Friday, January 26, 2007

WHY DO SOME ELITES DESPISE THE POOR?

I continue to be amazed at the moneyed elites who despise the poor and evidence their spite by arguing that raising the federal minimum wage hurts poor people more than helps them. A Friday, January 26 editorial in the Wall Street Journal (print edition, page A11) argued raising the minimum wage will make the poor poorer. How? Because a 40% increase in the minimum wage (from $5.15 to $7.25) "raises the costs of fast foods and other goods," and a handful of the poor may find themselves without a job.

Did anyone hear these elites warning about the harmful consequences to the poor over the past ten years as fast food and goods prices rose without a corresponding rise in the federal minimum wage? Have any of these anti-poor elites, in recent years, lamented the number of poor people losing jobs over rising prices? Or were they more concerned with fattening their own pocketbooks while making certain the poorest citizens in our country remained poor? If the price of foods and goods is going to rise anyway, would it not be better to recognize that the poorest in our society need to make enough wages to keep up with inflation? And does anyone (even the most elite of the moneyed elite?) want to make an argument that fast food and goods prices will rise 40% over the next few years if the minimum wage is raised?

If this country is left in the hands of the moneyed elites, prices will continue to rise while the rich fatten their pocketbooks and make certain the poor get poorer.

So much for the American dream.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

FUNDAMENTALISTS ERODE GEOLOGY WHILE DISRESPECTING BIBLE

"In order to avoid offending religious fundamentalists, our National Park Service is under [the Bush administration's] orders to suspend its belief in geology." Thus declared Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, as quoted in Christian Century.

The effect of this anti-geology Bush edict is that employees at Grand Canyon National Park are not permitted to discuss the age of the canyon.

Of course, the Hebrew wording of the Genesis creation accounts (which most fundamentalists insist is a literal six, 24 hour day event) does NOT mandate a literal six day creation. In fact, in the original Hebrew, the wording clearly indicates that creation was an act of God over a very long period of time. Some Bible inerrantists have enough confidence in the Bible to admit as much, but many do not. Which means, ironically, that biblical fundamentalists are trying to force science to conform to something the Bible does not actually teach in the first place. Furthermore, only since the 17th century has the belief in a literal six-day creation become popular among Christians, and not until the 1870s and 1880s was "creationism" born.

That many fundamentalists disrespect and even abuse the Bible (even as they publicly claim to believe it) for their personal gain is nothing unusual. For President Bush to turn their disrespect of the Bible into public policy is inexcusable.

THE $3.9 MILLION MISSIONARY

We live in the era of seemingly countless $10 million-a-year athletes ($3 million for sub-par performers), entertainers and CEO's. Now you can add a new superstar to these lofty ranks: the $3.9 million missionary.

Who in the world would shell out $3.9 million to field a missionary ... in America? According to Mary Branson, former long-time editing director at the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, the NAMB took an operating budget of $126,000,000 and managed to fund a total of 32 full-time home missionaries. That's not a misprint: 32 full-time missionaries, one missionary for each $3.9 of NAMB operating budget.

OK, it is true that no given missionary pocketed $3.9 million ... but it is also true that former NAMB president Bob Reccord helped himself, and his friends, to many millions of dollars in lavish personal expenses and contracts while at the helm of the organization, according to Branson. And while Reccord was preening his image and living high on the hog, and lining the pockets of his buddies, he publicly boasted that NAMB fielded some 5000 missionaries even as the missions agency quietly supported only 32 full-time missionaries with the $126,000,000 that Southern Baptists contributed to NAMB. Oh, and Reccord made certain to use some of NAMB's budget to give handouts of a few hundred dollars a month to several hundred church planters and pastors in "pioneer" areas of the U.S. How generous. (At one point, I and my wife, although never receiving a dime from NAMB, were counted as two of the thousands of NAMB missionaries, with our names included in the organization's printed promotionals. But I digress; that is another story.)

Although Reccord is now gone, there are no indications that Southern Baptists are currently getting any more bang for their buck in terms of missionaries. Perhaps next summer at the SBC annual convention someone should make a motion that NAMB take its $126,000,000 pot and select 32 missionaries who also happen to be professional baseball players. The NAMB Home Run Missionaries might put on quite a show. For a small admission price, Southern Baptists could attend games at Missionary Park, scarfing Gospel Dogs while watching the Home team relief pitchers try to convert save opportunities.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

FORGIVING JESUS

Russ Moore, Dean of Theology of The Southern Baptist Theology Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, still hates former president Bill Clinton with a passion. It still amazes me that some individuals who consider themselves conservative Christians can hate Clinton so deeply for his sexual indiscretions, yet turn around and fawn over George W. Bush, a president who called the Constitution of the United States "nothing more than a G%^D(*$&$ piece of paper" and whose lies and deception have led to the deaths of more than 3000 American soldiers and 600,000 Iraqis.

The only explanation I can think of for such warped ethics is that to some conservatives, anyone who bears a hint of the label "liberal" is unforgivable, unless the sinner completely renounces his or her liberalism. Conversely, those who bear the label "conservative" are eminently forgivable, no matter how hateful, unethical, slanderous, deceitful and otherwise filth-fully sinful. Conservatives, without even acknowledging their sins, can easily be pardoned from their sins by simply claiming they believe in God. But when liberals say they believe in God, they are obviously lying. Thus, George W. Bush is a saint, and Bill Clinton is the worst sinner on the face of the earth.

Strange (and certainly unbiblical) though such a view of sin and sinner is, it does help explain fundamentalist aversions to Jesus. When Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his fellow fundamentalists so crafted the 2000 edition of the Baptist Faith and Message to remove acknowledgment of Jesus being the "criterion" for interpreting scripture, they did so out of fear that some Baptists were daring to put their trust in the liberal Jesus.

That's right, the liberal Jesus. After all, he was quite the religious liberal in his day. Jesus, the one who enjoyed drinking wine and was even accused of being a drunkard. Jesus, the one who violated the religious laws and taught his disciples they could so likewise. Jesus, the one who was a friend to prostitutes and the other dregs of society. Jesus, the one who refused to execute a woman caught in the act of adultery, thus refusing to follow the law. Jesus, the one who taught that Christians have a social responsibility to the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden, the marginalized. Jesus, the one who taught that shirking one's responsibility to providing for the poor, the oppressed, the downtrodden and the marginalized has a direct bearing on one's very salvation. Jesus, the one who taught experiential faith over propositional (that is, doctrinal) faith. Jesus, the one who had not a word to say about abortion and homosexuality, but spent much time expounding upon the evils of religious legalism (fundamentalism). Jesus, the liberal.

Some conservatives so dislike the liberal Jesus that they deny him in this respect (hence, his demotion in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000), holding him at arm's length ... but at the same time trying to dress him up in fundamentalist clothes, because you can't claim to be a Christian and not publicly hold on (to at least a part of) Jesus.

What I want to know is this: when are these conservatives going to move beyond denying the liberal Jesus and instead forgive him for being other than they want him to be? Indeed, are they even capable of forgiving Jesus? If they can't extend forgiveness to Bill Clinton for being a liberal, how can they possibly forgive Jesus, the Son of God, for being a liberal?

Obviously, they can't.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

JUST WHAT IS RICHARD LAND SMOKING?

"I know I represent the views of overwhelming numbers of Southern Baptists." So said Richard Land today as he dismissed a meeting of moderate Baptists in Atlanta at which leaders of Baptist groups representing some 20 million Baptists were present.

What is Land's list of "Baptist views?" He has consistently insisted on a handful of necessary beliefs: pro-life (in Land's world, "pro-life" actually means "anti-abortion"), pro-Israel, non-gay marriage, pro-Bush and pro-Iraq War. That's it folks; that's what is required to be a Southern Baptist, according to Richard Land, head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and self-appointed spokesperson for all Southern Baptists.

Never mind that prior to the 1960s, Southern Baptists did not pretend to take definitive stances on the first three of Land's defining issues. In fact, one would have been hard-pressed to find any Southern Baptist who was pro-Israel as Land defines it (Christian Zionism did not develop until the 1970s), most Baptists were not discussing abortion (and most that were discussing it were not entirely opposed), and gay marriage was a non-issue. And it is doubtful that any Southern Baptist prior to this decade would have voiced unwavering support for a president who repeatedly lied to start a war (and in order to continue the utter fiasco that the war has become) and considers the Constitution of the United States "nothing more than a *^&$%&$* piece of paper!"

In short, by Richard Land's definition, true Southern Baptists did not even exist until sometime after the 1960s!

But what of the present, an era in which Land and his fundamentalist cronies claim to be leading Southern Baptists around by the nose? In my current church, whose members financially support both the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Southern Baptist Convention, not a single one of the roughly 10 of 500 or so members who actually know who Richard Land is ... consider Land as representative of their views. As a matter of fact, very few Southern Baptists (outside of preachers) know who the man is, and although quite a few Southern Baptists might agree with the man on some of his views, few turn to Land for guidance on what to believe, and many would take offense that he pretends to speak on their behalf.

And in Baptist circles other than (some) Southern Baptists and other fundamentalist Baptists, Land's priestly pretensions are widely recognized as the shrill rantings of a blowhard.

So, Richard Land, just what are you smoking? It seems you are rather high on the fumes coming from the tailpipe of your own self-importance ... and inhaling deeply.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

WOULD JESUS THROW McDONALDS OUT OF THE TEMPLE?

As noted in a news story from Canada about their southern neighbors:

"The faith and family market has attracted the attention of some of America's largest corporations.

Coca Cola Co., Daimler Chrysler AG and McDonalds Corp. are among the giant U.S. corporations that have begun tapping into the Christian market, largely through the "mega-church" phenomenon sweeping largely through the southern states.

Coca-Cola and McDonalds have given away free samples at the 25,000-member New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga. Target Co. won praise from the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn for donating 2,000 backpacks to children in a low-income housing project.

GM's Chevrolet division has just sponsored evangelical singer Michael W. Smith's recent tour, while Chrysler ponied up for Patti La Belle's recent gospel tour that included her Dec. 2 concert at Jericho City of Praise in Maryland. GM also made donations to a cancer cause for parishioners at the Maryland church who test drove their cars."

The Republican Party has already conscripted much of the evangelical community, with mega-churches at the forefront, for political purposes. Now, in the wake of success on the political front come America's biggest corporations, seeking entrance into holy places. Altruism? Not a chance. It is all about $$$.

Would Jesus throw McDonalds out of the Temple?