Thursday, May 31, 2007

Sam Brownback's Confusion -- on matters scientific

Sam Brownback, erstwhile candidate for the GOP nomination for President, has offered in the NY Times a clarification of his hand raising at a recent debate. When asked who did not believe in evolution, Sam was one of three to raise his hand. Now we're told why.
First he makes clear that this is a serious issue that needs to be taken seriously (to which I nod in agreement). He notes that the idea of creation is too often limited to a 6-day/24 hr. format, and to many this is true -- and apparently he's not a Young Earther.
He makes an important statement about the relationship of faith and reason:

The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

Where Sam gets into trouble is when he starts to parse evolution. He has no problem with micro-evolution (evolution within species) but anything beyond micro -- which would be macro-evolution -- is deemed atheistic and demeaning to humanity.
The question of evolution goes to the heart of this issue. If belief in evolution means simply assenting to microevolution, small changes over time within a species, I am happy to say, as I have in the past, that I believe it to be true. If, on the other hand, it means assenting to an exclusively materialistic, deterministic vision of the world that holds no place for a guiding intelligence, then I reject it.

What Sam wants to do is redefine evolution and rule out common descent. Now there are many who, like me for instance, would affirm both common descent and divine involvement. That has always been the foundation of theistic evolution.

Sam feels the need to protect human dignity. I agree human dignity is important, but affirming common descent need not degrade that dignity. What it does is affirm our connectedness to our context and calls us to be careful with the environment in which we live. And that there are arguments as to how evolution took place doesn't deny that it did. Sam mentions punctuated equilibrium as a challenge to traditional Darwinism. As I understand it, Stephen Jay Gould consistently denied that his theory should be taken as a challenge to evolution, only the manner in which it took place. So Sam has confused the issues.

If faith and reason are to be kept together we must not be afraid of science, and if science challenges our faith then we must of course consider how it affects faith. I simply can't deny the facts of evolution and so my understanding of the way in which God is present in creation must adapt (that's a good evolutionary term).

While no stone should be left unturned in seeking to discover the nature of man’s origins, we can say with conviction that we know with certainty at least part of the outcome. Man was not an accident and reflects an image and likeness unique in the created order. Those aspects of evolutionary theory compatible with this truth are a welcome addition to human knowledge. Aspects of these theories that undermine this truth, however, should be firmly rejected as an atheistic theology posing as science.

I'm saddened by this paragraph, because Sam affirms the scientific method and then basically says that if it doesn't agree with his faith perspective then the results of science must be rejected as atheistic theology. He has let ideology get the best of him!

Barack Obama's Faith -- Sightings

Much has been made of Barak Obama's faith professions and his church affiliation. Robert Franklin offers a most insightful statement as to where this derives from! I think you'll find this interesting and helpful.
Sightings 5/31/07
Obama's Faith: A Civil and Social Gospel-- Robert M. Franklin
One by one Senator Barack Obama is passing the necessary tests for national leadership. Probing questions have been raised about his experience, race, early education, parents, voting record, statesmanship, and more. He has answered those questions with poise and respect. But when attention turns to Senator Obama's faith, I get worried.
As Martin Marty noted in a recent column ("Keeping the Faith at Trinity United Church of Christ," April 2, 2007), some media hounds have focused on Obama's home church of choice. Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's south side is one of the nation's most progressive African American mega-churches. Led for thirty-five years by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., the church fuses into its core Christian identity a set of cultural strains that are vibrant in contemporary Black life, including liberation theology, Afrocentrism, and progressive politics.

The church has appealed especially to baby boomers who came of age during the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Dr. Wright has managed to bring together the disciples of Martin Luther King, Jr. with the Black Nationalist disciples of Malcolm X, and to put them all in the service of promoting more equitable policies for the least advantaged members of our society. Indeed, he is often credited with making it possible for many disaffected Black separatists to return to the church and to seek change within the system.

Unfortunately, uninformed pundits (a deliberate oxymoron) from Fox TV recently weighed in on a congregation and a community about which they know very little. Their purpose is to embarrass Obama by insinuating that he is a closeted Black separatist or worse. But they fail to appreciate something distinctive about American religion and public life. The best of American political tradition permits -- and perhaps requires -- candidates both to acknowledge their ethnic and regional particularity, and to transcend that particularity in loyalty to the general human condition. John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mario Cuomo, and Barbara Jordan all illustrated this noble tradition.
In 2006, at a speech to Jim Wallis's Sojourners conference, Obama elaborated on his understanding of how faith should appear in the public square. It was a rational, balanced, thoughtful articulation of a socially responsible Christian faith, something rarely heard or said by politicians in our political culture. His words were especially assuring to people who feel that President Bush has abused religious language and personal faith to justify a horrific war and tax cuts for America's wealthiest citizens.
Obama's inner life appears to be driven by a civil and social gospel that America desperately needs at this hour. And that inner life has been nurtured by a congregation that loves God and celebrates the beauty and power of the Black experience in America. Why is this a cause for alarm? At a time when there is so much of what Martin Marty calls "wishy-washy, waning religion," it is exciting to see a congregation committed to improving the lives of people who have been the victims of bad public policy and public neglect.
The fact that churches like Trinity remain in the city and serve people on the margins of society suggests that they may be closer to the mission of Jesus than some of our finest cathedrals and suburban sanctuaries. And while I imagine that Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago's Gold Coast neighborhood would love to have the Senator and his family as members, the working poor and those who have yet to enjoy the American dream need him more.

I, for one, hope that Obama continues to undertake his ministry of inspiring hope among people who feared they might never dream again, while reconciling tensions within the Black political culture. If he can do these things while appealing to a large and diverse American public, then he will have passed the ultimate test of leadership: reminding us that we are better, wiser, stronger, and safer when we transcend our fears and work together rather than apart.
Robert M. Franklin is Presidential Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics at Emory University, Atlanta, and the author of Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities (Fortress Press, 2007).

The current Religion and Culture Web Forum features "The Desire to Acquire: Or, Why Shopping Malls Are Sites of Religious Violence," by Jon Pahl. To read this article, please visit:


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Literal Word of God?

According to the polls I mentioned earlier many Americans believe that the Bible is the "literal word of God." As I pointed out, we are, apparently, according to Stephen Prothero, a nation of biblical illiterates. So when we hear that people affirm this, what do they mean?
Do they mean?
  • God dictated the very words of the Bible -- if so, in which language did this happen?
  • God superintended the transmission of the words of the Bible.
  • God opened the hearts and minds of the writers so they understood these words to be a revelation of God.

I would assume that if this was the literal word of God then God must have dictated them, but even very few conservatives believe that. And as for language the Christian Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) was written in Hebrew (though parts may have been originally penned in other languages such as Aramaic; the New Testament was written in Greek and when it quotes the OT it generally references the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew and adds some books not found in the Hebrew manuscripts -- so what does that do to our theory?

To assume that it is accurate in everything it says, are we using modern definitions or ancient definitions? My sense is that most people when they say yes to that question -- is the Bible the literal word of God -- they're just assuming it speaks for God. Questions of interpretation and such probably don't factor into their thinking -- "It says what it means and it means what it says!" Except life isn't always that easy!!!

I quote here a statement from the Harper-Collins Bible Dictionary, (1996) under "word" (p. 1221).

The Bible itself is not infrequently referred to as the Word of God by Christians. It is important to note, however, that the expression "word of God" in Scripture does not usually refer to the written word at all, but rather to God's or his emissaries speaking and inspiration.

Archaeology and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

As a historian, I'm kind of old fashioned. When I do my historical work I try to be objective and not force history to do political or even religious bidding. Of course it helps to be a historian of a movement (the Nonjurors) with whom I have no real sympathies.

I found an op-ed piece this morning in the LA Times to be most interesting. Walter Reich, the author of the piece entitled "King Herod's Return" is a professor of international affairs, ethics and human behavior at George Washington University, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and a former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (that's a lot of titles). He writes in the context of the recent discovery of King Herod the Great's apparent tomb. As Reich notes, nobody really likes King Herod, a Roman puppet king who did however build some nice buildings, but this like any discovery in the region has political overtones.

He notes the propensity on both sides to use history/archaeology to bolster claims, so that whenever a discovery supports the historical presence of Jews in the region Palestinians deny the validity of the discovery and many Jews hail it as confirmation of their claims to the land.

Reich makes two important statements -- the Palestinian claims concerning the Temple (or absence of it on the "Temple Mount" or Haram al Shariff -- that the Temple never existed there are simply and absolutely bogus! Palestinian attempts to remove material that support that fact are unconscionable. At the same time Reich notes that the claims of those Israelis who who deny that there was a large and long-indigenous population of Arabs in Palestine when the Zionist movement vastly expanded the number of Jews in the area more than 100 years ago." Reich believes that such denials have been discredited among "all Israelis." I'm not so certain that's true.
But I am in agreement here:

Only when each side recognizes the historical right of the other to live in the region will it be possible to begin to talk about peace and a fair reckoning on Jerusalem. And only then will it be possible to put Herod's vengeful ghost back into his haunted archaeological tomb.

Let's stop denying history and start talking about peace!

Biblically Illiteracy and Affirmation of Biblical Authority

Americans are a funny lot. According to the polls, the latest ones reported in the Washington Times suggest that the vast majority of Americans believe that the Bible is either literally true or at least divinely inspired. 75% of Americans, suggests the latest Gallup poll.
This belief system has political and social consequences -- so says Gallup's Frank Newport:

A literal-belief structure, Mr. Newport said, has influenced a number of public issues, including teaching evolution in public schools, same-sex relationships, the role of a husband and a wife in marriage, observance of a day of rest, the idea of men-only clergy and even "seemingly unrelated topics" such as immigration.

And the Barna survey suggests:

Seventy-eight percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats say the Bible is "totally accurate in all of its teachings," according to a survey of 1,006 adults conducted in January by the Barna Group, a marketing firm.

And a Pew Survey says (I feel like I'm hosting Family Feud):

A Pew Research Center survey of 1,010 adults last year found that 67 percent of Americans say the United States is a "Christian nation," compared with 60 percent a decade ago. A majority -- 52 percent -- said President Bush publicly mentions his faith "the right amount." Fewer than half (47 percent) said the Republican Party was "friendly" to religion; a quarter said the same of Democrats.

What I find interesting about all of this is that Stephen Prothero in his book Religious Literacy (reviewed here) has demonstrated pretty clearly that despite our clear love for the Bible, we don't have a clue as to what it says. Don't you find these two issues interesting? Why is that everyone thinks that the Bible is God's word to us and yet no one bothers to read it -- despite the fact that it remains the bestselling book of all time!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

An Evangelical Inclusivism -- John Stackhouse's Defense

The Evangelical in me (remember I'm a graduate of Fuller Seminary) believes that there is something cosmically decisive about the person of Jesus -- that is -- Jesus is the one through whom God has reconciled the world to God's self (2 Cor. 5).
At the same time there's another part of me that has long believed -- perhaps as far back as my time at Fuller -- that it is simply inappropriate to believe that God would require confession of faith in Jesus as the sole means of salvation -- indeed, that without such a confession one would spend eternity in hell. I must confess it was while an M.Div. student that I abandoned the idea of hell for an anhilationist view. I've moved on toward a more universalist view since then.
Well, this morning -- via The Fire and the Rose -- I came across a piece by John Stackhouse of Regent College (not to be confused with Pat Robertson's Regent University). This Regent is in British Columbia, Canada. In this article which appears at Christianity Today"s Books and Culture site affirms the centrality of Jesus and yet recognizes that to consign billions to death simply because they've not confessed Christ as savior is wrong. He also casts doubt on the possibility of showing that Christianity is superior to other religions.
That doesn't mean we should give up sharing our faith, but simply do it humbly and with an eye toward sharing how God in Christ has changed one's own life. Not the fear of hell but the love of God -- sounds absolutely like something we Mainliners can get on board with, doesn't it?
There is much in this article worthy of considering -- if for no other reason than to realize that Evangelicalism isn't monolithic. I want to leave you with these two paragraphs that are a strikingly powerful affirmation that God's voice can be heard speaking in unexpected places!

I am a professional theologian, so of course I think theology matters. Theology can help us live better or worse, depending on its quality. But theological accuracy is not the heart of the gospel. Encountering God's Spirit and responding in faith to him in that encounter is what finally matters. And how God meets people, through whatever theology they might have, in whatever circumstances, is ultimately not visible to us.

Indeed, I believe that many people raised in non-Christian religions—such as bhakti (devotional) traditions in Hinduism in which they worship a single supreme God and trust him for their salvation (however badly understood this is from a Christian point of view), or Judaism or Islam, to pick examples closer to home—have a clearer and more authentic apprehension of God than many people raised in ostensibly Christian homes and churches in which a terrible distortion of God is taught and little access to the genuine gospel is available. To confine the scope of salvation to those who have heard certain facts about Jesus and who come to accept him on this basis, therefore, is not necessitated by the Bible, and in fact is not even the best way to understand the Bible.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day -- Arlington West

On a beach here in Santa Barbara is a memorial to those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's called Arlington West. My friend and fellow Pastor, Roy Donkin posted this picture along with his own reflections on the day -- as a pacifist. You will find his thoughts worth considering on this Memorial Day as we remember the nearly 4000 Americans who have died in these two countries.

Two Adams -- Death and Life

I have had a visitor to these pages raise a question about metaphorical interpretations of Adam. The context is Paul’s claim that Jesus is the second Adam (1 Cor. 15:22ff). If Jesus is the second Adam doesn’t there have to be a first Adam – one historic personage relating to another. My answer is no, the first Adam is symbol/metaphor relating to the connection we as humans have with each other and with God. We are all one in Adam – that is, we all share a common humanity. If we take Genesis 3 as our guide then, this passage of Genesis assumes that humanity as a whole is out of relationship with God. In other words, we have chosen to go it alone. Jesus is the second Adam who restores that relationship with God. Jesus is the one who walks with God and overturns our alienation. Ireneaus’s doctrine of recapitulation fits in here.
Bernard Anderson writes:
"In Jesus Christ, then, God has resored the human pattern intended at the original creation. He is the 'adam, of whom Adam was a foreshadowing type (Rom. 5;12-14; cf. 1 Cor. 15:21-22). he is the "likeness of God" (2 Cor. 4:4_ and the 'image of the invisible God, the first born of all creation'." (Col. 1:15, RSV).
Jesus is the beginning of a new humanity, born "not through biological parentage but by free decision in responsse to divine grace." (Bernard Anderson, From Creation to New Creation, Fortress, 1994, pp. 40-41).
Now, my interlocutor brings up the supposed linkage of sin and death in these same texts of Genesis. The new humans are told they can eat of any tree of the garden, except the tree of knowledge, because upon eating of it, they will die (Genesis 2:17). This supposedly the linchpin of matters of life and death. The implication is that had Adam and Eve not eaten the forbidden fruit they would have lived forever, which is why of course that prior to the Fall everyone/thing was a vegetarian (T Rex uses those big teeth to crack open coconuts).

Of course, such a view denies the naturalness of physical death. But think for a moment if no one/nothing dies and if our ability to procreate is natural, then at some point overpopulation would set in, right? You see there are important consequences to a literalist position.

If on the other hand you take this in metaphorical/symbolic terms, the issue is spiritual and not physical death. So, in Adam (the symbol not a historical personage) by our own rejection of God’s path, we die spiritually. Think for a moment, even though I have accepted Jesus as savior I, like every other human being before me, will die at some point.

When we think of Jesus being the second Adam we’re not to think in a reversal of physical death, but of spiritual death. The problem with the Creationist sentiment is that it unnecessarily puts science against the Bible. It asks the Bible to answer questions it wasn’t meant to ask. That Adam is treated as historical personage in the rest of Scripture does not mean that it’s inappropriate to interpret texts metaphorically.

Remember that the church turned to allegory to interpret Scripture long before Darwin came along. The problem with medieval interpretation isn’t that it embraced metaphorical interpretations but that it let such interpretations run wild.

A Prayer For Memorial Day

I post this prayer from Chalice Worship to serve as my prayer for the day and to call others to prayer in memory of those who have fallen:

Memories are joyful and painful, by we cannot live without them.
Let us pray that we may never forget.

For leaders who send young men and women to war,
that their judgments may be sound
and their motives be pure,
we pray.

For soldiers who lay down their lives for others,
that the love which inspires their sacrifice
be fulfilled in the love of Christ,
we pray.

For soldiers who have been maimed or brutalized by war,
that our love for them may make their scars less hurtful
and make their brutality yield to the tenderness of returning love,
we pray.

For those who have been left behind,
that they may live on the strength of the love that they knew,
we pray.

For those who suffer most from war,
that the homeless, the orphaned, the hungry, and the innocent
may help us turn from warlike ways to pursue the potential of peace,
we pray.

God of Peace, help us never to forget that war is hell.
Help us to honor its saints, and to pray for its sinners and victims,
through the Victim for our sakes, Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Oh My, it's time for the Creation Museum to Open

Yes, boys and girls, the day has come when we get to see and hear the truth about the creation of the earth. We get to see how Adam and Eve lived with dinosaurs, how T Rex used his big teeth to open those nasty coconuts he liked to eat -- you know before he became a carnivore!

Pharyngula, a science blog has gathered a wide variety of news reports and blog postings from around the globe that deal with this "event." Of course as pastor, all of this is kind of embarrassing, so embarrassing that you have to laugh, at least a little.
Of course, one way to respond to all of this is point to the alternative -- which is the Evolution Sunday group, which can be accessed here.
The reality is this, Ken Ham and his friends not only do bad science, but they're extremely poor biblical exegetes, forcing texts to say things they simply don't say. So, not only scientists say no, theologians and pastors do as well!

The Enabler! Bush and Al Qaeda

Since this is Memorial Day weekend, we do stop to remember those who have died, especially the more than 3000 young men and women who have died in Iraq fighting an at best mismanaged war and at worse, well I don't even want to say it.

With that in mind, I want to point your attention to this piece by Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Dish. It's about Bush's recklessness and his inability to recognize that the reason why Al Qaeda is as much a threat today, and why Iraq is the center piece in his War on Terror, is that his own policies have led us to this point.

So, ponder this and consider whether GW has engaged in anything that seems impeachable:

Just to anger up the blood some more, it's now clear, thanks to the latest Congressional report, that this president was warned starkly about the dangers of "a surge of political Islam and increased funding for terrorist groups" as a result of an invasion of Iraq. He was told that Iraq was "largely bereft of the social underpinnings" for democracy. He was explicitly informed that there was "a significant chance that domestic groups would engage in violent conflict with each other unless an occupying force prevented them from doing so." And yet he still sent a pathetically insufficient occupation force in 2003 - and refused to increase it for three years of growing chaos and mayhem. Even if you excuse the original recklessness, the persistence in it - until our current point of no return - is and was criminal negligence - a callous disregard for your security and mine.

The gravity of the mistake this country made in 2004 by re-electing Al Qaeda's best bet is only now sinking in as deep as it should. I fear, however, that we have yet to experience the full and terrifying consequences of that historic mistake.


Out of the Many, One

Faith in the Public Square
May 27, 2007
Before “In God we Trust” became our national motto, America's defining mission statement was “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of the Many, One). I trust in God, but I prefer our original national motto because it defines our national purpose and reminds us that we're a nation diverse in ethnicity, languages, cultures, and religious identities. That we can be one people in the midst of such diversity is a bold idea that must not be taken lightly.

The question is: How shall we live together, peacefully and productively, as one people in the midst of all this diversity? Answers to this question generally fall into two categories that can be best understood by way of analogy: Melting pot and salad bowl.

The melting pot image has long been popular - through assimilation our various identities melt away to create something generically American - but a more realistic analogy might be the salad bowl. The melting pot ideal may have worked in earlier days, when most immigrants were British or Northern European, but even then there were problems, as can be seen in the legacy of slavery and the Trail of Tears.
The salad bowl analogy is more realistic, because it recognizes that our differences don't easily fade away. We may be Americans, but we're also something else - African, Italian, Asian, English, Arab, Latin American. ... We're Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Catholic, Protestant, or perhaps none of the above. A good garden salad has lots of great ingredients that retain their identity even as they're tossed into the salad - tomato, green onion, spinach, baby arugula, radicchio, romaine, radish, carrot, croutons, maybe some blue cheese, and the dressing of one's choice. Each ingredient adds flavor and texture to the salad. It's true that over time assimilation does happen, but even with intermarriage and a standardized education, we remain products of our heritage and common experiences, just like a salad.

By most accounts the United States is among the most religious nations in the world, and we're also among the most religiously diverse nations. This means that peaceful coexistence requires something from us that's often proven difficult to come by. It requires an ability to honor and respect our neighbors' religious identities, even when they're quite different from our own. We needn't agree on everything, nor must we lessen our devotion to the principles of our faith, but at the very least, we must accord others the right to practice their faith in peace and in dignity.
This brings me to the purpose of this week's column. Today is Pentecost Sunday (for Christians), which is the church's birthday. It's also Pluralism Sunday, a new, rather small, grassroots effort sponsored by the Center for Progressive Christianity (, that's intended as a celebration of our nation's religious diversity. Not mere toleration, but celebration. The center's announcement states:

“Progressive Christians thank God for religious diversity! We don't claim that our religion is superior to all others. We can grow closer to God and deeper in compassion - and we can understand our own traditions better - through a greater awareness of the world's religions.”
I expect that the way participating churches celebrate this event will vary from congregation to congregation, and the reason I invited our congregation to observe this event is because I see it as a call to humility and service to others.
Through conversations with people of other faiths I've discovered that they have wisdom and insights that can enhance my own faith. Their experiences remind me that most of us are seeking something that transcends our own life experience. Indeed, most of us are seeking some type of connection with the divine. Our experiences and understandings may differ and even be irreconcilable. Resurrection is quite different from Nirvana or reincarnation, and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity differs from the strict monotheism of Judaism and Islam or the monism of Buddhism.

Important conversations can be had on the merits of these belief systems, but our differences needn't lead to strife and division. We needn't show disrespect or dishonor to someone whose beliefs differ from our own. Perhaps we could even recognize that God might speak through religious traditions that are quite different from our own. It's possible that we'll even discover that our own understandings and experiences are less than complete, and that God is greater than our own ability to comprehend the meaning of God's existence. To me, Pluralism Sunday is a reminder that we need to listen more and talk less!
Dr. Bob Cornwall at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( He blogs at and can be contacted at or First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.
May 27, 2007

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Self-fulfilling Prophecies -- Bush and Iraq

It seems that national security analysts were prescient -- much of what is happening today was predicted by analysts well before Bush launched an ill conceived and unnecessary war in Iraq. The now declassified report is summarized in an LA Times article.
We still don't know who knew what when, but apparently GW knew then that his invasion would likely be used by Al Qaeda and that bringing democracy to Iraq would be long and laborious -- and yet even with this information they didn't plan.
So, here we are in the middle of another Vietnam -- something that the administration said wouldn't happen. No time tables, just a call to trust ol' GW. Here's a good reason why we shouldn't!!! How long? Well, by September even the GOP might be jumping ship and asking for an exit plan.

Pentecost -- A Birthday Bash

Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday and the church around the world will celebrate the coming of the Spirit upon the gathered followers of Jesus, giving birth to the church. My sermon for tomorrow is posted at my sermon blog Words of Welcome.

Connie Kang has a nice article on Pentecost -- interviewing a couple of Fuller professors, including one of my own, Mel Robeck. It's interesting that Mel, who is Pentecostal, points out that by and large Pentecostals don't follow the Christian calendar and so don't make any special observance of the day.

I like this comment from Eddie Gibbs, also of Fuller, as to why some others aren't really comfortable with this idea of Pentecost:

"Segments of Protestantism, particularly traditional Protestantism, are very nervous about rushing, mighty winds and flames of fire. Because fire and wind make for unstoppable combination."

Be that as it may, we need a regular outpouring of the Spirit, for just that reason!!!

The Truth on Iraq

A few days ago, GW got his money -- at least through September. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton voted no and of course their patriotism and commitment to the troops have been called into question.

Here is Barack Obama's response, especially to John McCain. I'll let him speak for himself.

Gary Dorrien on Niebuhr, Social Ethics, and Iraq

Peter Steinfels interviews Gary Dorrien, author of an immensely import trilogy on American Religious Liberalism (I've read the first two volumes, and need to get the third), for the NY Times. Dorrien is asked to reflect on American Religious Social Ethics, the place of Reinhold Niebuhr, and the present situation of American foreign policy.
I find this piece especially enlightening as a response to our current dilemma in Iraq -- Did you read the Muqtada al-Sadr is back preaching?

Q. You have been speaking against the war in Iraq since before it was launched. But what should the U.S. be doing about terrorism, and what is our moral responsibility regarding Iraq?

A. We had a precious moment after 9/11. Not since the end of World War II was there such a possibility to move toward a community of nations. If the U.S. had sent NATO and American forces after Al Qaeda and rebuilt Afghanistan while creating new networks of collective security against terrorism, we could be in a very different world than we are in today. Instead, the U.S. took a course of action that caused an explosion of anti-American hostility throughout the world.

Now we are faced only with bad choices. The cross-fire of sectarian war in Iraq is so complex that it defies concise description. Continuing American occupation will fuel it rather than repress it. Jihadi terrorists are thriving in the chaos.

Whenever an occupier refuses to acknowledge the necessity of pulling out, the aftermath is worse. President Bush warns of chaos if we leave. Indeed, if we simply leave, there will be chaos. Leaving chaos behind is what happens when imperial powers refuse to acknowledge their defeat and the necessity of planning an exit that causes the least possible harm.

In 1947, after years of refusing to accept that imperial rule in India was over, the British cleared out in seven weeks: the country was partitioned, 12 million people were displaced and half a million killed. France and the United States blundered into similar bad endings in Algeria and Vietnam, having refused to face reality for years before rushing for the exit.

Today the U.S. should be planning how to get out of Iraq, how to minimize the bloodshed we’ve made inevitable, how to fund and organize international peacekeepers and humanitarian aid, instead of babbling nonsense about “prevailing” there.

Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the heads up.

Ten Reasons Why Baseball is God's Game -- Kim Fabricius

If I were to convert to another religion, it would be the church of baseball. From my earliest days it has been the game I've watched. I played it as a kid, even though I wasn't any good. My first team, the Purple Sox of Mt. Shasta lost every game we played. In fact no game was ever even close. But the good news, we had brand new uniforms!

Well this morning I received an invitation to a baseball game this summer from my friend the Rev. Dr. Brett Younger, a Baptist preacher of note. There was only one problem the game would take place right as I should be in the seats listening to my General Minister preach. My first inclination was to turn down the invitation, and then I was informed that the seats were right behind home plate -- front row. Ah the choice was getting difficult and then I gave in. How could I do otherwise?

Fortunately as I perused my blog role, I received confirmation that I'd made the right decision. Yes, Kim Fabricius has given ten propositions on why Baseball is God's game. And then I knew I was absolved of my sins, for I could share in the glories of the game. Now, I won't be watching the Giants play. I must watch the
Rangers play the Indians (Brett's team -- the team the stole Gaylord Perry from the Giants).

But as Kim opines:

9. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive this game as a little child will never enter it (cf. Mark 10:15). Magically, baseball always brings out the child in you, and draws you back to your childhood, indeed makes your childhood present (anamnesis). And it is a tie that binds the generations, communio sanctorum.

And so I did!

And though I'm not as long suffering as a Cubs fan, the last time the Giants won the World Series, they were in New York. And so each year I've held out hope:

10. Finally, baseball abounds in hope (cf. Romans 15:13): “Next year!” – and, indeed, past-redeeming eschatological promise: “If you build it, he will come” (Field of Dreams). Maranatha!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dick Hamm --- Ex. Dir. CCT in the USA

In today's Disciples e-newsletter comes word that probably shouldn't be too surprising -- a Disciple --- this time not Michael Kinnamon, but Dick Hamm, our former General Minister, has been named the first executive director of Christian Churches Together. This is a bit of pride of course, but Disciples have always been at the forefront of ecumenical endeavors, from the Federal Council of Churches to Christian Churches Uniting in Christ.

Here's the announcement:

May 18, 2007

Christian Churches Together in the USA (CCT) announces the appointment of the Rev. Dr Richard L. Hamm to the position of Executive Administrator. Following a national search, the Steering Committee, meeting in Chicago on May 15-16, took the unanimous decision to appoint Hamm to CCT’s first full time staff position.

Welcoming the appointment, the Very Rev. Leonid Kishkovsky, Ecumenical Officer for the Orthodox Church in America and one of five CCT Presidents, noted that it was his conviction that “Dick Hamm brings to Christian Churches Together in the USA deep Christian faith, theological and spiritual grounding, leadership experience at the national level, sensitivity to the concerns of congregations and local Christian communities, and a wide range of ecumenical contacts and relationships. We are fortunate to have him!”

Dr Hamm is Founding Partner and President of The Columbia Partnership, an organization that provides coaching and consulting training and services; he previously served as General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ in the US and Canada) for ten years. According to Kishkovsky, Hamm brings “significant contributions in quality and substance to the position of Executive Administrator. He is a thoughtful man with deep theological and spiritual resources. He is able to be deeply rooted spiritually while at the same time handling administrative details and addressing organizational challenges.”

The Rev Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America, CCT President and Moderator of the Steering Committee, noted that Hamm “was involved with CCT during its formative time and was one who understood the necessity of deepening fellowship between leaders of Christian ‘families’ who, in many cases, had little previous relationship with one another, and that common action and witness would grow from that foundation. [Hamm] understands the features of CCT’s emerging organizational culture that make us unique and that will build a sustainable future.”

“I have always been drawn to the vision of the various parts of the church of Jesus Christ in the United States seeking common ground and working together in all ways possible,” Hamm affirmed. “We must seek every opportunity to manifest the unity that is ours in Christ if we are to have a significant impact on this culture and nation.” He called CCT an “appropriately postmodern model, with its focus on networking, consensus building and action. The prospect of helping to shape and grow such a post-modern organization for the sake of common witness and mission is truly exciting!”

Hamm will assume the post August 1.

Officially organized in 2006, Christian Churches Together is composed of 36 churches and national organizations, representative of the diversity of US Christian families, who are committed to meeting together for fellowship and worship and to working together on issues crucial to Christian witness in the USA. CCT held its 2007 annual meeting in Pasadena, CA with a focus on evangelism (see Its 2008 meeting (January 8 – 11) in Washington DC will strengthen and expand efforts to overcome poverty in the United States (see CCT’s Statement on Poverty on the website).

Contact: Rev Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, 616-698-7071 or 616-648-2931

Pursuit of Happyness

The Declaration of Independence holds out a promise for the nation it seeks to charter:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness . . ."
This promise of happiness forms the philosophical basis, if you will, of the Will Smith film The Pursuit of Happyness. It gets quoted regularly throughout the film.

It wasn't until last night that I watched it on DVD, but it was worth the wait. The premise of the film is tell the true story of Chris Gardner, an African-American high school graduate with a young son who overcomes great odds to achieve financial success. It's a kind of a Horatio Alger, from the bootstraps kind of story, but it is an impressive one, nonetheless. I've not read the book upon which its based and I've not checked the facts behind the movie, but even if it exaggerates at all the difficulties Chris experienced in becoming a stock broker, it's still a good story.

Of course the question is, what is happiness, and for Chris it is achieving the unexpected, the working hard with no certainty of reward, and through hard work and a bit of luck and significant but under-utilized talent he succeeds. I said to wife, I don't think I could do what he did. He and Chris, Jr. essentially became homeless while he pursued his dream.

Good movie with an inspiring story. And Will's kid, Jaden, is a natural as an actor!

Can't Have that - -Women Preachers

I read with just a bit of amusement this piece from Ethics Daily, detailing why a Syracuse New York radio station -- the Mars Hill Network -- won't accept advertisements for a local revival -- because a woman -- Paula White -- will be preaching.

I want to say to the nine-member board that made this decision: Do you not know that a woman pioneered religious broadcasting. Yes Aimee Semple McPherson was among the first evangelists to use radio, and KFSG was among the first, if not the first, religious radio stations. Now I can't give a recommendation for Paula, but guys, get a grip!
Besides, she's better looking than most preachers I know! -- Male ones I mean. I know that sounds sexist, and probably is, but those of you who know me, know that I'm not sexist. But . . . well.

The Complicated Issues of Israel/Palestine

I think most Mainline Protestants are conflicted about the whole Israel/Palestine issue. Unlike our Fundamentalist friends, we don't see Israel as the center piece in a global war that will usher in Jesus' glorious return (we're not dispensational premillennialists), nor do we believe Jews will end up in hell if they don't convert. And yet we feel sympathy for the Palestinian people (but not the Intifada or the continued violence). We want to see a non-violent solution that will allow Jew, Christian, Muslim, and Druse to dwell together in peace. Personally, I think the only way this will happen is with a two-state solution -- but such a state probably will never be completely stable.
This morning I came upon a piece by James Besser in the Baltimore Jewish Times. It raises the dilemma of the Jewish community to know who their friends or foes are. This piece paints (at least in my reading) Mainline Protestants as unreliable friends, more concerned about supporting the "weak" party -- Palestinians -- than the "strong" party -- Israel. In other words, we simply do not understand the need for self-defense. I would argue that we do understand that need and have argued strongly that violence will not achieve the Palestinian goal, but we also believe that the Israeli's tend to over react and so provoke more violence. Much the same can be said for many of the problems with the US occupation in Iraq -- are we helping or hindering recovery?
I read this after reading an article in the most recent issue of the Christian Century (May 15, 2007). It is an article written by Rabbi Yehiel E. Poupko entitled: "Land Grant: Israel and the Promises of God." This is an excellent portrayal of the Jewish commitment to "the Land." It speaks of the founding of Israel as a somewhat unexpected fulfillment of God's covenant gift of this Land to the Jewish people. He writes: "God chose one people, the children of Abraham and Sarah, who are the nation of Israel, to conduct its national life upon the land." (p. 21). And later he affirms the eternal nature of this covenant.

"According to the Torah (Gen. 13:14-17; 15:18-21), the Covenant of Peoplehood is unconditional and immutable, as is the grant of the land to the children of Abraham and Sarah. Only after the covenant at Sinai, in which Israel pledged to be faithful to the mitzvot, does residence in the land become conditional upon fulfillment of the mitzvot. The grant of the land remains
irrevocable." (p. 22).

I am inclined to believe that this is so -- and yet there's a problem.
It is true, as Poupko writes, that there has always been a Jewish presence in this region, but at least since 135 CE, that has been a minority presence -- at least until the last half-century. My problem with the article is that it, like other pieces I've read from a Jewish perspective, gives little attention to the fact that this region was populated prior to the great migration of Jews to the area in the 20th century. Poupko speaks of the possibility of sharing the land, and that the entirety of the land grant need not be required, but still there's the problem that this was and is an inhabited land. And thus, the reason for our ambivalence toward the state of Israel. I affirm it's right to exist and yet, well I'm not sure.
I have Muslim friends and I have Jewish friends. One of my closest Jewish friends is a Rabbi whose sons are serving in the Israeli army. I went to their farewell party to say goodbye to them. I respect and honor their commitment to the land. So you see, there is need for conversation and hopefully for a peaceful and long lasting settlement that will grant dignity to all involved. That is my daily prayer!
So, hopefully this helps explain why many of us within the Mainline churches want to be friends with Jews and even with Israel, but why also have issues to resolve.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Flinstones Science Museum -- Due to Open

When I was a child, I loved the Flintstones -- and not the live action version, but the original animated version. Fred and Barney and friends -- all of those dinos and mammoths wandering around with the cavemen and cave women.

Well, since I grew out of my scientific creationist ways I've always thought of young earth creationism, which must somehow incorporate the dinosaurs and all in a time line that's around 6000 years, as Flintstones science. Well, with the opening this weekend of the Answers in Genesis sponsored Creationist museum that tries to do just that, the LA Times editorial writer made the same connection that I did.

And so:

The museum, a 60,000-square-foot menace to 21st century scientific advancement, is the handiwork of Answers in Genesis, a leader in the "young Earth" movement. Young Earthers believe the world is about 6,000 years old, as opposed to the 4.5 billion years estimated by the world's credible scientific community. This would be risible if anti-evolution forces were confined to a lunatic fringe, but they are not. Witness the recent revelation that three of the Republican candidates for president do not believe in evolution. Three men seeking to lead the last superpower on Earth reject the scientific consensus on cosmology, thermonuclear dynamics, geology and biology, believing instead that Bamm-Bamm and Dino played together.

And as the essay reminds us Flintstones was a cartoon not a documentary!!! Now for some responsible conversation about science and faith!

Interpreting the Data on Muslims in America

The Pew Research Center released interesting numbers that I need to spend some time with. It's about Muslims in America. Apparently American Muslims are fairly happy, middle class, and moderate in their politics and cultural views. Only a small number of American Muslims support actions like suicide bombings, and those numbers are skewed by a larger percentage of younger Muslims that find it possible to justify such actions, but even there its only 25 %, which means 75% say no. And of course even this needs to be nuanced, for such actions are justified only in certain cases. I think I already spoke a bit about that.
I appreciate the analysis given to the report by my friend Diana Butler Bass in her God's Politics posting today. She points out the contextual issue and the differences between polling numbers in Europe and those here in America. European Muslims are much less assimilated, much less happy, and more likely to support radical activities. The question is why?
Well, maybe as Diana suggests, it's our commitment to the separation of church and state and affirmation of the principle of toleration, principles built into our societal foundations.
And to those who would call for changes in this policy, Diana writes:

Since Sept. 11, some Christians have called for an end to the separation of church and state to combat terrorism, claiming a stronger national Christian identity, a “Christian America,” is the way to defeat Islamic extremism – a tactic employed by some reactionary European political parties. The Pew study shows that approach is wrong-headed. The path to peace between Christians and Muslims is that of religious freedom, separation of church and state, and
appreciative toleration in the best traditions of liberality.

We are a religious nation, and at our best we have found ways of welcoming the stranger and have allowed them the freedom to express their faith and their political ideals. Europe has become more secular, but in some ways it has become more oppressive, especially to those whose religious beliefs aren't considered mainstream -- that is not old world!

I'm Lost!

I admit it, I'm a Lost fan. I haven't a clue where this is going, but last night's finale, besides killing off some more others, Naomi the helicopter girl with the phone (by an increasingly unstable John Locke), and finally Charlie, who fulfills his apparent destiny by turning off the jammer, talking to Penelope, and drowning -- so that Claire and the Baby can go home!

So, where do we stand? We have three years to find out what happens. The night ends with the castaways in contact with their apparent saviors, while Ben suggests that they've made a big mistake that will lead to the death of all of them. But Jack, our hero, doesn't believe Ben (and why should he?) and makes the contact anyway -- and that's where we're left. Oh, by the way Hurley saves the day by ramming that old VW bus into the camp where Said, Jin, and the dentist are being held captive after Jin couldn't detonate the TNT!

But the most interesting part was the flash back of a bearded Oxycontin addicted Jack who saves a woman and her son from death, that he ultimately caused by distracting the woman as he was about to jump from the LA Street Bridge (the one you see from I-5 or is it the 101) into a dry LA River. And why is he distraught, we're not told, except that a newspaper clipping, perhaps of an obituary, catches his attention. In the end Jack has a meeting with a mystery woman, who turns out to be Kate -- and we realize this isn't a flash back but a vision of a future in which Jack says they made a mistake -- they should have stayed. But why? Well, that's what the next 3 years will tell us or will they? Stay tuned!!!

By the way, the LA Times has a nice write up of the wacky but intriguing world of "Lost." Since I'm hooked, I'll have to watch the next one and the next one!

Bendict's not quite apology

I think many of us were taken aback by Benedict XVI's comments about the spiritual benefits of the colonization of the America's. It showed little if any understanding of the context of the "evangelization" of the Americas, the absolute devastation of the indigenous population, and the complete disregard for the non-coercive nature of the gospel.

Well Benedict has clarified things a bit -- admitting that mistakes were made and that there was a dark side to the evangelization of the Americas. It's a start, but as with his earlier statements about Islam, show how much his eurocentric perspective colors his view of the world.

The LA Times runs a helpful article by Tracy Wilkinson this morning. According to the article Benedict said:
"It is not possible to forget the sufferings and injustices inflicted by the colonizers on the indigenous population, whose fundamental human rights were often trampled upon," the pope said. "Certainly, the memory of a glorious past cannot ignore the shadows that accompanied the work of evangelizing the Latin American continent."

Still, he said, recognizing the sins should not detract from the good achieved by the missionaries: "Mentioning this must not prevent us from acknowledging with gratitude the marvelous work accomplished by the divine grace among these people in the course of these centuries," he said.
The Times also prints an op-ed piece by Lewis & Clark Law School Professor Robert Miller. Miller is an Eastern Shawnee and Chief Justice of the Grand Ronde tribe (an Oregon based tribe). In that piece Miller makes it clear that Benedict's statements aren't sufficient and don't go far enough in recognizing the devastating nature of the forced conversions of Native Americans. It is interesting that Miller points to three grants made by Pope Alexander VI authorizing the conquest and thereby the evangelization of the Americas. Alexander VI is also known as Rodrigo Borgia, one of the most corrupt figures the church has ever known.

When we Christians criticize the spread Islam at the point of the sword, we must acknowledge our own propensity to do the same!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

America's Muslims -- A Mostly Moderate Group

Who are our Muslim neighbors? Most, if not all, the Muslims that I know personally are moderate, gracious, largely assimilated. Mostly their immigrants -- many are students. They don't always agree with the politics of America's leaders -- but who does? Well, maybe Laura Bush!! But, that's neither here nor there!
Today in the LA Times, Rebecca Trounson offers an in depth look at a recently released Pew Foundation report that shows that most American Muslims are moderate, middle class, upwardly mobile, and are appalled by fanaticism and decry the use of such things as suicide bombings. The only warning sign is that younger Muslims are more likely than older ones to approve such things, and usually with regard to supporting efforts in opposition to occupation -- like of course Iraq and the Palestinian territories. Still, it's a small minority, even there.
I take this as good news and perhaps this attitude found here can be influential elsewhere. At least there's hope that this might be true. So, take a look at the article and think about the good news for a change!

What's the Ex-Gay Movement?

The Christian Century has published an excellent review of two books that wrestle with this very question. Thanks to Jesus Politics for the link, by the way. Written by Amy Johnson Frykholm, the review focuses on Straight to Jesus: Sexual and Christian Conversions in the Ex-Gay Movement by Tanya Erzen (University of California Press, 293 pp., $19.95 paperback) and Be Not Deceived: The Sacred and Sexual Struggles of Gay and Ex-Gay Christian Men
by Michelle Wolkomir (Rutgers University Press, 225 pp., $23.95).
According to these books, even ex-gay folk admit that there is not "cure" and that fall and redemption will be a life long process. Interesting review of books dealing with an issue we'd probably rather not deal with!

Eboo Patel and Interfaith Work

Faithfully Liberal, a blog created by two young seminarians -- now graduated -- has posted a wonderful interview with Eboo Patel, a young Muslim who is committed to developing interfaith conversation and service.

The interview discusses the Interfaith Core Youth project, which Patel directs, but it goes beyond that to discuss the importance of the conversation and the importance of young people being part of the conversation.

I found this passage especially intriguing:

The esteemed writer W.E.B. Du Bois wrote in his book, The Souls of Black Folk the problem of the 20th century will be the color line. While the problem of the color line has not been fully solved, I believe that the problem of the 21st century is the faith line. This line does not separate Muslims from Christians, or Jews from Hindus, but rather religious totalitarians from pluralists. A religious totalitarian is someone who seeks to suffocate those who are different from them. Their weapons range from suicide bombs to media empires. A pluralist is someone who seeks to live with people who are different, be enriched by them, and peacefully coexist in the world together. From the words of the poet Gwendolyn Brooks,

We are each other’s business

We are each other’s harvest

We are each other’s magnitude and bond

Religious totalitarians have been very successful in recruiting young people to be the foot soldiers of their wars. It is imperative to give young people spaces to express and develop their faith identity outside of the church or mosque. Meaning, we have to give young people the tools they need to be successful Christians, not just in church, but in the world. We believe that IFYC’s methodology creates these spaces, and empowers young people to develop and articulate their faith identity.

This is an intriguing comparison that needs further unpacking.

By the way, Patel has a new book coming out from Beacon Press in July: Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim; the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Eye of the Beholder -- Perceptions of Church Life

When we think about perception we often speak in terms of gender, ethnicity, or generations. And there are differences, obviously. And yet, when it comes to church life, there's another aspect to be considered. That is -- whether one is new or old (by old I mean long term member).
Martha Grace Reese, in her recently released book -- Unbinding the Gospel (Chalice Press, 2007) -- provides a helpful reminder as to these differences/similarities.
In her Mainline Evangelism Project survey Reese discovered that the key difference in perception relates to whether one has been raised in the church or not.

If you grew up in the church, no matter how cool and young you are, don't assume you know what people outside the church are thinking or what they want! Early in your life, you absorbed Christian theology, behaviors, values, and understandings. These unconscious influences shape the way you think about life and what's real. If you want to know what nonchurch people think or what they expect, you have to ask them. Don't presume that you know. (Unbinding the Gospel, p. 74).

When we look at the church from within we do so with an expectation of what's comfortable, and that comfortability is planted early on in our church life. And we can't help ourselves!!!

Like it or not, the survey found that the opinions of 40-year-0lds raised in the church are a lot more like the preferences of 80-year-olds raised in church than they are like 40-year-olds who were not raised in the church. If you grew up with liturgy and hymns, you probably feel comfortable with them. You experienced God early in connection with the smells of Easter lilies and the colors of Christmas pageants, with the doxology, hanging banners and the songs you loved from camp. (Unbinding the Gospel, 75).

This is good to know!!! It's also scary!

GW to Congress -- Mind Your Own Business -- as I understand your business!

The Alberto Gonzalez affair is becoming almost soap operatic in its development. For the past few months we've been hearing how Gonzalez has politicized the Attorney General's office like no AG before him. First it was the questionable firings of US Attorneys and then testimony that Gonzalez, as WH counsel, had pressured then AG John Ashcroft to sign off on a legally questionable wire-tapping program (while the AG was in ICU).

Now GW had the luxury of having a hands off Congress for the first six years of office. Now that Congress is providing oversight and raising questions, he doesn't like it. So, in continuing his support of an AG that clearly is incompetent if not a political hack, he has suggested that Congress should go back to passing legislation and stop telling him what to do. I think that GW has forgotten that one of Congress' jobs is to provide oversight. So, they're minding their business, as the Constitution suggests!

Flags in Church -- Appropriate or not?

My church has an American flag, so did my church before that. In fact, flags in church are about as common as communion tables or Bibles. I must confess my own ambivalence about it. I'm not really comfortable with it, but I've not chosen to fight that battle.
Today in the Ethic's Daily articles, comes one that raises this issue. Apparently a United Methodist leader has questioned it's place in a sanctuary, pointing out that such a placement seems to endorse America's political policies. But that the church has loyalties that go beyond nation. That's why I'm uncomfortable with their presence.
Of course that politically conservative watchdog the IRD (Institute for Religion and Democracy) rails against this challenge to America's religious heritage. The UMC official, is of course, accused of being unpatriotic. The IRD's Mark Tooley charges Clayton Childers and others of us on the left of opposing "the United States Flag because they are contemptuous of our country, its history, its institutions, its culture. ... "
Yes, if you don't think it's appropriate to have a flag in church, then of course you must hate America. As they say, "love it, or leave it." I don't know about you, but I find that just a bit "un-American"!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Presidential Elections and the Supreme Court

Just think if Al Gore had one in 2000 or John Kerry in 2004 -- think Alito and Roberts -- might not be on the Supreme Court. It was an issue raised in 2004, but got lost in the war hysteria.

The same questions will be at issue in 2008 -- with at least John Paul Stevens at 87 nearing that point of retirement. David Souter might also be on the verge of retiring, as is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. That is three of the 4 reliably moderate/liberal justices. For a run down of the possibilities check out this column by Tom Goldstein at Scotusblog. It's always important to remember that Supreme Court Justices are part of the equation. And only 2 have been appointed by a Democratic President in the last 40 years! Yes, the last Democratic President to appoint Supreme Court Justices prior to Bill Clinton was LBJ!!!

Thanks to Melissa Rogers for the heads up!

How Obama's Faith Guide's His Politics

I found this morning in my Faith in Public Life daily news email a piece by Anthony Robinson published in the Seattle Post Intelligencer that concerns his faith and his politics. It's an intriguing piece to put together with the recent statements made by Newt Gingrich, posted elsewhere on this blog.
Newt seems quite sure of the problems and the solutions, and perhaps his calling to be be the means of that solution. Barack Obama offers a quite different perspective.

From Niebuhr, Obama said, "I take away the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief that we can eliminate these things. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away the sense that we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard and not swinging from naive idealism to bitter realism."

In deftly summarizing Niebuhr's thought, Illinois's junior senator provides insight into his own. Unlike some religious liberals, Obama understands that there's real evil in the world and that saying "peace" will not bring it about.

But unlike many contemporary religious conservatives, Obama believes that we must be humble and modest in our ambitions as well as in our claims for our own virtue. In contrast to the evangelical fervor of President Bush and his grand idea of bringing freedom and planting democracy, Obama appears to be a man of more modest hopes. Modest hopes, hope tempered by realism, and awareness of our own fallibility are themes Niebuhr brought to American life and theology.

Modesty and humility, what intriguing qualities. Qualities that might serve us well?

Shining Knight to the Rescue?

The Washington Post has an article that lays out Newt Gingrich's recent commencement speech at Liberty U in the aftermath of Jerry Falwell's death. With none of the front runners grabbing the Religious Right's heartstrings, the question is, can the thrice married Newt be the chosen savior?
Now I do believe in redemption, and perhaps Newt has changed, but is a many who tells his wife while she's in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery that he's leaving her for his mistress the kind of person the Religious Conservative is ready to back?
He is definitely heating up the religious rhetoric and decrying the growing secularism of the nation. Now when you look at America, you might wonder what he's talking about. The government seems to be in the hands of the Right, so what's the problem?
What do you think?

Claiming the Religious Right's Mantle

Was Jerry Falwell more politician than preacher? Time will decide, but it is the politician who seeks to play Elisha to Elijah. Newt Gingrich delivered his Liberty University commencement speech in such a way as to claim his place as the one who will lead the "Christianist" army forward.
According to Robert Parham's Ethic's Daily commentary, Gingrich has offered a conflation of religion and nationalism as our hope for the future. Here is an insightful section worth pondering. But of course read the entire piece!

With Falwell now passed from the scene, Gingrich wants America to believe the Moral Majority founder entrusted him to bear this witness, just as Falwell bore it before him.

By conflating the Bible and Declaration of Independence, the former House Speaker fashions a civil religion, which is an inauthentic religion, in the search for power.

In Gingrich, the witness becomes the politician. The Christian God becomes national deity.
The Christian faith becomes the prevailing cultural ideology. The people of God become synonymous with the messianic American community.

That is a false faith, and dangerous.

Authentic religion from the best of the Christian tradition transcends every nation and sits in judgment of every culture. as the solution to the modern American Christian feeling of diminished power.

The Ironies of Jerry Falwell -- Sightings

No one can better put Jerry Falwell into perspective than historian of American religion and observer of political and cultural trends than Martin Marty. And so we're treated to Marty's analysis of a man of contradictions, a man who was responsible for much of the rise of politically active Fundamentalism, and yet who leaves little evidence of thoughtful statements on matters of theology, spirituality, or even political life. So, here's Marty!

Sightings 5/21/07

Ironies of Falwell-- Martin E. Marty

Today's is the 369th M.E.M. Sightings (archived since 1999). At forty lines each, that means there have been 14,720 lines, only seven of which -- in a 2001 and a 2005 column -- were devoted to Jerry Falwell. Our calculators tell us this means he thus received 0.000475543 percent of our space. If he has been the Religious Right's number one televangelist, entrepreneur, university builder, and politico, accuse us not of overdoing comment on that Right. We resolved early on not to over-comment on over-done subjects that need no one to do any "sighting." We also ducked most media requests for comment last week when Falwell died.

Still, Falwell's passing demands some comment. He is best viewed from the perspective of what has been called "historical" or "(Reinhold) Niebuhrian" irony. In such irony a human agent -- in this case, Falwell -- acts, forgetting that while his humanness commits him to acting with an intention to use his knowledge, power, security, and virtue, his ignorance, weakness, insecurity, and vice compromise or even counter the intention. Niebuhr liked to quote Psalm 2:4: God "who sitteth in the heavens shall laugh." We'll leave to others the assessment of the degrees of knowledge, power, security, and virtue that are in the Falwellian legacy.

Let's look instead at the ironies. No one did more than he to turn fundamentalism from being "private" religion to being "public." He did not anticipate or care about the prices paid. No one did more to turn otherworldly fundamentalism to this-worldly and even worldly preoccupations. No one did more to rally the dispersed and derided fundamentalists and instill in them pride and swagger. No one in public life (except perhaps the Reverend Jesse Jackson) found the word "Reverend" prefixing his name more, yet he came to be known for his rough-and-tumble style -- hardly reverend -- and for mixing it up in political affairs.

No one appeared more frequently in the headlines as a religious leader, and yet the public is hard pressed to think of a single line of his (other than those he quoted from scripture) that would belong in any broad-based anthology of "spiritual" or "theological" writings. No one did more than he, when he came on the scene (ca. the sixties and seventies), to attack the political and cultural expressions of moderate and liberal Catholics and Protestants, calling the church-in-politics sinful. And then no one did more than he in his about-face to call churchly non-involvement in politics a sin, where involvement meant agreeing with his causes.
No one on the Right, perhaps excepting televangelist Pat Robertson, blurted out more egregious assessments of the faults of others in public life, and no one had to be more ready to eat his words and apologize -- thus by the very frequency of his retractions weakening the confidence in his judgment of all but his most devoted followers, at expense to the confidence shown the Religious Right. No one did more than he to convince others on the Religious Right that, having so long chosen, or having been pushed to, the margins of public life, they could now use their moral majority to overcome minority status and, given the right partisan allies, politically win it all.
No one "wins it all" in America. So while Falwell rests in peace, the American majority can experience some measure of peace denied them when he took the pulpit or took to the airwaves.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at
The current Religion and Culture Web Forum features "The Desire to Acquire: Or, Why Shopping Malls Are Sites of Religious Violence," by Jon Pahl. To read this article, please visit:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Good Shepherd

Given recent postings here and broader conversations elsewhere about torture, secrecy, and even the CIA, I thought I would give a brief response to my viewing via DVD last night of The Good Shepherd, a movie directed by Robert De Niro and starring Matt Damon, along with Angelina Jolie, Alec Baldwin, and other well known actors.

It is a movie about the CIA and its birth. The story is fictional and yet seeks to present an accurate portrait of the Agency, it's birth, and it's purpose. This isn't the greatest spy movie ever as some of the PR suggests, but it is a movie that should be viewed. Unlike your typical James Bond romps (though there's plenty of sex) this movie is disturbing (and not because of the sex). It really focuses on what happens to a person who enters a secret world where even family is sacrificed for the good of the country. We see in the movie how the soul of a person is destroyed by the cloak and dagger realities of Agency life.
This is brought home early in the film, when the central character, played by Matt Damon, faces the prospect of watching his British spy mentor and his former Yale Poetry professor, be knocked off because his homosexual liaisons had endangered his work, during WWII.
The former professor says to him just moments before being killed by his own people -- "Get out while you can Edward. Get out while you still have a soul." But while he grieves what comes next, he can't get out. He's been sucked in and that choice destroys his marriage and colors his relationship with his son.
As with the discussion of torture, we must ask the question -- what is appropriate for a civilized society to engage in? The movie will force you to wrestle with the question -- including the issue of torture, for a scene shows the use of water boarding and LSD to "get the truth," which really wasn't the point of the interrogation. I'd be interested to hear from others who have seen the movie, to hear their impressions.

Redefining the "Born Again" Stereotype

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
May 20, 2007

There are two kinds of Christians, those who are “born again” and those who aren't. “Born again” Christians can graphically recount their conversion story, are theologically conservative, and are likely members in good standing of the Republican Party. Everyone else falls into that second category of being “non-born again.” At least that's the stereotype.

Although stereotypes can be useful, they're also double-edged swords. They may contain a grain of truth, but they also distort the truth. While many people proudly wear the label “born again,” other Christians shy away from it because of its political and cultural connotations.

Despite the stereotypes and the expectations, it's too good a phrase to concede to one faction of the Christian community. It's like other words and phrases that are used in partisan fashion, such as evangelical, Catholic, progressive, conservative, or liberal. Using “born again” in a narrow, sectarian fashion does injustice to it, because according to the Scriptures that I read, every Christian, whether evangelical, mainline, Roman Catholic or Orthodox is “born again.” There can be no other kind of Christian.
“Born again” is a synonym for transformation. Christians are, the Gospel of John says, born of water and the Spirit (John 3:1-10). It's a promise of newness, reconciliation, and grace that should be welcomed by anyone who would follow Christ. It is a promise of transformation that holds out hope to anyone who has experienced brokenness and estrangement. It's something we all yearn for, and yet the common usage hinders our understanding.
Now, St. Paul does say it differently. He uses the imagery of death and resurrection, but I think he's saying the same thing. Like John he connects this change to baptism (Romans 6) and he offers the promise that what is old may become new (2 Corinthians 5).
The manner in which this change takes place can take on different forms, depending on the Christian tradition. For some it's instantaneous and for others it's gradual. Whatever the process, there's a recognition that we seek a way out of our experience of alienation - from God and from one another.
Marcus Borg, a progressive Christian biblical scholar, speaks of being “born again” in the context of our experience of a “separated self,” which leads to a pre-occupation with the self. To be “born again,” therefore, is to “recover our true self,” so we can live lives “centered in the Spirit, in Christ, in God” (The Heart of Christianity, HarperSanFrancisco). Having this life-changing experience that refocuses our lives feels, John says, like re-emerging from our Mother's womb as a wholly new person. And the promise of starting over is a welcome one to all of us.

I'm writing this column because too often we let others define us and choose the terms that describe us. I must confess to doing this on occasion myself! Regarding this phrase, “born again,” I want to reclaim it for myself. I realize not everyone will accept me as such, but if you grant my definition, then you must allow me the self-designation. Yes, it may create some confusion and require some discussion about terminology, but is that all bad?

Some who read this may decide that I'm way too liberal to be “born again.” Of course, it's possible that others may decide that if I like this phrase, then I'm just a tad too conservative for their tastes. And, maybe that's a good place in which to be. Do we really want to fit the stereotype?
All I want to do is to faithfully live in a way that honors Jesus. Because I've experienced a life-changing encounter with God through Jesus and have been washed anew in the waters of baptism, I stand ready to serve the cause of God's reign in this world. And to me, that's what it means to be “born again.” I know there are other words and phrases that would tell the story with less confusion, but I just like this one too much to let it go. My quest then is to live my life in such a way that the presence of God will be seen within me. And for that to happen I must choose to live a life that is humble, compassionate, and life-affirming.

Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( He blogs at, and maybe contacted at or First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93105.May 20, 2007