suffering on these people."

The soft-spoken bishop said the back-of-the-line argument shows "at least ignorance. It may be malice -– make people pay, make people hurt."
Unconscionably, many of those in the anti-immigrant community call themselves Christian.

Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. -- I John 3:16-18

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Every Day in Oklahoma

  • 150 babies are born
    • 7 of the babies are born to children
    • 62 of the babies are born without adequate prenatal care
    • 12 of the babies are born too small
  • 84 children are investigated for allegations of serious child abuse and/or neglect
  • 24 children are confirmed to be victims of child abuse and/or neglect

From a recent Oklahoma Policy Institute (OPI) powerpoint presentation using information provided in the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) 2010 KIDS COUNT Factbook.

Under the knife of budget cuts at the Oklahoma state capitol are funds to protect and care for children being abused and/or neglected.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Counting Down to the Next Financial Armageddon

Until I saw Charles Ferguson’s documentary film Inside Job, I thought Simon Johnson’s and James Kwak’s book 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown provided the best introduction to the causes for the current economic calamity facing our nation and the world. 13 Bankers provides the details and everyone knows that “the devil is in the details,” but it speaks more to the head than the heart. Inside Job communicates to the heart. Frankly, this documentary delivers a shock to the sense of injustice that paper and ink will never be able to duplicate.

For 69 riveting minutes the unconscionable arrogance, heartless complacency, intransigent incompetence and larcenous greed of America’s STILL unregulated finance industry is on full display in Inside Job. The camera never blinks when ethically averse academics, bungling bureaucrats, exorbitantly compensated incompetent executives, and pandering politicians are questioned about their roles and responsibilities in this crisis. It quickly becomes apparent that none of the perpetrators or bystanders show much inclination to look at themselves through the eyes of the victims who they knew would be viewing them through the lens of the camera.

Inside Job examines the systemic corruption of the entire financial services industry from at least five angles. First, it recounts the decades long movement to deregulate the finance industry. Second, it describes the development of the derivatives that disguised risk from investors, permitting bankers to reap huge fees packaging and selling sub-prime mortgages while, some of them -- at the same time, were betting that their own collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s) would fail -- thereby insuring that they could reap huge rewards for themselves if unwitting taxpayers were required to bail out “too big to fail” financial institutions. Third, it unveils the revolving door between the finance industry and government regulators. Fourth, it explains the egregious conflicts of interest that effected the credit rating agencies and the academics who were supposed to be monitoring the finance industry. Fifth, it examines the escalating influence that finance industry money is exerting on political processes – which is why the countdown to the next financial Armageddon has already begun.

Most tragic is the damage to democracy and the American dream revealed by Inside Job. Despite the cosmetic changes that have been enacted under the current administration, the economic system remains firmly in the hands of people who are oblivious to the hardships of unemployment and deaf to the struggles of working class Americans. As the documentary discloses in its examination of Obama administration appointees and policies, the Wall Street takeover of the American economy continues unabated.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Debate Gets Broad Coverage

My debate with Steve Kern over the Constitution and Christian Nationalism is getting a lot of mileage. Besides the newspaper coverage, both the national AU organization and the Daily Oklahoman put links to the video of the debate on their websites.

Today, the local NPR affiliate broadcast the debate over public broadcasting. Here's a link to KGOU's coverage.

Friday, March 11, 2011

King Using Government to Intimidate Muslims

Melissa Rogers offers some thoughtful insights into "The Flaws of the King Hearing on Islam" at the Washington Post's On Faith section. One of the most important insights she has to offer is the fact that the government is not competent to pass judgments on the beliefs of religious communities. The responsibility of government is to address threats of violence and prevent acts of violence:

The framing of the hearing also was faulty because, while the government is the right body to combat terrorism, including terrorism carried out in the name of Islam, it is the wrong body to conduct an inquiry into a religious community as such. Governmental officials certainly do not have to ignore the context in which acts of terrorism occur, but they should always make clear that their mission is -- simply but crucially -- to prevent violence and threats of violence, whatever the motivation for it. The government is not competent to investigate religious beliefs and religious communities as such.

Those who are inclined to believe that persons of the majority faith have a right to use the government to put the beliefs of minority faith communities on trial would do well to take heed of the words of James Madison, the father of our Constitution:

It is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences in denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Thanks to James McGrath at the Exploring Our Matrix weblog for sharing this image. This one is definitely worth more than a thousand words.

This church is missing the latest exciting demographic. At 4:00 P.M. it needs to add a "Happy Trails Cowboy Church" service.

Monday, March 07, 2011

What Makes a Nation Christian?

One of the most delightful things about modern social media is that it enables connections between people who have never met, but share similar concerns and interests. Recent blogs and news reports have helped connected me with Scott at the website.

Scott has written an insightful essay on "What defines a Christian nation?" which is well worth a careful and thoughtful reading.

In my favorite paragraph of Scott's essay he asks what a truly Christian nation would do:

Does it place obedience to Christ above life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness (Mark 8:34-35)? Does it love its enemies and not resist evil persons or does it respond to them the same way as do non-Christian nations? If the latter, is its ruler infallible in all areas or only in the decision to go to war? Are its weapons different from the weapons of the world (2 Cor 10:3-4)? Does it refuse to possess weapons that can destroy entire populations indiscriminately, or to to export conventional weapons to other nations to use for their own agendas? Does it overcome evil with good? Does it feed its enemies when they are hungry and give them drink when they are thirsty? Does it refuse to rejoice at the downfall of its enemies? Does it trust in God rather than the pre-Christian rationalization that the end justifies the means? Does it reject torture regardless of its effectiveness? Must it have a strong military in order to “trust” in God? Or can it even be an authority that bears the sword if all who take up the sword will perish by the sword?

Friday, March 04, 2011

Oklahoma Democrat Tries to Call GOP's Bluff

Oklahoma Democratic Senator Tom Adelson, like many of the rest of us, are tired of Republicans running against the state income tax. Oklahoma has both one of the lowest tax rates and some of the most underfunded public services in the country. For more than a decade, Republican candidates have promised, if elected, to work to eliminate the state's income tax.

Now the GOP controls both houses of the legislature and the governor's mansion. Nothing stands in the way of their fulfilling their promises except their desire to dole out tax breaks to the wealthy and connected while maintaining taxes for everyone else.

Senator Tom Adelson tried to call their bluff. He attached an amendment to a tax credit bill that would abolish the state's personal and corporate income tax -- a tax that provides one third of the state's revenue.

If our state legislators were responsible public servants, they would vote against both the amendment and the tax credit bill. Voting for this amendment and this bill is, in effect, a vote to shut down the Oklahoma state government. The Oklahoma State Senate, however, voted 39-8 in favor of the amendment. Adelson voted against his own amendment.

The Oklahoman, the state's largest newspaper, went out of its way to condemn Adelson for offering an amendment that he had no intention of supporting. The editorial board apparently favors the Senate's vote for tax credits and ending personal and corporate income taxes.

It looks to me like Oklahoma Republicans are not bluffing when they say they agree with Grover Norquist's desire to reduce government until it can be drowned in a bathtub. The only legitimate purpose for government, in their eyes, seems to be to defend property rights. Having derided the "nanny state" for so long, they appear ready to replace it with a "police state."

Oklahoma already has more women incarcerated than any other state in the U.S. and, by percentage of population, more than any other nation in the world. It may be hard finding the money to keep them locked up after we've eliminated the state income tax, but as long as Oklahomans remain among the strongest advocates for the death penalty, I'm sure we can find a way to reduce the size of the state's prison system.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Patrick Henry and the Constitution

The Religious Right often quotes Patrick Henry to support their contention that the Founding Fathers intended to found a Christian nation. There is no doubt that Patrick Henry was an American patriot and that he was a Christian nationalist, but Henry was no friend of the Constitution or of the Bill of Rights. He was an ardent opponent of both.

Henry’s Christian nationalism is evident from a bill he introduced in the Virginia legislature in 1784 entitled, “A Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion.” The bill proposed to assess a moderate tax or contribution annually for the support of the Christian religion. In the same legislative session, he supported a bill introduced by another member of the Virginia legislature that would make the Protestant Episcopal Church the Established Church in Virginia.

Henry’s bill was offered after Thomas Jefferson left Virginia to serve as the American Ambassador in Paris. Jefferson was no longer present to advocate for his Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, first introduced in 1779, which had been tabled.

James Madison opposed both the establishment of the Episcopal Church and Henry’s General Assessment bill, but he concluded that he could not successfully oppose both bills in the same legislative session. He realized, as much as Jefferson, that “The ground of liberty is to be gained by inches, that we must be contented to secure what we can get from time to time, and eternally press forward for what is yet to get.” So, he voted in favor of establishing the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia and then successfully organized an effort to table Henry’s bill until the next legislative session.

Once the legislative session ended, Madison wrote his famous Memorial and Remonstrance and had it published in papers throughout Virginia. Before the next session of the legislature, his Memorial and Remonstrance circulated in 13 petitions to be presented to the Virginia Assembly and gathered 1,550 signatures. At the same time, the Baptist General Convention of Virginia circulated its own petitions to the legislature against Henry’s General Assessment bill. These petitions garnered 4,899 signatures.

By the time the next legislative session began, support for Henry’s bill evaporated. Madison then successfully reintroduced Jefferson’s Act Establishing Religious Freedom. When Jefferson’s Act became law, the establishment of the Episcopal Church in Virginia came to an end, but Madison’s rivalry with Patrick Henry was just beginning.

Madison went on to the Constitutional Convention where he drafted the U.S. Constitution that created a stronger federal government, reduced the sovereignty of the states, and prohibited religious tests for holding public office. Two of the delegates from Virginia refused to sign onto the Constitution and went back to Virginia to oppose its ratification.

Patrick Henry led an all star cast of influential leaders who were elected to Virginia’s ratifying convention to oppose ratification. George Mason, author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, opposed ratification but the new Constitution was popular in his home county. Henry successfully introduced legislation permitting delegates to be elected in any county where they held property. Mason managed to get elected from a county where he held property. Joining them in opposition was William Grayson, who would become one of Virginia’s first U.S. Senators, Richard Henry Lee, who made the motion to declare independence from England at the Second Continental Congress, and James Monroe, who would go on to become the fifth president of the United States.

Madison had not intended to run for election to the ratifying convention, but was pressured into running once the strength of the opposition became apparent. Madison, however, faced formidable opposition to the Constitution in Orange County, his home county. Charles Porter, the only person to ever defeat Madison in a general election, was running as a candidate against ratification. Baptists throughout Virginia were convinced there was inadequate provision for liberty of conscience in the Constitution and they were pressing John Leland of Orange County, their most articulate champion for religious liberty, to run against ratification.

Madison’s meeting with Leland, assuring Leland that he would work to add a Bill of Rights to the Constitution once it was ratified, almost certainly was instrumental in securing Madison’s election to Virginia’s ratifying Convention. Leland withdrew. Baptists supported Madison. In retrospect, this election was crucial. The future of the country that we were about to become hinged on its outcome. Without Madison, it is hard to believe that Virginia would have ratified the Constitution and without Virginia, George Washington would not have been the nation’s first president.

Debate at Virginia’s ratifying convention was dominated by Patrick Henry. He spoke on seventeen of the twenty-two day deliberations -– as often as eight times in one day. Henry insisted that state conventions could amend the Constitution before ratifying it. He was opposed to transferring sovereignty from the states to the people. He wanted the Constitution to begin with the words “We the states” instead of “We the people.” Madison argued that the Constitution should be adopted “as is” and then the state conventions could recommend amendments. He promised to work to secure passage of recommended amendments after ratification. Madison secured ratification by a vote of 89 to 79.

Patrick Henry was not ready to throw in the towel while he was still in control of the Virginia state legislature. Still hoping to restore power to the states, Henry got the legislature to formerly issue a call for the states to convene a second Constitutional convention to write a new Constitution.

Meanwhile, elections had to be held for seats in the new Congress. George Washington and other supporters wanted Madison to be in the Senate. Senators were chosen by the Virginia General Assembly. Henry used his influence to see that Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson, two of his allies in opposing the Constitution, were elected.

Madison then ran for a seat in the House of Representatives. The General Assembly drew the boundaries for the state’s congressional districts. Henry had the legislature gerrymander the districts to make Madison run in a district filled with counties that were opposed to the Constitution. Then he got James Monroe, another ally opposing the Constitution, to run against him.

On election day, February 2, 1789, there was a foot of snow on the ground and the temperature was 2 degrees. 44% of the eligible voters turned out. Madison won with 57% of the vote. Baptist support for Madison proved to be a deciding factor.

The new congress met for the first time in March of 1789. That May Madison proposed the amendments that eventually become the Bill of Rights. By the end of September 1789 they had been approved by both houses of Congress and referred to the states for ratification.

The most contentious debate over ratification of the Bill of Rights was in Virginia.

Both of Virginia’s Senators, Richard Henry Lee and William Grayson, wrote letters to the legislature sharply criticizing the Bill of Rights. Baptists, however, told Madison that they were “entirely satisfied” with the First Amendment.

Patrick Henry knew that ratification of the Bill of Rights would remove the impetus from his call for a second constitutional convention. He encouraged the legislature to postpone debate over ratification for at least a year. Virginia’s legislature did not bring debate over ratification to a close for two years.

On December 15, 1791 Virginia became the decisive ninth state to vote to ratify the Bill of Rights and make it part of the U.S. Constitution.

This history and much more is masterfully recounted in Richard Labunski’s James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights. This book should be essential reading for anyone interested in learning about the “original intent” of our nation’s founding fathers.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

News Reports of the Prescott-Kern Debate Over the Constitution

Several news reports about my recent debate with Steve Kern over the Constitution and Christian Nationalism have appeared. Here are some links:

Red Dirt Report: America's Alleged Christian Roots Debated in Packed Room at OCCC

Oklahoma Gazette: Separation Deliberation

The Oklahoman: Preachers Debate Whether Founding Fathers Set Forth a Christian Nation (To appear in the print version Saturday)

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Opposing OK HB 1001

I spent the day attending a meeting of the House Education Committee at the Oklahoma State Capitol today. I was there to oppose HB 1001 nefariously labeled "The School Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act."

Modeled after a bill from Texas, this bill is identical to one that was vetoed by then Governor Henry two years ago.

Below is what I planned to say. What I actually said was much briefer due to time constraints.
40 years ago, the valedictorian of my graduation class in Albuquerque, NM used his valedictory address to spread his belief in the wisdom and value of Buddhism as a way of life. It made me so angry that I nearly got up and walked out. Whether or not it was a violation of the First Amendment, it was inconsiderate and rude for him to deliver a religious message to a captive audience. It was the only time during all the years of my public school education that I was not free to debate, rebut or offer a different point of view when matters of religious beliefs and values were presented.

Graduations are not open public forums where everyone is given an opportunity to speak. They are limited public forums. The valedictorian is the only student permitted to speak. The rest of the students comprise a captive audience of students who are expected to sit passively and remain silent while the valedictorian is speaking.

The bill you are considering creates a limited forum like the one I was forced to endure at my graduation -– every day of the school year. Every day it will afford a very small and select number of students an opportunity to speak to a captive audience and spread whatever religious messages that they choose.

This bill does not promote open discussions, civil dialogue or understanding about religion. It clearly restricts the right of free speech to a favored or popular few. Every day it will force some students to endure prayers, sermons and religious messages that may violate their deepest religious convictions and moral conscience.

In my opinion, this legislation will create the kind of conflict in our public schools that is certain to lead to confrontation, altercation, and litigation.

I urge you to vote against HB 1001. All talk about religion in our public schools should be conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect, open discussion and where everyone is free to speak.

Oklahoman News Report: House Committee passes religious beliefs bill for Oklahoma Public School Students