Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Respect for People with a Moral Conscience

The New York Times has published a valuable OP-Ed by Jameel Jaffer and Larry Siems that contends Obama should "Honor Those Who Said No" to commands to torture:

Throughout the military, and throughout the government, brave men and women reported abuse, challenged interrogation directives that permitted abuse, and refused to participate in an interrogation and detention program that they believed to be unwise, unlawful and immoral. The Bush administration’s most senior officials expressly approved the torture of prisoners, but there was dissent in every agency, and at every level.

There are many things the Obama administration could do to repair some of the damage done by the last administration, but among the simplest and most urgent is this: It could recognize and honor the public servants who rejected torture.

For the most part, people with a moral conscience have been hounded and harrassed for failing to turn a blind eye to the crimes against humanity being fostered by their superiors. Those superiors have been, and continue to be, nurtured by broad support from the evangelical community in America.

These facts, along with their support for pre-emptive war in Iraq, constitute the most damning evidence of the moral bankruptcy of the American evangelical community. Until evangelicals come their senses and repent, Ichabod will be the proper surname for their tribe.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Franklin Graham's Undoing

Ethics Daily has posted an article about Franklin Graham espousing "birther" claims.

The White House released Obama's birth certificate this morning which should put an end to these ridiculous right-wing birther claims, but probably won't.

Ethics Daily also noted that Franklin Graham has also been questioning whether Obama is a Christian.

Personally, I would question whether Franklin Graham has been acting like a Christian.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Obama as Moderate Republican

Ezra Klein has a revealing article in the Washington Post that describes Obama's policies as those of a moderate Republican from the 1990's. Here are some key paragraphs:

If you put aside the emergency measures required by the financial crisis, three major policy ideas have dominated American politics in recent years: a plan that uses an individual mandate and tax subsidies to achieve near-universal health care; a cap-and-trade plan that attempts to raise the prices of environmental pollutants to better account for their costs; and bringing tax rates up from their Bush-era lows as part of a bid to reduce the deficit. In each case, the position that Obama and the Democrats have staked out is the very position that moderate Republicans have staked out before. . . .

The normal reason a party abandons its policy ideas is that those ideas fail in practice. But that's not the case here. These initiatives were wildly successful. Gov. Mitt Romney passed an individual mandate in Massachusetts and drove its number of uninsured below 5 percent. The Clean Air Act of 1990 solved the sulfur-dioxide problem. The 1990 budget deal helped cut the deficit and set the stage for a remarkable run of growth.

Rather, it appears that as Democrats moved to the right to pick up Republican votes, Republicans moved to the right to oppose Democratic proposals. As Gingrich's quote suggests, cap and trade didn't just have Republican support in the 1990s. John McCain included a cap-and-trade plan in his 2008 platform. The same goes for an individual mandate, which Grassley endorsed in June 2009 — mere months before he began calling the policy "unconstitutional."

It appears to me that one party is concerned about working for the common good and another party is concerned about working for the good of the party.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Waking up to the War Evangelicals are Waging on Contraception

I spoke to a state legislator last week about the effect of legislation defining life as beginning at conception. She appeared to have assumed that the language was only related to the issue of abortion. As mentioned in previous blogs, the language is equally related to contraception and the use of birth control pills. Since the 2000 revision of the Baptist Faith and Message statement, Southern Baptists have been laying the groundwork for a movement towards the traditional Roman Catholic position on contraception -- but with a decidedly racist slant.

For the most part, the mainstream media also seems to have missed the implications of this shift in thinking within the evangelical movement. One exception is Sarah Posner. In an essay today about "Submitting to the Christian Right," Posner highlights the links between Florida Rep. Dan Webster and Bill Gothard. She writes:

In service of the anti-Planned Parenthood agenda, Gothard's acolytes continue to spread misinformation about contraception. Michelle Duggar has recounted how, early in her marriage, she became pregnant while on the pill and that the pill then caused her to miscarry. This folklore fulfills two common religious-right myths about oral birth control: that it is both ineffective and harmful. Duggar says that this incident led her to follow God's will and forego contraception altogether. As she told the Values Voters Summit last year, "Our motto is obey first, understand later." For religious-right political elites -- although not, apparently, most evangelical women, since they use birth control at about the same rates as American women in general -- Duggar is the model Christian woman, the model that is driving GOP policy.

Gothard was widely influential within Southern Baptist circles in the 70's and 80's. His reach can still be seen in his close relationship with Southern Baptist presidential contender Mike Huckabee.

Record Set Straight on Robert E. Lee


The New York Times has posted an essay about a recently discovered letter from the daughter of Robert E. Lee that reveals the process by which the famous Confederate General determined to resign from the Union army and support the Confederacy.

It appears that Lee was bucking considerable opposition from within his immediate family.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Cecil Staton: a Not-so-Great Imposter

Cecil Staton, who has long been profiting from his impersonation of a moderate Baptist, may have been caught impersonating a fictitious female posing as a volunteer GOP activist in Georgia Senate politics.

While serving as "the GOP whip" in the Georgia state Senate and engaged in a power struggle with Georgia's Republican Lt. Governor, e-mails from Staton's IP address were sent out under the name "Beth Merkleson." Merkleson's e-mails defamed a number of Republican state senators as well as the Lt. Governor.

When a number of Christian Right activists wanted to meet "Beth Merkleson" in person, Merkleson claimed to be unavailable due to her mother's illness. Christians all over Georgia were asked to pray for the fictitious Merkleson's fictitious mother.

A website exposing the duplicitious e-mailing from Staton's IP address can be found at www.grassrootsfrenzy.com.

Now, Staton is an embarrassment to the Georgia GOP as well as moderate Baptists.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Thislethwaite's Advice to Christian Libertarians

Susan Brooks Thislethwaite, of Chicago Theological Seminary, has some sound advice for Christian libertarians in an essay entitled "The Gospel of Ayn Rand" at the Washington Post's On Faith weblog:

Christian evangelicals who support the Ryan budget that hurts the poor and rewards the rich as the ‘Gospel according to Ayn Rand’ have some soul searching to do and Holy Week is a good time to do that.
The tea party's marriage of Ayn Rand's "Objectivist Libertarianism" and Christian Reconstructionist "Christian Libertarianism" is one of the most unholy unions ever blessed by American evangelicals. Millions of Lazarus's are already begging for the crumbs falling from your wedding table.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Remarks at the LULAC Rally


I spoke at LULAC's Immigration Rally on the South steps of the State Capital this afternoon. Below are my remarks:

4,000 years ago God told a man named Abraham to go to a land that He would show him. Papers? Abraham didn't need any stinking papers. He just went.

3,300 years ago God told Moses to lead His people to the promised land. Papers? They didn't need any stinking papers. They just went.

2,000 years ago God told Joseph and Mary to get up and take their baby boy to Egypt. Papers? They didn't need any stinking papers. They just went.

390 years ago the Pilgrims were convinced that God wanted them to set sail for America on a boat named the Mayflower. Papers? By that time men thought that they might need some papers to make them legal. The Pilgrims gots some papers authorizing them to settle in Virginia Territory -- but they didn't land in Virginia, they landed 400 miles north of Virginia in Massachusetts. Turns out, they didn't need any stinking papers. They just did it.

380 years ago the first Baptist preacher in America, Roger Williams, pointed it out to the Pilgrims that they were "illegal aliens." He told them that to be legal they ought to get a deed for their land from the Native Americans. The Pilgrims didn't want any stinking papers from the Indians. They just banished Roger Williams from their colony.

122 years ago the "Boomers" who entered the land run to settle in Oklahoma discovered that the "Sooners" had already staked out the best homesteads. As it turned out, all they needed to do to get their papers was to be present.

Today the descendents of all these "undocumented aliens" want to outlaw immigration. They have already made it so complicated and so expensive that only the wealthy need apply. I know because my son married a girl from Mexico City. I know how difficult and how expensive it was to get her her "papers." It was almost impossible. Our laws were designed to intimidate, bully and persecute the loyal, honest, and courageous poor who only want an opportunity to work hard and make a better life for themselves and their families.

We have news for the people in our legislatures. People have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness wherever they were born and without regard to the nationality of their parents.

If I was born in a land where there was no place to live, no food to feed my children, and no way to work to provide for my family -- I would move someplace where they had jobs and food and houses. God would expect for me to do that as a good husband and father.

If the law made it impossible for me to provide for my family within the law, I would decide that it was the law that was unjust and illegal. Then I would conclude that under God and under all that is just in the universe, I didn't need any stinking papers.

Every day hundreds, perhaps thousands, of immigrants do what I would do if I were in their shoes. It is not my place to blame them. My place is beside them. That is why I am here today.

We who have been blessed to be born in this land of opportunity have a responsibility to share our blessings. To whom much has been given, much is required. God expects us to welcome the stranger, to encourage the pilgrim, and to show hospitality to the immigrant.

We need to tell the people who work in the state house behind me that we want them to change the immigration laws. We want laws that are just and fair. We don't want to live in a country where it is impossible to get documentation and it is illegal to be an immigrant. We want them to help us create a world where everyone can live and work and prosper together.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Oklahoma Leaders: Hearts as Hard as Their Heads


639,000 people in Oklahoma do not have health insurance. Rural hospitals are closing their doors in Oklahoma. Doctors all over Oklahoma are retiring and giving up the practice of medicine. So, Governor Fallin and the key leaders of both houses of the state legislature have announced that they are rejecting a 54.6 million dollar grant from the federal government that would help the state set up an insurance exchange for uninsured Oklahomans.

These same leaders are busy cutting more than 500 million from the budget on the backs of school children and the poor while giving away an additional 120 million in tax cuts. Now they contend that they can devise a system for Oklahomans to shop for health insurance with private funds.

I am a whole lot less interested in what our elected leaders say than in what they do. When all is said and done, I am fairly confident that a strong case can be made that the hearts of Oklahoma's elected leaders will prove as hard as their heads.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sierra Club Panel Discussion for the Beyond Coal Campaign

Yesterday, the Sierra Club sponsored a panel discussion at a venue near the EPA hearing to educate Oklahomans about the effects of coal pollution. I served as one of the panelists. Below are my remarks at the panel discussion:

I am in favor of the EPA’s plan for implementing the Clean Air Act in Oklahoma for four reasons. Those reasons are religious, humanitarian, ecological and economic.

Religiously, I am a Baptist minister. As a Christian I believe that we are to be responsible stewards and caregivers of all that God created. Nothing connected with the mining and burning of coal is associated with responsible stewardship. Coal mining destroys mountainsides and pollutes the water at a time when clean water is becoming an increasingly precious resource.

For humanitarian reasons I am opposed to using coal to generate power because it fills the air with mercury, sulfur and particulates. These pollutants are bad for everyone’s health and are particularly dangerous for people with asthma, heart disease and lung diseases. 100,000 children in Oklahoma have asthma. 365,000 adults in Oklahoma have asthma. A lot of families in Oklahoma have at least one member of their family with the condition. My family is no exception. My wife has asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. Pollution from coal aggravates all of these conditions. That means that the quality of the air we breathe is of utmost importance to me and my family.

We owe our wives, our children and our grandchildren the cleanest air and water that we can give them. They deserve nothing less than the very best. That will require that we exercise the greatest caution in using sources of energy that will poison our planet.

Ecologically, I am opposed to burning coal to generate power because the same pollutants that are bad for human health are bad for plants, animals, and the entire planet. Coal fired power plants are a major source of the carbon dioxide that is causing the global warming that is melting the ice caps and changing weather patterns all over the world.

Economically, I am opposed to spending nearly a half-billion dollars every year to purchase coal from other states when we have cleaner, cheaper and healthier sources of energy in abundant supply right here in Oklahoma. Natural gas, wind and solar are abundant in Oklahoma. They represent the energy sources of the future. It is time to retire or retrofit our coal fired power plants.

I strongly encourage each of you to speak at the EPA hearing. Tell our state leaders and Oklahoma’s power companies that we want them to make the transition away from coal and toward cleaner sources of energy as soon as possible. Our health and the health of our families depends on it.

Statement at EPA Hearing

I am here to speak in favor of the EPA’s plan for implementing the Clean Air Act in Oklahoma. I think the time is overdue for Oklahoma, Texas and the other states in our region to retire their outdated, dirty coal fired power plants.

I am a Baptist minister and as a Christian I believe that we are required to be responsible stewards and caregivers of all that God created. Little connected with the mining and burning of coal could be associated with responsible stewardship.

There are a lot of good reasons to stop using coal. Strong arguments can be made for ecological and economic reasons but the adverse effect that coal has on human health outweighs all other considerations. Those adverse effects make it imperative that we make the transition away from using coal as soon as possible.

More than 100,000 children in Oklahoma have asthma. More than 300,000 adults in Oklahoma have asthma. A lot of families in Oklahoma have at least one family member with the condition. My family is no exception. My wife has asthma and that means that the quality of the air we breathe is of the utmost importance to me and my family.

Coal fired power plants spew tons of acid gases, benzene, dioxins, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, sulfur and mercury. All of these chemicals and particulates are poisoning both the air that we are breathing and the water that we are drinking. These pollutants are bad for everyone’s health. They are particularly dangerous and deadly for people with asthma, heart disease and lung diseases.

We owe our wives, children and grandchildren the cleanest air and water that we can give them. They deserve nothing less than the very best. That will require that we exercise the greatest caution in using sources of energy that will poison our planet.

We have cleaner, cheaper and healthier sources of energy in abundant supply right here in Oklahoma. It is time to retire our coal fired power plants and switch to healthier energy sources like wind, solar and natural gas.

I strongly encourage our state leaders and Oklahoma's power companies to implement the EPA’s plan. Please make the transition away from coal and move toward cleaner sources of energy as rapidly as possible.

Dr. Bruce Prescott
Executive Director, Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists

The Oklahoman picked up a quote from my statement in their news story today.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Advocating for Clean Air in Oklahoma

I'll be attending the EPA hearing today and advocating for clean air in Oklahoma. Here's a letter to the editor of The Oklahoman that I sent in early Sunday morning:

Dear Editor,

The Environmental Protection Agency is coming to our state to hear comments from citizens of Oklahoma and I want to encourage readers to support their efforts to require Oklahoma power plants to comply with the standards of the Clean Air Act.

More pollution is produced by coal than by nearly any other source of energy. Mercury, sulfur, and other particulates from coal plants are bad for our health and bad for our economy. Why should we spend nearly a half billion dollars a year purchasing coal from other states when we have cleaner, cheaper, healthier energy sources right here in our state, like natural gas and wind. On economic reasons alone, it is time to replace our aged and polluting coal-fired power plants.

Each generation has a duty to be responsible stewards of God's creation. We owe our children and grandchildren the cleanest air and water that we can give them. They deserve nothing less than the best. That will require that we exercise the greatest caution in using sources of energy that will poison our planet. We have the time and resources to get this right.

Sincerely,
Dr. Bruce Prescott
Executive Director,
Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists
1017 Elm Ave. Norman, OK

I got an e-mail Monday afternoon from J McReynolds, "Your Views" Editor for the Oklahoman, asking me "EPA coming when? Where?"

I responded with information about the meeting today and a link to a news story last week about the hearing. McReynolds responded:

"Then it's too late for a letter. Time-sensitive letters should be submitted at least seven days before an event."

I'll make note of that unwritten rule the next time I write a letter to the editor.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Israel's Intransigence

President Obama is preparing to receive Israeli President Shimon Peres in Washington for talks about the Middle East peace process.  As has become customary before such meetings, Israel has announced the approval of more housing construction in the West Bank.

Israeli settlements on the West Bank are a major roadblock in the path to peace.  The West Bank is Palestinian territory that has been occupied by Israel since 1967.

I'm sure some admire the chutzpah of Israel's intransigence.  I find it annoying, to say the least.