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.