Saturday, September 30, 2006

A Day of National Shame

Last week in this space, I wrote that the struggle against torture (and "torture-lite" techniques that still result in cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment) was a struggle for the soul of the nation and the soul of U. S. Christianity. Thursday, the U.S. Senate joined the house in passing a very flawed "compromise" bill on the interrogation, treatment in prison, and procedures for trials before military tribunals of suspected terrorists. The bill denies foreign nationals the right of habeas corpus (the right, guaranteed in our legal tradition for the past 800 years!, to challenge authorities to show cause for their detention or be released), opening the way to perpetual imprisonment without trial or even being charged with a crime. It allows the president to decide who is a terrorist, who will be interrogated, by what methods, and it protects those who may have already committed torture from prosecution. The bill allows evidence obtained by hearsay and under torture. It sets up tribunals with rules designed to guarantee conviction instead of designed with a presumption of innocence.

Although the majority in both Houses of Congress who voted for this bill were Republicans, significant minorities of Democrats aided and abetted this violation of human rights, too. This shame is bi-partisan, though not equally so. Several Democratic Senators spoke out eloquently for human rights and the rule of law, but none dared to filibuster in their defense. Lest we think the shame belongs solely to politicians, far too many clergy and people of faith have been silent on this issue and many prominent Christians have actually argued in favor of these outrages.

Yesterday on my own blog, I predicted that future U.S. schoolchildren will memorize 28 September 2006 as a day of national shame. They will learn to class the legalization of torture-lite in the so-called "war on terrorism" with the worst moments of U.S. history: the Salem witch trials; the flogging and jailing of Baptists and hanging of Quakers in Massachussetts Bay Colony; the U.S. army's "gifts" of blankets to Native Americans that were deliberately infected with Smallpox; the Trail of Tears; slavery; the Dred Scott decision ruling that African Americans "have no rights that white men are bound to recognize;" the Alien and Sedition Act; Plessy v. Ferguson; Japanese-American concentration camps during WWII in which citizens were "guilty by reason of race;" McCarthyism's Communist witch hunts, etc.

I believe that to be profoundly true. Unless this bill (almost certain to become law since it is the bill the president asked for) is struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court (a more rightwing Court than we've had in decades), it will be difficult to repeal. Even if Democrats become the majority in both houses of Congress in November, it will be very unlikely that a bill to abolish these standards and return to human rights for all could garner a two-thirds' majority needed to override a presidential veto. So, this horror is likely to be the law of our land at least until 2009 (and how many people will be tortured before then or how many people convicted or even executed for "terrorism" on hearsay evidence?).

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights First, however, sent me emails yesterday reminding me that the struggle to end torture will continue. I believe that Christians and other people of faith must lead that campaign. No significant gain for justice in this nation, whether of the abolition of slavery, the ending of child labor, women's suffrage, ending segregation, etc. has ever succeeded without significant leadership by at least a portion of the nations' churches. I see far too few Baptist names involved in the National Religious Campaign to Abolish Torture.
To be sure, some are there: Glen H. Stassen (ethics professor at Fuller Seminary), David Gushee (ethics professor at Union University in TN), Roy Medley (Gen. Sec. of American Baptists), Stan Hastey (Exec. Director, Alliance of Baptists), William Shaw (President, National Baptist Convention)--even mega-church guru Rick Warren. But that's about it. [Update: As Melissa Rogers reminded me, more people have signed the NRCAT statement than names appear on their site. Since I had signed, I knew this. I'll email them to show membership on their site. I still invite us to organize a Baptist membership drive for this and other organizations working to abolish torture: the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights First, the Center for Constitutional Rights, etc.]

Let's change this. This is not a topic on which there should be any liberal/centrist/conservative divide. You cannot love enemies and "waterboard" them, too. Let's swell the ranks of the campaigns against torture. Let our opposition to any violation of human rights, of any cruel, unusual or degrading punishment, ring from pulpits, religious publications, blogs, letters to editors, etc.

We have lost the first round of this struggle and any moral high ground. So, let us redouble our efforts: Who we are morally as Christians and citizens depends on it.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Students from Private versus Public School

This year I have a student who has been home schooled most of their life and a student who attended a private Christian academy in Richmond their whole school career.

My former home-schooled student was home-schooled for various reasons, but emotional problems being the main reason. This student is actually doing okay academically, not great, but okay.

My former private school student is the lowest perfoming student in my class by a good bit. In an attempt to understand why I read their file. But all I could see was former teachers say that "Kevin (NOT THE REAL NAME) needed to stay focused in class more and stop playing." That seemed to be the only option for these instructors. While the whole time"Kevin" was receiving D's.

I have had to give "Kevin" separate assignments and read with him one on one more often than with the other students.

It's hard to tell after four weeks if "Kevin" has a learning disability, which is very possible, and that the private did not have the resources or training to understand what was going on. Or maybe poor "Kevin" was being taught by poor instructors, it's just too early to tell.

I share this story not as an attack on a private Christian school, but on the benefits of public schools. Public Schools, typically, have more resources than private institutions, and teachers, typically, have to have more training.

I know a woman from seminary who was trained as a music minister, but once took a job teaching math at a private high school to supplement her income.

She would not be allow to do that in a public school. She would need a math certification and teacher's license.

It is a mistake to assume that all or even the majority of public schools are all failing and that home-schooling or private schools offer a better education.

I am not agaisnt private schools. My mother taught at one for 11 years. I would consider teaching at one if I found the right fit. But public schools, and of course I speak from here in VA, have more resources at their disposial, to help benefit the children.

I also don't offer this up as a "strawman" arguement. I know there are good private schools out there, "Kevin" does not represent all private schools.

But if my instincts prove to be true, that "Kevin" has a learning disability, then it will be a blessing for him to have been switched to a public school where we can get the help that he needs.

But I don't need to tell you that some people would rather have him fail at a "Christian" school with a learning disability and poor instructors, than attend a public school.

Richard Land Does Not Speak For Southern Baptists

He certainly doesn't speak for me and I know a rather impressive number of Southern Baptists for whom he also does not speak. Even if, in his more delusional moments, when he actually believes that he truly does speak for Southern Baptists, if you visit communities where soldiers have been brought home in flag draped coffins or visited Southern Baptist Churches where funerals for those dead soldiers are conducted, you will find a large number of people who would gasp at the suggestion of him speaking for them.

When he says "I still think Iraq is one of the more noble things we've done. We went there to try to restore freedom and to bring freedom to the Middle East" you should take the pronoun I very seriously- because he is only offering his own, ridiculous opinion.

And when he says "I don't think there's any question that the vast majority of Southern Baptists still strongly support this president and his policies." he is either lying or misrepresenting. I don't recall ever receiving any sort of questionaire from Land or the SBC Executive Committee asking me or my Congregation what we thought- and I don't know anyone else who did either.

Why is Land lying? Because he wants to position his brand of Southern Baptist life with the far right wing of the Republican party- in hopes of wielding influence in the upcoming election. His claims are outrageous, and reprehensible. The whole world should know that when Land suggests the SBC is behind Bush and his policies that the only one behind Bush is Land- not an entire denomination.

Stepping It Up

I'm doing what I'm about to do for a few reasons:
  1. Because my wife is the most amazing person I know;
  2. Which leads her to be right most of the time.
  3. Because I cannot be an inactive feminist.
  4. Because people are writing and doing good things that the world needs to hear about.
Lynnette's recent post about women in church leadership has lingered in my mind the last few days. There is no doubt that women are doing amazing things the world over, but due to deeply embedded social constructs, their stories don't get told much.

Until now.

Each Friday, I will profile a different religious female blogger. I would like you, my readers, to check out her site, add it to your links, favorites and bookmarks, and tell one person to do the same thing. If we are to tear down the discriminatory walls that have been built over the millennia, it will take a lot of us wielding a lot of hammers.

Stepping It Up Profile #1: Ann Catherine Pittman

It is kind of easy to write about Ann. She is one of Lynnette's dearest friends and a charter member of the Pastors' Wives Club at Truett Seminary. When I first met Ann, I could tell she was smart and probably a lot of fun. Through the years, I've found both adjectives to be true.

Her blog is an attempt to keep her family and friends up to date on her life, but even if you don't know her, you'll want to read her. She often posts sermons and lessons she prepares as a pastor for First Baptist Church in Austin, Texas. They're good reads. All of them. She is also able to find the hidden spiritual truths in the everyday events of her life, which usually involve humor, beauty and service.

Here's an excerpt:
I think about the people who died in the Wilderness waiting for the Promised Land and it reminds me of all the people today who will never see a promise land. I think of Anne Frank and the millions of other Jews who thought the Promised Land was coming, that they would escape hiding and be freed from the concentration camps. On July 15, 1944 Anne wrote: “It’s really a wonder I haven’t dropped all of my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the suffering of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that I will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again. In the meantime, I must uphold my ideals, for perhaps the time will come when I shall be able to carry them out.” Anne Frank died in a concentration camp in March 1945. She never made it outside of the Wilderness and into the Promised Land.

On a larger scale I think of others who may never make it out of the wilderness: I think of the starving children in India, of the victims of genocide in Rwanda, the orphans in Indonesia, the 2 out of every five people dying of AIDS in Africa: these are people who live in the Wilderness literally, daily. Until you’ve walked in their urine, touched their mangled faces, looked away from their bloated bellies you haven’t seen the wilderness at its worst. To the ungrateful Israelites, God dropped manna from the sky, brought pheasants from the earth and water from a rock. But who feeds the starving now? Who heals the sick? Who rescues the oppressed? Who adopts the orphaned?
Go read the whole thing.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Church Counts Controversy

by Brian Kaylor

Yesterday, Ethics Daily ran my column entitled “CBF, Baptist Press Numbers Flap Unnecessary, Misguided.” It addresses the recent attack articles by the Baptist Press over how the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship counts churches. The argument I advance is that it does not really matter and that it is time to focus on more important concerns than how big we are. (I know there have already been a lot of good responses on the attack, but they keep making it and I think the big picture has been lost at times.)

What is interesting is that Southern Seminary’s Russell Moore, who I mention in the column, has posted a response on his blog. However, it is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, he inaccurately throws out the term “liberal” (as in the past, Moore uses the term too liberally).

The other problem comes when he attempts to look like the good guy by claiming, “I hope for higher birth-rates in the CBF.” This is a nice sentiment, but it does not fit with his earlier comments about CBF. In the first Baptist Press attack article I responded to in my column, Moore called CBF “a parasitic movement.” If he views them as parasites then why would he want them to give birth? And if he really does want them to grow then why did he call them parasites?

If Moore really wants to set the record straight, then he should apology for the parasite metaphor. It is, after all, completely inappropriate and unbiblical. Such a metaphor suggests that CBF should be removed from the Body, which is something that one should never say about their brothers and sisters.

A Land Flowing With Vinegar and Bitterness

Bruce Gourley has a magnificent, insightful, and delightful posting today titled A Baptist Perspective. If anyone has ever hit the nail on the head concerning the continuing unravelling of the once great Southern Baptist Convention, it is Bruce. Do give his post a read. So sadly, tragically, maddeningly true. Alas, alas....

Narrow Path May Mean Walking on the Middle Line

I would suppose that at least seventy-five percent of the folks I rub shoulders with on a daily basis have a negative reaction to the word "liberal." I find myself talking with people who say that someone or something is liberal, but then immediately qualify it. They are liberal, but...

I consider myself a liberal. Now what that means depends partly on you. It may mean for some that I have no bounderies--theologically, ideologically, socially--anything goes, a sort of libertarian view of life. To each his own. Everything is relative. Truth is what you decide is true. Liberal means you allow others (may even fight for their right) to perpetrate what some would consider evil, like having an abortion or pre-marital sex or smoking and drinking. The worst of this laundry list is the abortion thing, it is hopelessly identified with the term liberal. To be liberal is to want babies to be killed, some might assume. I imagine that is where much of the inflammatory connotation comes from.

So just for grins, and maybe for myself more than others, I want to describe the kind of liberal I am. I gather than every concept has a light side and a shadow side. So when I say I am a liberal I usually am thinking of it's lighter side. Which I believe has to do with caring for those who have a hard time taking care of themselves, that communities, in all their shapes and sizes, have a responsibility to pay attention to the least in their midst, those who have disadvantages. I am what is usually referred to as a "bleeding-heart" liberal, which may be a distinction from a "libertarian" liberal.

I suppose I do lean in the direction of letting other people make their own decisions, which brings a good dose of irony to my situation because I spend much of my life telling others how they should approach life, spirituality, social constructs and the like. Minister's are life coaches. So libertarian? Perhaps, when all the dust settles, that is what I am. I know that in the end people are going to do what they are going to do, and so long as they aren't yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater who am I to force them to do what is best for them. I often watch, with audible sighs, people forge ahead having made bad decisions.

But to the degree that I do spend considerable amounts of energy encouraging people to be careful with their words, their money, their sexuality, their religion, I am a conservative. I do believe in boundaries, I perhaps am less anxious about insisting on them upfront. I like to have a cup o' tea and talk through what the boundaries should be for any given situation. In that sense I am a William F. Buckley conservative.

I recently got wind of some online chit-chat about me that was pegging me as a "loonie" liberal. I'm not sure how one defines "loonie." I have affection for the word, but in this case it wasn't written with affection, so I can't celebrate it so much. And I am aware of the shadow side of liberalism. It's why I believe, with all my heart, that the truth of being human lies somewhere in the middle, finding the good aspects of the liberal and conservative impulse. The shadow sides of both are always dangerously near, angling for the tipping point that leads to destruction. The Kingdom of God lies in the balancing act. I think that's what Jesus meant when he said the path that leads to life is a narrow one and hard to follow.

Sunday Morning Disconnect

Two comments I've heard in the last week:
"I want a Sunday morning that matches the rest of my week."
"We wanted a lifestyle that was consistent with our beliefs."
The first comment was said to me over pizza and beer by a Dutch immigrant who attends a Baptist church in a small town. The other comment was on a video at a benefit dinner, and said by an attorney who now lives in Cambodia and rescues slaves from brick kilns.

One man has already come half away around the world, and can't find what he's looking for. The other man went halfway around the world, and found what he was looking for. Both men knew that the American Christian lifestyle sold to them by pulpits and bookstores was a sham. The deepest longings of their heart have won out, and their desire to follow Christ has become greater than their desire to stay put.

What is my Dutch friend looking for on Sunday mornings? Does he want his Sundays to change to match his Mondays and Thursdays, or do his Fridays and Saturdays need to change to match his Sundays? And for the Chattanooga lawyer – could he have changed his beliefs to match his comfortable life in Tennessee instead of packing up his family and moving to another country in order to combat human trafficking?

I once read a trite phrase (I think in someone's house while sitting on the toilet) that said, "If you and God aren't close anymore, guess who moved?" I still don't know what the answer to that is. I'm afraid to answer. I feel like any answer could be right. Maybe I moved and went off the deep end and started gambling and spending time with loose women. Or maybe God moved and started fighting for justice around the world instead of fighting heresies of transubstantiation and infralapsarianism within the church.

What changed in the life of the Dutch therapist to make his Sunday mornings disconnected with the rest of his life? He became more passionate about helping homeless people. He felt that the call on his life was to feed the hungry and give to the poor, all in the name of Jesus. Yet his Sunday morning worship experience still centered around four contemporary praise songs and a sermon about 'faithfulness' or something else found in a book that sits on the top of most people's toilet tanks. His Sunday mornings would match the rest of his week if he could sit amongst friends and wrestle with the changes he needs to make to ensure he's living out the call of the Kingdom of God in his life. And he would call that 'church.' And God would see that it was good.

The Chattanooga lawyer couldn't work any longer filing briefs and drafting contracts from the cozy confines of his mahogany-laden office. Knowing that there are more slaves today than at any other point in human history weighed heavy on his heart. A passionate man who likewise had a calling to fight for the oppressed, the only thing he could do was change his country of residence. Now, his morning commute is not to a corporate office park. It's to an underground lair of teenage sex slaves in an attempt to arrest the man who runs the brothel and emancipate the victims of injustice. And he calls that 'church.' And God sees that it is good.

So many of our churches pander to the status quo. Church has become another social ritual. For many of us, we go and leave every Sunday, and are never challenged to make sure we're living out the mandates of God as we seek to bring about God's realm on earth. Instead of ensuring that people continue to go through the motions in order to feel good about their life that needs to change, we need people and organizations that challenge the way things are so that we see a disconnect between the way we live and the way we believe. And something will have to change.

Maybe we'll need to change our life in order to match our beliefs. Maybe we'll need to change our Sundays to match our Wednesdays. But if we're serious about following this Jesus who fought for justice and sought to make God visible to all, then guess who needs to change?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Of Castles and Kingdoms in Missouri

by Bruce Gourley

The Missouri Baptist Convention owns the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Seriously, just ask them.

MBC policy dictates that “churches cannot include another denomination or convention in their budgets, financially support another such body’s work, or vote to send messengers to another denomination or convention’s meetings.” (As quoted from the September 21, 2006 edition of the Word & Way, not available online.) In other words, churches affiliated with the MBC can only play with the MBC and SBC, and to dare join hands with any other Christians means the offending church will be cast into outer Missouri darkness, where presumably there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, or something like that. Of course, the barrel of this policy bazooka is aimed squarely at Missouri churches that partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, otherwise known as the devil’s playground.

This month the MBC branded 24 Baptist churches in Missouri with a scarlet “EL” for holding hands with the devil (the “EL” referring to “evil liberal”). And if the branding does not scare the hell out of the 24 churches, the MBC will release them fully into the clutches of the pitch-forked one.

I can see the sinister smiles of the members of the MBC credentials committee as they slam the door shut on their fellow Baptists. “You’re not worthy of our holiness,” they sneer in delight, congratulating themselves on protecting God from the filth of the evil CBFers.

No wonder so many outside observers think Baptists are morons … if they bother to think about Baptists in the first place.

As I think about the MBC Cardinals sitting upon their mighty thrones, issuing edicts to Baptist churches, I am reminded of a scene from the greatest movie of all time, The Princess Bride. As the heroes, led by the Man in Black (who has just been brought back from the dead by Miracle Max, played by Billy Crystal), limp forward to assault the mighty castle of the evil king and his henchman, the Five Fingered Man, Miracle Max asks his wife (played by Carol Kane), “Do you think it’ll work?” (referring to the efforts of the heroes). “It would take a miracle,” Kane deadpans.

But in the case of the MBC, assaulting their castle is not necessary, as it is already floating out to sea, sails filled with hot air, following the current of self-righteousness and growing ever fainter on the horizon of institutional isolation. And it appears that it would take a true miracle to bring the MBC back to their senses.

These Are Good Words

My wife is very smart. And she writes well. And she's got a good post on her blog that you need to read. If you're too lazy to click over, I've repeated it in its entirety:
while conversing recently with a good friend of mine, we talked about the emerging church conversation. he has a calling and a passion...and a couple of really good ideas in the works. so i smiled and said, "when you're 'big and famous,' please for the love of God take some women to the top with you." at which point i feel like the conversation derailed. because it sounded to me like his response was, "i have been a big supporter of women in ministry and in emergent for a long time [which he absolutely has - props to him for that], brian and doug and tony and the vast majority of the emergent influencers have been a big supporter of women in ministry and in emergent for a long time [which i believe they have], and we will continue to lend support [which i believe they will], but it's time for some women to step up."

here i refer you, kind readers, to rachelle mee chapman's field report: a woman in ministry. allow me to quote some choice tidbits:
  • "Even though we are theologically on board with all people being involved in leadership and ministry, our praxis has not significantly changed."
  • "women-unlike men-are not allowed to be angry, or even frustrated, or really even forceful, assertive, or honest."
here is one of my favorite posts ever on the subject, again from rachelle mee-chapman. it is one of my favorites because it offers some practical steps forward. allow me to quote another choice tidbit:
  • "There’s only so long we can swim upstream with that before our arms give out. And if we talk in a similar manner then we have “an agenda” and are being bitchy. (Seriously. It happens.)"
and finally, an article from a few years back by jen lemen.

time for women to step up? i'm not trying to sound cranky here, but who is not stepping up? all over the place, emerging-ish women are doing some pretty amazing stuff. let me offer as evidence item #1 - effloresce, a wonderful and beautiful collection of writings from women who are a part of the emerging church conversation. download. read. enjoy. i will also offer as evidence item #2 - list (certainly not exhaustive) of emerging women bloggers:
i could--and probably should--say more, but i'm tired. these conversations are exhausting...for all of us. i know that. believe me, i do. but i also know that we need to keep having them. we need to continue to lend support - and with more than just words. let's not leave each other hanging...

Monday, September 25, 2006

Thomas Jefferson and Katherine Harris

This is a similiar post from my other blog. (Friday is my scheduled day to blog here, but life gets in the way sometimes....)

Since one of the main purposes of this blog is the separation of church and state I thought I would look some information or laws on the subject.

Well being from Virginia and a 5th grade teacher, I read some about Thomas Jefferson from time to time. In my class we just did a unit on the Constitution and how Virginia was big in the early days of the country (pause...for moment of pride...), well we discussed in that unit something call The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and that this statute is one of the basis for the First Amendment. The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is the law of the land here in Virginia, this is on the books.

I brought this up in the days after the Katherine Harris blasphemy.

But here for your enjoyment is The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, take it as you will:


Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world, and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow-citizens he has a natural right; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that truth is great and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act shall be an infringement of natural right.

Source: W.W. Hening, ed., Statutes at Large of Virginia, vol. 12 (1823): 84-86.

More Evidence That Baptist Press is Neither Baptist nor Press

Ethics Daily has the report. Be sure to read it, because it demonstrates a continuing trend in Baptist Press to play toady to the homeschooling agenda. Remember, whatever you read in Baptist Press should be read with not a grain of salt, but a pound.

Artists vs. Fundamentalists

In my graduate studies, I came across the following paragraphs from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

Fundamentalism and art are mutually exclusive. There is no such thing as fundamentalist art. This does not mean the fundamentalist is not creative. Rather, his creativity is inverted. He creates destruction. Even the structures he builds, his schools and networks of organization, are dedicated to annihilation, of his enemies and of himself.

But the fundamentalist reserves his greatest creativity for the fashioning of Satan, the image of his foe, in opposition to which he defines and gives meaning to his own life.

Suddenly, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, et al.'s obsession with badmouthing liberals, CBF, homosexuals, Democrats, Jews, Muslims makes sense. The delighted response to Middle East warfare and the obsession with the rapture makes sense. Truly, fundies are obsessed with destruction.

Small Steps for Darfur

In hopes of raising awareness about the reality of genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, Sam writes every Monday about a key issue in an attempt to stop the atrocity. Doing so may not bring about a wave of change, but it is a small ripple that represents the tide that needs turning.

Take 5 minutes and educate yourself today about Darfur. Things continue to be critical, and it's important that each person takes the initiative to know about what's happening in Darfur (since American media obviously won't do this for you).

I recommend the following sites that I stumbled upon this morning:
There are a million things that need to be done, and all of them begin with your awareness.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

On the Tyranny of the Majority

Sharon Nichols testified in District Court in opposition to the Monument to American Theocracy that has been placed on the courthouse lawn in Haskell County Oklahoma. Her opposition to that monument has made life difficult for her in that small community.

Last week the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State gave her our "Constitutional Heritage Award" for the courage and conviction she has demonstrated in efforts to preserve the First Amendment.

When she received the award she gave an electrifying acceptance speech on the "Tyranny of the Majority." Here's a quote:

We should have learned the lessons long ago that in the absence of religious freedom, the other "freedoms" (free speech, free press, right to assemble, etc.) won't matter a whit, because to be a heretic to the established religion is to face prejudice, discrimination, oppression, persecution, and genocide. This is why the Founding Fathers placed the Separation Clause at the very beginning of the very First Amendment. It's that important. They knew that to secure the rights of all, they had to secure the rights of even the loneliest minority from the tyranny of the majority. To allow any erosion of the wall of separation's guarantee of religious liberty invites, indeed, virtually guarantees that very tyranny. Such tyranny, if allowed to flourish with government sanction and support, is the most insidious tyranny of all -- and leads to the worst oppression. It gives a sickeningly insidious "green light" to the ethnocentric, self-serving tendency to believe that only we are right and that those who do not agree with us deserve neither rights, nor consideration. It is this very tendency toward tyranny, which leads quite ordinary people to willingly participate in individual and state-sponsored oppression -- even unto pogroms, concentration camps, and genocide. The only inoculation against this tyranny is to follow Thomas Paine's injunction that "We must protect even our enemy from oppression, for failure to do so will assure that such oppression reaches even unto ourselves."

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Torture: Struggle for the Soul of U.S. Christianity

M. L. Westmoreland-White

John McCain caved in and the Senate will allow a flawed compromise that, while it doesn't redefine the Geneva Conventions, will still allow torture, secret prisons with the absence of habeas corpus (and, potentially, life imprisonment without ever being guilty of anything), and trial by military tribunals rigged to be able to ensure convictions--which is not a trial, but a "kangaroo court." (What could have endorsed McCain to betray his fellow torture survivors and his own integrity? Did Bush promise an endorsement in '08?)

Faith leaders in Connecticut are working to insist that their Representatives act on the belief that torture is always wrong. This is part of the wider National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which I urge all of you gentle readers to join. Without faith leadership, we cannot guarantee that our political leaders of either major party will put moral principle above expediency--especially if it means they look "tough on terror."

Evangelicals have been mostly silent on the torture issue (with some major exceptions), and at least some younger evangelicals are calling their elders on this appalling moral silence. As Rick Phillips puts it, "Are evangelical leaders really unable to see the moral issues involved, or is (as I think more likely) our political alliance with the Republican Party simply leading us astray on this issue? If the price of fighting for biblical morality in America means that we cannot always speak out for biblical morality, then perhaps we should rethink our tactics." (My emphasis.)

Meanwhile, truth continues to break through the smokescreen of official propaganda. Bush closed the secret prisons (and admitted their existence) in part because CIA interrogators refused continued cooperation. But the fate of some CIA detainees is still unknown. The recently retired top CIA expert on Islamic extremists has slammed Bush admin. tactics for losing a generation of goodwill among young Muslims who could have become pro-Western if not for this admin.'s immoral and stupid policies. This echos the views of Colin Powell & many other retired generals, intelligence experts, and federal judges (whether Democratic or Republican appointed). And the treatment of Mahrer Arar, innocent Canadian civilian, sent by both Canadian and U.S. incompetence to Syria for torture, is a loud wake up call.

Contact your representative today and tell them that if they support this flawed torture bill, you will not remember them fondly in November. Then call the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111) and urge the President to quit trying to bend the rule of law and remember his loudly proclaimed Christian faith on this issue. Make this a church congregational campaign and keep mentioning your church's name since Bush considers Christians his base. Then write an op-ed to your local paper.If the U.S. church is silent on torture, future generations will look back in horror, the way we do now at the German church's silence on Hitler, the cooperation with apartheid by most white churches in South Africa, and with segregation by most white churches in the U.S. South, and the justification of slavery by so much of American Christianity in the 19th C. These are legacies of shame--not examples to emulate. It's time to step up and speak out

Friday, September 22, 2006

Simply Disgraceful

ABC News reports

In an interview to air Sunday, Musharraf said that after terrorists struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage told Pakistan's intelligence director the United States would bomb his country if it didn't help.

The words unrighteous, unjust, despicable, depraved, un-American, revolting, disgusting, reprehensible, vile, wretched, and disgraceful all come to mind simultaneously. That a high ranking White House official would make such a threat is unconcionable. Armitage should be fired (if he's still employed by the Government).

Armitage denied it, of course, but I haven't believed anything that man, or anyone from the Bush Administration has said since they have been demonstrated as liars on the issue of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction". ABC reports

"The intelligence director told me that (Armitage) said, `Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age,'" Musharraf told "60 Minutes."

Armitage told CNN on Thursday that he never threatened to bomb Pakistan, wouldn't say such a thing and didn't have the authority to do it. Armitage said he did have a tough message for Pakistan, telling the Muslim nation that it was either "with us or against us," according to CNN. Armitage said he didn't know how his message was recounted so differently to Musharraf.


When our Government does such things, it makes me ashamed. When they lie about it, it outrages me. When Baptists act as though it's a sin to oppose such vile behavior, it makes me consider becoming a Presbyterian. Baptists who continue to be so blind about Administration policy really must wake up and realize that being in bed with such people simply leaves them stained with the same wretched odor of appalling ignorance and deception.

Sacrificing Issues on the Altar of Politics

Headlines today detail an impending lawsuit against a Pasadena church. The IRS is requesting documents from church leadership as they consider whether or not to revoke the church’s tax-exempt status, accusing it of engaging in lobbying activities.

All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, has decided to not comply with an IRS investigation resulting from a sermon a guest preacher delivered in the fall of 2004. In the sermon, the preacher criticized the Bush administration regarding its Iraq policy two days before the presidential election.

The situation is sticky for several reasons. While the sermon never declared that its listeners should vote for Kerry over Bush, it was very clear that ‘Jesus would not be at war in Iraq.’ Likewise, this was a guest speaker (although he was also a former rector of the church), and not the paid staff in the local congregation. Also, California wasn’t exactly a ‘swing state’ in 2004, so criticizing Bush is like criticizing Hillary Clinton on the 700 Club.

If no action is taken, churches that lean both right and left politically could begin to spew political rhetoric more than they already do. There is also a danger that if All Saints does lose its tax-exempt status, then many more suits will be brought forth and churches will attempt to police other churches for political gain. If a precedent is set, will such investigations rage rampant? (The last such accusation and loss of status happened to a church in New York before the 1992 election.)

For me, at greater stake is the delicate line between church and state. While this line has been interpreted by countless individuals and religious groups since America’s birth, all can agree that there is a line. Some see it as more blurred, some as more rigid, some feel the line is thin, and some feel it is thick and bold. But lost in that debate is an essential question that is crucial to the survival of the church in the world: Can the church become the most effective agent for change the world has ever known?

I hope so. That’s the main reason I do what I do, trying to motivate churches to wake up to the injustices that happen the world over. The human and monetary capital the American church has in its possession is a very priceless lever. Using the right amount of energy as the force, if the right issue is set in place as the fulcrum, I feel that the boulders of apathy, prejudice and injustice can be tossed into the sea.

Should All Saints be allowed to have people speak with a political agenda clothed in religious reasoning? This sermon in question attempted to present the nonviolent Jesus of the gospels in contrast to the tactic of war used by industrialized nations today.

These are the kind of sermons I like. Any intelligent person can find fault with both political parties. And when this fault-finding mission has commenced, it only ends in voting for the lesser of two evils. But I like sermons like this because it shows me that I can do more than just vote. While that may be the beginning of my civic duty, it is not the end. I have a moral and religious obligation to see to it that the orphans are housed and the hungry are fed. I cannot simply vote for a politician who claims this as his or her agenda. I must be actively seeking justice on behalf of the world.

The fallout from this is truly yet to be seen. In the next six weeks, as elections heat up in several key states, there will be sermons, Sunday school classes and Bible studies focusing on politics, candidates and government. But I hope that the issues will not be lost.

If I were pastoring a church, I would take the unique opportunity of November to bring to light the plight of the poor, the victims of oppression, and the neglect of the disenfranchised. I would not use these issues as a leverage point in order to promote my opinions of who should represent what in Washington. I would use the issues to cultivate a gospel lifestyle – a way of life in which our living matches our beliefs. Anyone can promote this, with our without tax exemption.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


One of the favorite sayings of Jim Wallis (of Sojourners and author of God’s Politics) is: “The monologue of the religious right is finally over and a new dialogue has just begun.” For Wallis, this is not just a slogan but a reality. Wallis has recently started a new blog.

However, rather than just offering his own opinions, he has opened it up as a place for some dialogue about important religious issues. All week he has been discussing back and forth with Ralph Reed. Yes, that is correct—Wallis has given Reed a chance to write in on the blog. It is an interesting discussion thus far as there have been several back-and-forth items that have sparked a lot of comments.

Wallis explains that others will be joining him in this blog, including Brian McLaren, Amy Sullivan, Noel Castellanos, Robert Franklin, Diana Butler Bass, Obery Hendricks, Sister Helen Prejean, Ron Sider, and Tony Campolo. This should be an interesting development to watch and engage in. (If only they had as big of names there as we have here!)

Some may not like that Wallis has given Reed a place of prominence in the new discussion. However, dialogue is what is desperately needed in the Christian community. Christ prayed that we would be one, but that will never happen if we are unable to listen to each other.

Too often our fundamentalist brethren refuse to even listen to us or other voices because they are so sure they are right. We must not make the same mistake. We must be willing to treat them as our neighbors, even if they do not return the treatment. We must be willing to treat them as our brothers and sisters, even if they do not return the treatment.

It is time to end the monologues and start some dialogue. I hope that we will be part of that positive development. Simply by being here we are able to offer some new voices and interact with others. Let us be careful, though, to not act like those we feel have been wrong. May our posts and comments always invite dialogue rather than shutting people out of the conversation.

Guns and Prayer

This is why people my age don’t vote. Instead of Congress actually getting things done, they hobnob around their chambers and stick stupid amendments into important bills in order to have a grand pissing contest. And, as usual, the victims are the unseen and unheard who need certain appropriations, funding, or defense.

Such is the case with the current defense bill. While the bulk of the bill is needed to fund operations overseas, the bill is being held up as Senators (rightly so) question the impact of some fine print. In question is an amendment that allows military chaplains to offer sectarian prayers at public events. For example, an army chaplain could pray “in the name of Jesus” at a high school graduation.

Petty? Yes. Worth fighting over? Yes. This measure needs to be defeated and the bill not passed (despite its need) to state clearly that if any elected official tries to stick overtly religious agenda items on important bills that look like they’re going to pass, well, it ain’t gonna fly!

I say, fire a shot over the bow so that Representative Hunter (R-CA) and crew learn not to try and piggy back any more evangelical fodder on top of stuff that needs to get done to run a country.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

SBC Attacks on CBF A Sign of Desperation from an Imploding Denomination?

Monday, September 18 the SBC powers used Baptist Press to level their full bore cannons at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for daring to defend itself from previous Baptist Press charges that the way CBF counts churches violates local church autonomy. What is the substance of this broadside against CBF over the issue of church counting? That CBF uses the pretense of donations of as little as $1 from an individual church member to the CBF in order to count the unsuspecting church as a CBF church and thus inflate their membership stats. The evidence? The personal testimony of three fundamentalist Baptist pastors.

All I know about those three particular pastors is that they seem to be willing tools of the BP lie and deception machine. But I can testify firsthand that over the years I have supported CBF (contributing directly to CBF) while holding membership in several Southern Baptist churches which did not include CBF in the church budget. In each instance, CBF did not count that given church as a CBF church. On the other hand, I see no reason why CBF should not recognize individual gifts given through a local church (even if not via the church budget) in identifying CBF churches. In fact, the fundamentalist Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC) utilizes this very practice in counting contributing churches, as do many other Christian organizations. Leave it to SBC leaders to find some pretense to condemn CBF for doing precisely the same thing that many of their own fundamentalist churches are doing. Yet the hypocrisy apparently goes much further: according to several Texas Baptists, the SBC counts among its member churches all BGCT congregations, regardless of whether the individual congregations contribute to the SBC or not, despite years of requests from some non-SBC local Baptist churches to the SBC to take them off SBC roles.

So just what is the real story behind this latest “we hate the despicable CBF” piece from SBC liars and spinmasters? Why do SBC leaders continue to feel compelled to lash out in anger at little ole’ CBF? Why are these fundamentalist Baptists infatuated and infuriated over how CBF functions in the first place?

Are SBC leaders really as insecure as their actions indicate? Does berating CBF allow a little bit of a distraction from their own growing choruses of lament over the historically-unprecedented decline of baptisms and evangelism within the SBC, not to mention the leadership scandals? As the failures of the SBC fundamentalist leadership mount, will CBF be the brunt of ever greater anger and rage?

It seems to me the SBC leadership is more desparate than ever in light of their escalating failures. Their misplaced berating of CBF is a weak attempt to mask the sound of their own implosion.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Calvinism on the the SBC

Results from a recent Lifeway Research survey show that Calvinism is on the rise in the Southern Baptist Convention. According to the survey, 1 in 10 SBC pastors consider themselves to be a 5-point Calvinist. And a snippet...
While LifeWay Research found the number of Southern Baptist pastors embracing five-point Calvinism to be relatively small, it is undeniable that the conversations on Calvinism within the Southern Baptist Convention have brought renewed interest to the theological system. Proponents of Calvinism, or Reformed theology, view it as a healthy return to early Southern Baptist heritage. Others see Calvinism as a negative trend and fear it is threatening to take over the SBC. In its inaugural survey, LifeWay Research sought to document the prevalence -– or lack thereof –- of Calvinism within the SBC.

Reformed theology is quite popular these days especially with teenagers and young adults. But WHY? Southern Baptist Tom Ascol of Founders Ministries has an answer...

"The revival of Reformed theology is growing among younger pastors and ministers in training. This is largely a young church leader movement. Boomers and busters are willing to put aside preconceived notions. More and more seminary and college students are coming to see that the doctrines are nothing more than an accurate summary of the biblical teaching of salvation." (53)

Understood from this perspective, campus ministry, Christian contemporary music, and popular Calvinist speakers are three avenues that introduce students to Calvinist concepts who then go to the Bible and see that Calvin "rightly divide(d) the Word of truth."

It remains to be seen how Non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention will respond to the growth of Calvinism within their denomination. Exactly how threatened are Non-Calvinists by this "negative trend"? Looking past the current IMB squabble, if doctrinal conformity remains a MUST in the SBC - will a Battle Royal between the two camps even be avoidable???

For more see:

“Youth for Calvin: Reformed Theology and Baptist Collegians”

Word Document Version

Fringe violence

One lesson learned in my Christian Tradition class is to look to the fringe for the beginnings of the next paradigm shift. In non-seminary words, the next majoritarian expression of Christianity often starts out as a small fringe group or movement that eventually hits critical mass and explodes into relevancy.

In some ways, the growth of the Baptists in America can be considered as being a fringe group that emerged from obscurity and burst into society in a historically short amount of time.

Today's loonies can be tomorrow's mainstream, thus the need to learn everything we can about them in case one movement catches hold. Right now the call to violence in the American Christian world concerns me. The article that caught my eye describes a documentary, "Jesus Camp", telling the story of a small youth camp in North Dakota led by Pastor Becky Fischer.

"I want to see them as radically laying down their lives for the gospel as they are in Palestine, Pakistan and all those different places," Fisher said. "Because, excuse me, we have the truth."

"A lot of people die for God," one camper said, "and they're not afraid."

"We're kinda being trained to be warriors," said another, "only in a funner way."

In my mind, the first thought was suicide bomber and terrorist. Where will this battleground to fight for Jesus be? Abortion clinics? Church? Government? PlayStation? The controversy over the Left-Behind video games still irks me, among other examples of bringing about God's message through violence.

Fundamentalists exist in each of the world's large monotheistic religions, and by striving to be like those in Palestine and Pakistan, Fischer seems to be brain-washing these kids to be new Crusaders. Except in a "funner way".

Now, I have not seen this documentary and thus am relying on the context portrayed by Mr. Dan Harris' viewpoint. However, I cannot imagine a less-coarse context in which these quotes were given that represents the Jesus I know and worship. I pray that this tendency to include violence as a means of spreading the love of Christ remains on the fringe.

How am I supposed to share the Gospel with others and impact my world as Jesus calls me to do when I have to compete with violent, reactionary fundamentalists who are convinced of the truth as they know it? How do parents explain to their children that they should stand-up for their beliefs, but to follow Jesus' example and not use violence?

I must have the wrong Bible. Too bad I don't have a direct channel to the mind of God - must be nice to be infallible and all-knowing.

Baptist Prophets

Though I am a member of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, I pass along the following announcement simply as a public service to you all and those potentially interested:

Baptist Prophets: Their Lives and Contributions

The Baptist History and Heritage Society is pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of a new booklet titled Baptist Prophets: Their Lives and Contributions. A 35 percent discount will be applied to all advance orders received by October 15, 2006. You will pay only $1.95 per copy; our catalog price after October 15 will be $3.00 per copy. Really special offer: purchase 50 copies or more and pay only $1.75 each.

“Where have all the prophets gone?” is a question some Baptists have asked in recent years. By that, they do not mean whether Baptists have lost the ability to predict the future; rather, they are commenting on Baptists’ willingness (or non-willingness) boldly to proclaim the word of the Lord in addressing critical issues facing Baptists. Because the prophetic function has been a dynamic ingredient of Baptist history, our Society staff has decided that now is a good time to resurrect the lives and contributions of 14 selected Baptist prophets. What can we learn from the experiences of these noted individuals that can help Baptist teaching, preaching, writing, and living?

Prophets treated include the following:

1. Thomas Helwys—founder of Baptist life in England

2. John Clarke—religious liberty advocate in Colonial America

3. William Carey—Baptist missions pioneer

4. John Leland—liberty of conscience defender in late 1700s and early 1800s

5. Johann Gerhard Oncken—founder of Baptist work in much of continental Europe

6. Lottie Moon—Baptist missionary to China

7. Walter Rauschenbusch—leader of the Social Gospel Movement

8. Nannie Helen Burroughs—leader of African American Baptists

9. Clarence Jordan—founder of Koinonia Farm in Georgia

10. Helen Barrett Montgomery—first female president of the Northern Baptist Convention, New Testament translator, and women rights spokesperson

11. T. B. Maston—longtime Baptist seminary professor of ethics

12. Martin Luther King, Jr.—internationally renowned civil rights leader

13. Henlee Barnette—longtime Baptist seminary professor of ethics

14. Foy Valentine—noted Baptist ethics program leader.

To place your advance order, simply email the undersigned and indicate how many copies you would like, and provide your name, address, and telephone number. Your copies (with an invoice) will be shipped as soon as we receive them from the printer in mid-November. Shipping and handling charges will be added.

Charles W. Deweese
Executive Director-Treasurer
Baptist History and Heritage Society
P.O. Box 728
Brentwood, TN 37024-0728


I know exactly where my largely unformed thoughts on this issue were born.

They began with memories of visiting Pu’uhonua O Honaunau, or the City of Refuge, when I was a child. This craggy peninsula on the Kona side of Hawai’i’s Big Island is now a National Park, but in Ancient Hawai’i it served as a place you could go if you were had been accused of a crime and were facing death as punishment for that crime. If you made it all the way to the City of Refuge (and that’s a big IF, since the shark-infested waters and craggy volcanic rock surrounding the City of Refuge took their share of asylum-seekers) you could live there in peace, without the threat of death for your crime.

Before now I don’t know that I’ve given much dedicated thought to the role of the church as sanctuary, but I read recently about a Methodist church in Chicago that provided sanctuary for a woman facing the threat of deportation. I read over and over that the pastor of that church called it, “The House of God,” where foreigners are welcomed, where sanctuary is offered and where the long arm of the law cannot reach. That seemed about right to me . . . church as a modern-day City of Refuge.

All of this was informing my thoughts two Sundays ago when we were just about to start worship at Calvary. As we are right in the middle of a series focusing on social justice, that Sunday the entire service focused around the issue of poverty.

Right as the service began, almost as if we had planned it, a man who appeared to be someone who lives on the streets came into worship.This is not an uncommon occurrence, as Calvary is an urban congregation in the middle of a city with a considerable homeless population. This man caught my attention more than usual, however, because he was wearing a bulky sweatshirt with a hood and because he came right down to the front to sit.

I’ll admit I had my eye on him, just to be sure he was okay and that we might be prepared to minimize any disruption that might occur. Some of the ushers and I were giving each other knowing looks right about when two officers from the Washington Metropolitan Police Department marched right down the aisle into worship. All the way up to the front row. I watched from the front in horror as the officers snuck up behind the man and clamped handcuffs on this wrists.

I think I will never forget the “click” of those handcuffs snapping together. The sound seemed to echo in the sanctuary and still rings in my ears. It was the sound of something so incongruous, so . . . wrong.

Part of the egregious nature of this event was the fact that none of us present knew the details of what was going on. Come to find out later, the man had been making violent threats to staff downstairs; he was well-known and wanted by the police for violent criminal activity; and there was some question about whether or not he was armed.

Knowing those details turned the whole experience into a more complicated situation. Certainly we never want to put worshippers at risk or have our worship space serve as a setting for violence. Sometimes we have to make choices in which both options are not so palatable.

But, I keep wondering, what about sanctuary?

What about being a City of Refuge?

What about God’s house being a house for everyone?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. I don’t know where the long arm of the law ends and the sanctuary of the House of God begins.

But I do know I’ll hear that click in my memory for a long, long time . . . and feel the discomfort of knowing a sanctuary became, for that person in that moment, just another place on a long list of places that have provided for that person no sense of refuge at all.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Buzz Thomas on Christians and Iraq

Buzz Thomas, former General Counsel at the Baptist Joint Committee, has an outstanding op-ed about "A Christian View of War" that is printed in today's USA Today. Here's some very good advice:

Repudiate the statements of any religious or political leader who suggests that America has a special claim on God. He may have a special claim on us, but we do not have a special claim on him. Our beloved nation is a civil state, not a religious one. There are no references to God in our Constitution. The only reference to religion - other than in the First Amendment - is found in Article VI, which proclaims that there will be no religious test for public office in the USA. The Founding Fathers gave us a secular state in which all religions are free to flourish or flounder on their own initiative without interference by the government. Those running around claiming we are "in the army of God" or slapping up copies of the Ten Commandments on government buildings threaten to turn us into the very sort of society we are fighting against in this new war.

Extending Strategic Stewardship

by Will Prescott

Who knew spinach could kill you?

It can when profts are placed over safety and enovronmental sustainability. Yesterday, Bruce wrote a fine post on stretegically sponsoring only publishers that respect our First Amendment rights.

I second the motion and urge us to do more. Corporations only respond to the almighty dollar. The Global 100 organization does the research for you by providing an annual list of the 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World.

Responsible stewards are responsible consumers. As wealthy first worlders, we have the responsibility to spend wisely and only support organizations that reflect progressive, sustainable values.

The Problem With the SBC

Ethics Daily has a fine report today which covers a speech by the current President of the SBC which essentially warns seminarians that the SBC has become, or is becoming, quite irrelevant.

"If we do not start asking the question not only about inerrancy but also about relevancy, then we are going to lose it all, and it's all going to be a moot point, for our churches will die and the lost will no longer come to hear the gospel preached," Page said.

I agree with this. While I think the "battle over inerrancy" was a battle over nothing at all (since the Bible never claims to be inerrant, anywhere, at any place); the battle for relevancy is real enough. In fact, it is a battle the SBC has been losing ever since the 80's. Apparently, the leadership of the SBC was so blinded by the "power" it acquired in "winning" the "battle" of the Bible, it failed to notice that to the world at large it was becoming, with every "victory", more and more a joke to be made and a Convention to be dismissed.

And now, lo and behold, mindless drones schooling their children at home and anti-wine whiners are again bringing their agenda to the Convention (and State conventions) because, for them, there's nothing more important to speak of. World poverty, global warming, interfaith dialogue, in other words, things that really matter, won't even be on the agenda.

Small wonder that the SBC will continue to be a laughing stock to the media, and the world. It's tragic. What was once a great denomination is, as I've said before, withering on the vine of ignorance. Led by the blind, the whole is being dragged into the ditch. Squabbling and petty triviality will continue to demarcate the SBC until it wakes up and looks around and notices that no one in the whole wide world cares if homeschoolers can win spelling bees or a cup of wine at the evening meal will send a soul to hell.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Strategic Stewardship

There is a restaurant near my house that is renowned for its Southern, family style cuisine. It is a good place to feed a large group a hearty meal on a tight budget. There was a time when I ate there often and recommended it to others. Then I discovered that the proprietor used his profits to bankroll the political machinations of the most outspoken Christian supremecists in the state of Oklahoma. I don’t eat there any more. Neither do I recommend it to others. In my mind, it would be poor stewardship to give financial support to someone dedicated to repealing the First Amendment and creating a theocracy.

I thought about that restaurant when I read Bob Allen's report about the proprietor of Smyth & Helwys publishing organizing rallies to endorse and support some of the most outspoken Christian supremecists in the state of Georgia.

There was a time when I not only shopped at Smyth & Helwys and recommended it to others, but willingly endured criticism and loss of financial support within my church for encouraging Sunday School teachers to use their literature. In my mind, it was poor stewardship to purchase Southern Baptist literature that was undermining religious liberty for all and other bedrock Baptist distinctives.

There were early signs that the proprietor of Smyth & Helwys had a different mission in life than most moderate Baptists. Early on, it was certainly disconcerting to watch him roll up to hotels at CBF General Assemblies in chauffeured stretch limousines. Especially when I knew how much money CBF was giving his publishing house to produce materials suitable for our churches.

Cecil Staton has made his money. Now he is acquiring power. It appears that he will be as arrogant and elitist with power as he is with money.

Smyth & Helwys still produces some good literature, but now my conscience is disturbed every time I buy anything from them. I am buying less from them and recommending them less every day. In my mind, it is a matter of stewardship.

Strategically, it doesn't make sense to read books about liberty of conscience from a publisher who is using the profits to destroy it.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Religious Speech by Politicians

M. L. Westmoreland-White

On Thursday Evening (14 Sept. 2006), my oldest daughter & I went to the kick-off rally in Louisville for Kentucky Democrats' campaign season. Molly (11) has said for several years that she wants to be president of the U.S. someday (to which I always reply that she couldn't do worse than most who have held that office during my lifetime!) and I knew she would want to see what such a rally was like. Sen Barack Obama (D-IL) was the keynoter and I especially thought she should hear someone I consider the Bobby Kennedy of this generation and someone who has a real shot at being the first African-American president of this nation.

A minister (not a Baptist, thank God) gave an opening prayer. I'm not a constitutional lawyer, but I don't think this violated church-state separation in any technical sense. Still, if asked, I would never agree to give an invocation for a political party's rally. No political party owns God and I wouldn't want anyone to get the impression that God was giving a blessing to the party's efforts.

Obama's speech was incredibly inspiring as usual. Instead of a list of programs (the usual Democratic method) or playing on people's fears (the usual Republican approach), Obama painted a moral vision. He reminded the crowd why we have government: to do together for the common good that which is difficult or impossible to do as individuals or private groups. Elections, he reflected, are not just about issues, whether war or health care or whatever, but about what kind of people we want to be together. (I think that's also a major question for U.S. church communities: What kind of people is God calling us to be? Naturally and rightly, Obama didn't address or even raise that question.) He contrasted a vision of "social Darwinism" where everyone always competes with everyone else and those who die or are harmed are simply out of luck with a vision of compassion, of mutual help to complement (not replace) self-help and initiative, a vision, he said, where we are all our brother's or sister's keeper.

Of course, I recognized the biblical allusion to Gen. 3:9 where Cain denies being his brother's keeper. There has been so much misuse of religion by politicians lately that I listened closely for this later. On the whole, I thought Obama got it right: religious references were sparse, but seemed to be used naturally to express his thought (he is an adult convert to Christianity--a member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago). There were no claims about this being a "Christian nation," nor any implications that only Christians or only persons of faith were moral or were good Americans, etc. At one point, he contrasted the harsh ethic of Social Darwinism with what most Americans "learn in our churches, synagogues, mosques, and families." This recognized religious motivation and religious conviction as a legitimate source of morality and motivation for political action, but did not suggest people of other faiths or no faith were less important as people or as citizens. It reminded me of the way Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his public speeches would speak out of his particularity as a Black Baptist from the South, but do so in a way that invited "Catholics and Protestants, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews" to find common moral ground.

Obama also appealed to Greek philosophers, another source of the American moral-political tradition. In this way, he reminded me less of King (who could and did quote moral philosophers), and more of Bobby Kennedy who most often articulated his dream for a better America in Greek philosophical terms.

Considering that Obama's father was a lapsed Muslim from Kenya, I suspect that there were allusions from the Qu'ran, too, that I missed since they aren't "second nature" to me in the way that the Biblical narratives are.

I'm not saying that Obama got everything right: He mentioned holding his election eve party in '04 at a Chicago church--something I think could have endangered the church's non-profit status. Nor am I (in this space) endorsing Obama or his vision.

But it did suggest to me that there are still one or two politicians in this country who reject both the "Christian nationalism" of someone like Rep. Kathleen Harris (R-FL) and the militant religion-phobia that sometimes springs up in reaction to such moves.

Persons of faith don't have to censor all religious guidance or motivations or even language when entering the sphere of political debate in order to keep the institutions of religion and government separate. But when they speak out of their faith, they must do so in a way that doesn't exclude but invites in persons of all faiths or no particular faith. They cannot suggest that God dictates their policies (so that disagreement becomes challenging God!) or gives an imprimatur to their platforms or policies. They shouldn't give government aid to either particular religions or "religion in general." Religious language in political speeches shouldn't be manipulative, designed to win votes from particular religious constituencies, but should help form a lense or a window for the common good.

For this speech and its (sparse) use of religious language, I give the junior senator from Illinois an A-. For the sake of these United States, I hope others in all political parties learn from him.

Are Christo-fascists better than Islamo-fascists?

An article on Americablog raises some good questions about Radical Christians. Here are a few points:
* Was the Inquisition really kinder and gentler than Al Qaeda terrorism?
* Was Hitler the Christian really a better guy than Osama the Muslim?
* When Christian conservatives quoted the Bible to justify racism (and let's not even talk about lynchings in the south, since I'm sure the lynchers were probably all Muslims), were those Christians any better than Osama citing the Koran to justify violence?
* Were Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson any better than the 9/11 hijackers when they said that America brought September 11 on itself?
* When religious right leaders call the prophet Mohammad a pedophile, and Islam a religion of hate, how does that make them more tolerant than radical Islamists who hate all Christians?
* Is Fred Phelps really a nicer guy than Mohammad Atta? Was Timothy McVeigh?

Friday, September 15, 2006

A Fundamentalist Attack on Wade Burleson

Wade Burleson - A Flaming Liberal?

No, not quite.

But according to his detractors, Wade Burleson is Liberal.

In a discussion thread at Marty Duren's SBC Outpost, Wade Burleson listed a few telling quotes from SBC Bloggers who explicitly or implicitly dropped the liberal-bomb...

It is with a heavy heart that I ask your forgiveness. You see, I’ve been duped. . . .his true colors have finally been revealed. He is a closet CBFer. Our IMB board does not need men like Wade Burleson. I repent of my support for Wade Burleson.
-Les Puryear, Pastor of Lewisville Baptist Church, NC (August 19, 2006)
Fellow Southern Baptist to assume there are no liberals amongst us is a most naive and dangerous assumption. There are. And they would like nothing better than for us to lower the standard of inerrancy under the guise of widening the tent.
-Dr. Bradley Reynolds, Professor of Christian Education, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (August 2, 2006)
“While Wade Burleson has not said anything like that, just because he nailed the 95 Thesis to the Moderates doors does not really affirm anything for me. While I knew this before now, it just affirms for me his antagonistic tendencies...from my reading of Wade’s blog, he has never advocated anyone being named to a board or as a trustee who is not willing to sign the BFM 2000, and I don't recall him ever saying anyone that is in the CBF should be allowed to serve.” Go back and read his posts again. He tacitly encouraged bringing Dan Vestal, Winfred Moore,and others back to the table. Also, if someone signs the BF&M and then says they do not agree with certain elements of it, is that not the same as not believing and supporting it?
-Tim Rogers, Pastor in Statesville, North Carolina (Sept. 13, 2006)

It appears that the disgruntled moderates and liberals within the SBC have simply regrouped and revised their strategy. Now, it seems that they have cloaked themselves under the veil of conservativism.” They say that they are conservatives, that they believe in inerrancy, and that they were for the Conservative Resurgence. Then, they turn around and say that they want the SBC to become more “cooperative” with other “conservatives” that do not affirm inerrancy; they are constantly criticizing the SBC, the IMB Board ofTrustees, conservative leaders in the Resurgence, the BF&M, and they portray the Conservative Resurgence as some kind of “denominational takeover,” etc., etc., etc. Obviously, the “handwriting” appears to be identical to that of the moderates and liberals from the past – those that want the SBC to take a “leftward” turn theologically. It appears that they want to sew discord within the SBC and either “widen the tent” or burn it to the ground! I, for one, am fed up with the antics of these liberals and moderates – BTW, this includes those who refer to themselves as “conservatives” in a very “liberal” sort of way — within the SBC.
-Jeremy Green, Senior Pastor of Second Baptist Church, Waco TX

Admittedly both "disturbed and perturbed," Burleson proceeded to lash out at these Fundamentalist Bloggers.

I have chosen not to post in response to their comments because I refuse to dignify remarks like theirs with a comment on their respective blogs. I am absolutely ashamed that my brothers in Christ would stoop so low to call me a liberal.

I have sought to point out that when any of us call those men and women who have chosen to separate from the SBC names, we are acting like lost people without a Savior. Our Christian friends of OTHER denominations are not our enemy.The CBF is another denomination. Anyone affiliated with the CBF should be encouraged to support their denomination, not the SBC, and we should pray for them and love them. Nobody is asking the CBF to rejoin the SBC. For me to seek to be gracious to men like Dan Vestal, WITHOUT asking him back to the SBC — which neither he nor I WANT — is the Christian thing to do.

Furthermore, he who calls me a liberal in my view of the Word of God and the fundamentals of the faith is himself lying. All one has to do is listen to my sermons which are all exegetical, expositional and reverent of the text. I believe everyone of these men named above have sinned against me, my family and my ministry.

Later in the thread, Burleson states that he upset some folks in Virginia by visiting FBC Richmond while at a meeting of the SBC's International Mission Board. Apparently, these Virginians allege that FBC Richmond's pastor denies the virgin birth. Burleson continues...

For heaven’s sake. I went to the church to see their historic courtyard bell, the Pastor’s secretary gave my wife and me a tour of the church and we ran into the Pastor in the hallway.I do not know him. I do not know if he denies the virgin birth. Obviously, if he does, and since I don’t know he would be a theological liberal. I do know this. He was nice to me.I was nice to him. If I was nice to a liberal, so be it. I did not ask him any questions except about THE BELL. For heaven’s sake people, if we still have an environment where conservatives are called liberal when they are civil and Christian to liberals, then we are a long way from a convention that reflects Christ.

Wade Burleson's response to his Fundamentalist Detractors is commendable. Burleson could have joined in on the CBF-Bashing. Instead, he took the high road and offered his respect for Daniel Vestal and declared that Fellowship Baptists and other Christians are not the enemy! Well put, Mr. Burleson!

Moderate Baptists know all-too-well the tactics of Fundamentalists. It begins with being called a liberal. Of course as a liberal, you don't believe the Bible. Next comes the false virgin birth rumor. Moderate Baptists deny the virgin birth especially CBF-sympathetic pastors. Yep that's the rumor. Moderate Baptists have their own version of the Bible as well. The CBF Bible. I've heard that lie as well. Finally, we come to the "So-And-So denies the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ." Still today, Fundamentalists make the erroneous claim that Moderate Baptists deny the Resurrection. WHO? Name Names! Yet another unanswerable question...

As long as Wade Burleson remains kind and courteous to other Christians especially Moderate Baptists - the vicious rumors, lies, and accusations will not cease-and-desist but instead get worse.

So sad but oh, so true.

See also The Hunt for 'Liberals' Becomes A New McCarthyism For The SBC by Bruce Wilson at Talk To Action

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Third Great Awakening...

Bush this week stated that there is apparently a new Great Awakening here in the US. He stated that were ever he goes there are people who are more publicly talking about their faith, and that there is a battle between good and evil. Ironically not any different then the fight he mentioned this week on the 9-11 anniversary.

My first thought to this was "of course where ever YOU go, people will talk about their faith because it is the same faith that you perport to having!"

In other words, George Bush doesn't go where he isn't liked and doesn't talk to people that don't like him (remember Cindy Sheehan?).

But to me it seems after his dreadful performance on the 9-11 speech and the resulting backlash, his advisiors must have said "The fight in Iraq isn't political it's spiritual!"

Yeah, that'll play in some places, I guess.

But it maybe its just me, but I feel real creepy when the President, any president, starts spouting off and defining the spiritual condition of the nation and its people.

And with THIS president, judging from his past performance on predictions such as Iraq and New Orleans, maybe Great Awakening isn't the correct term. Maybe it's more of a snore or a gentle tossing and turning instead of a Great Awakening.

But of course the real danger is what is implied. If you don't agree with the president, then you are not spiritually awake. Only those that express their faith the same way Bush does, are the ones that are the true Chrisitans.

I'm wondering if us Moderates have missed yet another fight. This time in regards to a Theocracy. Bush's statements seem to show that Theocracy is already here.

So wake me up when it's over, because for right now I don't want to be awake.

A great declaration

I wrote a paper about gender and culture when I was in college, and I came across the Virginia Women’s Missionary Union’s “Declaration of the Dignity of Women,” dated September 11, 2004. It includes the following gems, many that go beyond the issue of women’s roles, and that I think are great for Baptists to remember and affirm:

“We have long been convinced that our churches have failed to employ usefully their female members. They occupied a sphere of activity and usefulness in the apostolic churches, it seems to us, which has not been assigned to them in modern churches.” Editors, J.B. Jeter & A. E. Dickinson- Religious Herald, April 13, 1871

“We declare ourselves in sympathy with all the forces of righteousness: international and interracial justice; world peace…; universal education; Sabbath observance; sacredness of the home; the family altar; high standards for womanly speech, dress, and conduct; improved industrial conditions; child welfare; and public health.” –WMU Plan of Work, 1914-1960

“Through the centuries, women have witnessed and served and waited on God to enlighten Christian men concerning women’s place and capacity in Christian institutions.” Address to WMU Training School, May 8, 1941

“The New Testament says you are free. The walls are down; the veil of the temple is open, so make your own contribution… Women became the core of the first churches. They became deacons, they prayed, they prophesied, they led in worship.” –Ministers Wives Luncheon, Portland, 1973

We connect with our prophetic past, remembering the voices of our foremothers: Jochebed and Hannah, Ruth and Naomi, Deborah, Mary and Elizabeth, Mary of Bethany, Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the Mother of James, women dragged to prison by Saul, Tabitha (translated Dorcas,) Mary the mother of John, Lydia, Chloe, Nympha, Priscilla, Apphia, the four daughters of Phillip, Ammias of Philadelphia, and all of the other named and unnamed women who led in the first churches.

As we remember these and others, we draw the strength to lead in our own day, at a time when the leadership of women has been devalued and suppressed. We draw the strength to declare, with prophetic conviction:

* That we reject all blanket discrimination against women in the work of Christian ministry, in particular, as elaborated in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message;

* That we reject the findings and policy of the North American Mission Board with regard to the non-endorsement of women to chaplaincy positions.

* That we reject any devaluation of women worldwide.

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