Thursday, December 31, 2009

Southern Baptist Heresy: Rapture and Premillennial Dispensationalism

This week Baptist Press, the public relations / promotion arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, explores and explains why Southern Baptists must place their faith in the 1830s-era religious heresies of Rapture and Premillennial Dispensationalism.

Almost all Southern Baptist college and seminary professors believe in Dispensationalism and Rapture, with variance on minor details, according to Baptist Press. Danny Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, declares thus: "The truth of the rapture is not up for debate, but its timing is something we can graciously disagree on." Lamar Cooper, the interim president of Criswell College in Dallas, insists "premillennial dispensationalism is a logical conclusion from the simple exegesis of the inerrant Word of God."

For the uninitiated, contemporary theories of the Rapture and Premillennial Dispensationalism were created in the 1830s by John Nelson Darby, a renegade minister in the (Anglican) Church of Ireland. A few historians also credit a contemporary of Darby's, and a handful of obscure individuals in the decades prior to Darby wrote vaguely of a secret coming of Christ for the faithful. Going further back, Joseph Mede in the 17th century proposed a two-stage return of Christ, but not in secret form, and without a period of tribulation in between. In short, Mede and some later Christian thinkers influenced by Mede, spoke of Christ suspending believers in the sky for a matter of hours (perhaps a day or two) while God destroys evil on the earth and lowers believers back down to the planet.

But to Darby goes the public credit for the formal concepts of Rapture and premillennial dispensationalism, for which he is justly known as the "father of premillennial dispensationalism."

In short, while most Christians prior to Darby believed that Christ would one day return and judge the world, Darby crafted the formal theory of a "secret" second coming of Jesus in which Christ removes believers entirely from the earth, prior to an extended period of earthly troubles, followed by a traditional second coming.

But Darby did not stop there. He also invented an entirely new system of eschatology (a word that means "end times") based upon his creation of a seven-age "dispensationalism" of world history (in effect, a dividing of human history into seven periods of time, each characterized by a different manner in which God interacted with humanity, and culminating in the Rapture, followed by a seven-year period of intense tribulation on earth and the final second coming of Christ in triumph). Although neither dispensationalism nor rapture were biblical concepts, Darby taught that the Bible must be interpreted in light of his personal theories.

Collectively, Darby's theories became known as premillennial dispensationalism ... and outside of his little circle of followers, were immediately dismissed by Christians as heresy.

But then a very strange thing happened: Darby's heresy began a slow journey to orthodoxy. His followship grew slowly but steadily, and although Darby died in 1882, in the early 20th century his heretical creations were blessed by Christian fundamentalists (who arose in the late 19th century, but that's another story!) as ... biblical truth. The final seal of approval arrived in the form of C. I. Schofield's Study Bible, which in 1917 presented Darbyism as orthodoxy.

Yet the transition from heresy to truth must be understood against the backdrop of history. In the first half of the 19th century, many Western Christians believed that world conditions were getting better, and therefore the (one) second coming of Christ would come after a thousand year period of peace and prosperity (a view known as "postmillennialism"). By the early 20th century, however, many fundamentalist Christians were convinced that the world was succumbing to evil, and the concept of a pre-second coming Rapture to rescue Christians from the evil world seemed rather appealing.

Now, almost a century after the transformation of Darby's heresies into orthodoxy, fundamentalist Southern Baptist theologians and leaders pledge almost universal allegiance to an 1830s fabrication. Yet this is simply another example of the post-biblical nature - if not simple biblical illiteracy - of fundamentalism in the upper echelons of Southern Baptist life.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Do Corporate Feudal Lords Own America?

The impending Senate passage of a health reform bill hopefully (further congressional wrangling lies ahead) marks the beginning of a new era of respect for humanity and ethics in America (here's the rundown of the bill). Sadly, however, unified Republican opposition indicates that the GOP is determined to maintain its status quo as the lap dog of big corporations. (Not that Democrats haven't caved to corporate masters on some points.)

This most recent hurdle surmounted in the ongoing health care debate takes place against the backdrop of a larger question: What does the current health care debate reveal about modern America?

Here's a brief review of my earlier blogs regarding free market health care: As a nation, we (now) willingly allow the free market health insurance industry to kill 40,000 or more people a year by denying coverage or claims; force hundreds of thousands of insurance customers into medical bankruptcy; and destroy lives and families at will. And we allow these things for what reason? In order that more of the nation's wealth will be redistributed to multi-millionaire insurance industry executives, according to a former insurance industry insider. Doctors are also well aware of the evils of today's skewed free market health care system.

In short, the status quo is that of greed and disregard for human life (i.e., your insurance company is concerned only with your money, not your life).

And sadly, many Christians (including many self-described pro-lifers) so worship capitalism that they defend our current free market health care system that kills Americans, destroys families, and robs the poor in order to give more money to big corporations and wealthy executives.

So who owns America? If health care reform ultimately fails, or if only the most modest of steps forward are achieved in the next few months, big corporations may yet be allowed to continue hoarding even more of our nation's wealth. The richest 1% of citizens own about 40% of the nation's wealth, while the bottom 40% of American's citizens in terms of wealth, own .2% of the nation's wealth. (Click here to see a listing of studies on wealth distribution in America.) This disparity has resulted in America being near the bottom of the list in terms of "income inequality and poverty" among large nations. Furthermore, American wealth distribution has degenerated to such a degree that we are now on par with the Third World (undeveloped) nations in terms of the amount of national wealth controlled by a few rich citizens.

Is America, now mired in Third World status in terms of wealth distribution, destined, for the foreseeable future, to be owned by a handful of big corporations and wealthy individuals who in effect are feudal lords? Will our free market system continue to value greed over life, perhaps to an ever-greater degree?

The end result of the current health care debate may well answer these questions. America's corporate feudal lords of the health insurance industry variety do not want the citizenry to view well-being and life as a human right, for should we ever, as a nation, arrive at such a conclusion with conviction, the trajectory of power and freedom just might restored to the citizens.

In at least one city in America (Vallejo, California), human life is valued more than corporate profits. One can only hope that this revolutionary idea will spread to other locales, should national health care reform fail.

As Adam Smith noted in his Wealth of Nations: "Servants, labourers, and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, cloathed and lodged." - Bk. 1, Ch.8, Par. 36

There was a time in American history when Baptists - outcasts, impoverished, and considered religious heretics - fought for equal treatment of all citizens in matters of religion. They insisted upon pluralism, religious liberty, and separation of church and state. Perhaps there are a few Christians - Baptist or otherwise - who will not rest until twenty-first century Americans realize the fuller dream of human equality expressed in well-being and life as more important than greed. We do have a 20th century example: Baptist Tommy Douglas, recognized by his fellow citizens as the greatest Canadian of All Time because of his creation of Canada's public health care system, understood this most basic of moral principles.

The primacy of life and well-being, after all, is a core conviction not only of democracy, but also of the founder of the Christian faith, the One whose birth - and the hope and joy it represents - we celebrate this Christmas season. My prayer this holiday season is that all who claim the name of Christ will embrace His call to life, rather than find no room for Him in hearts devoted to corporate America.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tea Party Gains Momentum, Fertile Ground For White Supremacists

The Anti-Obama Tea Party movement in America continues to gain ground. Some polls now suggest that the movement has made significant inroads into the heart of the Republican Party, which itself is increasingly right-wing, eschewing any middle ground.

Bill Berkowitz offers a good analysis of the inherent racist dynamic of the Tea Party movement, a topic I've discussed before in historical perspective. In short, Berkowitz notes that although not all Tea Partiers are racist, the movement is the new ideological home of the white supremacist movement.

Will the racist-infused Tea Party movement capture the Republican Party, or perhaps even relegate the Republican Party to second-class status among conservatives? Maybe. While turnout at one recent rally suggests the movement is losing momentum, at least one poll indicates political conservative are more attracted to the Tea Party than to the Republican Party. Meanwhile, some Florida Republicans are horrified at the civil war among conservatives. Speaking to the Tea Party movement: "'If you tried to devise a strategy for destroying the Republican Party in Florida, you couldn't do much better than this,' said retired University of South Florida political scientist Darryl Paulson, a Republican and a former Heritage Foundation fellow."

Speaking to the big picture of Republican woes, Republican and former George W. Bush administration appointee Michael Petrilli, writing for the Wall Street Journal, argues that Republicans need to reach out to non-racist "Whole Foods Republicans"—independent-minded voters who embrace a progressive lifestyle but not progressive politics.

While the final dimensions of the Tea Party movement's impact upon the Republican Party are not yet known, it seems certain that the Tea Party will figure prominently in both the 2010 congressional elections and the 2012 presidential election. Unknown at this time is which conservative political faction the Religious Right (in effect, social conservatives) will throw their weight behind in the coming three years. While many conservative Christians are enthusiastically involved in (or are cheering for) the Tea Party movement, whether or not they largely abandon the Republican Party for the Tea Party has yet to be determined. If there is one person who holds the key to the Religious Right vote, it is likely Tea Party-favorite Sarah Palin, who some are calling the next James Dobson.

Wherever one stands on the political spectrum, next year promises more political fireworks, while the voice of white supremacists grow increasingly prominent in American politics.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Huckabee, Palin and God's Will For America

In the face of a clemency scandal, Mike Huckabee's prospects in the 2012 presidential election are quickly fading. Sarah Palin appears to be a likely beneficiary. Indeed, some analysts suggest she is posed to become the new figurehead of the Religious Right even as Tea Partiers and the Religious Right are allying to push the Republican Party into embracing an ideological purity test.

Could Palin become the next James Dobson or Jerry Falwell? An October 16, 2005 worship service at her home church in Alaska, the Wasilla Assemblies of God, offers insight into this question.

During the worship service, Pentecostal pastor Thomas Muthee (the man who ran a woman out of her hometown because Muthee claimed she was supernaturally causing car crashes) christened Palin as America's savior, with the approval of Palin's congregation and Palin herself.

Muthee declared that God had called Palin as His instrument for transforming American society, bringing God and the 10 Commandments back into public schools, combating the forces of witchcraft, and abolishing the separation of church and state.

See the video for yourself. Is this the future that the Religious Right envisions for America?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration: A New Revelation and A False Gospel?

What if some of the most prominent Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant leaders in the world reduced the Christian faith to three tenets absent from the Bible ... and then announced to the world that the fate of Christianity will stand or fall based on these three (non-biblical) tenets?

Imagine no more. It has happened.

This past Friday a coalition of fundamentalist Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants (Timothy George, Tony Perkins, James Dobson and Al Mohler are among the Protestant signers) staked Christianity on "the three most important issues" (according to Chuck Colson) in the world (the "first principles," according to Southern Baptist leader Richard Land), none of which are even referenced in the Bible:

1) Opposition to "abortion, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide, and euthanasia."

2) Homosexual marriage, because "marriage is the original and most important institution for sustaining the health, education, and welfare of all."

3) Freedom of religion and rights of conscience for conservative Christians above all others.

You can put down your Bibles now. Faithful Christianity, according to the Manhattan Declaration, is summed up in the three non-negotiable, non-biblical statements listed above. That abortion (and modern end-of-life issues), homosexual marriage, and special rights for conservative Christians are not even mentioned in scripture is irrelevant. The Manhattan authors have replaced the Bible with their own scripture.

Perhaps a new "god" has emerged in the 21st century, and we are now blessed to hear his spokespersons offer a new revelation? Perhaps "Manhattan" is an apt metaphor for this new revelation? Whereas the Manhattan Project of the last century ushered in the very real prospect of global annihilation, perhaps the Manhattan Declaration ushers in the era of a new, politically correct deity whose job is to "unify" Christians around ... what?

If the creators and signers of the Manhattan Declaration had chosen to use the Bible as their moral and ethical guidebook, they could have easily done so.

The Bible is quite clear, for example, that championing and advocating justice for the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and sick is the very essence of the valuing of "human life," as thousands of scripture verses testify. However, the Manhattan Declaration pays lip service to "special concern for the poor and vulnerable" while arguing, at length, that a zygote cell is a human being. Declaring the meeting of sperm and egg to be a human person does injustice to the serious ethical and moral dimensions of abortion and the sacredness of humanness.

In terms of marriage, instead of sticking with the whole story of what the Bible says about homosexuality (unfavorable by most interpretations) and marriage (arranged nuptials, polygamy sometimes allowed, childless widows commanded to bear children by their brother-in-laws, Paul's admonition that singleness is better than marriage, etc.), the Manhattan folk fuse contemporary Western marriage norms with covenantal, full-quiver theology as validated by "vast human experience", philosophy, and rationalism. Furthermore, civil unions between homosexuals will (it would seem) destroy the world, and clearly violate the religious liberty of conservative Christians.

Speaking of religious liberty, the Manhattan signers insist that those who oppose their religio-political views are not deserving of equal rights under the law.

In short, the Manhattan Declaration's willful ignoring (if not disrespect) of scripture is breathtaking. But why? What do the authors of the Manhattan Declaration want? To whom is their self-righteous anger directed?

For starters, the Manhattan signers proclaim themselves the saviors of society, the defenders of life and truth in the face of barbarianism that is threatening today's Western world. Who are these modern "barbarians"? The Obama administration ("present administration" within the Declaration) and Democrats at large ("secularists" according to Chuck Colson), it seems, aided unwittingly by many young evangelicals whose holistic views of justice are ... well ... too biblical (not to mention that many voted for Obama).

One Manhattan supporter explains the political nature of the Manhattan Declaration this way: "It is very well written and calls out many of the liberal policies our current administration is pushing on us." In a similar fashion, one supporter labels the statement simply as a "political Christian declaration."

Another supporter goes into more detail regarding what he views as the political underpinnings of the Declaration: "We are at a tipping point and that something needs to be done to bring about a renewed spirit within our culture and Nation for the very survival of our culture and Nation. Obama has acted as a lightning rod for these new movements and phenomenon and as well he should. He is a man completely divorced from American tradition, culture, history as well as its Constitutional values ... a believer of a grotesque and miserable radical left wing Marxist philosophy and must be stopped before he can implement any more of it on this great Nation any further. These new and non-violent revolutionary movements are exactly what we need at this point in time. American’s realize now that unless we unify and confront this attempt by Obama and this Congress to launch America 50 years further down the path towards a final socialist utopia over the next 1 year, which is what they are trying to do, that something needs to be done."

For the record, many fundamentalist Christians (individuals and organizations) refused to sign the Manhattan Declaration. John MacArthur refused to sign, noting that "The Gospel is barely mentioned in the Declaration." Another conservative sees the Declaration as "blurring the Gospel." And a few signers, such as Ron Sider, are not fundamentalists.

Sider aside, some non-fundamentalist Baptists are criticizing the Declaration, their observations regarding the political nature of the document mirroring that of many supporters:

Bruce Prescott notes that the Manhattan signers claim a lock on God and reserve full religious liberty only for Christians. He also suggests that the signers view a democratic, pluralistic society as "heresy."

Aaron Weaver (The Big Daddy Weave), after noting the Christian nationalistic underpinnings of the Manhattan Declaration, finds "Noticeably absent ... any real concern for the poor and oppressed in society" ... and "Some legitimate concerns mixed in with a bit of fear-mongering, vivid imagery, hyperbole, and apples and oranges comparisons."

In summary, there is little to be thankful for in regards to the politically-oriented Manhattan Declaration. The few helpful portions of the statement (well-noted by Brian McLaren) are overshadowed by the over-arching non-biblical construct, approval of Christian nationalism, and enmity toward religious and political pluralism.

Well, on second thought, maybe the colonial Puritan theocrats would approve.

But one cannot help but wonder: Is this "Christian" response to Obama and the Democrat Party the best that today's religious fundamentalists can put forth? Sure, the Tea Partiers will love it. But where is the Bible, not to mention Jesus?

Perhaps we are witnessing the dawning of Christian Atheism. What term better describes self-proclaimed Christians whose world view is primarily political and self-serving, and exists independent of scripture and Christ?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Jesus in America

A story from Matthew 25, placed within a modern context:

When Jesus comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. Twenty-first century Americans will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then Jesus will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was an immigrant and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you made certain I had access to health care, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

Jesus reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did for me.'

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed. For I was hungry and you told me to get off food stamps and get a job, I was thirsty and you called me a welfare queen, I was an immigrant and you drove me out of your country, I needed clothes and you called the police to get me off your street, I was sick and you spent your time and energy defending free market health care rationing and death panels and multi-millionaire CEOs, and on death row and your pro-life views did not apply to me.'

They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or an immigrant or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'


Have too many American Christians lost sight of Jesus?

Monday, November 09, 2009

Why Are Pro-Lifers Praying for the Deaths of American Citizens?

This past weekend the House of Representatives passed a comprehensive health care bill that extends health insurance to tens of millions of uninsured Americans and begins reigning in an industry that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year: private (free market) health insurance corporations. Whether through health care rationing (by denying health care insurance to tens of millions of poor and middle class families who are deemed to sick for health insurance or are unable to pay the exorbitant premiums demanded by insurance corporations) or death panels (administrators who decide whether or not to honor claims filed by health insurance customers), the free market health insurance industry prefers to let Americans die rather than selling affordable policies and honoring life-saving policy claims from their own customers in order to insure that industry CEOs collectively pocket billions of dollars.

The bill passed by the House, however, has not yet become law. The coming weeks and months will determine the fate of health care in America. To be certain, the final version of the health care bill will almost certainly not be enough to significantly reign in runaway health care costs anytime soon. Rather, it will likely be just the first step of many required to truly transition the American political establishment from viewing basic health care as a privilege for those who have enough money or the right kind of job or are appropriately healthy, rather than as an inherent human right.

Thus we now face a critical point in the history of America: are we as a nation going to continue to allow health insurance companies to kill more Americans in order to create yet more billions of dollars in blood-money profits for corporate CEOs, or do we as a nation have enough moral courage and ethical backbone to stop the greed-driven deaths of innocent Americans? Bizarrely enough, many religious persons who have long claimed to be "pro-life" want the killing to continue: they are championing the current free market health care industry with a zeal of biblical proportions.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a pro-life Baptist and otherwise seemingly-reasonable guy, said of the prospect of eventual enactment of the House's health care reform: “I hope and pray it doesn’t [pass], because it would be a disaster for the economy and health care.

God forbid that America should choose life for her poor and middle class citizens over exorbitant profits for a handful of health insurance industry CEOs!

Graham's anti-health care reform, pro-profits-over-human-life position is the party line of all Republicans in the House save one (more on the lone dissenter later).

Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader of the House and supposedly a pro-lifer, insists that the House's health care reform is the “greatest threat to freedom that I have seen in the 19 years I’ve been in Washington.”

For Boehner to equate the saving of American lives as the "greatest threat to freedom" in America exemplifies the type of desperate, ludicrous lies that extremist free market apologists are now resorting to in defense of America's wealthy elite.

At the same time, some so-called Christian ethicists such as Southern Baptist's Richard Land are providing alleged theological cover for free market health care rationing and death panels. According to Land (yet another self-proclaimed pro-lifer), God has no problem with health care rationing and death panels within a free market, capitalist health care system, while the possibility of health care rationing underneath a government system is nothing more than Nazism.

So-called pro-lifers who staunchly defend a free market constructed upon the deaths of innocent American citizens, however, would do well to listen to Representative Anh Cao of Louisiana, seemingly the lone Republican in the House who realizes that human life truly is more important than corporate profits. A self-proclaimed pro-life Catholic, he supported the health care reform bill for the very reason that many of his constituents are poor and uninsured, and thus face the prospect of untimely death in America's current free market health care system. Cao, in short, remained true to his proclaimed pro-life convictions.

So why are so many self-proclaimed pro-lifers (and Christians!) praying and advocating for the continuation of a health care system that kills tens of thousands of Americans annually?

Jesus declared that one cannot serve both God and money (Luke 16:13), while the Apostle Paul (1 Timothy 6:10) asserted that money is the root of all evil.

It would seem, scripturally speaking, that the pro-life demonizers of government health care / ceaseless defenders of free market capitalism have (knowingly or not) chosen to worship wealth over God, and, at least in some instances, opted for evil over good (expressed in willing the death of innocent people in order to preserve corporate profits).

Indeed, the future of Christianity in America may be shaped immensely by the ongoing battle between allegiance to Christ and allegiance to capitalism. Although Christ and capitalism can certainly co-exist together if the latter is kept in a proper context, the growing American evangelical propensity to force Christianity into a free market straitjacket must be resisted by followers of Christ, for the sake of everyone.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Biblical Atheism: The Real "New Atheists"?

Much has been made in recent years of the emergence of "New Atheists," outspoken disbelievers of deity and deities who relentlessly excoriate religion. Popular and seemingly everywhere now, these new atheists - led by Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett - are outraged over faith-based science and violence. Targeting fundamentalist religion expressed in creationist theology and violent tendencies, they find no evidence of a deity or deities within or alongside biological processes, and argue that religion itself is dangerous to the human race.

While fundamentalist Christians dismiss New Atheism, other critics (such as Karen Armstrong) contend that New Atheists are arguing against modern religious fundamentalism, rather than religion at large. Creationism, for instance, is a product of the 1960s, receiving thinly-veiled upgrades in the 1990s ("scientific creationism") and the first decade of this century ("intelligent design"). Today's popular conservative Christian view of an earth no older than 10,000 years is a phenomenon of the past 100 years. Only since the late 19th century have many Christians adhered firmly to a literalist biblical interpretative methodology constructed upon modern rationalism, embraced the modern theory about the Bible (yet absent from the Bible) dubbed "biblical inerrancy," and placed their faith in John Nelson Darby's 1820s end-times theological scheme commonly referred to as "the Rapture." In short, fundamentalism (built upon these three modern contrivances) is a novelty of modern religion, not the norm of historical Christianity. In this sense, the New Atheists are indeed swinging their rhetorical blades at modern religion.

We are witnessing, in other words, a battle over who controls scientific truth in the twenty-first century: religious fundamentalists who wish to conform science to faith, or God-disbelievers who are determined to disentangle fundamentalist religious faith from science. As for me, I side with the New Atheists in this particular battle, while nonetheless agreeing with Karen Armstrong that they are mistaken in assuming fundamentalism is representative of religion at large.

Yet there is another dimension of this battle waged on a different playing field. While many fundamentalists dismiss the New Atheists (and atheism at large) as believing in nothing, the biblical foundation of fundamentalism - biblical inerrancy - is arguably (and literally?) nothing more than religious atheism. In short, although biblical inerrancy rhetorically advocates a perfect biblical text, biblical inerrantists apply textual perfection to ... nothing.

For the biblical inerrantist, there is not a biblical text in existence that is perfect. No one has ever held a perfect biblical text, no one has ever read from a perfect biblical text, and no one has ever preached from a perfect biblical text. For the biblical inerrantist, only the non-existent original fragments of biblical writing (referred to as "autographs") are inerrant, or perfect.

In reality, the origins of any once-existent, primary-composed ancient bits and pieces of writing that reflected the original spoken (oral) traditions handed down for generations, are clouded in mystery and speculative at best. In addition, textual original autograph inerrantists do not view as authoritative the ancient, multi-generational oral traditions from which the "original" text came, begging the question of how a theoretical text can be theoretically perfect if the words put into writing where themselves imperfect? (Many inerrantists do an end run around this problem by asserting that there was no oral tradition, and that instead God spoke directly and verbally to the biblical "writers" and forced them to record his dictated utterances verbatim, a theory referred to as "verbal-plenary dictation". The Biblical writers speak against such a view, however; see Luke 1:1-4, for example).

Furthermore, the larger dynamic of biblical "inspiration" (that is, the belief that the written text is derived from God in some fashion, whether inerrant or not; historically, Christians have affirmed various formulations of biblical inspiration, but not biblical inerrancy) "strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture" (according to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, the creed of inerrantists).

What do biblical inerrantists actually believe about the Bibles in their hands and pulpits? They "affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original" (see link above). Not only are their Bibles not inerrant, but they are the "Word of God" only if they "faithfully reflect" ... that which does not exist.

Biblical inerrancy, in short, is much ado about nothing.

Placing blind faith in a non-existent text could reasonably be referred to as "Biblical Atheism," not unlike traditional atheists whose belief system is predicated upon the non-existence of a god or gods.

On the other hand, the New Atheists do believe in that which science has revealed. That is, they believe in that which is scientifically verifiable.

Likewise, contemporary Christians would do well to seek to understand the message of the imperfect (according to biblical inerrantists) but existent Bibles in our hands and in our homes and in our pulpits, rather than the inerrantist's faith in nothing (and instead of inerrantist's efforts, in the face of nothing, to control the message of the actual Bibles we do have).

Our actual Bibles do not claim textual perfection nor do they posit a corner on all truth, but they do tell the stories of imperfect people (foibles and all) seeking (at times!) to understand God-centric truth in a pre-scientific era. The person of Christ is the focal point of Christian scripture. To our historical shame, those who claim to be followers of Christ have often abandoned his teachings against violence, greed, and religious legalism (fundamentalism, in contemporary terms). The New Atheists are thus right in pushing back against such perversions of Christ in particular, and religion in general. Yet let us not respond as Biblical Atheists who place their faith in that which does not exist. Instead, let us reflect Christ by following his teachings and example revealed in the scripture we do have at hand, and by welcoming truth wherever truth is revealed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Religious Right, Civil Rights and Obama: Wisdom From 1998

Long before Barack Obama became a household name, in only the second year of his political career (at that time, the Illinois Senate), two respected historians writing for The Journal of Southern Religion in 1998 warned of the trajectory of the fundamentalist Religious Right as "a movement of white reaction" against Civil Rights that excluded African-Americans. Noting the spread of such fundamentalism nationwide, one of the two historians summarized ascendant, southern white reactionary culture as "General Lee's revenge," and noted the accompanying spread of states' rights and hatred of federal government ideologies, both the overriding themes of today's anti-Obama, white "tea parties."

One historian argued that modern fundamentalism has transformed the South to a larger degree than did Civil Rights. His thesis was: "At the deepest levels, the change in racial and biracial affairs brought about as a result of the Civil Rights Movement was less disruptive of historic Southern culture than the Baptist, Presbyterian, and "third force" fundamentalist uprisings have turned out to be."

Realizing that such an argument was counter-intuitive to many, he continued: "we are afforded more than a hint into the interpretation that the fundamentalist movement is more disruptive than was the Civil Rights Movement; or, it will have proven to be so if its effect is as comprehensive and enduring as was that of its predecessor. The Civil Rights Movement reconfigured all the existing parts of Southern society and culture by insisting that all be considered equal partners, by law and, desirably, in informal practice. Fundamentalism insists on establishing public policy for the entire public whether most, many, or only a few subscribe."

These two 1998 essays are well-worth a read today in the light of the current white, southern, reactionary conservatism that characterizes Fox News-driven Christian fundamentalism and the Republican Party.

See Fundamentalism in Recent Southern Culture: Has it Done What the Civil Rights Movement Couldn't Do? - by Sam Hill, Professor Emeritus, University of Florida (more information about Sam Hill)

And "Response to Sam Hill, 'Fundamentalism in Recent Southern Culture'" - by Betty A. DeBerg, University of Northern Iowa

Friday, October 23, 2009

Baptist Battles: Richard Land and Richard Pierard

Richard Land, Ethics spokesperson for the SBC leadership, continues to spread lies about government health reform "death panels" and continues to equate theoretical government health care rationing with Nazism, although he refuses to equate current free market health care rationing as Nazism.

And now a battle has erupted between two Baptist Richards.

In the one corner, Richard Land, free market champion and anti-Obama crusader, seems oblivious to the fact the the Nazi movement was in large part a product of, and equated itself with, right-wing Christianity. Aligned with right-wing Christians, the Nazi Party advocated Christian Nationalism, sought to kill homosexuals, remove liberal intellectuals from universities, promote a pure Christian faith, join state with God, and enforce Christian morality consistent with Martin Luther's antisemitism.

In the other corner is Richard Pierard, renowned Baptist historian whose area of expertise is modern German history, particularly Nazism from 1933-1945. Pierard has lived and taught in Germany, and he denounced Richard Land's statements as bunk: "The effort to reform health care in the United States has absolutely nothing in common with the events of 70 years ago."

Who are we to believe? The Richard who is one of the most 25 influential Republicans in America and who claims to be an ethicist yet intentionally perpetuates lies about the British Health Care System and death panels that have long been proven to be lies (and turns to the cult leader Sun Myung Moon's Washington Times to prove the death panel lies are true)?

Or, are we to believe the Richard who is a Baptist historian and German historian and knows Nazi history, and recognizes lies for what they are?

Richard Land is now trying to dismiss Richard Pierard as an alarmist, while at the same time Land is using the First Amendment as a cover for his lies.

As Pierard notes, Land's lies have "brought reproach upon the good name of Baptists."

On the other hand, Land's ranking among the nation's 25 Most Influential Republicans may be moving upward, as he has squarely positioned himself as a loyal Right-Wing Republican rather than a truth-telling ethicist.

Monday, October 19, 2009

1000 Miles, 3 Baptist Churches

A few weeks ago, I embarked on an autumn photography driving tour of portions of Montana, Utah, Wyoming, and Idaho, starting from my home near Bozeman. The 1000 mile trip, a loop, traversed a cross-section of the Rocky Mountain West: state roads, county roads, tiny communities, small towns, larger towns, one very large city (Salt Lake), back streets, city streets, and interstate highways. As in most road trips, my antenna was attuned to noticing church buildings (I can't seem to help myself!). On autumn road trips of the past in the Southeast, I recall seeing so many church buildings that the ratio must have been in the neighborhood of one per mile! And a fall tour of New England a few years ago resulted in numerous church sightings, although admittedly many were old buildings sitting alongside country roads and seemed little-used.

The Rocky Mountain West, however, is a different animal. In a thousand miles of driving, I spotted dozens of Mormon wards, tabernacles, and temples; exactly three Baptist churches; and no more than twelve Christian churches total (primarily Lutheran, which is to be expected in this part of the country).

American Baptists arrived early in the Rockies region, and have a nominal presence today; there are three in a fifty mile radius - 100 miles east to west or north to south - of my house. Southern Baptist congregations trace their origins to the 1950s, as oil workers from Texas and Oklahoma, some Southern Baptist, landed in the area as a result of job transfers; still struggling, there are four SBC churches within a fifty mile radius of my house. I know of one independent Baptist congregation in the same area, although I'm guessing there may be one or two of which I know not. And, as of this year, Cooperative Baptists have one congregation (The Well at Billings, Montana) in about a four hundred mile radius, if not more, of my house (see the map here); the Billings congregation is the first of five churches we plan to plant in Montana.

Sure, there are plenty of Lutherans and Catholics (the dominant faith of the region's early settlers), a sprinkling of other mainline Protestants (Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians), and a number of non-denominational congregations, a few of which are fairly large - not to mention LOTS of Mormons and quite a few Jehovah's Witnesses. All told, though, very few folks (less than 1 in 3) who collectively live in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada claim to be in church (or synagogue or other house of worship) any given week, among the lowest number in the nation (along with some New England states). Even so, self-reported religious surveys tend to result in inflated numbers, and my guess is that less than half of the one-third actually attend church at any given time.

And so I wonder: why aren't Cooperative Baptists paying more attention to the unchurched West (and, for that matter, unchurched New England?). I wonder, but in reality I already know the answer: we CBF Baptists thus far refuse to take church planting seriously. We incessantly talk missions (this is good!), yet despite the fact that our moderate Baptist seminaries are now turning out hundreds of graduates annually, we're doing very little to establish new congregations in which they might serve.

Montana might not be the most obvious place from which to try to raise CBF consciousness about church planting, but then again, maybe it does make sense: the unchurched nature of much of the American West rivals that of many mission fields worldwide, and missions is the heartbeat of CBF.

1000 miles, 3 Baptist churches. That's the same distance as driving from the southern coastal city of Charleston, SC to the mid-western town of Jefferson City, Missouri.

We can do better than this. If we only try.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Roasted Bible and Fried Chicken for Halloween

I nominate this story as the Baptist story of the year:

The Amazing Grace Baptist Church in Canton, N.C. will celebrate Halloween by burning Bibles that aren’t the King James Version, as well as music and books and anything else Pastor Marc Grizzard says is a satanic influence ... During the book burning, according to the Web site, barbecued chicken fried chicken and “all the sides” will be served. (See full story)

I wonder what they would say if they knew King Jimmie was gay? Or that he hated and even killed Christian dissenters (Wightman is identified by Baptist historian Thomas Crosby as a Baptist; History of the English Baptists, Volume 1, 108-109)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Richard Land Calls Free Market Health Care Rationing "Nazism"

Yes, Richard Land (executive director of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention) recently declared that health care rationing is "precisely what the Nazis did."

Problem is (aside from the obvious historical misunderstanding or wilfull distortion), he ignores today's free market health care death panels for the insured and the holocaust of the uninsured ... collectively in which tens if not hundreds of thousands die unnecessarily each year ... and focuses instead on the possibility that health care reform might ration health care (and builds his case for this possibility based on blatant falsehoods regarding health care reform).

Yet when Land labels health care rationing as "Nazism," he condemns the free market system which he and the Religious Right have long decreed as holy.

The failure of Land and his fellow Religious Righters to live in or even acknowledge the world of reality in favor of living in a fantasy world of untruths and Wall Street religion is a sign of just how far away from Christ and integrity they have removed themselves.

Ethics? It seems that Richard Land long ago forgot what the word means, for if he took the concept seriously, he would condemn today's free market health care rationing and demand change, instead of hawking the religion of free market capitalism.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Political Conservatism Trumps Biblical Inerrancy

Today's Southern Baptist Convention - failing, flailing and essentially wandering in the wilderness - is the product of blind faith in a modern, human theory about the Bible: inerrancy.

Birthed in the 20th century from the background of the strict Calvinistic Old School Presbyterianism of Charles Hodge (the theological grandfather of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) that needed a literal Bible in order to defend southern slavery, textual inerrancy has always been about revisioning biblical authority to make the Bible seem authoritative on the playing field of modern (scientific, quantifiable, factual) truth. Neither biblical (the Bible itself does not claim textual perfection) nor quantifiable (the orginial "autographs" of the Bible do not exist, and in fact the text was predated by oral tradition), inerrancy is fundamentalist Christians' ultimate weapon for attacking "liberalism" and a bold attempt at justifiying religious legalism.

Ironically (or perhaps not, for fundamentalists) inerrancy denegrates and displaces the biblical Jesus, simply because he is too liberal for fundamentalists.

So, sooner or later the inevitable had to happen: the Bible formally succombing to the onslaught of Western political conservatism. Surely enough, a conservative political group has now publicly announced that they are rewriting the Bible in order to remove its "liberal bias." The political activist, Religious Right Schlafly family is the founder of the "Conservative Bible Project," based on the following guidelines:

1. Framework against Liberal Bias: providing a strong framework that enables a thought-for-thought translation without corruption by liberal bias

2. Not Emasculated: avoiding unisex, "gender inclusive" language, and other modern emasculation of Christianity

3. Not Dumbed Down: not dumbing down the reading level, or diluting the intellectual force and logic of Christianity; the NIV is written at only the 7th grade level[3]

4. Utilize Powerful Conservative Terms: using powerful new conservative terms as they develop;[4] defective translations use the word "comrade" three times as often as "volunteer"; similarly, updating words which have a change in meaning, such as "word", "peace", and "miracle".

5. Combat Harmful Addiction: combating addiction by using modern terms for it, such as "gamble" rather than "cast lots";[5] using modern political terms, such as "register" rather than "enroll" for the census

6. Accept the Logic of Hell: applying logic with its full force and effect, as in not denying or downplaying the very real existence of Hell or the Devil.

7. Express Free Market Parables; explaining the numerous economic parables with their full free-market meaning

8. Exclude Later-Inserted Liberal Passages: excluding the later-inserted liberal passages that are not authentic, such as the adulteress story

9. Credit Open-Mindedness of Disciples: crediting open-mindedness, often found in youngsters like the eyewitnesses Mark and John, the authors of two of the Gospels

10. Prefer Conciseness over Liberal Wordiness: preferring conciseness to the liberal style of high word-to-substance ratio; avoid compound negatives and unnecessary ambiguities; prefer concise, consistent use of the word "Lord" rather than "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" or "Lord God."


In short, inerrancy, nothing more than a modern ploy to start with, is being laid to rest by that which drives inerrantists: contemporary Western political conservatism.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Baptist Women in Ministry: A Journey Unfinished

Last month conservative-turning-moderate Southern Baptist Wade Burleson, pastor in Oklahoma, spoke of his newfound acceptance of women as full partners in ministry. This month, the moderate-turning-conservative Baptist General Convention of Texas retreated from open organizational support of women as full partners in ministry. Meanwhile, a Barna survey indicates that 10% of churches in the United States now have women senior pastors.

While the number of senior women pastors in Baptist churches is far fewer than in many other denominations, the numbers are growing.

Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM), founded in 1983 "to be change-agents… to empower women to hear God’s call and to have the courage to respond… to bless the ministries of all women… to encourage churches to enter into dialogue and to listen for the discerning voice of God who calls both men and women," serves as a regional, southern barometer for Baptist women in ministry. (Many American Baptist congregations have long accepted women in ministry.)

Earlier this year, BWIM hired Pamela Durso as its first full-time director in six years. BWIM is in better financial and organizational shape than ever, at a time when the numbers of Baptist women in ministry in the South are steadily growing, with the exception of Texas. Whereas Texas Baptists in the past have stood at the forefront of some Baptist trends - including early resistance to fundamentalism in the 1980s and 1990s - prophetic voices in Texas Baptist life in recent years have been increasingly muted by ascendant fundamentalists and internal controversies within the BGCT. Church historian Rosalie Beck suggests that full support of women in ministry has been historically sacrificed in order to broker peace among Texas Baptists, who as a whole lean more to the right than left (moderate Texas Baptists tend to be more conservative than moderate Baptists in other states).

At this point in the modern saga of Baptists in the South, it is quite apparent that even moderate Baptist statewide organizations (whether traditional conventions or more recently-formed state CBF organizations), grappling with a wide diversity of views among the local congregations from whence their support comes, are not in a position to fully exercise the freedom of conscience that is the historical hallmark of Baptists. While an inherent conservative bias in Texas Baptist life disallows full support of women in ministry, emotional attachments to SBC mission agencies on the part of many older members of openly moderate congregations prevent many churches in the southeastern states from aligning solely with CBF. In addition, the modern Baptist confusion over the historical Baptist positions of full religious liberty and separation of church and state poses an ongoing challenge. In short, traditional and moderate state Baptist organizations are often pushed or pulled down a path of political and/or pragmatic reality that results in incremental changes, or in some cases little change at all.

The sometimes-slow change taking place at the state level means that specific advocacy-focused moderate, independent Baptist organizations, such as Baptist Women in Ministry, are vital to the shaping of contemporary Baptist thought and life.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Update on Christian Capitalists

Religion Dispatches offers a first hand account of the recent Tea Party protest (dubbed the 9/12 Coalition) in Washington D.C., organized by health insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, and the Freedom Federation (see below for a longer list of sponsoring corporations and organizations), a consortium of Religious Right organizations that advocates for limited government, free enterprise, and free markets (no word on how these agendas fit in the Gospels).

More on the Freedom Federation, founded this summer in opposition to President Obama and Health Care Reform:

Among the groups represented are the American Association of Christian Counselors, the American Family Association, Catholic Online, Family Research Council, High Impact Leadership Coalition, Strang Communications, Traditional Values Coalition, Teen Mania, and Vision America. (see recent Christianity Today story)

Vision America (a theocratic-leaning organization) gushes about the Freedom Federation. Note Southern Baptist involvement.

Another article about the Freedom Federation.

And here is the website of Freedom Federation, which was initially envisioned by Liberty University's Liberty Counsel, a theocratic-leaning organization.

Supporting corporations and organizations of the 9/12 Tea Party protest (source is Veterans Today, which has a rather strong article against 9/12; also, visit the the 9/12 Coalition site):

* AETNA (Insurance)
* AFIPAC (American Family Insurance)
* Alexis de Tocqueville Institution
* Allied Pilots Association (pilots union which includes many VT supporters)
* American Association of Health Plans (Insurance)
* American Association of Political Consultants
* American Conservative Union
* Americans for Hope, Growth & Opportunity
* American Policy Center
* American Public Philosophy Institute
* The American Spectator
* Australian Barley Board (Australian govt's "beer lobby")
* Black America's Political Action Committee
* Blackwell Corporation (Finance/Stocks/Insurance)
* Bruce W. Eberle & Associates (Republican fundraiser)
* Business Mail Express ("direct mailer")
* Campaign Solutions
* Canadian MG Lewis MacKenzie (Ret.)
* CapitolWatch
* The Carmen Group (healthcare lobbyists)
* Carrying Capacity Network
* Center for Individual Freedom
* CIGNA (insurance_
* Citizens for State Power
* Citizens United
* Club for Growth
* Collegiate Network[1]
* Conservative Political Action Conference
* Ann Coulter
* Crown Publishing (Coulter's publisher)
* Davis, Manafort & Freedman, Inc. (very dirty lottery lobby firm)
* The Honorable Pete DuPont
* Employee Benefits Associates (insurance)
* Energy Freedom Alliance (oil lobby group tied to Tom Delay)
* Federalist Society
* Flickers Films
* Free Enterprise Fund
* Free Speech Coalition
* Freedom Alliance
* Foley & Lardner (lawfirm for the Coors family and the Heritage Foundation)
* Forbes for President 2000
* The Galen Institute
* Grassfire.org
* The Hawthorn Group
* Heritage Foundation
* Institute for Legal Reform
* Institute for Policy Innovation
* Institute for Socio-Economic Studies
* The Keene Report
* Law Enforcement Alliance of America
* The Limited
* The Manhattan Institute
* McDonnell Douglas (defense contractor)
* McGuire/Woods Consulting, LLC.
* National Audit Defense Network
* National Center for Policy Analysis
* National Farmers Federation of Australia
* National Rifle Association
* National Rifle Association-ILA
* National Taxpayers Union
* News World Communications
* Nuclear Energy Institute (producers of depleted uranium)
* The O'Leary/Kamber Report
* Playcare Incorporated
* PM Consulting Corporation
* Prima Publishing
* Progress & Freedom Foundation
* Prudential (insurance)
* Public Safety Systems
* Republican Majority Coalition
* Republican National Committee
* Natan Sharansky (pro-Russian Israeli activist)
* Small Business Survival Committee
* Southeastern Legal Foundation
* Starboard Response
* Stevens & Schriefer
* United Seniors Association
* University of Phoenix
* USA Weekend
* U.S. Chamber of Commerce (anti-union/pro-illegal immigration org)
* U.S. English
* Washington Times Foundation
* Westinghouse Corporation
* The Winston Group
* WND Books

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Religious Right Becomes Anti-Life, Pro-Death

In recent months, the Religious Right has been in a funk. With hero George W. Bush out of office and a popular Democratic president in office who has the support of many Christians, Focus on the Family was forced to lay off much of its work force.

But salvation has arrived from an unexpected quarter: the Religious Right, according to the Washington Post, has found a new cause - opposition to Health Care Reform.

Once an advocate of so-called "pro-life" policies (more properly, "anti-abortion" policies), the Religious Right is now openly defending insurance companies in a battle against political reforms that would extend medical care and a lifeline to the tens of millions who, for lack of money, endure pain and suffering while facing the ever-present prospect of financial ruin and even death, simply because they cannot afford exorbitant insurance policies, or, in the case of the insured, have no assurance that their insurance company will pay for critical, life-saving treatments and medications.

While it is true that the Religious Right has long advocated for Republican "trickle-down" tax policies that favor the wealthy over the poor, now these religious crusaders have seemingly come out of the closet altogether in championing corporate America and advocating anti-life, pro-death policies.

Why? Because the prospect of government intervening to save the lives of sick and dying citizens is ... well ... ungodly, according to the Religious Right. Only the Church has a right to take care of those persons who cannot afford medical care, after all (not that it will). Unless, of course, the subject is persons-not-yet ... then it is the government's duty to protect sperm and egg, even at the risk of maiming and killing living human beings.

Anyway ... Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention (see Washington Post link) seems quite happy about the new anti-life, pro-death stance of the Religious Right: "Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and Henry Waxman have done more to energize Christian conservatives than any conservative leader could have done with this health-care package," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. "I, who never believed that we were dead, did not believe that it would happen this quickly."

How many millions will suffer, and how many thousands needlessly die, in order to fulfill the Religious Right vision of a nation that values corporate profits over human life?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is FOX News the New Voice of the Religious Right?

Thirty years ago Christian fundamentalists (taking the name "Moral Majority" but loosely known as the "Religious Right") allied with the Republican Party in an effort to "return" America to its "Christian roots." From the beginning the effort was built upon historical myths and ideological-driven lies. America has never been a Christian nation; the "past" the Religious Right has sought for three decades is that of theocratic colonial America. The degree of theocracy that many within the Religious Right wish to force upon the nation is a matter of debate within the movement, ranging from government and judicial favoritism of (the right kind of) Christians to implementation of Old Testament laws requiring death to adulterers and homosexuals.

Fortunately, theocratic ambitions of the Religious Right have not been fully realized. On the other hand, the Religious Right helped create an atmosphere of Christian nationalism that bred a Christian patriot movement (here is one example) that itself is quasi-theocratic (and racist).

Long-time observers of the Religious Right know that the movement's most visible early public figureheads - those persons to whom many conservative/fundamentalist Christians consistently turned to for instructions on what to believe and for "proofs" to buttress religious and political prejudices - are gone or are on the way out the door. No one conservative Christian leader commands the public rhetorical spotlight as did the late Jerry Falwell or the semi-retired Pat Robertson or the retired James Dobson. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council , while quite influential among fundamentalist Christians, is not a household name along the lines of Falwell, Robertson and Dobson. Al Mohler and Richard Land have loyal followings in fundamentalist Southern Baptist circles, but are not nearly as well known outside Southern Baptist life. Religious Right leaders who today openly advocate theocracy - couched in terms such as "biblical worldview" and "Christian worldview" (see link above) - such as Gary DeMar, Gary North, Rick Scarborough, and David Barton, while popular in many conservative Christian circles (particularly the Christian homeschooling movement), are also far from household names. Tim LaHaye, a co-founder of the Moral Majority, Republican Party insider and famous as the co-author of the popular "Left Behind" novels, is probably the most well-known Religious Right theocratic advocate. Yet even so, his name is associated, publicly, with his novels, rather than his politics and theocratic-leanings.

So who do many conservative/fundamentalist Christians by and large now turn to on an everyday basis for instructions on what to believe and ammunition to support their religious and political prejudices?

Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (the latter an ally of Fox News): far right political provocateurs with extremist viewpoints who also claim to be Christians.

In other words, while the Religious Right has succeeded in duping many Christians about our nation's history, perhaps the real legacy of the thirty year-old movement is the creation of a culture of Christian lies and myths that in turn produced a news media empire (FOX News) tailored to and targeted at conservative/fundamentalist Christians who are eager to embrace any falsehood that serves their selfish interests or gores their enemies.

The most untruthful and biased news channel on television, FOX News is hands-down the favored news channel of conservative/fundamentalist Christians, mostly Republicans and typically Southerners "who almost completely shut out any news source other than Fox News." (In a similar fashion, religious fundamentalists and many religious conservatives tend to "shut out" any religious views differing from their own.)

Echoing the Religious Right, FOX News is an advocate for the Republican Party and anti-big government Libertarians. Currently, many of the lies about President Obama and the Health Care Reform debate that are circulating by email within the conservative/fundamentalist Christian community, are also propagated by FOX News.

Brian McLaren, addressing the love affair between "conservative Christians" and FOX News, puts it this way:

"My concern is that many of my sisters and brothers, without realizing it, have begun seeing Jesus and the faith through the lens of a neo-conservative political framework, thus reducing their vision of Jesus and his essential message of the kingdom of God. As a result, too many of us are becoming more and more zealous conservatives, but less and less Christ-like Christians, and many don't seem to notice the difference." McLaren goes on to express dismay at the FOX-fueled lies about Obama and Health Care Reform that are dutifully spread through conservative Christian email networks.

Frank Schaeffer offers his own insider observations about the FOX-fueled Religious Right's assault on health care reform, which you can read here.

In short, I cannot help but wonder if the new FOX News-directed Limbaugh/Hannity/O'Reilly/Beck Religious Right is much more dangerous than the "old" Religious Right of Falwell/Robertson/Dobson. Whereas Religious Right version 1.0 (so to speak) wrapped nationalism around conservative Christianity through the use of historical myths and lies in a quasi-theocratic quest destined to ultimately fail in a pluralistic society, version 2.0 wraps conservative/fundamentalist Christianity around political neo-conservatism/nationalism/patriotism (and even facism according to some analysts), a marriage currently expressed in tea parties, angry town hall meetings (more), an endless stream of lies about Obama and his policies, including the claim that Obama is the next Hitler, and talk of secession, all in an effort to eradicate "liberals" from the halls of political power.

If the FOX News-driven Religious Right proves to be a long-term trend, the foreseeable future of American Christianity, and America as a nation, may be one of increasing cultural fragmentation and alienation, social civil warfare, or even a violent movement that seeks to restore so-called "justice" under the belief that it is the "sacred duty" of white patriots "to change the government."

Lest we dismiss the latter possibility, the history of the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement (more) offers a clue as to just how far "Christian" patriots will go if their hatred is left unchecked.

Monday, August 24, 2009

More "Civil War" Rumblings

A week ago I asked if the health care debate is turning into a reenactment of the American Civil War.

Now some within the Fox News-fueled far right are openly warning that a new Civil War is indeed fomenting,and they're pinning the blame on Obama.

The Second American Revolution Has Begun! - "The natives are restless .... America is seething. Not since the Civil War has anything like this happened .... A series of gigantic, unpopular government-imposed (but taxpayer-financed) bailouts, buyouts, rescue and stimulus packages have been stuffed down the gullet of Americans. With no public platform to voice their opposition, options for citizens have been limited to fruitless petitions, e-mails and phone calls to Congress all fielded by anonymous staff underlings .... the public is exploding .... Conditions will continue to deteriorate .... A false flag attempt, a genuine crisis, or a declaration of war, may slow the momentum of the “Second American Revolution,” but nothing will stop it."

Voight: Is Obama Creating a Civil War in America? - Courtesy of the Moonies' rag, the Washington Times.

Today's angry far right claims the label of "freedom fighters" in suggesting that a Civil War is at hand. Antebellum and Civil War era southerners (including Southern Baptists) utilized the same language in defending their rights to own slaves: should the United States outlaw slavery, they reasoned, whites would be victimized. Today's self-proclaimed freedom fighters likewise limit freedom to their own self-interests (to the point where they bristle at the suggestion of "messing with" their socialized health care - Medicare - AND become livid at the thought of extending socialized medicine to "others").

Observers of the current health care debate would be better served by examining Baptist freedom fighters of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In an era of genuine persecution (Baptists were beaten, whipped, jailed and even stoned for their faith - at the hands of theocractic colonial governments), Baptists fought for freedom of conscience and freedom of religion for all citizens, religious or not.

Is America a land of self-serving, self-righteous individuals who despise the "other" and will go to war against a democracy that champions equality and justice? Or are we a nation of citizens united in the common interest of freedom expressed in the attainment of general welfare and domestic tranquility?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Care Debate: Reenacting the American Civil War?

Although post-Civil War Southern Baptists largely denied it until recent decades, slavery was the overriding cause of the American Civil War. Only in recent years have contemporary Southern Baptists by and large admitted what their white faith forebears in the antebellum South openly declared: the defense of slavery was the reason for the formation of the Confederacy.

Upon the defense of slavery white antebellum southerners constructed an argument of freedom: if the United States government denied whites the right to own black slaves, they reasoned, then the government was intruding upon their personal liberties and freedoms. In defending white liberty and freedom (it did not occur to most white southerners that blacks might also be humans deserving of equal rights), southerners argued, they were standing up for states' rights and against the federal government (although the same southerners quickly argued for federal centralization when it could be used to advance slavery).

By the end of the war, unrepentant southerners (Baptist and otherwise) reconstructed their arguments into the myth of the Lost Cause. Gone was slavery as the primary reason, or even a real reason at all, for the war. Instead, southerners had warred against the North in a valiant effort to preserve personal freedom and liberty and states' rights. The honorable and righteous South had been defeated only because unholy and unjust northern forces marshaled overwhelming military might against noble but overwhelmed white southerners.

For nearly 100 years after the Civil War, racist white southerners ensured that blacks, although now free according to the United States Constitution, were kept in subjugation to whites through intimidation and violence (the Ku Klux Klan) and oppressive laws (Jim Crow and segregation), means sanctioned (openly or quietly) by most white Christians. True freedom for blacks in the South came only in the 1950s and 1960s when the federal government forced the old Confederate states to integrate schools and other public institutions. Even then, most whites, including many if not most self-proclaimed Christians, resented integration and federal intervention - and many resisted with anger and violence. Many white Christians, refusing to recognize blacks as equals and angry over the intervention of the federal government, pulled their children out of public schools and enrolled them in the new white private schools that suddenly sprung up in an effort to keep white children from being contaminated by contact with black children.

Integration, in short, vividly opened old wounds of white southern defeat and challenged the cherished mythical narrative of the civility, righteousness and godliness of white supremacy. While memories of Civil War and Reconstruction injustices remained anchored in the minds of indignant white southerners, this new intrusion of the federal government upon white southerners' liberties and freedoms reheated inherent racism and anger.

When the Supreme Court in 1963 (Abington Township School District v. Schempp) ruled that the government could neither promote nor denigrate religion (but instead must maintain neutrality) in public school classrooms - a court decision that Baptists, historic champions of the freedom of church and state, lauded and supported - it added fuel to the anti-federal government anger already boiling in a religion-saturated South. The boiling anti-federal government anger among white conservative Christians, however, did not reach critical mass until the late 1970s, following the growing pluralism of the 1960s, the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, and the 1976 Internal Revenue Service ruling revoking the tax exempt status of Bob Jones University because the school openly discriminated against African Americans (a decision upheld by a 1983 Supreme Court decision).

The Religious Right was formally birthed in 1979 from (primarily) white southern anger over pluralism and the 1963, 1973 and 1976 federal decisions. Rallying Christian fundamentalists and taking the name "Moral Majority" for their movement, they claimed to represent the voice of God in a nation that had forsaken God and turned to "human secularism." Falsely claiming that America at its founding had been a "Christian nation," they rejected the historical Baptist struggle for separation of church and state that culminated in the creation of the world's first secular nation, and instead created historical myths in which to anchor their desire for an American theocracy.

From 1979 to 2009, the Religious Right allied itself closely with a Republican Party that - proclaiming a moral and religious mandate - glorified unfettered capitalism, stoked public anger at the image of an intrusive "big government," passed laws that publicly benefited the wealthy while quietly stepping on the poor and middle classes, alienated minorities through party policies, cut the taxes of the wealthy and produced unequaled federal debt and an unparalleled wealth gap between rich and poor, warred against other nations on false pretenses, proclaimed opposition to Roe v. Wade (but did nothing to overturn it), fought against separation of church and state, and used evangelical language and theocratic imagery to continually co-opt fundamentalist Christians.

Then, in February 2009, the nation's first black president took office, and the mostly white Republican Party found itself largely confined to the states of the Old Confederacy, rejected soundly by voters under 40 nationwide, and decidedly thrown out of national power for the foreseeable future.

In response, white Republicans and Libertarians began holding "tea parties" protesting "big government," both in terms of growing debt (Obama inherited an economic disaster from the Bush administration, and government efforts to shore up the economy violated the god of capitalism which many conservatives worship - never mind that runaway capitalism got the country into our current mess) and intrusion upon personal "liberties" and "freedoms." Both the imagery (Revolutionary War) and language ("freedom," "liberty," "patriots") echo arguments used by white antebellum southerners in their defense of slavery.

This month, enraged tea partiers have transferred their anger (and hatred) to congressional town hall meetings focused on the moment's issue: health care reform. Conservative white Republicans and Libertarians are now channeling their anti-government anger against health care reform.

Yesterday's edition of National Public Radio's To the Point, a panel discussion of health care and religion, summed up the anger-laden health care reform debate. A spokesman for the Christian Coalition (an arm of the Religious Right) cut through the clutter in the current debate. Health care is not the real issue, he insisted. The real issue is that "the government will control everything," beginning with health care. He later continued, "public health care will destroy our democracy." A representative of the conservative Cato Institute added that "government operates through violence or threats of violence" and insisted that if health care reform is enacted, "the government will put you in jail or shoot you if you don't buy health care insurance." The Christian Coalition spokesman rejected any concept of universal health care as a moral issue, insisted that one of the current health care reform proposals includes the words "rationed care" (and then had to recant when it was pointed out that he was not telling the truth), and defended capitalism as biblical. Another guest, an American health care scholar originally from Canada, remembered that upon moving to the United States, she was stunned to observe that some conservatives "believe in markets the way some people believe in God or Christ." Jim Wallis of Sojourners calmly and systematically pointed out the falsehoods propagated by the Christian Coalition and Cato Institute, while a Catholic scholar outlined the moral, ethical and Christian imperative of universal health care.

To the ears of one who has spent much of the past few years writing on the subject of religion and the American Civil War (the focus of my dissertation), the rhetoric and language of yesterday's NPR health care debate resonated closely with the rhetoric and language of the antebellum and Civil War era debates concerning slavery: white religious conservatives selfishly defended their personal "freedoms" and "liberties" and "rights", while religious liberals argued for the biblical, moral and ethical imperative of equal rights and justice for all persons. Ironically, however, the conservative slavery-defenders of old had a much more solid biblical case than today's religiously conservative opponents of health care reform: slavery is a biblical theme and as a practice is not explicitly condemned in the Bible, while there is no biblical basis for free markets and capitalism; in fact, the New Testament repeatedly condemns the pursuit of individual wealth and warns against the corrupting influence of money.

The white anger over Obama's presidency and health care reform, in the words of protesters, ultimately rests in claims that the federal government is plotting to take away their freedoms and liberties. Video clips of this month's town hall meetings across the nation include angry senior citizens living on socialized medicine (Medicare) ranting against ... socialized medicine. The video clips also reveal claims that the government "outlawed prayer and legalized abortion" and now wants to take away the right to decide one's own health care, and "we're not gonna take it anymore!"

It is well documented that most of the health care reform claims of the angry white crowds of protesters are not true; they are simply repeating lies. But the anger is real, and it is strikingly similar in tone, language and content to that used by white southerners who defended slavery and railed against big government in the antebellum South. Whereas slavery was the real issue and antebellum white southerners used the pretext of an intrusive big government interfering with their personal freedoms and liberties in order to wage war on the North, today's angry white conservatives who constitute the base of a Republican Party anchored in the Old Confederacy have reversed the pattern: having convinced themselves (in the years since the Civil War, stoked in the modern era by Reagan) that federal government is determined to take away their personal freedoms and liberties (while at the same time unconcerned about the rights, freedoms and liberties of minorities and those who disagree with them), they are attacking an egalitarian-focused government by taking a very public and abrasive stand against a black president who is committed to ensuring that all Americans have adequate health care.

In other words, to a previous generation of white southerners, the campaign to abolish slavery became the pretext for constructing a narrative of an intrusive federal government denying personal freedom and liberty to the racially privileged, while universal health care today has become ground zero of the antebellum/Civil War era racially-infused "intrusive federal government" narrative that never died.

Who will win in this modern reenactment of the American Civil War? Big government has never been the real problem. In 1861 and today, the real issues entail human rights, morality and ethics. And in both instances, certain privileged classes (whether by power, socio-economic position, religion, wealth, and/or race) ignore the real issues in order to preserve the status quo that favors them.

The American ideal, encapsulated in our nation's founding documents although not always fully realized, is a nation of persons enjoying equal rights, freedoms and liberties. Emancipation of blacks moved America closer to these ideals; enactment of universal health care is a step that would move us yet closer to the American ideal. It is time to put to rest the self-serving and racially-laden myths that took root in the antebellum South and have poisoned public discourse and civility ever since, and move a step closer to the American ideal that encompasses all persons, by enacting universal health care. I can only hope that today's Obama town hall meeting here in Bozeman , and others that follow in the coming days and weeks, will help move us closer toward the American ideal.

Notes:

Here is a beginning point in terms of a bibliography of the American Civil War.


Survey of Religion and the American Civil War

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Baptists and Socialized Medicine

John Leland, the famed revolutionary era Baptist evangelist who championed religious freedom, was adament about separation of church and state: he even insisted that the state should not grant ministers and congregations tax breaks.

Leland would be probably be appaled if he were alive today and could see the tax favoritisms granted to ministers and congregations by the U.S. government. Yet the tax favoritism does not come without strings: for instance, in addition to not being taxed on housing, an ordained minister may opt of paying Social Security and Medicare if he or she has moral, ethical or religious objections to participating in socialized medicine and retirement.

While some Baptist ministers do opt out of socialized medicine and retirement (or so I am told), most apparently do not. In fact, when I recently queried some minister friends about their participation in socialized medicine and retirement, several otherwise conservative Baptists defended their own involvement in socialism.

At the same time, some of these very same conservative Baptists insist that socialized medicine, while fine for them, should not be made available to their fellow Americans. This attitude of "socialized medicine is fine for me but allowing my fellow Americans to have it will ruin the country" seems to be the same attitude that is playing out in tea parties and anger-ridden town hall health care meetings: a lot of (primarily) senior citizens (and all white, I might add) on socialized medicine are ticked off that Americans at large may be allowed to also receive socialized medicine.

What does it say for Baptists (and other clergy) and senior citizens (and conservatives at that) who refuse to give up their socialized medicine, to insist that their fellow Americans not be allowed into their socialist club? Perhaps this is just a little snapshot of how America has become a nation of selfish individuals (including religious folk) who are only concerned with their own interests and who have little to no compassion for their fellow Americans. I'd like to think this is not the case, but I'm not so sure anymore.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Baptist History Tidbits

R.L. Vaughn of Texas recently posted his survey of Landmark Baptist churches. Vaughn estimates that approximately 1300 Landmark Baptist congregations exist, with total membership of about 200,000. In addition, he identifies 35 Landmark associations. He also divides the congregations into types of Landmarkers.

More and more colleges and universities are turning to online resources in the classroom. A Baptist history course taught at Williams Baptist College in Arkansas is one example of how the online world is changing the higher education classroom.

The Baptist History and Heritage Society recently added new articles to its "History Speaks to Hard Questions Baptists Ask" and "Baptist Heritage Bulletin Insert" series.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Health Care and Christians: Forsaking Jesus

Right now in America, a paradoxical scene is playing out: millions of so-called Christians are mad as hell that our president and the Congress is proposing a health care overhaul that will allow all Americans access to basic health care. For many of these millions of Christians, their pro-life agenda begins and ends with abortion; the fact that America's current for-profit health care industry puts profits before life (and in the process leads to thousands if not tens of thousands of deaths each year) means nothing to them. And beyond defending an industry that kills people in order to pad the pockets of billionaires, these same so-called Christians have seemingly forsaken any interest in truth and instead worship Fox News, the most untruthful and hate-filled news network on television.

But don't take my word for it. Religious Right insider Frank Schaeffer, whose father was a founder of the Religious Right, provides the inside scoop on why conservative Christians are lying about the proposed health care proposal and orchestrating a campaign of deception and fear in the current town hall meetings. (Schaeffer uses the term "conservative Christians," although not all conservative Christians are of the caliber he describes.)

And here's more of the inside story of Republican and Christian Right lies.

For Jesus' sake, it would be best if these so-called Christians simply stopped calling themselves Christians (Foxians would certainly be a more appropriate label).

Fortunately, some Christians are actually acting like followers of Jesus by advocating for life and compassion the way Christ did in the Bible:

Health Care Debate Comes to the Church

Christians Weigh In On Health Care Reform

Thinking of Health Care as a Moral Issue