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by Dr. Bruce Prescott


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October 2004


Former Hostage Accused of Being Soft on Terrorism (10-29-04)


AFP News is reporting that Terry Anderson, who was held hostage for seven years by Muslim extremists in Lebannon, has been accused of being soft on terrorism by his opponent for a seat in the Ohio State Senate. 


There was a time when attacks like this would have been condemned by people in both major political parties.  Today it is routine for people in both parties to turn a blind eye when their parties' candidates cross the line.


Civility will not return to our public discourse until partisans will no longer condone such outrageous tactics by the politicians of their own party.  When the end can justify any means, anarchy reigns.



Crossing the Line (10-28-04)


Americans United has asked the IRS to investigate partisan political activities on behalf of John Kerry at churches in Pennsylvania and Ohio.


The IRS is already investigating the NAACP for partisan political statements made at its annual convention last July.


Is the IRS investigating Jerry Falwell and Southwestern Seminary for partisan political activities in a chapel service last August?



Speaking of Faith (10-27-04)


Thanks to Robert Cunningham for sending me the link to the Speaking of Faith radio program.


Here's a link to a program on The Legacy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer that looks very interesting.


Here's a link to a program on The Power of Fundamentalism that also looks interesting.



Falwell literally advocates Holy War (8-25-04)


Thanks to David Currie of Texas Baptists Committed for calling my attention to the debate between Jerry Falwell and Jessie Jackson that was on CNN's Late Edition Sunday night.  Here's a link to the transcript of that program (You'll have to scroll down to nearly the bottom of the page to get the dialogue between Falwell and Jackson).  Here's an excerpt from that transcript:

JACKSON: Let's stop the killing and choose peace. Let's choose negotiation over confrontation.

FALWELL: Well, I'm for that too.  But you've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops.  And I'm for the president to chase them all over the world.  If it takes 10 years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord.

JACKSON: That does not sound Biblical to me. And that sounds ridiculous.

I suspect Jackson was so shocked by Falwell's rhetoric that he conflated what sounds "biblical" with what sounds "Christian."  There is a lot of "holy war" rhetoric in the Old Testament.  In the New Testament such rhetoric, and the actions incited by it, are unwaveringly denounced and rejected by Jesus.


Even taking into account Falwell's penchant for rhetorical exaggeration, Falwell's statement reveals a mindset more comfortable with "Dominionist" thought than with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 


CNN is an international stage.  Falwell's statements are being translated and broadcast to people around the world.  Falwell's is one of the most prominent faces of Christianity being broadcast to the non-Christian world.  Now that Fundamentalists like Falwell have hijacked our faith and turned the "good news" about God's love and grace into an explicit threat to "blow them all away in the name of the Lord," why would any unbeliever care to know Jesus?

Now, more than any other time in American history, it is time for faithful Christians to join those of us who are Confessing Christ in a World of Violence.


The Myth of Christian America (10-22-04)


Thanks, to Robert Cunningham for calling my attention to the story on BeliefNet about the Republican National Committee (RNC) hiring David Barton as a political consultant.  Barton has long been proclaiming that the United States is a "Christian Nation" (i.e. a theocracy) and that separation of church and state is a "myth."


Several books have reviewed and debunked Barton's fallacious claims.  My favorite is Mark Whitten's The Myth of Christian America


It's a shame that no one at the RNC bothers to read anything but Religious Right propaganda.  If they took the time to look, they could discover a lot of valuable information about Barton on the internet.  Americans United has several articles exposing Barton's errors in back issues of their Church & State Magazine.  And, here's a link to their brochure about "Is America a Christian Nation?"


Here's some good advice for the RNC.  Don't waste money hiring political consultants on church/state issues who can't pass this basic online test.  Unless, of course, one of the goals of the RNC is to rescind the First Amendment and create a Christian Theocracy.  If that's the objective, then Barton's your man.



A Good and Faithful Servant (10-21-04)


Baptist ethicist Henlee Barnette died yesterday.  Thanks to Ethics Daily for  posting a picture of Barnette with Martin Luther King.  It is good to see those two modern day Baptist prophets side-by-side.  Neither of them were greatly appreciated by the communities in which they were raised.


In the early 1960's, King and others found it necessary to leave the National Baptist Convention and start the Progressive National Baptist Convention when the former community objected to his efforts on behalf of civil rights for African-Americans.


In the late 1970's, Barnette was hounded into retirement by an administration appeasing those who would take over the Southern Baptist Convention.  Today, SBC Fundamentalists insist that their takeover had nothing to do with their earlier reactions to efforts of white moderates like Barnette on behalf of civil rights.  Though they have made some recent apologies for their history of racism, "methinks," to quote Shakespeare's Hamlet, they "doth protest too much."  Many who are familiar with Baptist life through both the civil rights era and the decade of the takeover, find it hard not to view the takeover as, in some sense, the Fundamentalist's way of settling of old scores.


Baylor Communitarian Descries Biblical Illiteracy (10-20-04)


Baylor's Provost, David Lyle Jeffrey, has sparked a debate with a speech that blamed "anarchic, postmodern advocacy -- or radical subjectivism" for a decline in biblical literacy.


Sadly, too many of our Baptist educators still appear to reside in the rut of rational apologetics.  Their solution to the postmodern legitimacy crisis is to elevate "communal freedom" at the expense of "individual freedom" and advocate "reciprocal accountability" while undermining "Divine responsibility."


Any theologian worth his salt knows that the relation of an individual to a community and the relationship between freedom and responsibility is not an either/or issue.  These are dialectical or "dialogical" relations.


In "praxis," weight must be given to one of the poles of the dialectic while maintaining tension with the other pole.  Historically, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and most other Christian denominations have given weight to the pole of communal freedom and reciprocal accountability.  Traditionally, Baptists have given weight to the pole of individual freedom and Divine responsibility.  At bottom, that is the significance of the Baptist doctrine of "Soul competency under God."


Some at Baylor, like the current leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention, seem to be prepad to surrender this Baptist distinctive, mimic other denominations, and give weight to the pole of communal freedom and reciprocal accountability.  That will assure that Baptists speak with a communally approved voice but it will also silence prophetic voices. 


To grasp the significance of the loss of prophetic voices, you need only look at the "anarchic, radical subjectivists" in Baptist history whose influence these communitarians wish to replace.  Three of their favorite whipping boys are Roger Williams, John Leland and E.Y. Mullins -- none of whom could be called biblical illiterates or accused of encouraging biblical illiteracy.


What Would Jefferson Do? (10-19-04)


Thanks to Carlos Stouffer of the Jesus Politics weblog for calling my attention to Robert Kuttner's essay, "What Would Jefferson Do?"


Kuttner speaks with the assurance of someone who has actually read some of the primary documents from the time of our nation's founding -- and not just the books that are listed at the beginning of his essay.  He's definitely on target when he writes about the Baptist legacy favoring church/state separation.  Here's a quote from his essay:

Many denominations have themselves been strict separationists -- out of regard for religion.  Jefferson's secular republic was the fruit of a tactical alliance between freethinking Deists like himself and evangelical denominations like the Baptists.  Evangelicals held that the individual Christians communicated directly with the divine, with no intermediation by a priest, much less by the state.  More practically, they feared that if the United States were a Christian republic, majority denominations such as Anglicans and Calvinists would gain effective control at their expense.  Most Baptists remained strict separationists for 200 years.  Not until the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan threw himself at fundamentalists of various faiths, did the Baptists switch camps.

It's a shame that so few Baptists are aware of the separationist legacy that Kuttner describes so succinctly.


Reader Responds to Military Pagan (10-18-04)


Steph's challenge to Katherine Yurika's report about Dominionists, Gen. Boykin and SBC President Bobby Welch has generated some heated discussion. Here's a comment I received from one of my readers:

Steph made material misrepresentations about Yurica’s article. First, Yurica is a careful researcher; she makes no assumptions nor conclusions. The article has 163 footnotes. What is reported about Boykin are his links to the Southern Baptist Convention, and Bobby Welch, the SBC president. Boykin enters again over his role in Abu Ghraib. The connections between Boykin and Christian dominionism are totally ignored by Steph. She asserts that the essay claims the “SBC is ruling the Chaplains Corps or the Department of Defense.” That is completely false. No where does the Yurica essay assert or imply such a thing. She states the report “focuses on high profile and wealthy Christian leaders that General Boykin consorts with from time to time.” That is another totally false statement. I recommend Yurica's companion article: "The Despoiling of America." For an honest review of the Yurica essay read this blog.

Steph responded by adding links to her sources on her weblog.

Meanwhile, the
Axis of Logic website has given a big vote of confidence for Yurika. They posted a version of Yurika's story on their website.


Military Pagan Sets Record Straight (10-15-04)


Thanks to Steph of the Military Pagan Network for setting the record straight about some inaccurate inferences and exaggerated concerns about the military and their chaplains in Katherine Yurika's article about Dominionists "Infiltrating the Military."


Should Dominionists begin to exercise some influence in the military, it is probably safe to conclude that neo-pagans like Steph would be among the first to be effected.


Kerry Crosses the Line (10-14-04)


Both The Interfaith Alliance and Americans United for Separation of Church and State have taken Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to task for crossing the line separating church and state. 


Two days ago, The Interfaith Alliance called on ,Kerry to stop politicizing religion.  They cited concerns for the sanctity of houses of worship and the need to preserve the integrity of religion.


Yesterday Americans United announced that it has asked the IRS to investigate partisan political activities on behalf of Kerry at an African American congregation in Florida.


As I have had to explain to a variety of liberal and progressive ministers over the past few weeks, the IRS laws prohibiting churches from engaging in partisan political activities do not place unnecessary restrictions on free speech.  Ministers are always free to speak about issues -- but not endorse candidates and parties -- from the pulpit and in the church.


Ministers who insist that they need to endorse candidates and parties from the pulpit should also be prepared to operate under the same rules that apply to every other partisan political organization.  That would require that they give up the federal tax exemption for contributions to their organization.  Contributions to partisan political organizations are not deductible from federal income taxes.  Otherwise, some partisans would be subsidized by taxpayers in their poltical activities while others were not.


On Southern Baptists' 'Kingdom Warriors' (10-13-04)


Kudos to Katherine Yurika of the Yurika Report for documenting some of the connections between SBC President Bobby Welch, Gen. Boykin and other Dominionists in the U.S. Military.  She provides some of the most extensive documentation that I have seen in print (Be advised that the article on "Infiltrating the U.S. Military" is forty pages long when printed). 


Yurika is a journalist who has extensively reviewed tapes and transcripts of interviews on Pat Robertson's 700 club and has written for Christianity Today


Her definition of "Dominionism" is broader than the precise theological definition of "Christian Reconstructionism," but it serves well as a signal of the strength of the undercurrent of Reconstructionist thought that is flowing through modern evangelicalism. 


Yurika is very good at unmasking subtle cues and signals in the language used by Dominionists.  At times, I feel she reads more into a quotation than is warranted.  On occassions, however, further research has borne her observations out.

On Fundamentalism (10-12-04)

Kudos to Fisher Humphreys and Philip Wise for their new book Fundamentalism.  Unlike the admittedly perspectival advocacy that you'll read on the Southern Baptist Convention's website and on this website, Humphreys and Wise do a very good job of presenting a fair case for both sides of the theological controversy between Fundamentalists and Moderates.  To get an idea how they approach the subject, here's a link to the book's table of contents.

I must admit that, while reading the book, there were times that I was among those that Walter Shurden described as thinking the book "cut Fundamentalism too much slack."  I'm also certain that many Fundamentalists will think the book cuts moderates too much slack.

Few scholars have the ability to explain theology with the clarity, precision and concision of Fisher Humphreys and Philip Wise.  This book should be on everybody's reading list.  And while you're at it, every Baptist ought to put Fisher Humphrey's The Way We Were on their reading list as well.

The Quest for a Christian America (10-11-04)

Kudo's to Ethics Daily for posting Jim Evans' essay on "The Quest for a Christian America."  Evans' essay deserves wide distribution.  It is an insightful and succinct summary of Fundamentalism's infidelity to the gospel and its corruption of the mission of the church.  I particularly liked these paragraphs:

In the not so distant past, evangelicals led by the likes of Dwight Moody and Billy Graham believed the best way to convert America to Christianity was by means of persuasive preaching.  They believed that if the church was faithful to its mission a “great awakening” would eventually sweep the nation like a mighty rushing wind, transforming people and institutions as it blew.  A bit utopian, for sure, but at least faithful to the faith.


Healing and transformation are possible when we properly observe the principles and practices of our faith.  But forcing those principles into practice by rule of law does not work.  Faithfulness cannot be legislated.  The effort to legislate religious beliefs only serves to corrupt our faith practices and empty them of their power and significance.  This is no utopian dream—it is a political and religious nightmare.

On Prophets and Soothsayers (10-08-04)

This afternoon I received an education in the advanced art of soothsaying. I read a story about how the legendary feuding Hatfields and McCoys finally decided to stop fighting. All it took to end the feud was for someone to admit that "the pig" that an early McCoy let run through an early Hatfield's field "really didn't matter that much!"

Wouldn't it be wonderful if that example could inspire everyone to end the petty bickering that divides people?

Just imagine what would have happened in King David's court if he had a soothsayer armed with such an example. Can you hear the Prophet Nathan finishing his sad parable about a rich man stealing a poor man's only lamb? Then, King David pronounces judgment only to be indicted by Nathan's "Thou art the man!"   Uh oh!  Unsightly confrontation!   Better call in the soothsayer! He'll make everything right again with his magic formula, "the lamb really doesn't matter that much!"

Think how a soothsayer could have calmed Dietrich Bonhoeffer. A soothsayer could have proved the German Christians right to believe Bonhoeffer was wrong in taking alarm at what was happening under Hitler's regime. All he really needed was for someone to say, "the Jews really don't matter that much!"

Imagine how a soothsayer could resolve the current divisions in Southern Baptist life. A soothsayer could prove that Baptist bystanders are right to ignore the violence that the Fundamentalists are doing in the name of their faith. All the victims need is for someone to say, "Your reputations, your callings, your careers, and your families really don't matter that much!"

Actually, as any soothsayer can sense without thinking, that is exactly what Baptist bystanders have been saying by their actions all along.

Leland's Legacy Remembered (10-8-04)

Kudo's to Joe Conn, editor of American's United's Church & State Magazine, for his outstanding article about John Leland

If ever there was a time when our nation needed to hear more about the Baptist legacy of church-state separation, now is the time.  And, John Leland is the dominant figure upholding that legacy during the days of the American Revolution.

To get a taste of how pertinent his thinking remains, Conn cites a valuable quote from Leland that I missed in my own research:

Guard against those men who make a great noise about religion in choosing representatives. . . It is electioneering intrigue. If they knew the nature and worth of religion, they would not debauch it to such shameful purposes.  If pure religion is the criterion to [decide upon] candidates, those who make a noise about it must be rejected; for their wrangle about it proves that they are void of it.  Let honesty, talents and quick dispatch characterize the men of your choice.

U.S. to outsource retirees to Mexico (10-08-04)

I think I've stumbled onto our government's solution to the looming bankruptcy of the Social Security system. In an article on The Fed Works on Where to Send Your Pension Check  I discovered this interesting disclosure:

Many baby boomers won't be able to afford to retire in the United States because their 401(k)s were wiped out in the dot-com bust, meaning they'll be working as long as they can and finally retiring overseas, where their Social Security checks will stretch farther.

The U.S. Treasury, which has been migrating benefits recipients to direct deposit anyway, wants to extend that service to what it expects to be plenty of retirees living in Mexico or Belize or Bulgaria, saving itself about $100 million a year. It also expects costs to mushroom, starting in 2008, under pressure from the 77 million retiring boomers.

Here's one more good reason to start mastering the Spanish language.

Preparing for Armageddon (10-08-04)

Thanks to Ethics Daily for posting the latest story about Pat Robertson threatening President Bush in regard to his policies toward Israel.

You would think that as many times as they have had to revise their own books and charts about the path to the millenium, that dispensationalists would be more cautious in giving advice to those who shape our foreign policy.

Most people think that a policy designed to avoid Armageddon would be a wiser course than one that self-consciously sets the stage for it. But not Robertson and Falwell and other dispensationalists. They are intent on
Forcing God's Hand.

Tom DeLay -- A Law to Himself (10-07-04)

Theocratic U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has now been rebuked by the House Ethics Committee for the third time in six days.

Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, notes that the committee has admonished DeLay for three separate incidents -- in addition to the admonishment issued against him a few years ago. That's a total of four strikes against DeLay by the House Ethics Committee. Sloan said this "clearly shows that he believes himself to be above the law."

Like most theocrats and many culture warriors, DeLay is convinced that "the end justifies the means."

Southern Baptists have been cursed with leaders like this for a quarter century. Now they are leading our government.


Jesus' Voting Guide?  (10-6-04)


Thanks to the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) for sending me the link to Cary Clack's article on "For Whom Would Jesus Vote? God Only Knows"


More people have presumed certainty about how Jesus would vote this year, than at any other time of which I am aware.  Unfortunately, devout Democrats and righteous Republicans believe that Jesus supports their candidate with equal certainty and passion.  In Southern Baptist circles it is getting very hard to find preachers who speak with any sense of humility on political issues.


That's why I find these words from Clack so apropos:

I've never been given a copy of the Jesus Voting Guide with the list of candidates Christ has personally endorsed.

While I'm impressed with the certainty of people who speak for Jesus and who possess no doubt as to how he would act, or vote, in specific situations, I often wonder how certain Jesus is that he's being properly represented by these folk.

I'm guessing that, come Judgment Day, the questions Jesus will ask people will be, "Did you love your neighbor as you love yourself?" or "Did you do unto others as you would have them do unto you?"

I don't think it's going to be, "Who did you vote for in the 2004 presidential election?"

Roy Moore Suffers Supreme Snub (10-05-04)


ABP reports that the Supreme Court has denied former Judge Roy Moore's appeal.  He was appealing his ouster from the bench for refusing to remove his ten commandments monument from the courthouse in Alabama.


Frankly, Moore did not have grounds for appeal.  He knows that the rule of law requires that everyone -- even Judges -- obey court orders.


We haven't heard the last from Roy Moore.  Now he will be able to tour the country with his 2 1/2 ton monument without distraction.


Moore's understanding of the First Amendment of the Constitution is polar opposite from my own.  He thinks the Constitution establishes the "Judeo-Christian" religion.  I'm convinced that the First Amendment means exactly what it says, "Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion."


Moore and I do agree on one thing.  Both of us see through the smokescreen that the Supreme Court is using to ignore the implications of keeping the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance and using "In God We Trust" as our national motto. 


For both Moore and myself, the word "God" means something.  It refers to a real Divinity.  The Supreme Court, however, contends that the word "God" does not mean anything when it is used in our civic life.  According to the Supreme Court, in American civic life the word "God" does not refer to a real Divinity because the word has "lost through rote repetition any significant religious content." (See Justice Brennan's concurring opinion in Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 1984) Instead, "God" is more like a mascot that we trot out to make us feel good about ourselves and our nation.


For the Supreme Court, civic references to "God" are examples of "ceremonial deism" and, therefore, do not violate the First Amendment's prohibition against establishing a religion.  Roy Moore contends that the word "God" invokes a real Deity that our nation ought to acknowledge constitutionally and establish as our national sovereign.  For Moore and many others in the Religious Right, democracy is, at best, defined theocratically -- not pluralistically.  For them, people of no faith and people of other faiths are second-class citizens with fewer rights and privileges than those who acknowledge the "Judeo-Christian" God.


Like Moore, I believe that the word "God" invokes a real Deity, but I don't believe God is interested in being acknowledged by Constitutions.  The Father that Jesus revealed is interested in voluntary personal relationships with real persons, not coercive monarchical relations with the constructs of nation-states.  To treat God as a national "mascot" and strip his name of "meaning" is blasphemous.  It directly transgresses the command to "not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain." (Exodus 20:7)


Unlike Moore, I don't believe American democracy has ever been defined "theocratically."  James Madison thought that the prohibition against religious tests to hold public office (Article VI of the U.S. Constitution) was enough to guarantee religious liberty for everyone.  Anyone who has read his Memorial and Remonstrance knows that he never intended for people of no faith and people of other faiths to be second class citizens of this country.  Anyone who has read the Act for Establishing Religious Freedom knows that Thomas Jefferson's mind was of one accord with Madison on this matter.  You don't even have to be aware of the Baptist heritage of advocacy for separation of church and state to know that from the beginning the United States was conceived to be a "pluralistic" democracy, not a theocracy.


Baptists Laundering Money in Oklahoma (10-04-04)


The Oklahoman is reporting that a political action committee has received $100,000 from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma (BGCO).  The money is allegedly funding a media campaign against a referendum on gambling.


Over the past few weeks, BGCO has been collecting an offering from its 1700 churches to fund a "Moral Issues Campaign."  Few Baptists realized that the money was filling the coffers of a political action committee run by Republican State Representative, Forrest Claunch.  Claunch is a member of First Southern Baptist Church in Del City, OK.  (For a glimpse of the role of First Southern Del City in the takeover of the SBC, click here and count how many prominent takeover leaders have ties to this church.)


Churches and Conventions are free to support or oppose legislation and referendums.  They place their tax exempt status in jeopardy when they endorse and/or distribute funds to politicians and political parties.  Donations to political action committees are questionable.


For the record, Mainstream Baptists do not advocate legalizing gambling.  Neither do we condone laundering donations to political action committees through conventions or churches.


Fundamentalist Batting Percentages (10-1-04)


Whenever the Religious Right gets desperate to convince mainstream Christians to see things their way, they often pull out a bat and try to knock people out of the Christian ballpark. 


Their favorite club is the "You can't be a Christian if you don't agree with me!" stick.  Jerry Falwell is an MVP at swinging this bat.   Just last week he said, "You cannot be a sincere, committed born-again believer who takes the Bible seriously and vote for a pro-choice, anti-family candidate." 


If that's not a home run, it is at least a triple.  In the swing of a single sentence he made a connection that questioned the sincerity (first base), salvation (second base), and spiritual fidelity (third base) of anyone who doesn't vote for candidates he approves.


Still, it frustrates the Religious Right to see a runner standing on third base.  They've got to drive their point home.  That's why they always have a clean-up hitter on deck.  The clean-up man swings the "You've got to be a baby killer!" stick.  This one often clears mainstream Christians from the ballpark, but not because they are convinced.  They leave because they don't know how to respond to people so insulting.


I've learned that the only way to hold your own in a political game with Fundamentalists is to turn the tables on them.  That's why I always keep a quote from C. Everrett Koop handy.  C. Everrett Koop was the Surgeon General in the Reagan Administration.  He co-authored, with Francis Schaeffer, the book and film series that educated most evangelicals about abortion -- Whatever Became of the Human Race.  In Bill Martin's book, With God on Our Side, Koop explains why he dropped out of the abortion controversy:


If the pro-life people in the late 1960's and the early 1970's had been willing to compromise with the pro-choice people, we could have had an abortion law that provided for abortion only for the life of the mother, incest, rape, and defective child;  that would have cut the abortions down to three percent of what they are today.  But they had an all-or-nothing mentality.  They wanted it all and they got nothing.


Note that the exceptions Koop described coincide exactly with the exceptions that Southern Baptists supported before the takeover of the SBC.  Since the takeover, Southern Baptists have shifted to the "all-or-nothing mentality."


The truth is, even if the Fundamentalists were correct about all abortions being murder, then Fundamentalist intransigence is responsible for 97% of the murders and compromising moderates are guilty of 3%.  None of us will come out of this guiltless, but one percentage requires a lot less grace.


September 2004 Blogs



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