Tuesday, August 30, 2011

From Church Growth Theology to Dominionism

Thirty-six years ago I enrolled for my first semester of studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. That was before the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention which made the seminary a ghost town. In the mid-1970's Southwestern Seminary was the largest seminary in the world with a student body approaching 5,000 students.

One of the classes I took that first semester was a required course on missionary strategy. One of the textbooks for that course was a book by C. Peter Wagner entitled "Frontiers of Missionary Strategy." That book was my introduction to a more pragmatic than Christian strategy for missionary expansion, evangelism and church planting that was associated with the "church growth movement."

I was never impressed with C. Peter Wagner or with the "church growth movement" that surrounded him at Fuller Theological Seminary. In a nutshell, church growth philosophy taught that effectiveness in ministry could be measured primarily by the number of seats in the pews and filling seats meant creating an atmosphere where "birds of a feather will flock together."

In my eyes, their "principle of homogeneity" seemed to me to bless the social divisions that made Sunday mornings the most racially segregated hours of the week. For me, that was inimical to the gospel. The gospel is about breaking down all the racial, social and economic barriers that divide men and women and that separate them from God's love.

Until recently, I never paid much attention to C. Peter Wagner or the church growth movement, but many, if not most, of my colleagues at Southwestern Seminary did. Rick Warren, who received his Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern a year behind me, got his Doctor of Ministry degree under the supervision of C. Peter Wagner at Fuller Theological Seminary. Wagner's influence on Rick Warren alone ought to be sufficient to demonstrate that Wagner's thought deserves careful examination when it begins influencing secular politics.

I started looking at Wagner's thought again when his name surfaced in blogs, news reports and interviews about the dominionist theology that permeates the tea party movement which is wreaking political havoc in our nation.

Dominionism is the belief that Christians should take control of the government and all the institutions of society. This theocratic mandate has been popularized by viewing society as consisting of seven “mountains” or key spheres in which Christians should strive to attain controlling influence – family, church, business, government, media, education, and arts and entertainment.

I have been somewhat surprised to see that since at least the 1980's, Wagner has been closely associated with the charismatic and pentecostal wing of Christianity. I suspect the impetus for that move originated in his sensitivity to critiques of the principle of homogeneity like the one above. Whatever else could be said about this wing of Christianity, it must be acknowledged that charismatic and pentecostal Christians attend the least segregated and most fully integrated churches in America.

Wagner's pragmatic approach to theology -- which can be summarized as "whatever seems to be working" to fill the pews, however, appears to me to have traded one distortion of the gospel for another. Now he is one of the key leaders in the dominionist movement that is determined to turn Christ into a political messiah complete with modern day "apostles" and disciples who "rule as kings" exercising dominion over all society.

Anyone who has read the gospels ought to know that the Dominionist understanding of messiahship and of the kingdom of God was repeatedly dismissed by Jesus.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

On Gospel Twisting Wordsmithing

Michael Gerson, former President George W. Bush's chief speech writer, the wordsmith who laced Bush's speeches with religious code words like "wonder-working power" and crafted the "smoking gun/mushroom cloud" metaphor to scare Americans into a war to strip Saddam Hussein of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, has an Op-Ed published in today's Tulsa World that berates the idea of theocrats in the tea party.

Gerson has a long tenure of service to those motivated by theocratic impulses.  His defense of the tea party is a smokescreen.

Mainstream Baptists have seen smokescreens like this before.  The fundamentalists who took over the Southern Baptist Convention were adept at using such soothing smokescreens to paint their critics as alarmists.  After the fundamentalists were in control, the ruthlessness of their purging of moderate Baptists was worse than anyone had predicted.

James Heflin, whose father was a victim of the fundamentalist purges in the SBC, penned an matchless critique of the gospel twisting politicization of religious language that has been both Gerson’s  and the SBC Fundamentalist's forte:
George W. Bush's January State of the Union address was, for the most part, nothing out of the ordinary. But then my former governor (yes, I'm a Texan) dropped an unusual phrase: "...there's power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people." 
That phrase was not mere wordsmithing. I know it well. I know about polished church pews; I know about dress shoes that blistered my young feet and the smooth heft of the hymnal. As the son of a Baptist minister, I know. I know about the exuberant, saloon-worthy piano, the cat-eye-spectacled old ladies sliding "power" into one syllable, and I know the rest of the phrase: "There is pow'r, pow'r, wonder-working pow'r, in the blood, [men echo] in the blood, of the Lamb, [men echo again] of the Lamb. There is pow'r, pow'r, wonder-working pow'r in the precious blood of the Lamb." 
Bush was stealthily passing the message to the flock, to my flock. The issues that have plagued that flock for a quarter century are integral to understanding the second self-professed "born-again" man in the White House, his political tactics and his war in Iraq. 
Its fans call it the "conservative resurgence." Its detractors call it the "fundamentalist takeover." The astonishing fact is that many, perhaps most, Southern Baptists are unaware that the foundation of their faith has been officially pulled out from under them through systematic, long-term political manipulation. The people of God trust each other; when someone breaks the rules, they pray, they try to reconcile. But the abandonment of civil behavior always trumps good will. 
Two people, Paige Patterson and Paul Pressler (a former appeals court judge), perhaps as far back as the '60s, created the plan to transform a denomination. Like fundamentalists of every breed, they started with a simple premise: We're right. Everyone else is wrong. God is on our side, so what we do to those in our way is irrelevant, if our right triumphs over their wrong. That the central, selfless directive of Christianity is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a petty detail, imminently ignorable to God's self-appointed chosen.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Food Stamp Nation

In the Great Depression the unemployed survived by soup lines.  In today's "Great Contraction" the unemployed and underemployed are surviving by food stamps which are now called SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).

This from Reuters today:

Altogether, there are now almost 46 million people in the United States on food stamps, roughly 15 percent of the population. That's an increase of 74 percent since 2007, just before the financial crisis and a deep recession led to mass job losses.

Mainstream Media Slow to Catch on about Dominionism

Fred Clarkson has written an insightful blog in response to a column by Lisa Miller, published in the Washington Post, that attempted to brush off concerns about the religious extremism of many tea party activists. Miller erroneously equates criticism of these tea party activists with criticism of the broader evangelical movement. Then she offers a feeble defense for evangelical dominionism.

 Fred Clarkson founded the Talk-to-Action website which specializes in providing up-to-date information about Christian Reconstructionism, Dominionism, Christian Nationalism and right-wing political activism among both Catholic and Evangelical Christians.

 All these labels describe theological nuances and shades of meaning related to the degree to which the religious right opposes separation of religion and government and favors establishing Christianity by force of law.

 There is one word that describes the trajectory being traced by all these shades of meaning. That word is "theocracy."

 It is fairly clear that the mainstream media have little inclination or capacity to grasp the nuances of our definitions. Our discussion of the radical Christian right needs to be simplified enough for them to comprehend.

The people who have stepped to the forefront of our national politics are "theocrats" of one degree or another. I intend to call them that.

Frankly, the theocratic impulse we are seeing in politics today is more extreme than it has ever been in my lifetime.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Norman Native Involved in Pro-Bachmann Super PAC

Right Wing Watch has published information about a secretive Pro-Bachmann Super PAC led by theocratic ideologues.  Norman native Marc Nuttle is one of the key advisers for the PAC:
Nuttle is a Republican adviser and economist with deep ties to an extreme movement within the Religious Right composed of advocates of Seven Mountains Dominionism. Nuttle is in fact Chairman of The Oak Initiative, a far-right organization dedicated to promoting the Seven Mountains ideology. The group claims in its mission statement, “The Oak Institute is being developed to raise up effective leaders for all of the dominant areas of influence in the culture, including: government, business, education, arts and entertainment, family services, media, and the church,” otherwise known as the Seven Mountains of society that Dominionists think should be controlled by fundamentalist Christians. 
The Oak Initiative’s president Rick Joyner, the founder of MorningStar Ministries, has claimed that God is planning to destroy California and that God used Hurricane Katrina to punish America for tolerating homosexuality. The Oak Initiative’s board is filled with leading proponents of Seven Mountains Dominionism, including Jerry Boykin, Janet Porter, Lance Wallnau and self-proclaimed prophet Cindy Jacobs. Lou Sheldon, the head of the Traditional Values Coalition who described LGBT activism as “the very face of evil,” is also a board member. 
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (Blackwell’s boss) and 2000 GOP presidential candidate Alan Keyes addressed the Oak Initiative’s 2011 Summit alongside Nuttle, where Perkins called gays and lesbians “hateful” people who are “pawns” of Satan and Keyes urged Congress to impeach President Obama before he seizes power with the help of foreign countries. At the Summit, Boykin said that Obama is creating his own Brownshirt army to usher in Marxism and Joyner suggested that a secretive cabal crashed the economy to help Obama win the presidential election. 
Nuttle spoke to Joyner’s MorningStar Ministries on how to “apply proper biblical principles to the marketplace and the workforce” and that God “has a plan and a solution for this current world crisis we find ourselves in.” Nuttle said that people “don’t have to figure” out all the economic solutions, “all you have to do is be obedient” to God. He also claimed that the United States is the only country with a government subservient to God: “Every other government in the world is some sort of government authority, it’s a dictatorship, or Islam where government is God, or where the dictator is God, or the Constitution is God, over the constituents.” Nuttle argued that “the fight is against the 30% [of politicians] who don’t care” about the decline of the economy, “because then there’s more room for government. Government’s what they want, socialism is the goal.” He ended his speech by saying, “lock your shields with each other against the enemy.”

AT&T Puffs Rick Perry

I've been fed up with price gouging and poor service from AT&T for a number of years.

Now, there is another reason for switching to an alternate service provider.  AT&T has provided nearly a half million dollars to fund Texas Governor Rick Perry's political campaigns.

Currently, they are purchasing and distributing his book to promote his presidential campaign.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Lankford Defends Tea Party

The Oklahoman is reporting that U.S. Representative James Lankford  says "he didn't like negative language being used to describe members of the tea party."

The Oklahoma Gazette reported that Lankford, formerly a Southern Baptist youth camp director, made a special video appearance at the theocratic "Reclaiming America for Christ" at First Baptist Church in Moore last month.  Other theocrats appearing were Paul Blair, pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in Edmond, Oklahoma State Attorney General Scott Pruitt, and State Representative Sally Kern.

Professors David Campbell of Notre Dame and Robert Putnam of Harvard have an essay in yesterday's New York Times revealing that their research indicates that the tea party is really a theocratic party.  The professors contend that the tea party is rapidly losing popularity and that it's stridency risks expelling moderate voters from the Republican Party for a generation.

Judging from the sentiments being expressed by Lankford at his town hall meetings, I doubt that Lankford feels inclined to temper the intransigence of his tea party/theocratic agenda.

Those charting the effect that the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention is having on American politics would do well to follow the career of James Lankford.

Oklahoma is Seventh From the Bottom on Child Well-Being

News reports are indicating that the 2011 Kids Count Fact Book reveals that Oklahoma ranks 43rd in the nation on child well-being.  Here are some of the grim facts about the lives of children in Oklahoma:
The state's lowest rankings were in child death rate (47th), teen birth rate (46th) and infant mortality rate (45th). 
Desiree Doherty, executive director of the Parent Child Center, said the data point out some very concerning, entrenched trends. 
"It's dreadful Oklahoma continues to be in the lowest quarter in child well-being. Think what that means for the future of our state," she said. "More than 50,000 babies are going to be born in Oklahoma this year. How can they thrive and be prepared for school and for life when they are growing up in generational poverty?" 
One of the largest increases was a 16 percent increase in the number of children living in poverty. The state ranks 35th in the category with 22 percent of children living in poverty (income below $21,756 for a family of two adults and two children). 
"Little ones can't pull themselves out of poverty. They can't protect themselves from adults who are harming or exploiting them. They are completely dependent on the adults who are protecting them. What are we going to do about that?" Doherty said. "I think there must be implications for policy makers, for human services and for everyone who is concerned about the future of our community."
The best way for individuals to address these concerns is to get involved with and support the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy.   Work with them to protect kids in Oklahoma.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

On Being Manipulated by Plausible Explanations

Wrestling with an inoperable refrigerator yesterday reminded me of a conversation I had years ago with a highly successful commissioned salesman.

 Thirty-three years ago, my wife and I were shopping to purchase a refrigerator for our first home.  We were comparison shopping at J C Penney's and Sears.  We went to Sears first because, according to Consumer Reports, Kenmore appliances had a reputation for dependability.  Then we went to Penney's.  As soon as the salesman at Penney's heard that we had already been to Sears, he launched into an explanation why we wanted a Penney's refrigerator with a hard plastic interior rather than a Sears refrigerator with a porcelain interior.  He pulled a produce drawer out about three quarters of the way and then closed the refrigerator door and let us watch as the back edge of the drawer banged on the inside panel of the refrigerator as it closed.   He advised us that we would never have to worry about the unsightly appearance of chipped porcelain around the produce drawers with a Penney's refrigerator.

I had seen people close doors while drawers were open before and I had seen porcelain chips on old washing machines and other appliances, so his explanation sounded plausible enough to make me wonder about the wisdom of buying a refrigerator with a porcelain interior.  My chief concern, however, was still dependability.  When I asked him about that, he showed me a Penney refrigerator that had been manufactured by General Electric which he said had one of the most dependable names in the business.   That, and the modest discount at which the Penney's unit sold in comparison to the Sears unit, was enough for me to let him sell me a refrigerator.

Ten years later, almost to the day, the Penney's refrigerator went out.  The Sears unit that a relative bought years before we bought ours was still working fine -- and there were no chips in porcelain anywhere on it.  Since my relative's refrigerator lasted nearly a decade longer than mine, it's easy to see who got the most bang for their buck.

Reflecting on that experience led me to believe that a slick salesman had manipulated my thinking by offering a plausible explanation for why the information in Consumer Reports was not always reliable.

Refrigerators are not the only thing that slick salespeople are selling.  Right now there are a lot of slick Wall Street hucksters and misguided tea party activists who want you to believe that cutting Social Security and Medicare is the only way to restore confidence in Wall Street and in our nation's creditworthiness after S & P's downgrade.  Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC, explains that this is ridiculous:

However the Wall Street crew knows that most people do not follow the economy and finances closely. So they just made up a bogus story with the hope that the country would buy it. Thus far they have already gotten politicians and reporters to push their line that the debt downgrade led to the stock market plunge.

Needless to say, those pushing for cuts in Social Security and Medicare will freely use the story of the downgrade market plunge to advance their agenda without fear of ridicule from the media. As a result, we can expect a continual parade of public figures saying that we need big cuts in these programs in order to prevent another market crash and economic collapse.

If these programs are to be protected, it is essential that the public provide the missing ridicule. Any politician who has so little understanding of financial markets and the economy to blame the stock market plunge on the downgrade should not be involved in designing economic policy. Any reporter or columnist who makes such a connection should be in a different line of work.

People who understand economics know that Social Security and Medicare have nothing to do with the country's economic problems. Unfortunately such people have been virtually excluded from the national economic debate by the people with money who want to undermine these programs.

NOTE: Nothing in this blog should be construed as an endorsement of Sears refrigerators. In 1988 we replaced the Penney's refrigerator with an Amana refrigerator (purchased at a Sears store) that was still working fine when we replaced it in 2007 with a top-of-the-line Kenmore Elite refrigerator. Yesterday, after but 3 years and 10 months worth of service, that exorbitantly expensive stainless steel clad refrigerator required $295.00 worth of repairs. (No, it was not a problem with the ice maker which has never been connected. It was a 30 minute service call to replace a starter switch that turns the compressor on.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Don't Mess with Dublin Dr Pepper

The first church I pastored was at Clairette, Texas which is 15 miles east of Dublin "Dr Pepper" Texas on Texas Highway 6.  Dublin is the oldest existing Dr Pepper bottler and it never switched its recipe from pure sugar to cane syrup.  Dr Pepper fans who know the taste difference are fiercely loyal fans to those who use the original recipe.

Dr Pepper Snapple, however, is suing Dr Pepper Dublin for selling their product outside a restricted territory.  I'm a fan of Dr Pepper Dublin.  I wish they were selling it in Oklahoma.

I confess that, at times, I too have trekked to Dublin to run a stash of it that I hide in my basement to serve for special occasions.  Don't mess with my Dublin Dr Pepper!

Tom Cole and the Bush Tax Cuts

I went to U.S. Representative Tom Cole's townhall meeting yesterday at the National Weather Center in Norman.  After Cole indicated that he favored a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget, that  reform of "entitlement programs" was necessary and inevitable, that he opposed raising taxes to address the national budget deficit,  and raised alarm about the effect that rolling back tax breaks for the oil industry would have on Oklahoma's small independent oil exploration companies, I was given an opportunity to ask him a question. 

I informed Rep. Cole that I know at least two petroleum geologists who are beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts and who are not pleased that the cuts were extended in this time of national fiscal crisis.  They are particularly concerned about the effect that budget cuts are having on early childhood education and on other federal programs designed to protect kids from the adverse affects of poverty and disease.  I reminded him that children comprise 25% of the population in Oklahoma, that 35% of those children are living in abject poverty, and that a whopping 49% of the children in Oklahoma are living in families at the low income level.  A good education is the only way for these children to escape a cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.

 I advised Rep. Cole that the Oklahoma petroleum geologists that I know are ready, willing and eager to make sacrifices to protect children, the disabled, the disadvantaged and elderly from the adverse effect of budget cuts.  They want to share in the sacrifices that must be made to reduce the federal budget deficit.  I asked him to stop blocking them from the opportunity to shoulder their share in the sacrifices that all Americans must make to restore our nation to fiscal health.

Judging from the reaction my remarks received, around 70% of the attendees at that townhall meeting agreed with me.

Rep. Cole did his best to show sympathy with my concerns and allay fears that budget cuts would fall disproportionately on the young, the elderly and the disabled while defending the extension of the Bush tax cuts.  He stated something to the effect  that the Bush tax cuts only amounted to something like $700 billion  and that was not enough to make a dent in our $14 trillion dollar national debt.  That did not sound right to me, but at that time I did not have accurate figures at my fingertips.

I did some checking this morning to discern the real effect of the Bush tax cuts.  In the process, I discovered that Cole was comparing apples to oranges.  The $700 billion is roughly the cost of the two year extension of the Bush tax cuts.  It reduces revenue to the government by more than $300 billion a year, which is 20% of the current $1.5 trillion annual budget deficit.

Two years before the original cuts expired, more than $2 trillion of our $14 trillion dollar national debt was directly accountable to the Bush tax cuts:
In 2001 and 2003, Bush signed legislation that cut taxes, much to the benefit of the affluent. The first cut was designed to help the economy after the Internet bubble collapsed. The second was to boost growth after the 2001 recession ended. Kogan estimated the tax cuts have cost the Treasury $1.7 trillion in revenue to date. Of course, that may not be one bit disturbing to the taxpayers who've watched their tax bills go down. The only problem is, the cuts have been critical in opening up the gargantuan budget gap that Obama will face. Because Bush did not reduce spending, Washington has paid about $265 billion in interest on loans to cover the lost revenue. So the $1.7 trillion in tax cuts really cost around $2 trillion.
The Bush tax cuts cost around $300 billion a year plus the interest on loans to cover lost revenue, so well over $2.6 trillion of our $14 trillion national debt is directly attributable to the Bush tax cuts -- plus another $700 billion and interest on loans due to the extension of the tax cuts. Add another $3 trillion plus interest for unpaid wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus another $6 trillion plus interest to bail out Wall Street and our deregulated finance industry and it becomes very clear how our nation became so burdened with debt.

Rep. Cole played a big role running up this debt.   I wish I had seen a little remorse on his part for the misguided leadership he and others provided that helped to get us into this debacle.

Beyond Dialogue: Baptist-Muslim Partnership

Beyond Dialogue from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

July in Oklahoma was Hottest Month ever Recorded in U.S.

This from Joe Romm at the Climate Progress blog:

As for Oklahoma, Jason Samenow of the Capital Weather Gang notes:
In Oklahoma, the heat and drought were a punishing double whammy. In a vicious cycle, the dry soil intensified the heat and the heat dried out the soil. The result: heat unprecendented in any state at any time.
He directs us to The Oklahoma Climatological Survey, which reported this news:
Grover Cleveland was serving his second term as President in 1895. Victoria was the Queen of England and Will Rogers was still a teenager. It is also the year that statewide average temperature records begin for the United States. There have been 1399 months pass by since 1895. Multiply that number by 48 and you have 67,152 months of temperature records for the contiguous states. How hot was it in Oklahoma last month? Of those statewide average temperature records for the 48 states, none has been hotter than July 2011 in Oklahoma.
That’s hot — but not hot enough to move the state’s top deniers (see “Oklahoma, Where the Governor Tells Residents To Pray For Rain; Oklahoma, Where the Senator Mocks the Deadly Heat Wave“).

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Podcast of Barry Lynn's August 5th Speech in Texas

Podcast (26MB Mp3) of Rev. Barry Lynn's speech on August 5, 2011 at the Family, Faith and Freedom Rally at Mt. Ararat Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. The rally was sponsored by Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union in response to the prayer rally called by Texas Governor Rick Perry to launch his 2012 Presidential ambitions.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Expanding the Care Deficit to Reduce Financial Deficits

As I traveled to and from meetings in Washington, D.C. I have been reading Zygmunt Bauman's "Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers".  Considering the debt ceiling crisis that came to a head while I was in D.C., here are a couple paragraphs from Bauman's book that stand out:
"As the need for public services has increased, American voters have come to favor reducing the supply of care that government provides, and many favor turning to the beleaguered family as the main source of care," notes Arlie Hochschild.  They find themselves, however, falling out of the frying pan into the fire.

The same consumerist pressures that associate the idea of "care" with the inventory of consumer commodities like orange juice, milk, frozen pizza, and microwave ovens strip the families of their social-ethical skills and resources and disarm them in their uphill struggle to cope with the new challenges -- challenges aided and abetted by the legislators, who attempt to reduce state financial deficits through the expansion of the "care deficit" (cutting funds for single mothers, the disabled, the mentally ill, and the elderly).