Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Virginia Baptists Stand Tall for Historical Truth

The Baptist General Association of Virginia, in their annual meeting on Tuesday strongly affirmed their faith heritage and took a stand for historical truth:

Inaccurate history threatens religious liberty

Whereas, the Baptist principles of religious liberty and its safeguard, separation of church and state (or government neutrality toward all religions and nonreligion), are well grounded in this nation’s history, and

Whereas, the labors of Virginians, notably Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, James Madison, and the Baptist minister John Leland, were crucial in the historic events that made these two principles part of our nation’s Bill of Rights, and

Whereas, no people, Baptist or otherwise, can remain true to its principles if its knowledge or collective memory of these principles is tampered with, altered, or replaced by a false version of history, and

Whereas, the Religious Liberty Committee of the Baptist General Association of Virginia has concluded that systematic efforts have been under way in recent decades to write and teach versions of American history that minimize and sometimes deny the historic basis of one or both of the principles named above, and

Whereas, resources are available for correcting any such mistaken history, including a 1999 article by Stephen Stookey of Fort Worth, Texas,
Now therefore be it resolved, that the Baptist General Association of Virginia calls upon Virginia Baptists, and all who cherish religious liberty, (1) to redouble their efforts to know and teach the historical foundation and meaning of the two principles named above, (2) to regard it as a threat to the flourishing of religious liberty when any version of our nation’s history minimizes or denies the historical basis of either of these principles, and (3) to be diligent in resisting and correcting any such mistaken version of our history.

Thanks for Virginia Baptists for leading the way for religious liberty and separation of church and state in the 18th century, and now, again, in the 21st century.

Read the story from Associated Baptist Press.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

"The Christian Right in Context"

Richard T. Hughes, professor of religion at Messiah College and author of Christian America and the Kingdom of God, offers the first in a series of articles addressing "The Christian Right in Context."

In this first article, he outlines why "orthodox Christians" of America's Revolutionary era (which did not include Baptists and Quakers, both groups widely considered heretical by established colonial churches) were hostile to America's founding fathers, feared religious freedom, and "were insistent that the United States should become a Christian nation."

In short, "orthodox Christians" of the late eighteenth century considered America's founding fathers as liberals and heretics with a secular agenda; believed that government sanctioned and controlled religion was necessary for a healthy-functioning society and state; and did not want to relinguish their colonial theocracies.

By way of comparison, the modern Religious Right (orthodox evangelicals) has bestowed sainthood upon America's founding fathers, transforming them from secular, liberal heretics to orthodox Christians; believes that government sanctioned and controlled religion is the answer to modern moral and social ills; and advocates a return to a colonial theocratic model.

Whereas in the late eighteenth century, America's founding fathers (goaded by and allied with Baptists in particular) crushed orthodox dreams of a Christian nation, today's evangelicals (including far too many Baptists) have created mythical, orthodox national founders as a bridge to theocracy.

For national Baptists, the remarkable part of this whitewashing of history is that by marching backward to colonial theocracy, they are blotting out their own faith heritage that shaped their own nation.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Of Bapto-Catholics and Baptist Historians

The recent public give-and-take between Bapto-Catholic theologians and Baptist historians continues.

A student from Baylor explains that he is a Baptist because of the historic Baptist commitment to individual freedom of conscience, while a self-proclaimed Baylor Bapto-Catholic professor (who denies individual freedom of conscience) explains that his mission is to turn Baptists into Catholics.

Meanwhile, a growing list of Baptist historians, theologians, ethicists and ministers from Cooperative Baptist, Southern Baptist, American Baptist USA, National Baptist USA, and Canadian Baptist life have become additional endorsers of "An Affirmation of Common Baptist Themes."

Today, Steve Harmon argues for the recitation of the ancient creeds in Baptist worship, claiming that prior to the 19th century, Baptists embraced the early Church creeds.

Here is my reply (as submitted to Steve's blog, with the assumption he will eventually approve the comment):

Baptists are certainly free to choose to recite a creed or creeds if they wish ... but one cannot in good conscience reconstruct our faith history to suit one's own agenda.

I am aware that you anchor your Baptistness on the early English Baptist confessions, which some of your colleagues claim affirm the ancient creeds of the Church. Yet, only one early English Baptist confession even mentions the ancient creeds, the Orthodox Creed (so named at a time when Baptists used the words "creed" and "confession" interchangeably when referencing their confessions of faith), a statement that was signed by 54 men and never affirmed or adopted by any Baptist community of faith.

On the other hand, early English Baptist confessions frequently affirmed that scripture alone was their source of faith and practice ... and rarely, if ever, recited the ancient creeds in worship. (Which makes me wonder why you seem to want to take Baptists to a place they have never been, historically?)

From early English Baptist confessions:

“the Holie Word off God, which onelie is our direction in al things whatsoever.” (A Declaration of Faith of English People, Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland, 1611; section 22)

“The Rule of this Knowledge, Faith, and Obedience, concerning the worship and service of God, and all other Christian duties, is not man's inventions, opinions, devices, laws, constitutions, or traditions unwritten whatsoever, but only the word of God contained in the Canonical Scriptures. In this written Word God hath plainly revealed whatsoever he hath thought needful for us to know, believe, and acknowledge, touching the Nature and Office of Christ, in whom all the promises are Yea and Amen to the praise of God.” (First London Confession, 1644, sections VII and VIII)

“The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith and Obedience …. The Authority of the Holy Scripture for which it ought to be believed dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church …. The whole Councel of God concerning all things necessary for his own Glory, Mans Salvation, Faith and Life, is either expressely set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture; unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new Revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men …. The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: And therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold by one) it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly. The supream judge by which all controversies of Religion are to be determined, and all Decrees of Councels, opinions of ancient Writers, Doctrines of men, and private Spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved” (Second London Confession, 1677, Chapter 1)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Baptist Historians Sign "An Affirmation of Common Baptist Themes"

A group of fourteen Baptist historians that for nine years has been convening annually to study primary documents in Baptist history has released a statement entitled, "An Affirmation of Common Baptist Themes." The common themes are: sola Scriptura, freedom of conscience, believer's baptism, personal experience of God, priesthood of all believers, personal and communal devotion to God, the church as the body of Christ, local church autonomy, congregational polity, two ordinances (baptism and Lord's Supper), voluntary cooperation among churches, religious liberty, and the separation of church and state.

The historians declare, "We believe these themes are still relevant and should continue to inform our Baptist heritage and witness."

I am a member of this group, which was originally convened by Walter B. Shurden under the auspices of the former Mercer University's Center for Baptist Studies. From 2004 until last year, I worked with "Buddy" Shurden as the Associate Director of the Center, and after his retirment in 2007, served as the Interim Director of the Center. Currently, Loyd Allen of Mercer's McAfee School of Theology is in charge of convening the group.

The statement includes a listing of all fourteen historians, as well as their current professional affiliations.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Bapto-Catholics Move Into the Spotlight in North Carolina

Five individuals within the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina are causing quite a stir: they are, in effect, calling upon North Carolina CBFers to forsake the Baptist heritage of freedom of conscience and the priesthood of all believers, while downplaying religious liberty and separation of church and state, in order to embrace and formally align themselves with ancient creedalism and the magisterium ecclesiology of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.

The five North Carolina individuals are: Don Gordon (pastor, Yates Baptist Church), Larry Harper (Forest Hills Baptist Church), Gail Coulter (retired pastor, Providence Baptist Church, Hendersonville), Ken Massey (pastor, First Baptist Church, Greensboro, North Carolina), and Curtis Freeman (Professor of Theology, Duke Divinity School). They are the authors of a newly-proposed foundational statement for CBF North Carolina, a statement that is clearly at odds with the both the current foundational statement of CBF North Carolina and current national CBF foundational statements.

The statement is currently being circulated among North Carolina Baptists via discussion sessions.

The provenance of the document has direct roots in the 1997 Baptist Manifesto, a "Re-Visioning of Baptist Identity" by a handful of Baptist theologians that denied freedom of conscience and soul liberty as central to the Baptist narrative, rejected the priesthood of all believers and the individual's right to interpret scripture, sought a magisterium to ensure proper biblical teaching within the community of faith, and moved toward the sacramental theology of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Curtis Freeman was a primary author of the Manifesto document, and Ken Massey attached his signature to it.

Since the penning of the Manifesto statement, the Manifesto movement, until now largely confined to theological circles in moderate Baptist seminaries, has moved further away from Baptist history and heritage and more fully embraced ancient creedalism, magisterium ecclesiology, and sacramental theology, along the way becoming known as "Bapto-Catholicism." Freeman has written extensively along these lines (you can see his bibliography by clicking on "Publications" on this page). Freeman's Bapto-Catholic theology is front and center in the newly-proposed CBF NC founding statement.

For their part, Baptist historians have watched Bapto-Catholic theologians tread deeper into creedalism and sacramentalism, and spoken against the movement's forsaking of Baptist history and heritage in favor of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology and thought. Buddy Shurden, pre-emient Baptist historian, penned an early, widely-circulated response to Freeman and his colleagues, entitled "The Baptist Identity and the Baptist Manifesto."

Bapto-Catholics, however, largely ignored the piece, and in the ensuing years Baptist historians and Bapto-Catholic theologians have largely talked past one another, rather than to one another, as Curtis Freeman and others have noted. Ralph Wood, Bapto-Catholic theologian and professor of Theology at Baylor University, perhaps best summed up the apparent disdain that some Bapto-Catholics have for the central Baptist principle of freedom of conscience. Lamenting that Baptists never created a "rich tradition," he praises the sacramental theology of the Roman Catholic Church expressed in baptism and Eucharist, and declares: "This enormously fecund tradition helps prevent Catholics from espousing a rather pathetic do-it-yourself religion, each believer determing truth for himself." (Source: Catholic.Net) Few Baptists in North Carolina are likely aware of the extent of the disdain that some Bapto-Catholics hold toward our historical Baptist identity.

The tendency of Baptist historians and Bapto-Catholic theologians to remain in their respective corners, however, may have dissolved with the emergence of Bapto-Catholics from divinity school theology departments into the mainstream of North Carolina CBF life. The response of historians and others to the Bapto-Catholic-centric proposed NC CBF foundational statement has been swift and public.

Aaron Weaver, doctoral student at Baylor University and blogging as "The Big Daddy Weave," gets credit for breaking the story and offering an appropriate, reasoned analysis of the attempt by Bapto-Catholics to lead North Carolina moderate Baptists away from Baptist principles. Tony Cartledge, professor of Old Testament in the Campbell University Divinity School (NC) and Contributing Editor of Baptists Today, followed up with a well-written and pointed response to Freeman and his Bapto-Catholic colleages and offered a word of caution to North Carolina CBFers. Glenn Jonas, professor of history and chairman of Campbell's Department of Religion and Philosophy, speaking as a historian, has weighed in on both Weaver's and Cartledge's blogs and today penned his own blog entry. And I have also joined in the discussion on Weaver's and Cartledge's blogs. From the Bapto-Catholic side, Steve Harmon, theology professor at Gardner-Webb University's School of Divinity (NC) and vocal advocate of sacramental theology, has also joined in the blogosphere discussion.

In the coming days, we can expect other Baptist historians (within and without the state of North Carolina) to weigh in regarding this development in North Carolina, while the moderate Baptist press provides increasing coverage. The discussion sessions regarding the newly proposed Bapto-Catholic founditional document continue until early November. I am certain that North Carolina moderate Baptists will have a robust dialogue about our Baptist identity between now and then, a dialogue that will be helpful and instructive as moderate Baptists everywhere move forward in the shaping of our future as a people of faith.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Texas War on Textbooks

In the world of American education, the Texas State Board of Education has been in the spotlight in recent months. Attempts by far-right members of the Board came to a culmination last week in a decision to re-write Texas public school textbooks in a manner which downplays minorities' contributions to American history, glosses over pivotal historical themes such as slavery, and banishes Baptists' greatest contribution to American history - the separation of church and state - in favor of advocating the myth of America founded as a Christian nation.

Following is a collection of articles, editorials and commentary focused on how Christian fundamentalists, in control of the Texas State Board of Education, came to rewrite history for the state of Texas, and the implications of such historical revisionism:

American Historical Association:
The official response to the Texas State Board of Education from the American Historical Association - the response focuses on history prior to 1877 (May 24)

Associated Baptist Press:
Texas board gives final approval to controversial textbook standards (May 24)
Religious leaders decry proposed Texas textbook standards (May 13)
Gaddy urges textbook publishers to ignore new textbook standards (March 22)
Baptists decry Texas board's votes on textbook standards (March 16)

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty:
Texas Textbook Decisions Have National Implications (April 13)

Baptist Press:
Texas School Board Members Dispute Critics' Assertions (March 29)

Baptist Studies Bulletin:
Baptist, Muslims, Atheists and the First Amendment - by Bruce Gourley (May)

Dallas Morning News:
Texas State Board of Education Approves New Textbook Standards (May 22)
At Board of Education, Church-State Fight Grows (May 15)
3 Education Board Members Take Issue With Social Studies Proposal (October 16, 2009)

Houston Chronicle:
McLeroy Offers More Shifts on Social Studies Changes (May 17)

New York Times:
Texas Approves Textbook Changes (May 22)
Textbook School Board Set to Vote Textbook Revisions (May 20)
Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change (March 12)
How Christian Were the Founders? (February 14)

San Francisco Chronicle:
Texas Skews Curriculum With New Changes, California Set to Respond (May 22)

Telegraph (U.K.):
Biblical Values and Confederates Promoted in Texas Textbook Revisions (May 21)

Wall Street Journal:
Texas Board of Education Adopts Controversial Curriculum (May 21)
Texas Syllabus: It's History (May 20)

Bloggers:
Read what bloggers are saying

Monday, May 03, 2010

An Armageddon in the Gulf ... of Mexico?

While Tim LaHaye and the Council for National Policy try to arrange wars in the Middle East in order to force Christ's return, a present-day Armageddon is unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico.

I have been following, from afar and in horror, the epic saga of the British Petroleum oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico (here is the moment's story from the New York Times). In short, the deepest offshore well ever drilled is now gushing as much as a million gallons of oil daily (by some estimates) into the waters of the Gulf, following an explosion on and subsequent sinking of the drilling platform on April 20. And no one really knows the upper limits of just how much oil is gushing up from the ocean floor, although it could become the greatest ocean oil disaster ever.

All efforts to stanch the oil have failed, and it may be up to three months before the flow is finally stopped. Already, the oil slick is reaching the marshlands of Louisiana, and it will soon coat the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida with oil, with the possibility that the slick will round the tip of Florida and head northward up the eastern seaboard and further into the Atlantic Ocean.

The implications are staggering. Ocean ecosystems could be wiped out, resulting in chain reactions that we cannot imagine at the moment. Entire human industries and livelihoods dependent upon the Gulf and Atlantic oceans could be destroyed for months or even years to come.

The back story is that BP earlier claimed their deep sea exploration was completely safe and that any accidents were "virtually impossible." Seriously. They actually said that.

In addition to BP's arrogance, some are blaming Halliburton (yes, the same Dick Cheney company that stole untold tens if not hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars through government contracts in Iraq they never fulfilled) for some work they did for BP on the seabed below the drilling platform that exploded. And in hindsight, some experts are saying that oil companies are drilling too far below the ocean surface to ensure safety.

It makes me cringe to think what we as humans are doing to the planet God gave us. We're poisoning the air, land and oceans with reckless abandon, for the profit of a few and the pleasures and conveniences of the masses. Rather than using our technology to be stewards of God's creation, we use it for destructive, self-serving purposes.

Perhaps this horrific tragedy will serve as a wakeup call to people of faith and our nation and world at large, concerning the dangers of abusing the earth. Or perhaps the time has already passed for a wakeup call, and the best we can hope for is to begin the long-term task of partially patching up a planet that has already been fatally wounded by human greed and callousness, of which the Gulf oil spill is the latest example.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Cecil Sherman: You Will Be Missed, But Your Presence Remains

Cecil Sherman, respected pastor and denominational statesman in Baptist life, passed away April 17. Yet Sherman, to Baptists, was much more than pastor and denominational leader. Sam Hodges, Dallas Morning News religion reporter, hints at the place Sherman held in Baptist life in referring to him as the "Mount Rushmore" of moderate Baptists. At a time when the carefully-laid foundations of institutional Southern Baptist life buckled and ultimately collapsed under the weight of newly empowered legalistic, fundamentalist religion channeled into the "takeover" of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), Sherman stood tall, offering a prophetic voice that many on both the right and left did not want to hear, and blazing a trail for traditional Baptists seeking to escape the Southern Baptist wreckage.

Memorial services, including webcasts, are scheduled for today and Thursday for the man who served as the first leader of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). The emergence of the CBF in 1990/1991, led by Sherman, signaled that for white Baptists in the South, the larger Baptist identity, distinctives, heritage and missionary impulse would remain intact at a time when a new breed of fundamentalist Baptists were trying their best to demolish centuries-old Baptist foundations of freedom of conscience, the priesthood of all believers, biblical faithfulness, religious liberty and separation of church and state.

In 2008 Cecil Sherman published his autobiography, entitled By My Own Reckoning. The volume tells the story of how a Southern Baptist pastor who in his early ministry courageously confronted the racial prejudices of white Baptists in the South, was later pushed and propelled to the forefront of national Baptist life and consciousness for the sake of Baptists everywhere. For new generations of moderate Baptists who reject legalistic religion but did not personally witness the wilderness journey that paved the way for their own spiritual birthing, By My Own Reckoning provides an invaluable account of the recent history that underlies their own faith story.

Cecil Sherman, 82 at the time of his passing, was preceded in death by his wife, Dorothy "Dot" Hair. He is survived by his daughter, Eugenia Sherman Brown, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin; his brother, Bill Sherman, of Nashville, Tennessee; his sister, Ruth, who lives in Oklahoma City, and a grandson, Nathaniel.

While Cecil Sherman will be missed by traditional Baptists everywhere, his presence in Baptist life remains with us, forever woven into the narrative of a freedom-loving people of faith.

More Links:

Associated Baptist Press obituary

News and Updates from the Cecil Sherman website

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Anti-American Health Care Reform Opponents Spew Hatred and Venom

Colonial Baptists, over some 150 years of bloodied backs and prison time, played an instrumental role in establishing America as the world's first nation that, through governing structures, placed primary emphasis upon human rights, freedoms and welfare. To be certain, the ideals of our nation's founding fathers - in no small part inspired by Baptists' insistence upon full religious liberty and separation of church and state - are yet being worked out in the realm of reality: slavery was legal until the 1860s, racial discrimination was legal until the 1960s, gender discrimination was long a part of our nation's history, and to this very day the anti-American spirit of inequality remains embedded within the hearts, minds and souls of many Americans.

Much of American history has revolved around a narrative of individuals who were (and are) far more concerned with their own well-being than that of their fellow Americans. This pattern began in the colonial era, when established state churches (theocracies) respected only those who were of their particular religious faith. For this reason the heretical, liberal, radical Baptists were beaten, whipped, jailed and suffered many other persecutions at the hands of theocratic colonial governments. That Baptists emerged triumphant in the Revolutionary era is a testimony to their perseverance and their unselfish commitment to the championing of equal rights for all persons: their victory in securing America's founding as a secular nation committed to religious liberty for all and separation of church and state was a victory for all Americans. The colonial theocracies lost their power and control, and state churches could no longer use government to force religious compliance, as the United States Constitution created a nation of citizens with legal equal rights and privileges (with the exception of blacks and women, admittedly, for many years).

And yet ... in addition to, and alongside of, racial and gender issues, the colonial-era legacy of power and privilege that refuses to recognize the equality of citizens remains embedded within America.

The opening years of the 20th century witnessed the ascent of corporations to the seats of power and privilege formally occupied by colonial theocrats. By the 1930s, corporate leaders, playing to fears stoked by the Great Depression, convinced many American citizens that any government policies designed to further the "general welfare" of the citizenry as stated by the U.S. Constitution, were in reality attempts to turn America into a socialist or communist nation. This perverse misuse of the Constitution, spearheaded and stoked by corporate interests and fanned into flames by many (primarily) majority white citizens (including many conservative Protestant Christians) who feared immigrants and (later) opposed equal rights for blacks, in the ensuing decades erupted into full blown rage. Opposition (often violent) to Social Security (1935), minimum wage laws (1938), the Civil Rights Act (1964), and Medicare (1965) - all of which were enacted to further the general welfare and equality of all American citizens - was led (to varying degrees) by a combination of corporate interests and white religious indignation claiming (in each instance) that the legislation was either socialist or communist (or both).

While corporate America (increasingly aligned with white conservative Protestants) proved unable to prevent the enactment of the four landmark social legislation achievements noted above, by playing upon the fears of majority whites, corporations further consolidated power and control over America under the guise of free markets (with unfettered free markets held forth as the righteous alternative to godless socialism and communism). By the early 1970s, ongoing fear-fueled fallout from three decades of social legislation reached a tipping point as unfettered free market ideology gained enough influence and power within the national political sphere and on main street to nudge government toward redistribution of the nation's wealth to the rich. And by 1980, the final marriage of corporation, white conservative Protestantism, and federal government was consummated: Ronald Reagan served in the U.S. presidency and enacted policies further transferring the nation's wealth to the rich, while Jerry Falwell formally aligned the nation's white conservative Protestants with the morality-cloaked economic agenda of Reagan Republicans (in the 1960s, Falwell had opposed civil rights as a communist agenda; now he led the rising Religious Right to oppose the "communist" agenda of Democrats and religious liberals).

For the next three decades, corporate America ruled virtually unchecked, served by government. The era of far-reaching social legislation came to an end; government's championing of the "general welfare" of the citizenry was mothballed. White conservative Christians (many increasingly voicing theocratic overtones), having been convinced of the godliness of unfettered free markets, cheered as their money was redistributed to the wealthy, convinced that their Republican allies would reward them by enacting their religious agendas into federal law. The alliance of corporation, religion and government received an additional boost when in 1996 Republican strategist Roger Ailes formed the Fox News Channel to assist in the furtherance of the Corporate/Republican/Religious Right agenda.

Under Republicans, the first decade of the 21st century witnessed an even greater acceleration of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. By 2004, the richest Americans were taxed at a federal rate well less than half of that of 1970, while the remaining population was stuck with a higher federal tax rate than in 1970. By 2007, the 400 richest Americans owned more wealth than 1/2 of the entire United States population (that is, the 150,000,000 least wealthy Americans). And at present, the United States is now the equivalent of a third-world nation in terms of the disparity between rich and poor.

And then along came Barack Obama, America's first black president, in 2009.

Immediately angry white Americans formed the "Tea Party" movement. Suddenly indignant over deficit spending (the trademark of Republican administrations from Reagan forward, and especially under George W. Bush) and tax increases (never mind that Reagan enacted the largest peacetime tax increase in American history), and claiming that Obama was a socialist and a communist - and Hitler reincarnate - and would ruin America through health care reform, the Tea Party movement set out to drive Obama out of office. The racist nature inherent within much of the white Tea Party movement is readily evident: they resort to the same arguments antebellum southern whites used in defending slavery (states rights and freedom only for themselves and like-minded persons) and they repeatedly put white supremacists front-and-center stage in their rallies (both local and national).

Now, with the passage of health care reform (a goal sought by U.S. presidents since Teddy Roosevelt), the hatred of large-scale government actions on behalf of the general welfare of the citizenry - a hatred with colonial precedent in the persecution of religious heretics such as Baptists, its antebellum expression rooted in defense of slavery, and 20th century expressions driven by corporately and religiously-stoked fears of socialism and communism - has again erupted full-scale.

Specifically, Tea Partiers and allied Republicans, serving America's corporate interests, are frenzied with rage (also see here and here) against extending health care access to all Americans, a rage that has also revitalized the Religious Right in the post-George W. Bush era. At least one Southern Baptist pastor is calling upon God to kill all the Democrat lawmakers in Congress, while another insists that in offering health care access to all Americans, the United States has become equivalent to “Nazi Germany, Communist USSR, Communist Cuba, and Iraq under Saddam.” Yet they are only following the lead of Southern Baptist leaders such as ethicist Richard Land, who back in October labeled national health care as Nazism (and continues to rage against health care access), and theologian Albert Mohler who (falsely) claims that health care reform legalizes federal funding of abortions, (falsely) claims that Christ is unconcerned with social reform, and expresses no concern for the tens of thousands of deaths and millions of ruined lives each year that result from America's current system of corporately-controlled, rationed health care.

In short, it has been a long, sordid journey to the present day where many white American Christians (including some national Southern Baptist leaders), now long married to unfettered capitalism and the extreme wing of the Republican Party and politically selfish-minded, are spewing anti-American hatred, venom and lies in their rage against health care access for all Americans.

Yet I am hopeful that David Leonhardt is right in his contention that putting an end to corporately-controlled rationed health care marks the beginning of pulling America out of its descent into third-world wealth-gap status, by reversing decades of economic stagnation and wealth redistribution to the rich, and refocusing government to serving the general welfare of all Americans.

And I want to believe that today's Baptists (in particular) who are at the moment so enraged that America once again is ready to serve all her citizens, will in a future cooler moment reflect upon their own faith heritage of championing equal rights for all, and recognize that selfish individualism is a barrier to America's greatness.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Texas Republican David Bradley: God Does Not Exist

Texas conservative and self-proclaimed Christian David Bradley, a Republican on the Texas Board of Education, has decided that God does not exist.

That is, according to Mr. Bradley's own reasoning, God does not exist.

Here's the story:

Bradley and his so-called "Christian" Republicans, who control the Texas Board of Education, have led the TBE to rewrite American history and economics to suit their own personal fantasies.

And what fantasies would that be? That separation of church and state in America never happened, and unfettered free markets are to be worshiped. Bradley and his allies even managed to censure Thomas Jefferson from Texas textbooks because Jefferson dared talk about separation of church and state.

That these so-called Christians would want to remove Jefferson and Baptists - the greatest champions of separation of church and state in colonial America - out of American history is rather strange. If not for Baptists of the 17th and 18th centuries, Bradley and his allies would quite likely be living in a nation in which the government mandated their religious beliefs. Yet bizarre as it seems, that is just their point: Bradley and his ilk are theocrats who want government to cater to their personal religious views and impose them on everyone else.

Not surprisingly, historians and other observers are outraged that Bradley and his allies have emasculated American history in order to serve their own personal interests.

And what does Mr. Bradley have to say to those who object to his fantasies-in-action? “I reject the notion by the left of a constitutional separation of church and state,” he declared. “I have $1,000 for the charity of your choice if you can find it in the Constitution.”

Mr. Bradley obviously has never heard of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which clearly establishes - thanks to the untiring efforts of our Baptist ancestors (and yes, they were liberals in their day) - the separation of church and state.

Every American who believes in the First Amendment should each claim the $1000 that Bradley offered to anyone who could locate separation of church and state in the Constitution. Beyond that, SOMEONE needs to introduce David Bradley to the U. S. Constitution, a document - his arrogant pronouncements notwithstanding - which is seemingly quite foreign to him.

"But wait," you say, Mr. Bradley? You mean that since the words "separation of church and state" are not in the Constitution, the concept does not exist? You only believe it if the exact wording is in the Constitution?

Ah, that is why you believe God does not exist! God is not mentioned in the Constitution ... and therefore God does not exist!

Well, Mr. Bradley, in secular America, you as an opponent of Baptists, worshiper of unfettered free markets, and apparent atheist, are free to practice your own peculiar fantasies, and even to label those fantasies as "Christian." And you're even free to try and draw others into your fantasy world. But if you insist on trying to force the government - local, state, or federal - to give favoritism to (and/or promote) your personal beliefs that you pass off as religion, those Baptists whom you've written out of the history books are gonna come back to haunt you one day.

And while in your constitutional world God does not exist, it is doubtful that your blindness and deafness to history is the last word about what is and what is not.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Mount Vernon Statement: Roadmap to (Another) Civil War

Last week a number of prominent religious and political conservatives (including Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) released a new statement of "Conservative Beliefs, Values and Principles." The document, entitled The Mount Vernon Statement, claims as its purpose the defense of "the high ground of America’s founding principles."

A cursory reading of the document, however, with a little knowledge of America's antebellum history, reveals the document for what it is: a modern restatement of the same political and religious arguments used by antebellum southern states in defending the rights of slaveholders to own slaves. Furthermore, the Mount Vernon pronouncement is modeled after a 1960 white conservative political call to arms - the Sharon Statement - against the liberalism of the Civil Rights movement. (The Mount Vernon Statement web site initially included a link to the Sharon Statement noting the inspiration derived from the 1960 document, but subsequently removed it.)

In short, the religious and politically conservative elites who signed the document have reclaimed the southern ideological "high ground" of states rights and freedom defined as personal liberties for select individuals (but mandated inequities in American society at large).

To this southern antebellum framework the Mount Vernon Statement adds civil privileges for Christians (does anyone doubt the reference to "faith" refers to Christians specifically?) and bows before the altar of unfettered free markets that have turned 21st-century America into the equivalent of a Third World (undeveloped) nation in regards to the astonishing inequities of our national wealth gap.

Young conservative Southern Baptists are right to criticize SBC leaders who signed this statement as persons "seduced by political idolatry." Conservative political icon Christopher Buckley is likely right that the statement more immediately originates from an innate hatred of President Obama. Other commentators are correct to point out that the Mount Vernon Statement mangles its usage of America's founding documents (not to mention the irony that the United States Constitution, which Mount Vernon signees present as of divine origin, makes no mention of God).

While likely few, if any, of the signers of the Mount Vernon Statement are racists, the statement - like the larger Tea Party movement which it parrots - is that of white conservatives devoted to antebellum southern ideology welded with modern free market extremism. The statement is not reflective of the ethnically diverse, pluralistic nation that America is, nor is it reflective of the Christ to whom some of the signees claim allegiance. Rather than a roadmap to the future, it is a desperate attempt to mandate an inequitable society ruled by an ideology that has more in common with theocracies and oligarchies than western democracy. Our colonial Baptist forefathers lived under such tyrannies, and their ongoing witness and ageless voices serve as a warning to all Americans to remain faithful to our nation's founding principles of democracy, freedom, and equality for all.

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Progressivism" is a "Disease in the Republic"?

Glenn Beck, he of Tea Party fame, recently pronounced that the "progressive movement" is a "disease in the Republic" and a "cancer." He also said: "All right, now, if all of this sounds like a government out of control, go back to the progressive movement. It is not what our founders of this country intended."

One thing Tea Partiers consistently ignore is history. Despite their moniker, the movement bears no resemblance to the revolutionary-era Boston Tea Party. And despite Beck's rantings, progressivism has always been at the core of the American nation.

Baptists in the colonial era were the progressives of the day (alongside smaller groups like Quakers), fighting for freedom of conscience, religious liberty, pluralism, and separation of church and state. The Baptist vision - for some 150 years considered heretical and subversive by conservative, theocratic colonial church states - finally won out in the founding of the new American nation, a nation founded upon the liberal, progressive principles of freedom, justice, secular government, human equality, and human rights.

In the decades and centuries following, it fell upon successive generations to further advance the nation's expressed commitment to freedom and human rights. The story of America from the late 18th century to the present is a narrative of a nation fleshing out the substance of these founding principles, ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution in terms of America as a people who are committed to human equality, "justice," "domestic tranquility", "common defence," "the general welfare" of all citizens, "the blessings of liberty," and First Amendment rights of separation of church and state and freedom of expression. It is a story yet unfinished, and pockmarked with plenty of warts. But it is the story of the unfolding of the ideals voiced by our nation's founding fathers.

Yet demagogues like Glenn Beck have little use for truth or for America's liberal, progressive founding principles. Rather, their concern is their own personal welfare at the expense of those with whom they disagree. Their rhetorical demands are for a country in which there is essentially no federal government, taxes are virtually non-existent, life and death and wealth and poverty are willed by the profit-driven dictates of large corporations, freedom of conscience is restricted (if not illegal), diversity does not exist, the full rights of citizenship are limited to ideologically-pure persons (and maybe even ethnically pure), and freedom exists only within the parameters of approved group-think.

In short, the world of Glenn Beck and his loyalists is a world opposed to historical American principles and ideals. And while America's liberal, progressive foundations allow Beck the freedom to express his subversive views, if Beck and his followers were to succeed in abolishing America's historical identity, their ideological triumph would seal the destruction of the nation they love to hate.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A CAPSULE HISTORY OF BAPTISTS to be Released March 1

My newest book, entitled A Capsule History of Baptists, published by the Baptist History and Heritage Society, is scheduled for release March 1. Early reviews are available here. Pricing is 20% off for pre-orders placed prior to March 1.

As a teaser, here are the opening paragraphs of the volume:

"Prison bars and hostile courts on two continents during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries fueled a freedom movement unlike any the world had never known: the liberation of human conscience and the separation of church and state. Political and religious authorities in Britain tried mightily to repress the little religious sect that refused to be silenced.

Theocrats in the colonies sought to eradicate the troublesome dissenters from the
New World. The religious and political establishment, in short, denied earthly citizenship and shut the gates of heaven in order to silence dissident cries for freedom. And yet the small, persecuted sect that came to be known as Baptists persevered.

Against all odds, the freedom fighters slowly, relentlessly gnawed the cords that had bound human conscience for over twelve hundred years. They endured death, beatings, whippings, and stonings. Wafting from dank jails, back alleys, and dark forests, the Baptist cry of freedom perplexed the powerful and inspired other dissenters.


From their beginnings, Baptists were the subject of an eradication campaign directed by the most powerful figures in
Europe. Thomas Helwys (c. 1575-1616), a wealthy and respected layman who cast his lot with the first Baptist congregation in 1609 in Amsterdam, was jailed in 1612 in Newgate, the most loathsome and feared prison in England. Within four years of his incarceration, at about the age of forty, Helwys became the first Baptist martyr. The story of his faith and death defined the narrative of the people called Baptists until the late eighteenth century, while his personal convictions grounded the Baptist nexus and ethos for over four centuries."

Did I mention that the price of the book is 20% off until March 1? :-)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Howard Zinn: A Legacy of a Journey Unfinished

Howard Zinn died this week. While his death did not generate headline status, his legacy - that of telling the stories of common people who changed a nation - daily pulses on the front pages of American newspapers large and small, digital and print, that chronicle the struggles of a country in cultural upheaval. It is a legacy yet straining toward a distant finish line, halting and paradoxical, inching forward despite hurricane-force corporate headwinds generated by powerful and wealthy elites.

While Zinn's rise from a modest background to World War II bomber pilot to Civil Rights activist to world-acclaimed historian spanned most of the 20th century, his contribution to the American narrative found expression with the 1980 publication of A People's History of the United States, a volume that changed the telling of history. Prior to Zinn's People's History, the story of America as told in the nation's classrooms was from the perspective of political and wealthy white elites, past and present.

Departing from the status quo of sanitized public history, Zinn offered a bold - and radical - new look at the American story through the eyes and lives of working people, the disenfranchised, and overlooked minorities. Controversial to this day due to its examination of the long-ignored dark underside of American heroes (Thomas Jefferson the salveholder, or Andrew Jackson's harsh campaign to remove Native Americans, for example), A People's History (undergoing numerous editions since 1980) nonetheless transformed history classrooms by summoning the voices of minorities and common folk to tell their version of U.S. history.

Ironically, Zinn's public call to remember history from a common-folk and minority perspective began even as American politics entered into what became a three-decade effort to position history more firmly into the domain of powerful elites at the expense of everyone else. With a wink at working families and religious conservatives, the affable Ronald Reagan and his Republican allies began to systematically redistribute wealth from the pocketbooks of the poor to the already-bulging bank accounts of the richest of the rich. Remarkably, the victims of Reaganomics smiled and praised the "great communicator" as he talked of tax cuts for the poor and middle class (while in reality cutting the taxes of the richest of Americans and enacting the largest tax increase in American history in order to finance his redistribution of wealth) and restoration of America's moral, "Christian" heritage (while his promises of "restoring prayer" in public schools and anti-abortion rhetoric prompted the formation of the Religious Right and brought about the marriage of religious conservatives and the Republican Party, he never delivered on his words).

Thirty years later, the ideological warfare between elites and common folk rages unabated. Under George W. Bush, the redistribution of wealth to the rich reached historical proportions, with the 400 richest Americans worth more than the 150,000,000 million poorest (that's almost half the U.S. population, and here is a perspective on the numbers). The disparity is now so great that the United States is the equivalent of a Third World (undeveloped) nation in regards to the nation's wealth gap. Yet many poor and middle class religious conservatives continue defending wealth redistribution to the rich, convinced that the Republican Party is their friend, and that their freedom is somehow tied to tax cuts for the rich and a government subservient to big corporations (further evidenced in the recent Supreme Court campaign finance decision revoking a century of precedents in allowing corporations to usurp the voice of American citizens in matters of politics).

Thus, Zinn's unfinished legacy is more critical than ever as America of the 21st century is in ever-greater danger of succumbing to a religiously-yoked devotion to rule by the rich through capitalism unfettered. The irony of Zinn's legacy at this moment is that many members of the poor and middle class whom the historian long championed yet remain prostrated before the narrative of the powerful and wealthy elites (and their big corporations) that Zinn spent his life battling. The final chapter of Zinn's legacy, however, will not fully unfold until mid-century, at which time today's ethnic minorities will be the national majority.

While few Baptists have noticed the passing of Howard Zinn, we of all people would do well to remember the lessons of our own past as a persecuted and hated religious minority during the 17th and 18th centuries. Although white fundamentalists demonize the diversity that characterizes Baptists today, our diversity - theological, ethnic, political, cultural, social, global - is our strength and the key to our future. The public voices of Baptists in America in 2050 will not be white, male, Republican, capitalistic-demagoguing, fundamentalists like Al Mohler and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention. Rather, they will be the voices of ethnic, gender, political, economic and theological diversity already present in today's Baptist World Alliance. And somewhere buried within will be the still-pulsating legacy of Howard Zinn.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Theology Amidst the Rubble (of Earthquakes and Human Minds)

The New York Times on Monday ran a feature story about the devastation on one particular street, Avenue Poupelard, in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. The documentary provides a snapshot of life in Haiti's largest city following the earthquake, a narrative of human suffering, survival, perseverance, creativity, and halting attempts to re-image the future.

There is an evangelical church on Avenue Poupelard - at least, there was a church. Prior to the earthquake, Pastor Enso Sylvert preached to hundreds of worshipers, crowds so large that many stood on the sidewalk outside the church doors, straining to hear his sermons. Now, according to the Times, Sylvert preaches outdoors within a makeshift camp of homeless neighborhood residents adjacent to the church grounds, and he is as zealous as ever, preaching that "our only hope lies with God."

Yet not all the homeless on Avenue Poupeland apparently share that sentiment. Within the camp, according to one resident, "We are trying to stay on friendly terms, but sometimes there are disputes." And what are those disputes? Food, water, clothing, or perhaps shelter? No. Rather, as the Times writer summarizes, "a theological debate about exactly what God was trying to say when he shook Haiti to its core."

At the time of one of the greatest natural disasters and human sufferings of recent decades, in the midst of a lack of the basic necessities required to sustain human life - theology divides the victims.

Some preachers, whether it be Sylvert standing atop the rubble of the Haiti earthquake or Pat Robertson speaking from atop the throne of his television empire, know and declare the mind of God, passing it along to lesser mortals. Meanwhile, among persons in the pews and streets, and even amidst calamitous ruins, God's mind is much less certain.

"Why can't we all just get along?"
said Rodney King, an African-American beaten by white police offers in Los Angeles in 1991. It's as good a question as any that gets to the heart of an unresolvable human problem: theology.

Ultimately, God is what humans say God is. Despite religious fundamentalists' claims to the textual perfection of their respective holy books (whether it be imaginary original autographs of a particular Christian canon, the preserved text of the 7th century Islamic scriptures penned from Mohammad's visions, the translated text of Joseph Smith's visions in the early 19th century, etc.) that forever settle questions about God, all religious expressions - from the most conservative to the most liberal - in reality place their respective faiths in a mental vision of who God is and an interpretation of what God does and says.

In short, apart from the human mind, there is no theology ("God-talk"). Absent theology, there is no God. God exists because we talk about God (or, if you wish, since we talk about God, God exists). If this sounds outrageous, consider that if no one in human history had ever thought or said anything about God (whether singular or plural), religion would not exist. Majestic mountains, fertile valleys and teeming wildlife on planet earth (not to mention the incomprehensible breadth and scope and diversity of the universe) may reflect the imaginative and unsurpassed power of a Creator who exists beyond time and space, but the frail and fickle human mind is the prism through which the Creator is imaged as God.

And so we return to the ruins of Avenue Poupelard in Haiti. Amidst the rubble, theology divides. Minds grasp for God, shaping and re-shaping God as personal circumstances, desires and environment warrant. God is who we say God is. And we too often choose a God who reflects the rumbling discontent of our own minds. Therein lies the danger of crusaders - preachers, priests, prophets, politicians, pundits and even pew-sitters - who devote their energies to conquering all Gods who exist apart from their own respective minds.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

From Iraq to Haiti: Jesus the Terminator

Jesus must no longer recognize himself.

By now the world knows that the Bush administration turned to a militant Christian fundamentalist -- Erik Prince, the son of a major bank-roller of the right-wing Family Research Council and Focus on the Family -- for private security operations in Iraq. Prince viewed his private military firm, Blackwater, as doing the work of Christ in killing Iraqies. These modern Christian crusades must be understood in the context of the fundamentalist belief that Christ will very soon return in military triumph in the Middle East, an Armageddon for which Prince seemingly understood himself as blazing the way.

But there is more. This week another story of militant crusading Christians broke into the mainstream news: a military contractor claims that their mission is "spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ." A Michigan-based company, Trijicon, has long supplied high-powered rifle sights to the U.S. military, sights inscribed with Bible verses. Although Trijicon's actions have been known for years, until now the government has ignored this violation of church and state. The verses about Jesus, describing him as the light of the world and extolling his love, encourage U.S. service members to kill the enemy, transforming warfare into a "spiritual" mission.

For those who wish to understand why some followers of Christ believe they are called to kill and even murder fellow human beings in the name of Christ, the backstory leads (at least in part) to the Council for National Policy, a politically-influential behind-the-scenes organization comprised of well-known and powerful social conservatives, who for years have been trying to maneuver the United States down the road to Armageddon. Members of the CNP are convinced the end of the world is predestined, with a theocratic-America playing a special role in ushering in the world war to end all wars. Founded by Baptist pastor Tim LaHaye (author of the apocalyptic Left Behind book series based on a particular interpretation of the biblical book of Revelation) and bankrolled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon (founder of the Unification Church and self-declared second incarnation of Christ), members include/have included virtually all of the elite of the far right-wing movement in America, such as: James Dobson, Tony Perkins, Phyllis Schlafly, Paul Weyrich, Edwin J. Feulner Jr (Heritage Foundation), Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Senator Trent Lott, Senator Don Nickles, former United States Attornies General Ed Meese and John Ashcroft, gun-rights activist Larry Pratt, Col. Oliver North, and philanthropist Else Prince (mother of the afore-mentioned Erik Prince).

Place these militant, crusading fundamentalist agendas against the backdrop of the current tragedy in Haiti. Council for National Policy member Pat Robertson blamed the earthquake-produced humanitarian disaster on Haiti being allied with Satan (a remark that refers to the historical presence of voodoo practices within Haiti, and that is merely the latest in a string of such Jesus-hates-you statements from Robertson and, before his death, Jerry Falwell). This week another Baptist pastor chimed in to echo Robertson.

Despite Robertson's dismissal of Haiti as a land of Satan-worshipers, many Haitians are Christians, and many earthquake survivors are relying on their faith (and here) to sustain them at a time of death, destruction and chaos. Yet amidst the narratives of Robertson's God of hate; the Terminator Jesus of military contractor Trijicon and Erik Prince's Blackwater; the easily-manipulated God of the Council For National Policy; and (conversely) the never-say-die faith of some Haitians on the scale of an Old Testament saga -- is a gaping, haunting, horrendous reminder that we live in a broken world that at any moment is only seconds away from unimaginable human death and suffering on a vast scale, and ever in need of a love and hope that transcends the brokenness.

While a camouflaged, militant 21st century Jesus may roam in the minds, hearts, corporate boardrooms, churches, and foxholes of many Christian fundamentalists who project their Christ's anger and hatred upon their present (ethnic, national, doctrinal, etc.) enemy, the biblical Jesus quietly offers his presence of love, hope and grace to all who suffer and hurt.

NOTE: Donations to the Haiti relief and recovery efforts can be made through the Baptist World Alliance and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, among other organizations.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Scope of God: Boxed Up, Armed to the Teeth, or Far Out?

Theology is by definition deity-talk, and lots of deity believers (Christians or otherwise) are pretty well convinced they have a lock on who God/god/gods is/are. Not surprisingly, however, God/god/gods identity(s) is/are quite confusing in religious circles, much less from the perspective of outsiders.

Within the Christian world, myth-maker David Barton has reconstructed history and God to make the Creator an American deity who crafted America as his very own special nation. Barton and his followers are now intent on forcing Texas to teach their version of God in Texas public schools, a step along the way to creating a theocracy in America.

Among monotheists alone, many religious versions of God are quite bloody. In an earlier era, colonial theocracies in America persecuted and killed secularists and Christian dissenters (including Baptists). Later, many American white Christians worshiped a God who had chosen white people over black people - and they were willing to kill fellow Christians and others who refused to accept their racially-divisive God and his divinely sanctioned racially-structured society; the killings continued into the 1960s as some white Christians turned to terrorism to prevent racial integration. Today, some American Christians believe the war in Iraq was mandated by God. In Ireland, Protestants and Catholics have long waged deadly warfare against one another. In the Islamic world, some Muslims worship a God who demands that his followers kill "infidels." And the bloody warfare between Jews and Arabs may never end, as each side claims the will of God in killing the other. Other examples could be offered from the world of polytheists/etc., but the listing above is representative of theologies that incorporate holy killing.

So just who is/are God/god/gods and what is/are God/god/gods really about? While the Bartons of the world carry God around in a box of their own making, and many God/god/gods believers express their faith through machine guns, grenades and bombs (of the home-made or industrial variety), many others find peace and harmony within the same religious traditions that too often breed violence and murder. Religious insiders turn to various formulas to try and explain the hate vs. peace elements of their own religion, and some contemporary outside observers have offered detached answers, including Robert Wright in his fascinating volume, The Evolution of God.

And yet all of this divergent God/god/gods talk and too-often-deadly God/god/gods action tends to focus on the human level of existence. But is there a more universal (literally) scope to the God/god/gods equation?

In very recent years, astronomers have come to realize that there are large numbers of planets in the universe. Today's planet count is 424, but within a decade it may well be in the tens of thousands (or more), as our scientific planet-hunting technologies mushroom. It is a matter of years, maybe even months, until astronomers identify an "earthlike" planet. Scientists have already determined that the conditions for life exist in other places in the universe; the question for 2010 is, "when (not if) will other intelligent life be found" on an earthlike planet? That is, more and more scientists are convinced that in an infinite universe inhabited by many planets, other intelligent life must exist somewhere.

So what will happen to God/god/gods talk when other intelligent life is discovered? What theologies will be able to accommodate such a discovery, and what theologies will be most threatened? How will God/god/gods be redefined and reshaped? How will our religious history be rewritten?

And perhaps even more interestingly: how will religious beings (if there are any) existing among other intelligent life be forced to rethink their images and definitions of God/god/gods? Or are they already aware of us, and wonder why we do the things we do in the name of our God/god/gods? For that matter, do they kill one another in pursuit of and devotion to their God/god/gods?

While the discovery of other intelligent life will change the thinking and course of humanity on a vast scale broad and deep, to religious thinkers will fall the debate over whether to craft a narrative of an earth-centric God/god/gods or a more universal deity or deities and a somewhat-displaced earth. Although this task may seem distant and far-fetched to many, the Catholic Church is already addressing it. In addition, the David Barton's of today's planet earth may offer some insight into how religious earthlings will one day be forced to reshape earthly religious foundations. And one might dare hope that discovery of other intelligent life will nudge humankind to abandon violent expressions of religious faith.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Tea Parties and Obama Effigy in Jimmy Carter's Hometown of Plains, GA

Early Saturday morning an effigy of President Obama was found hanging on a storefront, in front of a large Jimmy Carter sign, in Carter's hometown of Plains, Georgia. Watch this video: the store owner says it is "not a story" and refuses to talk; only black citizens seem willing to talk.

That this cowardly event took place in Carter's hometown is evidence that racism in America, and politics, is far from over.

On July 4, 2009, some 400 persons attended an anti-government, anti-Obama Tea Party rally held in Plains (photos). Among the sponsors was FreedomWorks, a conservative political organization devoted to small government and unfettered capitalism, and who promotes the Tea Party movement on racist online forums (whether this is done by FreedomWorks members or paid staffers is unclear; be aware that the forums link contains some graphic language, but also note the enthusiasm of racists for the Tea Party). The money trail reveals that FreedomWorks is the joint intertwining of radical Republicans, anti-government forces, racists, and certain big corporations.

Speakers at the Tea Party rally in Plains included an attorney speaking against separation of church and state, and Baptist pastor James Brown from Barnesville who spoke on behalf of states-right, Baptist, candidate-for-governor Ray McBerry. McBerry is the Georgia Chapter Chairman of the League of the South, a racist, southern nationalist organization. Brown (who in October started a small, strict Calvinist church comprised of two families with lots of kids) is also a member of the League of the South, as well as the racist-affiliated neo-confederate organization Sons of Confederate Veterans, and is the author of the Southern Resurgence blog and the Baptist Vision Web site.

In other words, back in July, the good - probably mostly church-going - white folks who turned out for the Plains Tea Party (note that while Plains is 60% African-American, the Plains Tea Party photos above are only of whites) got a good dose of southern racism (inferred or spoken, or perhaps both) from preacher and politician alike. In addition, here's the kind of anti-Obama posters that have appeared at Georgia Tea Parties such as the one in Plains.

Consider the July event in the context of this statement from Dr. Anthony Samad, an associate professor of African American studies at East Los Angeles College: "I think there's this notion that we're in a post-racial period in America because of the election of the first African American president. However, this president has received more death threats than any other president in the history of America."