Friday, November 30, 2007

Theology: Our Common Task

I have been reading Alister McGrath's history of Protestantism -- Christianity's Dangerous Idea (HarperOne, 2007). I'll speak more of the book itself at a later time -- when I'm finished. But as I was reading through this book that explores the "democratization of faith" that at least in principle Protestantism is, I came across this quotation from Karl Barth's God in Action.
McGrath writes:

Barth stressed the importance of theology in safeguarding the vision and identity of the church. Positive, yet critical, theology serves the church and keeps it faithful to its calling. And who is authorized to "do" theology? Barth had no hesitation in reaffirming the great Protestant theme of the democratization of the faith. (McGrath, p. 239).

From there he moves to the quote, which stems from a 1934 lecture in Paris:
In conclusion, theology is not a private subject for theologians only. Nor is it a private subject for professors. Fortunately, there have always been pastors who have understood more about theology than most professors. Nor is theology a private subject of study for pastors. Fortunately, there have been repeatedly congregation members, and often whole congregations, who have pursued theology energetically while their pastors were theological infants or barbarians. Theology is a matter for the church. (Karl Barth, God in Action, Round Table Press, 1963, pp. 56-57)
Barth goes on in the paragraph that follows to not the importance of both pastors and professors to this process. Still he leaves the ball in the church's court.

In the Church there are really no non-theologians. The concept "laymen" is one of the worst concepts in religious terminology, a concept that should be eliminated from the Christian vocabulary. (Barth, p. 57)

It would seem that if we are true to the Protestant heritage -- as clergy/professors we are called to share what we know. "Laity" on the other hand should cast off the shackles of this "calling" and engage in pursuit of that call to pursuit knowledge in faith, to do theology and seek understanding of God's call on our lives.

Osamaing Obama?

Rumors, Rumors, they're everywhere. I get this little ditties sent to me all the time. With the advent of the net and email, scurrilous rumors get passed on with the greatest of ease. And it would seem that seniors are most prone to this -- at least so it seems. I'm constantly telling my mother that the information in her post is untrue -- just go check
With good old Rush and his buddies liking to confuse Barack Obama's name with America's most wanted villain, Osama Bin Laden, it's no wonder. It's unfortunate that a newspaper of the caliber of the Washington Post sees the necessity to take up the issue of Barack Obama's faith. The idea that Obama converted to Christianity as a cover for his "secret" adherence to Islam would be ridiculous, if it didn't provide fodder for anti-Obama efforts. With America fearful of anything Muslim, to tar someone as a Muslim goes a long way to undermining their credibility.
You would think that having experience living in a developing country, having had first had encounters with Muslims, would be a good thing, something that would help him better understand the world in which we live. But such experience is held against him. Why? Out of fear, possibly. Out of bigotry, probably. If a woman can get turned down for a bank account in Lompoc, CA because she's wearing a hejab, most certainly we'll hold this "experience" against him.
Here's my message to my fellow Americans. Grow Up! Wise Up! Stop listening to rumors and think for yourself. If you don't like Obama because you disagree with his views on issues, fine. Vote for someone else. It's the same as with Mitt Romney. I'm not voting for him, not because he's a Mormon but because I disagree with his politics. The same is true of Rudy and Mike Huckabee. After all Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, and Al Gore were all Southern Baptists -- I could vote for them. It really doesn't matter whether or not Obama is a Muslim or not.
As Scott Paeth so rightly states:
Were Obama a "secret Muslim" the real issue would be one of honesty, not one of religion. A Muslim, per se, is no less qualified to lead the country than a Methodist or a Mormon. Of course, that possibility is rejected on its face by the nutjob right in this country. But the point is moot in any event, since its been well established that this is a rumor without foundation.
By the way, Obama joined Trinity UCC long before he went into politics!
Thanks goes to Scott Paeth for the pointer to this "issue."

Accents -- Just another Quiz

I can't help myself, but when I see a quiz, I've got to try it out.

No surprise here -- I'm from the West Coast and as far as I know we don't have an accent out here!

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

North Central
The West
The Inland North
The South
The Northeast
What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Thanks to Richard at his Connections blog for this helpful quiz! My question -- how does one from Wales have an American accent -- even a Northeast one?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Baptism by Torture -- Sightings

The issue of whether waterboarding is torture continues to be with us. Michael Mukasey, the new AG, wasn't quite sure if it is. Nor do some of the current presidential candidates. Rudy seems to think it might have it's place -- but I think he's been watching too much 24. Last night it seems that Mitt and John got into it as well. Mitt doesn't seem to know if it is or not and doesn't think it's the place of a presidential candidate to make that call. Fortunately John McCain, who knows better than most what torture is, challenged that premise.
But William Schweiker, writing today in Sightings, offers a unique perspective, a challenge to we who believe in and follow Jesus. He calls on us to consider the sacramental use of water -- that is baptism -- and the way water has been used in the past to in a sense purge and purify or extract conversion. It was used in the Inquisition and in witch trials for just that reason. Anabaptists, those who believe that infant baptism isn't real baptism were often subjected to what was called a "third baptism" -- by drowning. It is one of the ugly spots in our Christian history. Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, all made use of this tactic to suppress the unwelcome presence of the Radical Reformation.
Schweiker offers us an important point of reference in this debate and calls on us to reject now and forever more on sacred grounds this despicable practice of waterboarding.


Sightings 11/29/07

Baptism by Torture
-- William Schweiker

Religious practices have often been tied to violence and torture, but this connection is often hidden within public discourse. That is the situation now in the United States with the debate about waterboarding, the religious meanings of which have yet to be articulated and explored.
The candidates in the current presidential campaign have taken starkly different stances on the practice of waterboarding. Some condemn the practice as outright torture; others have refused to condemn the practice if in an extreme case it could save millions of American lives. The topic has been divided into two separate but related questions: is waterboarding a form of torture, and, however torture is defined, are there situations in which waterboarding and other practices are justified?
The argument for possible justification turns on several assumptions: that we could infallibly know that someone had vital information that would in fact save millions; that torture would extract this information without distortion; and, finally, that if the information was secured truthfully and infallibly, it could be put to use in good time. None of these assumptions is warranted. Expert opinion and empirical evidence concur that torture is an ineffective means to gain reliable information. The scenario of the lone knower of the facts whose torture would save millions of lives is the stuff of bad spy movies and bad exam questions in ethics courses. In terms of the question of definition, matters are both legal and visceral. International conventions provide ample guidelines, and, as more than one commentator has noted, if waterboarding is not torture it is not clear what else to call it, the Bush Administration's penchant to alter definitions notwithstanding.
Less often observed is that the practice of waterboarding has roots in the Spanish Inquisition and parallels the persecution of Anabaptists during the Protestant Reformation and the Roman Catholic Counter Reformation. Why did practices similar to waterboarding develop as a way to torture heretics—whether the heretics were Anabaptists or, in the Inquisition, Protestants of any stripe as well as Jews and witches and others?
Roman Catholics and Protestants alike persecuted the Anabaptists or "re-baptizers" since these people denied infant baptism in favor of adult baptism. The use of torture and physical abuse was meant to stem the movement and also to bring salvation to heretics. It had been held—at least since St. Augustine—that punishment, even lethal in form, could be an act of mercy meant to keep a sinner from continuing in sin, either by repentance of heresy or by death. King Ferdinand declared that drowning—called the third baptism—was a suitable response to Anabaptists. Water as a form of torture was an inversion of the waters of baptism under the (grotesque) belief that it could deliver the heretic from his or her sins.
In the Inquisition, the practice was not drowning as such, but the threat of drowning, and the symbolic threat of baptism. The tortura del agua or toca entailed forcing the victim to ingest water poured into a cloth stuffed into the mouth in order to give the impression of drowning. Because of the wide symbolic meaning of "water" in the Christian and Jewish traditions (creation, the great flood, the parting of the Red Sea in the Exodus and drowning of the Egyptians (!), Christ's walking on the water, and, centrally for Christians, baptism as a symbolic death that gives life), the practice takes on profound religious significance. Torture has many forms, but torture by water as it arose in the Roman Catholic and Protestant reformations seemingly drew some of its power and inspiration from theological convictions about repentance and salvation. It was, we must now surely say, a horrific inversion of the best spirit of Christian faith and symbolism. Is it the purpose of the United State nowadays to seek the conversion, repentance, and purity of supposed terrorists and thus to take on the trappings of a religious rite? The question is so buried behind public discourse that its full import is hardly recognized.
In the light of these religious meanings and background to waterboarding, US citizens can decide to reject any claim by the government to have the right to use this or other forms of torture, especially given connections to the most woeful expressions of Christianity; conversely, they can fall prey to fear and questionable reasoning and thus continue to support an unjust and vile practice that demeans the nation's highest political and moral ideals even as it desecrates one of the most important practices and symbols of Christian faith.
I judge that it is time for repentance, the affirmation of new life, and the humane expression of religious convictions.
William Schweiker is the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and director of the Martin Marty Center.

This month, the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum features "Religion and Museums on the National Mall," an essay by Elizabeth McKeown of the Department of Theology and American Studies Program at Georgetown University.

Access this month's forum at: the discussion board at:

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Does the Mainline have a Future?

I got involved in a little dialog/debate on the blog of Emergent leader Tony Jones about Mainline Protestantism. I was commenting on a report of a session at the recent AAR meeting in nearby San Diego (I couldn’t go) that featured Tony, Diana Butler Bass, and Scot McKnight. Apparently the exchange between Diana and Tony got a bit heated as to the future of the mainline churches.

I jumped into the conversation and suggested maybe things aren’t so bad for us, maybe we’re on the road forward. Now, at least one commenter seemed to disagree with my assessment.

I get the impression that Mainliners keep waiting for their left of center, open-ended stance to attract the surrounding culture. And yet, the opposite continues to happen.

I would argue that it is the lack of a strong theology of the Holy Spirit that has led, and is continuing to lead a decline in mainline numbers and vitality.

Now, I disagree with this apparently young evangelical pastor who believes that Mainliners have been waiting around for decades waiting for the culture to notice us -- all the while declining -- and that things are no different now than then.
I sense a great change happening – an emergent movement of sorts within Mainline Protestantism. Indeed, it is a new openness to the Holy Spirit. Books such as Diana’s Christianity for the Rest of Us (HarperOne, 2006), Eric Elnes’ Asphalt Jesus, and Martha Grace Reese’s Unbinding the Gospel not only suggest that there is a hunger for something different, but that at least some progressive churches are reaching out and doing new things. The popularity of Marcus Borg’s The Heart of Christianity (Harper, 2003) is another sign of this trend.

The reason I jumped into this discussion was to suggest that perhaps Progressives are ahead of the curve on at least some cutting edge issues. One particular issue is homosexuality in the church. We all know it’s a big issue. It seems to be tearing at the fabric of the churches, or so it seems. But the reality is – in the broader culture there is not only a growing acceptance of gays and lesbians, but that at least among the younger generations see the church as particularly anti-gay. Although Progressive Churches haven’t done well among baby boomers, the children of baby boomers – if they’re going to go to church might find progressive churches more appealing.

The question is – how do we get the message out? Martha Grace Reese has shown us that by and large mainline churches have bought into the idea that faith is private and should not be shared. But by keeping the light under the bushel, to quote Jesus, we have kept a message of grace, welcome, and compassion under wraps as well.

So, my question is, does the Mainline have a future?

Cross-published at Faithfully Liberal

Diversity as a Christian Practice

When I look around my congregation, it's not all that diverse. It's not intentional, it's just the way things are. We're kind of older and pretty much white. We'd like to be more diverse and at times we've been more diverse. It's just that right now the population of this small congregation is sort of older and sort of white. But we've been singing in Spanish if that counts for anything!
My friend Diana Butler Bass wrote about her experiences at a United Methodist Conference. Gathered were representatives of various churches from across Northern California and Nevada. Among those gathered were representatives of the congregations of peoples from the Global South. She shares the joys of the conversations as people explored together what it means to be church in this new globalized context. It was mentioned that some of our philosophical analysis (postmodern vs. modern) is a rather western phenomenon.
She speaks here of diversity as practice rather than program:

And it demonstrated to me the power of diversity as a Christian practice. If their diversity was merely a "program" of the denomination, it would breed resentment and suspicion. But the level of trust in the room (we even talked about trust) indicated that their diversity went far beyond program—that it is a genuine attempt to enact Christian community in bringing together humankind through Jesus Christ. Their diversity was a practice of faith, an action that Christian people do for the sake of God in the world.

It is intentional and yet it's also organic. I know that the mixing of communities is still in its infancy stages, but perhaps the church can be the harbinger of a better way of living together!
Thanks Diana for the prod to practice faith in a new way.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Politics, Religion, and Compromise

It has been fun watching the Religious Right try to get a handle around the current crop of GOP candidates. The only "pure" candidate left in the mix is Mike Huckabee, who most Religious conservatives seem to like but don't think he can live -- though there is the charge that he's a big government liberal with conservative social positions (the real Compassionate Conservative).
The question is, what to make of the decision of religious conservatives to back other candidates -- including the most unlikely of all -- Rudy Giuliani. Both Huckabee and Jim Wallis cried shame when Pat Robertson offered his support to Rudy. Now, I'm not a fan of any of these GOP candidates, but I find Dan Gilgoff's thoughts on this interesting. He suggests that maybe this is a good thing, a sign that religious conservatives have finally begun to understand that politics requires compromise. Huckabee might cry shame and call for purity -- to back those who use the language of Zion -- but such a ghettoizing view isn't healthy.
Then of course there is the question that might be put to Huckabee himself -- would he join a Giuliani ticket? This might be the ultimate compromise, but as Gilgoff writes:

His willingness to pair up with a social liberal would doubtless be seen in some quarters as selling out. But in the fallen world of American politics, it would probably be the best evangelicals could hope for.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Torture Then and Now -- Sightings

There are two questions that arise when we talk about torture. The first is: Is it moral? From a religious perspective it is really difficult to say yes. I mean, if we say we are pro-life or believe in any way, shape, or form that we are created in the image of God, how can we condone the inhumane treatment of another, no matter the reason?
The other question is practical: Does it work? The answer, when it comes to torture seems to be no. Martin Marty focuses today on a piece written by a historian of the Renaissance, who demonstrates quite clearly from records of that by gone era that people will say just about anything to get the pain to stop. That the CIA has gotten lucky, well that luck doesn't support the cause.
So, here's what Marty says:


Sightings 11/26/07

Torture Then and Now
-- Martin E. Marty

Torture, including torture by Americans: Who could have predicted that this would be a live topic here in the twenty-first century? We know how to associate torture with the accused and accusing other, with Inquisitors and witch hunters five centuries ago, or with far-away twentieth century totalitarian regimes and religious terrorists. But today the theological, humanistic, and tactical themes connected with torture have appeared close to home, giving new significance to those distant times, places, and events.

Accordingly, a very distinguished historian, Princeton 's expert on the Renaissance, is speaking up. Not known for ideology or pamphleteering, Anthony Grafton takes pains not to oversell the relevance of his subjects. He favors patient historical work and writes in a moderate mode. Recently he looked up from his Renaissance research to see how things are going today. Alert to contemporary controversies and mildly allusive about events in America, he stops short of issuing indictments. Grafton seems to be writing in the haze of "where there's smoke there's fire," but clearly sees enough to issue cautionary words.

His article in the November 5th New Republic, entitled "Say Anything," refers to what he has learned from the transcripts of those Inquisitors and witch-hunters. He knows enough to say enough about the practical ineffectiveness of torture. Americans, we were always told, do not torture for a number of reasons: Torture violates our moral codes, including those based on religious notions that humans are made in the image of God; religious leadership is almost unanimously against torture, and America is a religious nation; for us to torture is to enter a dangerous game, since if we torture we have no moral claim to demand that "the other," our enemies, should not torture our people when they are captured; and we are a practical people and like to work with things that work. Grafton concentrates on this last piece, the ineffectiveness of torture.

He notes that four centuries ago, as now, the tortured will "say anything" to get the pain to stop, which means anything that the tortured thinks the torturer wants to hear. And what the torturer hears is almost never right or useful. Grafton reports on the work of younger historians who are finding that "torture—as inflicted in the past—was anything but a sure way of arriving at the truth." He tells how, in unimaginable pain, some tortured Jews were broken and finally "filled in every detail that Christians wanted." Nowadays, he says, "no competent historian trusts confessions wrung by torture that confirms the strange and fixed ideas of the torturer." Grafton's conclusion: "Torture does not obtain truth…it can make most ordinary people…say anything their examiners want." Moral: "it is not an instrument that a decent society has any business applying…Anyone who claims otherwise…stands with the torturers" of long ago. And that, Grafton has made quite clear, is not a good place to stand.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at


This month, the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum features "Religion and Museums on the National Mall," an essay by Elizabeth McKeown of the Department of Theology and American Studies Program at Georgetown University.Access this month's forum at: the discussion board at:

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

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why Obama?

I've not posted much lately on the candidacy of Barack Obama. But reading Andrew Sullivan's piece from the Atlantic Monthly reminded me why I was attracted to him early on.
Yes, I was attracted by his faith, but it was something else, something that made him different from everyone else. Of those running for President, everyone else is older than me. He's about the age of my younger brother, at the tail end of the Baby Boom generation and in many ways not part of it. Like me he didn't come of age in the 1960s. Like me he may have watched the 60's on the TV, but the formative experiences came in the 1970s and maybe early 1980s.
Sullivan says that we may be at a time and place in history when Obama is the necessary candidate. It's not so much his policies or his governmental experience. Instead it's his life experience, part of which is not caught up in Vietnam. We talk about the current war, but in many ways it is that other war that we continue to fight.
Obama brings to the table a life experience that is composed of many different parts -- he's black, but he's also white. His father was foreign born and he spent time living in a foreign country -- even attending a Muslim majority school. He opposed the current war before it was fashionable and did so because he understood that it was a "dumb war."
Obama is compelling now for one major reason, he is the only candidate that represents change (yes maybe even change for change sake).
Consider these closing paragraphs from Sullivan's lengthy but compelling article:

None of this, of course, means that Obama will be the president some are dreaming of. His record in high office is sparse; his performances on the campaign trail have been patchy; his chief rival for the nomination, Senator Clinton, has bested him often with her relentless pursuit of the middle ground, her dogged attention to her own failings, and her much-improved speaking skills. At times, she has even managed to appear more inherently likable than the skinny, crabby, and sometimes morose newcomer from Chicago. Clinton’s most surprising asset has been the sense of security she instills. Her husband—and the good feelings that nostalgics retain for his presidency—have buttressed her case. In dangerous times, popular majorities often seek the conservative option, broadly understood.

The paradox is that Hillary makes far more sense if you believe that times are actually pretty good. If you believe that America’s current crisis is not a deep one, if you think that pragmatism alone will be enough to navigate a world on the verge of even more religious warfare, if you believe that today’s ideological polarization is not dangerous, and that what appears dark today is an illusion fostered by the lingering trauma of the Bush presidency, then the argument for Obama is not that strong. Clinton will do. And a Clinton-Giuliani race could be as invigorating as it is utterly predictable.

But if you sense, as I do, that greater danger lies ahead, and that our divisions and recent history have combined to make the American polity and constitutional order increasingly vulnerable, then the calculus of risk changes. Sometimes, when the world is changing rapidly, the greater risk is caution. Close-up in this election campaign, Obama is unlikely. From a distance, he is
necessary. At a time when America’s estrangement from the world risks tipping into dangerous imbalance, when a country at war with lethal enemies is also increasingly at war with itself, when humankind’s spiritual yearnings veer between an excess of certainty and an inability to believe anything at all, and when sectarian and racial divides seem as intractable as ever, a man who is a
bridge between these worlds may be indispensable.

We may in fact have finally found that bridge to the 21st century that Bill Clinton told us about. Its name is Obama.

The Baby Boomers finally received the baton in 1992 with the election of Bill Clinton. Perhaps it's time to pass it off to the next generation. The "early Boomers" have influenced everything from cars to clothes, from toys to movies, but as for politics perhaps they/we aren't well suited for this task. With no desire to go back to an earlier generation (John McCain), perhaps we are best suited to take the risk and pass things on to the younger crowd!

Stereotype and Hysteria Lead to Discrimination

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
November 24, 2007

Recently a Muslim woman went to a local bank, hoping to open an account. That didn't happen, in part due to misunderstanding but also due to the hysteria that seems to be running rampant in our society. Like the McCarthyites of an earlier age, today's harbingers of fear see Islamic terrorists under every rock. With such a mindset it's not surprising that a woman wearing a hejab was singled out for exclusion. Yes, others of us have been turned down for accounts, but this episode reeks of prejudice built upon stereotype.

I don't know the bank employee's heart, but with the exception of the letter by Matt Hughes, most of the responses from the community have not only been unsympathetic to the woman, but downright hostile. The woman is blamed for her plight because she apparently wears “7th century clothing” and didn't declare clearly enough her rejection of “Islamo-fascist” terrorist aspirations when she put in her application. One letter writer encouraged this woman to be patient with us Americans, since the danger of terrorist attacks is so high in Lompoc that we need time to get to know her before we can trust her.
The stereotype that many Americans have of a Muslim is that of terrorist. But there are all kinds of terrorists. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were terrorists, but they weren't Muslims. The IRA and the Ulster Defense League were terrorist organizations, but they aren't Muslim either. Indeed, the British considered George Washington to be a terrorist. The reality is that the numbers of American Muslims with terrorist sympathies is incredibly small, and the likelihood that a Muslim woman living in Lompoc and wearing a hejab would be involved in a terrorist cell is plausible I suppose, but incredibly unlikely.

Ultimately this isn't just about an account that was denied, it is a symptom of a bigger problem in our society. That problem is a resurgent nativism that encourages us to fear the other - whether that other is Mexican, Asian, or Muslim. This nativist tendency is played out in the immigration debate as well, but here the issue is religious differences. There is great fear among some that “Christian” dominance is being threatened - but in the end our “dominance cannot be sustained by angry acts of discrimination. Our relationships with Muslims both here and abroad aren't aided by fear mongers on talk radio who raise the specter of an “Islamo-fascist” threat.
Islamofascism” has become a fashionable term, but what does it mean? Fascism is defined in the Merriam-Webster Online dictionary as:
“A political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
While it's true that some Islamist groups have autocratic and overly nationalist intentions, the question is: how does a local Muslim woman seeking to open a bank account become the face of such efforts? What danger to America's national identity is posed by a woman dressed in a hejab?
Earlier fascist movements - such as Hitler's and Mussolini's - built on the same kind of fear that incites these kinds of responses to our Muslim neighbors. Hitler was very adept at manipulating the fears of people who felt their way of life was threatened. Could the fascists in our own land not be the Muslims in our midst, but those who raise the bloody flag of “Islamo-fascism?”

Ultimately Matt Hughes's letter gets it right. He puts the shoe on the other foot, and asks the majority culture in this country to consider how it would feel to be in a similar situation. He makes a good point by suggesting that we “try to judge people by their actions, not by their appearances.” If in protecting ourselves we trample on the very principles that make our nation great, do we not undermine our nation's credibility in the world?
Is there a danger posed by terrorism in the world today? Yes, of course. But when acknowledgment of that possibility becomes hysteria, then innocent people will not only experience discrimination, their very lives could be put in danger.

Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc. He blogs at and may be contacted at or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.

November 25, 2007

Saturday, November 24, 2007

No Turning Back -- A Review

Gurdon Brewster. No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007. xiv + 233 pp.

There is book-learning and then there is experience. Both are important, but it’s experience that usually transforms lives. This is especially true of the Rev. Gurdon Brewster, an Episcopal Priest and the retired chaplain at Cornell University. In the summer of 1961 he served as an intern at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. This was early on in the Civil Right’s movement and Jim Crow continued to reign in the South. As summer intern he would live and work with Rev. Martin Luther King, Sr., better known to his congregation as Daddy King. He went to Atlanta from New York’s Union Theological Seminary as part of a program sponsored by the seminary’s Student Interracial Ministry that was designed to introduce young students to this movement of change in America. It shouldn’t surprise us to learn that he would return to New York a much different person from the one who set out for Atlanta at the beginning of that summer.

This is a lovingly constructed memoir that takes us not only into the life of the author, but more importantly into the lives of Daddy King and the members of his church. Along the way we spend time with the senior King’s famous son. We also encounter many, both black and white, whose world views were formed by racism and prejudice. In the course of that summer experience, Brewster became part of the King family. Daddy King became a father to him – for Brewster had lost his own father at age 14 – and he became in many ways another son to Daddy King. Although Dr. King plays an important role in this story, it is the father’s story that stands out. It is the father’s life experience that forms the context in which America’s most important civil rights leader emerged.

It is Daddy King’s journey from sharecropper’s son to pastor and civil right’s leader in his own right that gave his son the foundation to take up the challenge of awakening America to the cancer that ate at its soul. Much of what we learn about Rev. King comes from Brewster’s morning breakfast chats, which interestingly enough the young intern would prepare each morning during his stay in the King house. From these conversations we learn how oppressive segregation really was and how it dehumanized people created in the image of God.

As a northern white Episcopalian, serving in a black Baptist church could be and was awkward at times. This was a different world, one that could present dangers to his life – not from the Black community, but from a white community that despised those who would befriend African Americans. Religiously and spiritually it was a different world as well. It would stretch him as he learned to pray and preach in a context so foreign to the one he had been raised. But the people lovingly welcomed him and helped him discover within the resources that would enable him to serve faithfully.

His ministry would call upon him to work with the church’s youth – and their own experiences would help him see how demonic segregation was, how it made both black and white its victims. He learned that sin was not just individual, but systemic in nature. His first taste of this came as he was walking through Atlanta with a group of students. They came upon the city’s leading department store, and seeing a lunch counter he invited the youth in for a cold drink. They stood outside, knowing that this was not allowed. He discovered that while he could order a drink and use the rest room, those simple things he took for granted weren’t part of his new friends’ world.

In time he would learn other lessons. Wanting to bring together his own youth with those of the community’s white churches, he suggested to the two King’s the possibility of a youth conference featuring Dr. King as speaker. They knew the difficulty of such an enterprise, but they encouraged him to try. It would come off, but he would run into hostility and complacency. Even the church was infected by racism in ways he couldn’t have imagined – even supposedly progressive churches. He was asked on more than one occasion: “what do those people want?” And he was told as well that he should be patient, that change takes time. As the summer drew to a close he discovered that despite his own cautiousness and even fear, he had become a subversive, one who didn’t fit in either world.

He would learn as well what it meant to engage in nonviolence and he would wonder how Dr. King and the others could do what they did. It was a question he raised many times, and when he participated in a nonviolence training conference – as the only white in the conference – he would have his own buttons pushed in ways that hurt and even offended him. He discovered that he wasn’t yet ready to seriously engage in nonviolent resistance to the evil that is racism, but he also learned that he had become part of a beloved community that overcame boundaries. Still, the lessons he had learned reminded him of the difficulty of change.

This is a story full of joy and sorrow. He crosses boundaries and makes life long-friends. His eyes are opened to the dark side of human life, and he realizes what it’s like to be a minority – for as a white in the black community he was the minority. It is a lesson that few in the majority culture have ever learned. That lesson makes clear that it’s not easy to move about in a world that’s not your own. He experiences his own fears and is introduced to the fears of those who had experienced oppression for so long. He learned of their scars and their methods of coping, methods that included preaching and singing.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was and is a man who changed the destiny of a nation. But his ministry did not take place in a vacuum. It was forged in the context of many other voices, including that of his father. We who read this memoir may not have the opportunity to experience what he did, but Gurdon Brewster offers us a window into the lives of people like Daddy King and his son Martin, people who lived the gospel and showed us how to nonviolently resist evil. Reading this book will prove to be a blessing to those who seek justice and mercy in this world.

Rapture Song

Perhaps you're old enough to remember Larry Norman and his song "I Wish I Were Ready." Or maybe you were reading Late Great Planet Earth in the 1970s and realized that time was short because a biblical generation was 40 years and since Israel had been established in 1948, we could look forward to the end somewhere around 1988. That was about 20 years ago, so either God has changed the definition or things have been postponed. Anyway, rapture fever remains with us. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins have made it to the big time penning end times novels. So from Mike Leaptrott's Progression of Faith blog I present Randy Bonifield's "Rapture Song." Enjoy!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Principles of Nonviolence

I have been reading a most interesting book. It is Gurdon Brewster's memoir of a summer spent as a seminary intern at Ebenezer Baptist Church. It was 1961 and Martin Luther King, Jr. and his father Martin Luther King, Sr. were co-pastors, though it was the father who was the primary leader of the congregation because the son was engaged in ministries that took him often from Atlanta. Brewster was a white Episcopalian studying at Union Theological Seminary, but a special program brought him to Atlanta and his life wouldn't be the same.
I will say more about the book later, but it is entitled: No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King, (Orbis Press, 2007).
Brewster talks in the book about attending a conference on nonviolence, whose main speaker was Martin Luther King, Jr. This conference would prove to be difficult for him -- because it pushed him into uncomfortable positions. It also provided him a set of principles for non-violent action, principles I thought would be worth sharing.

1. Principle one. Nonviolence is active, nonviolent resistance to evil. It is a way of life for courageous people. It is aggressive, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

2. Principle two. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. The end of nonviolence is reconciliation and redemption and the creation of a beloved community.

3. Principle three. Nonviolence recognizes that evildoers are also victims. The nonviolent resister seeks to defeat evil and injustice, not people. It is a struggle against an evil system.

4. Principle four. Nonviolence willingly accepts suffering without retaliation. Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences of its actions. It recognizes that unearned suffering is redemptive. It has the power to convert the enemy.

5. Principle five. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. It is unending in its ability to forgive in order to restore community and create the beloved community.

6. Principle six. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice. It believes that God is a God of justice and that justice will eventually win.

Brewster struggles to understand these principles as an outsider -- as one whose experiences of discrimination and suffering stand far from those of the people he had been called minister among. His own experiences were transformative, because they opened his eyes to what others were experiencing.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Let Us Give Thanks

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
November 22, 2007

It's an old hymn, but it says it well:

“Now thank we all our God with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom the world rejoices,
Who, from our mothers' arms, has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.”
(Martin Rinkart, 1636).

For people of most faith traditions, giving thanks is a foundational spiritual practice. Our songs and hymns and prayers are full of acknowledgments of God's gracious provision. We see this sentiment displayed in the 67th Psalm:

“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
For you judge the peoples with equity
And guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
Let all the peoples praise you.
The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, has blessed us.
May God continue to bless us;
Let all the ends of the earth revere him.” (Ps. 67:5-7, NRSV)
Indeed, the invitation is there for all to give thanks, in their own way, to the one who is the creator and the provider of all that is good.
Our own national observance of a day of Thanksgiving is linked to harvest festivals of the past (even if many of us who celebrate the day have done little harvesting ourselves). We celebrate the bringing in of the harvest by giving thanks to the one who has blessed us with such a bounty. It's a connection that links our observance with the Pilgrim story, for according to the story they gathered to celebrate not only a harvest, but their survival as a community. And so if as we gather we see beyond our own circumstances we see that when we stand together, differences and all, good things happen.
Days of Thanksgiving, however they're observed, are usually linked to the practice of worship. Worship is by its very nature filled with awe and gratitude to the one we consider holy. Standing just days before our national day of Thanksgiving, it's good to consider how we might observe it. Our observances are a mixture of national, personal, and religious elements. It includes food, family, and possibly services of worship. For many it even involves a bit of football. But worship is an important component to our celebration.
The first official American Thanksgiving was declared in 1789 by President George Washington, not long after the founding of the nation. He invited the citizens of this new nation, which was still getting its bearings, to “acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly implore his protection and favor.” Without making too much of the theology present (or possibly lacking) in this statement, Washington recognized as did many, though not all of his successors, that it is good to express gratitude for the freedoms and the benefits of living in this nation - warts and all. In issuing this proclamation he did not prescribe a manner of celebrating, but instead offered an invitation for the people to give thanks in their own way and manner.
In the spirit of this invitation, people from across the nation will find ways of observing this thanksgiving opportunity. It might be as simple as stopping during dinner - whether elaborate or not - to share something that one is grateful for. It might also involve attending one of many services of thanksgiving that will take place over the next several days. There will be congregational celebrations and there will be community ones. Some will be expressions of a particular religious tradition, while others will take on a more interfaith character.
Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Lompoc ( He blogs at and may be contacted at or c/o First Christian Church, P.O. Box 1056, Lompoc, CA 93438.
November 22, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Thanksgiving Celebration

I have been feeling a bit discouraged about the state of interfaith activity. But last night we had our first, hopefully annual, Lompoc Interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration. We didn’t have everyone there we’d have liked, but we did have Baha’i, Jewish, Methodist, LDS, Disciple, and what I’ll call other. We had readings from Scripture, the Qur’an, a Native American prayer, George Washington, William Bradford, and the Baha’i prayer book. We also had the Lompoc Master Chorale sharing sections of Vivaldi’s Gloria. All told, we have almost 150 in attendance. Not huge, but a remarkable turnout, and something powerful to build on for next year.

I share this because I do think it speaks to a hunger for conversation. It also points out the fact that some who were absent chose to be absent because they feel their Christian faith would be damaged if they shared in a service that crossed religious boundaries. While this service had a distinctly Christian outline it offered other faiths to speak to our common heritage in America, a country that despite its many faults has provided people of all faiths -- sometimes grudgingly – a place to stand.

So, I say: Happy Thanksgiving! And give a word of encouragement – your faith can only be strengthened by coming together and hearing each other’s prayers.
Cross published at Faithfully Liberal

A Call to Thanksgiving

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, consider the 100th Psalm:

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord is God
It is he that made us, and we are his;
We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.
For the Lord is Good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
(Psalm 100 NRSV)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Where Were You the Day JFK Died?

I was reading Craig Smith's blog this afternoon and came across this piece on the 44th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's shooting -- Nov. 22, 1963.

Thursday is Thanksgiving, and it is also the 44th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

For baby boomers, like myself, and those who are older it always brings to mind the question, “where were you when you heard that Kennedy was shot?”

I was sitting in my third period art class at John Burroughs Junior High School in Los Angeles when the announcement came over the public address system. I was in the seventh grade at the time.

For many of us the “where-were-you-when-you-heard-the-news-question” is one you could always ask whenever a conversation lagged.

One of my favorite lines regarding this topic comes from comedian Billy Crystal who was talking about the difficulty of making conversation with a younger woman he was out on a first date with and attempted to ask her where she was when she heard the news that Kennedy was shot.

Her response; “What! Ted Kennedy was shot!”

I must confess that I don't remember where I was. It would seem that I'm a bit younger than Craig -- Craig is a local attorney, law professor, and commentator on a certain newspaper that shall not be named. I was a wee tot of 5 at the time. I do remember however vaguely the day of the funeral. For some reason I remember my mother watching it while ironing clothes. We lived in Mt. Shasta at the time. Ah, so long ago. And yet the ramifications seem to live on with us -- as does the assassinations of his brother and Martin Luther King, Jr. five years later.

Such events do mark generations. The 1960s were remarkable, but I passed them without much thought -- just enjoying myself in small town America (even if on the West Coast).

Niebuhr and America's Place in God's "Plans"

Reinhold Niebuhr is back in vogue. Everyone is a Niebuhrian, from Obama to McCain. Left or right, it doesn't matter. So, Krista Tippett, sensing the pulse of the nation, focused her attention on this very subject a couple of weeks back on her show, Speaking of Faith. I of course, have taken my time downloading it and listening to the program as I drive to Lompoc. But today I did just that. A most interesting conversation with several interpreters of Niebuhr.
Near the opening of this conversation, Tippett plays a section from Niebuhr focusing on the Puritan legacy and belief in America's specialness. Niebuhr sees this as an unfortunate legacy:

Mr. Reinhold Niebuhr: (archival audio) Have you studied the history of our Puritan fathers in New England? I don't want to engage in the ordinary, rather cheap strictures against our Puritan fathers because here were some very great virtues and graces in their life. But I've become convinced as I read American history that this represents the real defect in our Puritan inheritance — the doctrine of special providence. These Puritan forefathers of ours were so sure that every rain and that every drought was connected with the virtue and vice of their enterprise, that God always had his hand upon them to reward them for their goodness and to punish them for their evil.

This is unfortunate. And it's particularly unfortunate when a religious
community develops in the vast possibilities of America, where inevitably the proofs of God's favor will be greater than the proof of God's wrath. This may be the reason why we are so self-righteous. This may be the reason why we still haven't come to terms in an ultimate religious sense with the problem of the special favors that we enjoy as a nation against the other nations of the world.

Niebuhr called for a strong engagement with the world, but also recognized the human predilection to arrogance and self-righteousness. At the end of the day, we must realize that we cannot bring into being a utopia.
Hubris is America's biggest enemy. It is hubris that has gotten us bogged down in a war in Iraq -- the hubris of believing that we have some special calling to spread our vision of the world without examining the problems in our own midst. As Jesus would say -- take care of the log in your own eye before pulling out the splinter in someone else's!
So, check this out, for it's an excellent introduction to Niebuhr's thought.

Episcopal Schisms

It's been a busy day so I've not gotten to this until now. Earlier this morning I read an article in the LA Times discussing the disheartening problems afflicting the church of my birth -- the Episcopal Church. It focuses on the Presiding Bishop's visit to San Jose to ordain a new bishop -- the first woman bishop in California history. There you have history in the making -- Katherine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to be Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, ordaining Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves as California's first.

It is a most interesting article that talks about Schori's efforts to hold her province together and to stand firm against attempts to undermine her jurisdiction. What is most interesting here is that this ordination took place in the diocese abutting that of San Joaquin, whose bishop John David Schofield is trying to lead it out of the Episcopal Church and has placed himself under a conservative Chilean bishop. All of this is most unusual.

Jefferts Schori noted that it is most unhelpful for bishops from outside the province are meddling in the affairs of another. Reconciliation is made all the more difficult. Here are a few of her thoughts in closing:

"It's removed the necessity for people in the church to deal with their complaints within the church," she said. "It's not unlike in a troubled marriage, if one spouse goes off to find aid and comfort in another relationship. It makes reconciling almost impossible."

Reconciliation can come only through engagement, Jefferts Schori said, adding that it pained her that some on both ends of the theological spectrum seemed no longer able, or willing, to discuss their differences. And this in an American church with a long history of tolerance for diversity of all sorts."

I think the center of the church has heard the message," she said. "But it's more of a struggle for people on the edge of the progressive part and the edge of the more conservative part. Both believe in utter faithfulness that they're right . . . and there's less patience that God will work all things out in the end."

So I pray that the church will find its center, knowing that the fringes of this cloak are getting more and more frayed.

Monday, November 19, 2007

On "Golden Compass" -- Sightings

I know very little about Golden Compass -- either the books or the movie. I do know it's supposed to be geared to children and it's coming out soon. Martin Marty helpfully delineates the issues related to the movie this morning in his Sightings column. I had no idea that the author of the books is kind of a "Christopher Hitchens" for kids and that some are worried that if kids like the movie (which Marty notes has been detheologized so as not to offend) they'll read the books and all manner of human calamities will occur -- by that I mean they'll all say no to God and become atheists.
Anyway, knowing this makes me more interested in seeing the movies and maybe even reading the books. Might be interesting. Anyone out there read the books? Can you comment?
In the mean time, read Marty's take on the situation.


Sightings 11/19/07

On The Golden Compass
-- Martin E. Marty

How can Sightings fail to sight a feature in the December Atlantic, by Hanna Rosin, which bears headlines and subheads like these: "How Hollywood Saved God," "It took five years, two screenwriters, and $180 million to turn a best-selling anti-religious children's book into a star-studded epic—just in time for Christmas." More: "With $180 million at stake, the studio opted to kidnap the book's body and leave behind its soul." Rosin tells how author Philip Pullman, sometimes described as Great Britain's "Christopher Hitchens for kids," which means would-be God-killer and religion-destroyer, succumbed to fiscal lures and the wiles of Hollywood script-writers and producers to turn an anti-God children's book, one of several that wildly popular Pullman has written, into a theologically nondescript but otherwise highly "descript" film.

Get ready for controversy over it. Predictably, Bill Donohue's Catholic League rose to the bait and is publicizing exposes and responses, directed more to the book and the author than to the sanitized but not dull film version. "Golden Compass: Agenda Unmasked" is the League's blast: "It's a backdoor way of selling atheism. Unsuspecting parents will take little Johnny to see the movie. Johnny likes the movie. Johnny gets the trilogy [which is anti-God] for Christmas." An Old West-sounding message to Donohue or Pullman: "Let you and him fight." As for the quality of the film, we'll leave that to the critics a couple of weeks from now. To the point of our mission in Sightings are Rosin's final paragraphs, revelatory of the American religious situation, well-stated.

Actors and agents for the film were instructed to "play stupid" when religion comes up in interviews. Rosin: "This could be Paris Hilton reading her Bible in prison. Or Madonna preaching about Kabbalah. You can almost see [author] Pullman cringing at the standard Tinseltown crypto-Buddhist babble. Be Spiritual. Praise the Divine. Offend No One. Then say Ommmm.." In that command she captures the pop-culture "spiritual creed" of more than only Hollywoodites. She also knows how market strategy works out in a society that from some angles is hyper-secular and from others hyper-religious.

The executives at New Line Films, says Rosin, evidently thought they were doing Pullman no great disservice by "stripping out his theology and replacing it with some vague derivative of the Force." Preaching slightly, she continues by recalling what used to be associated with religion: "Values such as obedience, religious devotion, and chastity are so rare in Hollywood's culture that they probably seem archaic and quaint—courtly rules that no one lives by anyway. Certainly not something to get exercised over."

This film is not an offender of some Christian sensibilities in the way that The Last Temptation of Christ , Dogma, or The Da Vinci Code were. New Line could afford to be edgy with The Lord of the Rings, and may have planned to take some risks again. "If so, a more nervous mood has since prevailed." In efforts to be neither offensive nor inoffensive, neither pro-God nor anti-God, but simply non-God, it may have matched the sensibility of many Americans today.

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at


This month, the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum features "Religion and Museums on the National Mall," an essay by Elizabeth McKeown of the Department of Theology and American Studies Program at Georgetown University.Access this month's forum at: the discussion board at:

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

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Rick and Kay Warren -- Bipartisan Invitation

As presidential candidates run around seeking the imprimatur of religious leaders (that is, looking for endorsements), I want to applaud the decision by Rick and Kay Warren to invite candidates from both parties to address their AIDs conference. In doing this they're giving some publicity to their cause, but not crossing the line into endorsements. The result is a bit of bipartisanship. Hopefully the six candidates invited will put their focus on the issue of AIDs and not get sidetracked on other political issues.

I may not always agree with Rick Warren, but on this he has shown us a better way. It is a model for political engagement without becoming beholden to the parties. We'll see how it all turns out.

There are several links on this -- but my discovery is via Melissa Rogers. The link to the conference website is found here.

Interfaith Burnout?

I've been involved for some time in ecumenical and interfaith activities -- at a local level. I've served as president of an interfaith clergy association; have been a board member and am currently board president of an interfaith center serving our local university. And finally, I've been trying to start up an interfaith group here in Lompoc.
I'm not certain how my old clergy group is doing, but I'm finding that the other ventures I'm involved with are struggling to find themselves. So, I'm wondering: is there an interfaith burnout happening? Are we more focused on our own communities and less inclined to reach out across any so-called boundaries? There is a lot of competitiveness in the religious community, and I do find that the people most interested in getting involved in interfaith "stuff" are people who aren't involved in a distinctive community of faith.
What I'd like to do is pose the question. What's happening in your community? Is it difficult to get people out for either ecumenical or interfaith activities?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Like Scalia? Vote for Rudy! If you don't, well, you know what to do!

If you like Antonin Scalia, then vote GOP. Even Rudy Giuliani -- probably to pacify his Rightist critics -- has jumped on the Scalia bandwagon. BW said he liked Sacalia and we got his clones. So, now we have a very conservative (and fairly young) majority on the Supreme Bench. GOP appointed judges also dominate the rest of the federal judiciary. With only one Democratic President in the last 27 years, that shouldn't be surprising.

I think it's kind of laughable that Republicans continually complain about activist judges, when they've been doing the appointing for much of the last quarter century.
If we wish to have our freedoms respected, the environment protected, then put some balance into the judiciary in 2008 and don't vote for Rudy or his pals.
And as for this idea of originalism:

Giuliani said, "We need judges who embrace originalism," the view that the Constitution should be read in line with what it meant when it was adopted. "We believe in the Constitution as it was written," he said to applause.

Yeah, that worked well for women and slaves didn't it! Originalism in Consititutional interpretation is a bit like a Wahabist reading of the Qu'ran or a literalist reading of Genesis. But of course Rudy just wants to win votes doesn't he? And the result -- if he were to win and keep his promise? Pretty scary isn't it?

A Partisan Press?

Tim Rutten, the ever observant media columnist for the LA Times caught on to something I've not been paying attention to. We have long known that Fox News is the media outlet for the GOP. But what of the other cable news outlets?
After watching the recent Democratic Debates, which I missed, Rutten noted something, that the show was right out of Barnum and Bailey. In fact, Rutten points out that our media outlets are all choosing up sides -- not for ideological reasons, but in search of the buck. With Fox taking in the GOP faithful, what of the other outlets. With Keith Olberman as its face, MSNBC has become the network of the Democrats. CNN, which is the original cable news network, Rutten suggests has become the voice of the "Independent" populist crowd. And who is its voice and face? Well Lou Dobbs.
Dobbs, Rutten points out (because I don't watch him much) has taken up the anti-immigrant, anti-free trade populism, and gives hints he might enter the ring himself -- a sort of newborn Perot candidacy.
As for this trend; he writes:

Cable's descent into partisanship probably has gone unremarked upon because it occurred simultaneously with two other trends: the harsh politicization of nearly every aspect of American life -- the great red/blue divide -- and media consumers' growing insistence that television entertain them at every available minute.

Clearly, some significant number of our fellow Americans think it's fun to watch angry people rant. Others among us would prefer to watch something more dignified, say, a cockfight. (Actually, it might be entertaining to watch O'Reilly and Olbermann locked in an empty room and going at each other with luffas. It's impossible, though, to imagine being amused by anything involving Dobbs.)

Of course it would be nice to get a bit of nonpartisan coverage -- but don't we really want to hear the news that's in sync with our own poltical views? Those owners of the cable news outlets -- they're not dummies. They know how to make a buck!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Pastor Dan's Response to Bible and Public Life

Wednesday I posted here and at Faithfully Liberal about the book Unchristian by David Kinnaman -- I picked up a quote from the book concerning the role of Christians in politics. Pastor Dan at Street Prophets picked it up and added some info to my critique.

He points out information that I didn't have at my fingertips. As an age group 18-29 year olds (as a generational cohort) are less likely than earlier generations to age group is the least likely age group to "uphold the primacy of the Bible" there are other statistics even more interesting:

If you look at the original study, you'll see that for young people, the spread between "the Bible" and "the Will of the People" is 52 points (22/74). But look at the other groups showing a
bigger divide:

  • College grads, 55 points (20/75)
  • Liberal Democrats, 58 points (19/77)
  • White mainline Protestants, 62 points (16/78)
  • White Catholics, 54 points (21/75)
  • Secular, 84 points, (7/91)
  • Those who attend church seldom or never, 72 points, (12/84)
  • Those who take the Bible seriously but not literally, 55 points, (20/75)
  • Those who do not accept it as the Word of God, 92 points, (3/95)

    You might think I'm cherry picking results here. Truth is, to varying degrees, nearly all demographics believe the people's will should be more important than the Bible in charting the course of our laws. The only ones who think the reverse are the most conservative elements of American religion.

You can find Pastor Dan's post here. The Information he mentions comes from a Pew Forum survey; here is that information -- "Many Americans Uneasy about Mix of Religion and Politics."

So what do you think about how we should set up our laws in this country?

Obama, Debates, the Future of Politics

I've not commented much lately on the Democratic Race, in part because the GOP situation has been much more fun. You've got more candidates in the running ; you have a base that's not happy with its choices; you have Religious Conservatives unhappy; and you have a candidate leading the pack that's pretty much at odds with his party platform on social issues. So, I've commented more on that side than on the Democratic side.

I didn't watch the debate last night -- I watched a very unfortunate football game instead -- at least until CSI came on and then I was outvoted. From what I hear, Hillary made a nice comeback and that Obama stumbled a bit.

Here's my take on Obama and debates. They're not his strength. He likes to give detailed and expansive answers and kind of has wings clipped in debates. Hillary, on the other hand, is quick with the responses and retorts. Both are quick on their feet, but Hillary seems to do better at the rapid fire.

So, we see Obama fire up an arena when he gives a speech but fades in the debates. So, here's my take: I think people have decided for or against Hillary -- her ceiling has been reached. The question is, what about the others. A lot can change in the next few weeks -- especially if Obama and Edwards do well in Iowa and cut into Hillary's lead in New Hampshire.

Now, as to Obama's message. Ron Brownstein has an excellent piece today in the LA Times about Obama the uniter. It is a message that resonates with a lot of people who are tired of the partisan bickering that gets us nowhere. But it doesn't resonate with an angry base that wants to take back lost territory, for whom the GOP isn't just the opposition party, but the enemy.


Could Obama, as he claims, unite the country more effectively than Hillary Clinton? Obama's great asset as a political peacemaker -- touted in Andrew Sullivan's impassioned essay in the December issue of the Atlantic -- is that he hasn't been scarred by decades of cultural and political conflict. Clinton's great strength is her scars: She has survived enough combat to have learned something about avoiding it, as she demonstrated by shrewdly designing her new
healthcare plan to court the small-business and insurance lobbies that sank her 1993 proposal.

With Clinton, there's another issue. On an intellectual level, she recognizes the value of coalition building, but her gut instinct is to respond to a punch with a punch. She could prove too much a warrior to forge a truce in Washington. Obama, a silky mediator more respected than feared, faces the opposite question: In an age of extreme partisanship, is he tough enough to make

In less than a year from now, we will elect a new President -- GW will be off to the Ranch; and Dick will enjoy life in his undisclosed location. They question is -- where will a very divided nation be? And is there a candidate strong enough to make some peace?

Not a Good Day for Bob -- Yesterday!

First came news of a Barry Bonds indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice -- something he now shares in common with Scooter Libby (though the issues were more important there) and Martha Stewart. Martha has come out okay! Of course now that the Giants have cut ties with Barry, I have less need to defend him. But, he's part of the family -- even if he's a kind of that sour puss cousin you're not always sure you want to defend.

Then last night -- rather than watch the debate -- which I'll comment on in a separate post -- Dennis Dixon, the star quarterback for the Oregon Ducks went down with a knee injury that might knock him out for the season and could jeopardize the rest of the Ducks season. They got upset by Arizona in a game they looked to be on their way to another big night -- that is until he went down and the game was put in the hands of gimpy legged and much slower Brady Leaf.

Just a warning to Kansas -- being #2 is a dangerous place to be. This is what I feared might happen and sure enough it did. I'm just hoping Dennis is only sidelined for a short period, but this doesn't look good.

Well it was fun while it lasted!!!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Evangelical Retreat from Politics?

There is more and more evidence that the alliance between Religious conservatives and the GOP is fracturing. Part of it is a changing of the guard -- the deaths of James Kennedy and Jerry Falwell together with the aging of Pat Robertson and James Dobson has removed some of their clout. Ted Haggard who once boasted of his access to the White House had to resign amidst scandal. And many of those pastors who are emerging from their shadows are taking a much more wary position. Haggard's own successor is pulling back from politics and many of his parishioners are glad.

The GOP presidential candidates as we've seen have failed to catch fire with religious conservatives -- the one candidate most closely aligned with them -- Mike Huckabee -- is still fairly far behind and takes economic positions that are fairly -- shall we say -- "liberal."

Of course we know that Obama and Hillary and other Democrats are courting religious voters, but it's unlikely that we'll see something like what's been transpiring these past several decades on the right.

And such is the story that's told today in the LA Times in an excellent article that details this change.

Advocacy and the Academy -- Sightings

The story broke a while back that the University of St. Thomas disinvited Desmond Tutu to address a conference because his equation of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians to apartheid seemingly made him unacceptable to many Jews -- even though no Jewish organization had complained. Well in the end he was re-invited -- though the location by that time had changed. Alain Epp Weaver, a student at the University of Chicago Divinity School offers her take on this issue and the danger of stifling debate.

Sightings 11/15/07

Advocacy and the Academy
-- Alain Epp Weaver

"University of St. Thomas stones Nobel Peace Prophet Desmond Tutu: Please Take Action!" So began an e-mail I received early this October from Friends of Sabeel-North America, an advocacy group working for justice and peace in Palestine-Israel. The dramatic headline evoked biblical punishment and the trope of the unwelcome, embattled prophet. I soon received a similar email from the Muzzlewatch website, a project of the Jewish Voice for Peace organization committed to "creating an open atmosphere for debate about US-Israeli policy."

Anglican Archbishop Tutu had been invited by a local affiliate of PeaceJam International, a group dedicated to bringing Nobel Laureates into conversation with youth, to speak at its spring 2008 conference. Since 2003, PeaceJam has held its conferences on the campus of the University of St. Thomas , a Catholic university in the Twin Cities, and anticipated that 2008 would be no different. The university administration, however, decided not to host Tutu. When the story became public in late September, receiving extensive coverage in the Twin Cities' local newspapers, the university administration explained its decision as an attempt to be sensitive to the local Jewish community. "The concerns were that there are some Jewish people in the community who feel that the Archbishop has stepped over the line with his criticism of Israel and Israeli policies," Doug Hennes, university vice president, stated in the campus newspaper, The Aquin, although he insisted that "We did not receive any pressure from anybody in the Jewish community not to invite him."

At issue was a speech Tutu had given at an April 2002 Friends of Sabeel conference on "Ending the Occupation." The Zionist Organization of America, among others, objected to parallels drawn by Tutu between the Israeli military occupation and apartheid-era South Africa and claimed that Tutu had likened Israel to the Nazi regime. Tutu published his speech in the April 29, 2002 issue of The Guardian under the title, "Apartheid in the Holy Land." Decrying the occupation's checkpoint and roadblock regime in the Occupied Territories , Tutu asked, "Have our Jewish sisters and brothers forgotten their humiliation? Have they forgotten the collective punishment, the home demolitions, in their own history so soon? Have they turned their backs on their profound and noble religious traditions? Have they forgotten that God cares deeply about the downtrodden?" He proceeded to insist that "We live in a moral universe. The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust." A strongly stated, perhaps even provocative, way of making the point that all oppressive systems will one day come to an end, but also not a claim that the Israeli government was equivalent to Hitler.

The decision not to invite Tutu created strong opposition among faculty and students, and Jewish Voice for Peace joined with other groups in a campaign to urge St. Thomas not to stifle free and frank consideration of Israeli government policies. Even Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, while strongly disagreeing with Tutu's evaluation of Israeli policies, urged St. Thomas to reconsider its stance. By October 10 the university had shifted course. "I have wrestled with what is the right thing to do in this situation, and I have concluded that I made the wrong decision earlier this year not to invite the archbishop," university president Fr. Dennis Dease wrote in a message to the university community. Tutu and PeaceJam have been invited to meet at the university next year, although the event will most likely proceed at Metropolitan State University, which agreed to host the conference after St. Thomas turned down Tutu.

Ideally, the academy is a place where reasoned disagreement is possible, and where one finds people passionately engaged in advocacy of different types. How to think about the role of advocacy in church and academy was the focus of a recent workshop at the University of Chicago Divinity School, where scholars and clergy gathered to think about the pitfalls and promises of advocacy in their particular contexts. The Tutu incident at St. Thomas reflects the complications that can arise, as noted by speakers at the workshop and discussed in breakout sessions, when issues that generate heated disagreement are brought into these settings. Learning to have such debates in a reasoned spirit of patience and charity is challenging, but what certainly will not facilitate intense discussions in either the academy or the church is simply closing down the debate. One can therefore celebrate St. Thomas' decision to reverse course and invite Tutu as underscoring the importance of carrying on with contentious, even controversial, conversations.

--Alain Epp Weaver is a Ph.D student in Theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. He is the editor of Under Vine and Fig Tree: Biblical Theologies of Land and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (Cascadia and Herald Press, 2007).

For further information:
Visit for the text of Professor Franklin Gamwell's keynote address, as well as audio files of the plenary sessions, from the recent symposium "Advocacy in the Pulpit and the Classroom," part of the Divinity School 's new Border Crossings initiative.


This month, the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum features "Religion and Museums on the National Mall," an essay by Elizabeth McKeown of the Department of Theology and American Studies Program at Georgetown University.Access this month's forum at:
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Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.