Thursday, July 28, 2011

What the Tea Party Hath Wrought

This from a Reuters news story today:

The dysfunctional gridlock in Washington has also raised concern over the long-term decline of U.S. economic power and the status of the dollar as the world's reserve currency.

"The U.S. is experiencing an 'end of empire' moment and the dollar share of global reserves is likely to fall gradually," said Jim Leaviss, head of retail fixed income at M&G Investments in London.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Southern Baptists Support Hard Line on Budget Crisis

Last week, Richard Land, Director of the Southern Baptist Convention's political arm, issued a call for all Southern Baptists to contact their congress persons and support the Tea Party proposal to "cut, cap and balance" the federal budget.  That proposal failed to pass the Senate.

Today, reports are indicating that the hardline "cut, cap and balance" crew is at the forefront of the group that refuses to compromise to find a solution to the budget impass.

Most Americans do not agree with Southern Baptists and the "cut, cap and balance" crew.  News reports from the conservative state of Oklahoma are indicating that a full two thirds of those who called Senator Tom Coburn yesterday were in favor of congress working out a compromise to get the debt limit raised.

For more than 30 years, the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention has honed and cultivated an uncompromising stance in every conflict in which they have engaged.  Documentation of intransigence by men like Richard Land, who helped lead the takeover of the SBC in the 1980's, is readily available for anyone interested in reading the history of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC.  The history of the work of the "peace committee" in the late 1980's is particularly instructive.  From the outset the fundamentalist line was, in effect, "My way or the highway."  Needless to say, the work of the peace committee did not end with peace.  It ended with convention moderates leaving and forming a new convention -- the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

If a compromise cannot be worked out and no solution is found to our nation's debt crisis, Southern Baptists will be one of the most central impediments to the kind of pragmatic, rational governance that is necessary to preserve a healthy pluralistic democracy.

Monday, July 25, 2011

On Being Biased Against Self-Serving Economics

We live at a time when a few influential oligarchs have successfully employed the power of money, mass media and political action to take control of the mechanisms of civil order.  First they deprived the government of the means to regulate their greed, then they reduced taxes to starve the government of income sufficient to sustain the services that it provides, and now they are refusing to insure the creditworthiness of the government.  When they are finished they will have succeeded in dismantling FDR's "New Deal" and thereby put an end to the ideal of a government that accepts the responsibility for the plight of the poor in times of economic disruption.

At times like this it is wise to remember the words of Walter Brueggemann in his book on Peace:

Jesus' popular and more effective ministry was among those who for one reason or another were shut out, excluded from the benefits of the system.  In the New Testament, Jesus fed the hungry, healed the sick, freed the demon-possessed.  These are not to be understood as simple acts of compassion, but as dramatic challenges to a system that had deprived some of food, cut some off from health, and denied their humanness.  What all these outcasts had in common was their failure to honor the law.  And those who did honor the law could not get good jobs or positions of influence; nor could they enter the holy place.  They were cut off from access to God and to human well-being.

It was the law, the principle of order, that excluded them.  And the benefactors of the law, represented by the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees, viewed the law as God-given and eternally ordained.  Jesus came into conflict with them on behalf of the poor.  He exposed their law as a human device for manipulating power for the benefit of some and the disadvantage of others (Matthew 15:1-20; 23:1-36).  Jesus critique of the law was not made because the law was bad religion, but because it was used in the service of self-seeking politics and self-serving economics.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Richard Land Lies Again

Brian Kaylor and Robert Parham at Ethics Daily are calling out Richard Land, head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission Southern Baptist Convention for telling lies and slandering the names of the President and the First Lady.

On his SBC produced radio program, Richard Land said President Obama was "living like a playboy" in the White House and accused him of travelling more and spending more money than any other White House.  Land also accused Michelle Obama of making a "tenfold" increase in the staff for the First Lady.  Kaylor provides documentation that both allegations are false.

Land obviously intends to defame the President and the First Lady by making them appear profligate both fiscally and morally.  The term "playboy" is clearly associated in the public mind with persons who live a licentious lifestyle.  Land also appears intent on inflaming indignation against the President and his wife for extravagant living at a time of fiscal belt tightening in both the national budget and in the budgets of families across the country.

Richard Land is no stranger to the art of lying to promote the political agenda of the religious right. He's been a leader in that movement for more than thirty years.

Robert Parham, Executive Director of Ethics Daily, calls for an apology from Richard Land:

"These are egregious errors. But his assertion that the president lives like a playboy is strikingly shameful and completely unacceptable for a Christian minister."

"Frank Page, the SBC's chief executive officer, and Bryan Wright, the SBC's elected president, should insist that Land publicly apologize for his malicious playboy statement and correct the record," said Parham. "They should issue a letter of apology to the president. Unless they distance themselves and the SBC from such statements, then they allow Land to present Southern Baptists as a malicious and untruthful people. If they are silent, then they make a mockery of the 2011 SBC resolution calling for civility in public discourse."

Parham is right.  It is inexcusable for a religious ethicist, representing one of the largest religious bodies in America, to publicly pronounce such slander and libel against the President and his wife.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Ignore the Signs at Your Own Risk

Three visitors today at Yosemite National Park ignored warning signs to keep back from Vernal Falls and were swept away by the rushing waters.  They are presumed dead.

Some people -- like the Tea Partiers in the U.S. House of Representatives -- seem intent on ignoring warning signs.  Recent polls show that most Americans want Congress to raise the debt ceiling.  Polls have long shown that most Americans do not want to see social security and medicare benefits cuts.  Polls show that 72% of Americans favor raising taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.

The only polls that the Tea Partiers are looking at are the election results of the last election, but they did not run on a platform that refused to raise the debt ceiling and they did not run on a platform for cutting social security and medicare benefits.  Had they done so, they probably would not have been elected.

While they claim to have a mandate from the voters, I think the Tea Partiers know that they will be facing massive opposition by voters in the 2012 election cycle.  That's why these ideologues are intent on pushing their unpopular agenda now.  I'm glad to see them to finally show their true "dismantle Roosevelt's 'new deal'" colors.  Unfortunately, we are facing the same kind financial crisis that Roosevelt's 'new deal' was designed to solve. 

If the Tea Party continues to hold the line, there is danger that more than their short political careers are going to be swept away.  As unemployment rises, as the interest on our outstanding debts balloon because of default, and as the world economy plunges into a depression, the stress is going to produce some unnecessarily early obituaries for many Americans who foolishly put their trust in Tea Party ideologues.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Pope Seeks to Influence 2012 Elections in the U.S.

The Roman Pontiff has appointed Charles Chaput, one of his most conservative and political archbishops, to head the Catholic diocese in Pennsylvania.  Pennsylvania is one of the battleground states in the 2012 elections.

On Privatizing by Breaking the Bank (Reprise)

As the U.S. government is facing gridlock over the need to raise the debt limit, cut expenses and raise revenues, I thought I would review some of my early blogs to see if anyone had the foresight to see this disaster coming.  Here's a reprise of a blog from October 12, 2005:

Common Dreams has posted an insightful essay by Bill Willers on "Breaking the Bank: The Rightwing Road to America's Privatized Future." Here's are a couple paragraphs from the article:
Since the introduction of the massive Republican tax cuts, many observers understood immediately that they were to plunge government into debt, thereby undercutting its ability to fund social programs such as Medicare and Social Security, and to administer public domain that has long belonged to all citizens in common.

In May of 2003, Princeton economist Paul Krugman wrote that "gimmicks used to make an $800-billion-plus tax cut carry a price tag of only $320 billion are a joke ... The people now running America aren't conservatives: they're radicals who want to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need."
The regressive world we are creating for our children and grandchildren is beginning to look more and more like the feudalistic system of the middle ages.

Note:  Paul Krugman won the nobel prize in economics in 2008.   Both the Obama administration and congress continue to ignore his analysis of the economy.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Pray for Rain and Stop Denying Climate Change

Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin is calling on Oklahomans to pray for rain.  Texas Governor Rick Perry asked Texans to pray for rain all the way back in April, but those prayers have not been answered.  In fact, the drought in Texas is far worse than when Perry called for prayers.

I'm all for prayer, but I don't think God cares for insincere praying.  I think God expects humility when we pray and intends for us to repent and turn away from the sins that are producing the crisis of climate change.

Oklahoma politicians lead the nation in rejecting the command that we be intelligent and faithful stewards of God's creation.   Until our leaders acquire a humble and contrite heart, I fear we are going to continue to reap what we've sown.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Neo-Confederates and Christian Reconstructionists

Sarah Posner has posted an enlightening article about the connections between neo-confederates and Christian Reconstructionists.  Citing the work of Euan Hague and Edward Sebesta in a recent issue of the Canadian Review of American Studies, she finds Calvinism and biblical literalism to be the strongest links between the two ideologies:

An early advocate of the theological war theory, Sebesta and Hague maintain, was Robert Lewis Dabney, a 19th century clergyman who published a biography of Stonewall Jackson, and a theological dissertation on the meaning of the Civil war, in which he used passages from the Bible to defend slavery, claiming it was "a necessary good for what he called the 'depraved' lower classes." He supported secession as "the only relation of domestic slavery as authorized by God, that we defend," denounced abolition as "infidel" and "anti-scriptural," and argued that opposing slavery was "tantamount to rejecting Christianity."
Dabney, largely marginalized and rejected outside his Southern Presbyterian circles by the end of his life, was revived, Sebesta and Hague argue, as "since the mid-1960s conservative scholars and activists, at times operating within religious circles, have reevaluated and republished these marginal writings." One of these scholars was C. Gregg Singer, who played a role in the formation of the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA), which "envisaged itself as a successor to the Presbyterian Church in the Confederate States of America (PCCSA), a denomination that had also formed in response to perceived heresy." And R.J. Rushdoony, Sebesta and Hague discuss, believed the Union victory was a "defeat for Christian orthodoxy and paved the way for the rise of an unorthodox Social Gospel in the postbellum United States." In addition, "Rushdoony has condemned public education and contended that the Civil War was not about slavery, but the consolidation and centralization of federal government power." Rushdoony, Sebesta and Hague write, "applauded" Dabney's defense of slavery.
Fast forward to the 1990s, and Sebesta Hague find the "theological war" gaining traction among neo-Confederates, like the League of the South, which was formed in 1994. One of its founding directors, Wilkins, is a member of the PCA who maintains that, according to Sebesta and Hague, "the cause of the Civil War was theological incompatibility between North and South, the former having 'rejected Biblical Calvinism.'" Wilkins has written that "there was radical hatred of Scripture and the old theology [and] Northern radicals were trying to throw off this Biblical culture and turn the country in a different direction," and that "the War Between the States was a war between two different world views: The old way of Biblical Constitutionalism and the 'new' way of Humanistic Centralism."
As the "theological war" hatched in the 19th century became increasingly popularized in the late 20th century, Sebesta and Hague conclude that "by the turn of the twenty-first century, therefore, this once peripheral interpretation of the Civil War as a theological struggle between orthodox Christian Confederate states and heretical Union states has gained credibility and adherents, becoming intertwined with wider Confederate heritage and conservative Christian opinion."

Considering the common Calvinistic biblical literalism and the close links between Southern Baptists and Christian Reconstructionists, it will come a little suprise to some to see that a publishing house associated with the Southern Baptist Convention is still publishing and selling books about Stonewall Jackson, who was a Presbyterian and not a Baptist.  This book is particularly popular among the religious and political right in Oklahoma.  A former editor of the Daily Oklahoman,  twice gave glowing editorials about it on the pages of the paper with the widest circulation in Oklahoma.  He also wrote a eulogy for R.J. Rushdoony when he died.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Southern Baptists Plot to Influence Presidential Election

Brian Kaylor at Ethics Daily has been keeping an eye on televangelist James Robison and his cabal of Religious Right leaders who are organizing to influence the 2012 U.S. presidential election.  Robison clothes his political organizing in the piety of a prayer meeting but you can be sure that the outcome will have more to do with power politics than with a spiritual revival.

Robinson listed the participants at his
"Supernatural Gathering" on his blog.  The names of the Southern Baptists on the list reads like a "Who's Who" from the days of the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC:

Jim and Jane Hylton, Jim Hylton Ministries, Fort Worth, TX
Dr. Robert Jeffress, First Baptist Church, Dallas, TX
Dr. Richard Land, SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission
John Meador, First Baptist Church, Euless,TX
Paige Patterson, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX
Gary Phillips, Executive Pastor, First Baptist Church, Euless, TX
Bob Reccord, Council for National Policy, Washington, DC

Bob Roberts, Northwood Church, Keller, TX

Jack Graham of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX and O.S. Hawkins of the SBC's Guidestone Financial Resources helped initiate the meeting but were unable to attend.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Dalai Lama Instructs Congress About Church-State Separation

CNN is reporting that the Dalai Lama gave a strong endorsement to U.S. Congressional leaders about the separation of religion and government:
Meeting with top U.S. lawmakers a day after his 76th birthday, the Dalai Lama cited the principle of church-state separation in his recent decision to step down as the political head of an exiled movement.
"The religious institution, the leader of the religious, and the political leadership, should be separate," he told the legislators during an appearance Thursday in the Capitol. "I myself combine! So my statement, my explanation, become like hypocrisy. Saying something, doing something different."

"Religious institutions, political institutions, must be separate - the last several decades I emphasized that," he said.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Celebrating Separation

I just had opportunity to read a copy of last Sunday's sermon by Dr. David Spain, pastor of First Christian Church in Norman and son of Dr. Rufus Spain, Emeritus Professor of History at Baylor Unversity. Spain gave a strong voice to religious freedom in a sermon entitled "Celebrating Separation." Here's a quote:

It is testimony to the foresight of our nation's founders that the American landscape these 235 years later is one of many religious expressions, becoming even more diverse in type and form as the years pass; it is further testimony to the wisdom of our founders that no religion receives preferential treatment to the wisdom of our founders that no religion receives preferential treatment in the Constitution that serves as the framework for our nation; it is even further testimony to their brilliance that one need express no religion at all and still have the rights, privileges, and responsibilities of citizenship. By refusing to compel religion, our founders placed great faith in and great responsibility on religion's persuasive power to move hearts and minds in belief and action. Succinctly put, if God and those who speak and work on God's behalf cannot convince and convict people, then no government will be able to force authentic, genuine, transforming religious belief -- and it should not be allowed to [try].

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

A Noteworthy Refutation of "Christian Nationalism"

CNN International posted an outstanding refutation of Christian Nationalism by Kenneth C. Davis. Here's an excerpt:
No one can argue, as "Christian Nation" proponents correctly state, that the Founding Fathers were not Christian, although some notably doubted Christ's divinity.

More precisely, the founders were, with very few exceptions, mainstream Protestants. Many of them were Episcopalians, the American offshoot of the official Church of England. The status of America's Catholics, both legally and socially, in the colonies and early Republic, was clearly second-class. Other Christian sects, including Baptists, Quakers and Mormons, faced official resistance, discrimination and worse for decades.

But the founders, and more specifically the framers of the Constitution, included men who had fought a war for independence -- the very war celebrated on the "Glorious Fourth" -- against a country in which church and state were essentially one.

They understood the long history of sectarian bloodshed in Europe that brought many pilgrims to America. They knew the dangers of merging government, which was designed to protect individual rights, with religion, which as Jefferson argued, was a matter of individual conscience.

And that is why the U.S. Constitution reads as it does.

The supreme law of the land, written in the summer of 1787, includes no references to religion -- including in the presidential oath of office -- until the conclusion of Article VI, after all that dull stuff about debts and treaties: "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States." (There is a pro forma "Year of the Lord" reference in the date at the Constitution's conclusion.)

Original intent? "No religious Test" seems pretty clear cut.

The primacy of a secular state was solidified when the First Amendment was included in the Bill of Rights. According to Purdue history professor Frank Lambert, that "introduced the radical notion that the state had no voice concerning matters of conscience."

Beyond that, the first House of Representatives, while debating the First Amendment, specifically rejected a Senate proposal calling for the establishment of Christianity as an official religion. As Lambert concludes, "There would be no Church of the United States. Nor would America represent itself as a Christian Republic."

Friday, July 01, 2011

Supreme Court Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted

E.J. Dionne, at the Washington Post, has written an astute but scathing Op-Ed about our current Supreme Court that accuses the court seeing "its central task as comforting the already comfortable and afflicting those already afflicted."  Here's another verifiable observation and memorable quote:

Nonetheless, pay heed to how this conservative court majority bristles at nearly every effort to give the less wealthy and less powerful an opportunity to prevail, whether at the ballot box or in the courtroom. Not since the Gilded Age has a Supreme Court been so determined to strengthen the hand of corporations and the wealthy.