Saturday, September 29, 2007

John McCain -- Christian America?

I was astounded by what I saw and heard in a Beliefnet Video Interview. John McCain is being interviewed and asked about whether America is a Christian nation -- whether the Constitution establishes the nation as a Christian nation -- something 55% of Americans believe, even though there is not one word in the Constitution says this.
Well John says, yes he'd agree -- why because the Constitution is founded on Christian principles. Here is a transcript of that response:

I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn't say, “I only welcome Christians.” We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.

John, you've been in the Senate a long time -- go read the thing. The Constitution is based on Enlightenment principles, principles espoused by people like John Locke. Yes they were Christians, but the Constitution is deliberately secular in this point. It protects the rights of all to practice their faith without state establishment or interference.
He also talks about separation of church and state in ways that demonstrate that he has no understanding about what that means either.
Click here to go to the Beliefnet page with the interview.

The Bullying Pulpit

This past Monday the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, spoke at Columbia University. There was much opposition to the invitation --and a great deal of protest. The latter is a way of life in America, an example of our freedom to speak (even if what we sometimes say is rather silly or asinine).
Columbia President Lee Bollinger -- perhaps feeling some heat for issuing the invitation -- chose to introduce his guest in the rudest of ways. In many ways he showed America at its worst -- as the bully we can often be. The Iranian President -- whose own power is limited -- showed himself to be out of touch (no gays in Iran?) and more. But as he himself noted, if one is invited to speak in Iran (that is of course a big if) one is treated with some respect. Americans seem not to understand the idea of honor/shame which is very prevalent in many cultures -- including most Islamic cultures.
The LA Times has offered to op-ed pieces the past two days that address this.
First, today, William Alexander, writes about "bad intros." He notes that they can be common place, so much so that Mark Twain chose to do his own. And so he writes:

There are rules for introducers as well, of course, and Bollinger broke several. The first, inviolate rule is: Never upstage the speaker. The introducer's role is that of catalyst, not newsmaker. The second rule, until Monday thought so obvious that it goes without saying, is: Don't insult the speaker. Bollinger's introduction was akin to pulling the welcome mat out from under his invited
guest. While he was standing on it. And the neighbors were watching.

What the world saw and heard wasn't Ahmadinejad's rambling tirade, they saw and heard a boorish American bully shaming his guest.
Rosa Brooks wrote a piece on Friday about the "Bollinger/Ahmadinejad Farce." She hits Bollinger for his so called "courage" at humiliating his guest during his intro. In the course of the event the Iranian President cme off pretty well -- globally.

Ahmadinejad was playing to global public opinion, and though he lost some PR points for incoherence and general bizarreness of message ("In Iran, we don't have homosexuals"), he gained some for coming off as a bit more mature than his prissy, infantile host. ("In Iran, when you invite a guest, you respect them," Ahmadinejad observed dryly.)

Brooks writes that Bollinger would show more courage if he were to introduce President Bush in such a way and subject the President of our country to such stern questioning. Now that would be courage.

Or -- stay with me here -- if Bollinger had invited President Bush to Columbia and made those same unvarnished remarks to him, and Bush had toughed it out and struggled to answer half a dozen unfiltered, critical questions from an audience not made up of his handpicked supporters . . . . Well, that too would have been free speech at its best.

Unfortunately, that's not the kind of thing you're likely to see in America.

It's odd, because Bush -- like Ahmadinejad -- makes plenty of statements that, to paraphrase the eloquent Mr. Bollinger, could be characterized as ridiculous, provocative, uneducated and fanatical. (Take Bush's repeated suggestion of a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, for instance.) And as in the case of Ahmadinejad, some of Bush's preposterous and belligerent statements contributed to the GOP's defeat in the last elections.

That's simply not the American way! We choose to speak to power only when its someone else's loony!

Can Religion Be a Force for Good?

If you listen to Harris, Hitchens, and Dawkins religion is not only bad it's dangerous. They don't like liberals and moderates because they supposedly give cover to Fundamentalists. On the flip side they tend to be more literalist than the literalists and declare that only Fundamentalism is true religion and since Fundamentalism is dangerous, Religion is dangerous.
The recent protests in Burma suggest otherwise -- that people of faith can be a force for good and for change. They can be the moral conscience -- although one need not be religious to be moral -- of a people. They can also be contributors to violence and hatred. Religion speaks of the divine and seeks to be in sync with the divine, but its practitioners are very human.
In an LA Times op-ed piece Ian Buruma reflects on the positive force that Religion can be -- with the Burmese Monks as his focus.
He writes:

Nevertheless, faith has an important role to play in politics, especially in circumstances in which secular liberals are rendered impotent, as in the case of Nazi occupation, communist rule or military dictatorship.

Liberals are most needed when compromises have to be made, but not as useful when faced with brute force. That is when visionaries, romantics and true believers are driven by their beliefs to take risks that most of us would regard as foolhardy. It is, on the whole, not beneficial to be ruled by such heroes, but it is good to have them around when we need them.

In other words there is need for balance. The secular/pluralist state has great value, but it needs something else. We religious folk need to be reminded as well that we live in a pluralist world and need to respect the other.
The complete essay can be found here.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Beyond Megachurch Myths -- A Review

Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches. Foreword by Rick Warren. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2007. (HB) xxvii + 224 pp.

Is the mega-church a bane or a blessing for American Protestantism? This is a question that has received much attention in academic, clergy, and lay circles. Everyone seems to have an opinion – with some loving them and others hating them. There are, of course, others – like me – who are somewhat ambivalent. As a Mainline Protestant small church pastor, I have my questions, but I’m willing to learn transferable lessons.

Beyond Megachurch Myths seeks to correct the perception that megachurches are not only bad for the soul; they’re dinosaurs in danger of dying off. As one would expect from a book carrying the imprimatur of Rick Warren, this is at least in part an apologia for the megachurch movement. The authors, Scott Thumma and Dave Travis, believe in megachurches and they believe that they’re here to stay. In fact, they believe that we will likely see many more of them in the future. The purpose of the book then, is to debunk the myths and stereotypes that have emerged as megachurches have grown and spread their wings across the nation.

The book is based in large part on a set of surveys of megachurches that were conducted by Scott Thumma. Thumma, a researcher from Hartford Seminary had teamed with Travis, a church consultant with Leadership Network, to interpret the data and debunk nine myths about megachurches. First, a definition: A megachurch is “a Protestant church that averages at least two thousand total attendees in their weekend services” (p. xviii). More than 1250 congregations meet those criteria (with more than 4.5 million people worshiping together on any given weekend).

These are the nine myths: They’re all alike, they’re just too big, they’re based on personality cults, they’re concerned only about themselves and their attendees, they water down the faith, are bad for other churches, are homogeneous in race, class, and political affiliation, grow because they entertain, and finally, that they’re in the process of dying because young people don’t like them. As with any stereotype there is truth to the critiques, but the very fact that the movement is extraordinarily diverse means that the stereotypes easily fall apart. Megachurches may not be for everyone, but many people find them just right – and for many different reasons.

The reason for studying such a movement is that simply because of their size they have a significant footprint on American religious life. Whereas, once the media might have turned to a denominational or seminary official for comment, more often than not today it will be a Rick Warren or a Jeremiah Wright who is consulted. Even small churches, like mine, are influenced at least to a degree by what happens in the nation’s megachurches. So it is best that we approach this movement free of misconceptions – critiquing where necessary but learning whenever possible from them.

In answering the first of the myths – that they’re all alike – we’re introduced to four distinctive types – the “old-line/program-based” church, the “seeker church,” the Charismatic/pastor-focused church, and finally the New Wave/Re-Envisioned Church. The first type tends to be the oldest, the New Wave the newest, and the Seeker church may be the focus of many of our stereotypes. Megachurches come in all colors and styles, from liberal to conservative, from traditional to rock and roll. Some are homogeneous but others are quite diverse in ethnic and economic and even theological dimensions. Some are centered on the personality of the pastor, but others are not – some are even team led. Some have big TV ministries, but most don’t.

Most of these churches, especially the newer ones, are in touch with the culture around them. They are technologically savvy, professional in output, and they seek to be relevant not only in their preaching but in their worship style (though again there are those churches that are quite liturgical or traditional). Many are very informal and casual in dress, but others expect you to dress up. It would seem that there is a style of church for just about everyone.

In exploring the myths and the realities, we discover that these churches have grown in part because they are in tune with the culture but also because they have shown the ability to adapt and to evolve. They also offer people options that a small congregation cannot offer. That being said, there are difficulties in making the transitions – especially when that involves pastoral succession. Some have made that kind of transition easily, but others have foundered.

The authors understand that there is a flip side to all of this. Megachurches have to be more intentional about assimilation (though even small churches must be attuned to this issue). Megachurch pastors find themselves at a distance from their congregants. Pastoral care has to be delivered in other ways than through the senior pastor.

The book is quite useful in that it points the reader to lessons that can be learned from the megachurch. The key for smaller churches and their clergy is not to get caught up in envy, but to recognize that every church is different and that not everyone is interested in being part of something so large. But we can learn that worship should be joyous, that quality of presentation is important, and that evangelism must have intentionality to it. Because the megachurch is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future, it does us no good to lament its presence – after all I shop at Costco myself.

It is the future that interests me the most. I noticed that the book skirted theological issues. And while not all megachurches are conservative, it’s likely that a majority of them are. So if the theological and the political climates change how will that effect the movement? In other words is this a style more suited to theologically conservative churches? Among the critics of this movement are participants in the Emergent movement (even though some of these churches are mega-churches themselves), but this critique requires more exploration, for the world might be changing in ways that could undermine the largeness and even the professionalism of the megachurch.

I wonder too about the effect of environmental issues and the increase in gas prices. Will going green effect how the church exists in the world – megachurches have an extraordinarily large footprint – with their parking lots and use of electricity and gas. That they tend to be regional churches rather than neighborhood churches, will people be less likely to drive 15 to 30 miles to go to church? One answer may be found in the move made by some megachurches to become multi-site congregations. In some ways that’s a return to an ancient practice, one that in essence created the monarchical episcopate in the second century. Might megachurch pastors become bishops overseeing multiple congregations while overseeing a cathedral church?

Some of these questions must wait for the future to be answered. I’m not an expert in this field, so I defer somewhat to the ones doing the studies. The reality is that for now at least we must learn to live with and hopefully learn from the megachurches in our midst. We needn’t be afraid of critiquing them when deserved, but as the authors demonstrate we should not fall victim to stereotype. For that reason, this book needs to be read – likely in tandem with something like Diana Butler Bass’s Christianity for the Rest of Us (HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).

Four Empty Lecterns

There is great symbolism in the four empty lecterns that “graced” last evening’s GOP “All American Forum” at Morgan State University. The debate, which was hosted by Tavis Smiley and broadcast by PBS, was announced last February. While the lower tier candidates found time to be there, those empty lecterns represented the four leading candidates for the GOP crown – Rudy Guilialini, Mitt Romney, Fred Thompson, and John McCain – and from the looks of things, its they who count. The absent candidates pleaded busy schedules, but it’s not as if they didn’t know about ahead of time. The debate was announced long before anyone started their campaigns, and besides, schedules can be amended.

So, what does it say to the nation when you must go fundraising (McCain was apparently delivering a foreign policy address) rather than face questions from a non-White panel and audience about issues that face the African American community? And this isn’t the first request that they’ve turned aside. Is this, then, not a policy of “divide and conquer”?

It really doesn’t matter whether the GOP nomination will be decided by its White base. It really doesn’t matter if the eventual winner heads off to minority communities once the nomination is secured. The symbolism remains in front of us and speaks volumes about the state of our nation and the role of race and gender in American politics. Leading figures within the Republican Party have dismissed people of color. They have even chosen to rebuff their fellow Black and Hispanic Republicans.

The question is: Will they be held accountable? Will the Republican Party, which adopted a “Southern Strategy” in late 1960s, be sent home in 2008? Will such a message be sent in such a way that never again will either party take people of color for granted? Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, one of the six who did show up, got it right.

“Frankly I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed for our party, and I’m embarrassed for those who did not come, because there’s long been a divide in this country, and it doesn’t get better when we don’t show up.”

So I ask the question again: Will the Republican Party be held accountable? If any of these four candidates who chose not to come becomes President it will send one message – only white people count. If that comes to pass, it will be a sad commentary on the state of our nation.
Cross published at Faithfully Liberal

Thursday, September 27, 2007

GOP No Shows

I'll write more tomorrow -- both here and at Faithfully Liberal about tonights -- All American Presidential Forum -- hosted by Tavis Smiley. This was a debate that lacked four important candidates -- the top 4. The candidates were asked to speak to why they were there and offer any response to those who chose not to attend. Some said they were embarrassed by the lack of the front runners. Sam Brownback invited African Americans to register GOP and vote for one of those present.

I watched about 50 minutes of the debate to get a sense of things. I'm not a Republican and won't be voting in the GOP primary, so these aren't my candidates. That being said, it's good to see what the other side has to say, even if this is the second tier.

So, Tom Tancredo spoke about immigration, Ron Paul about liberty (get rid of taxes and drug laws -- sort of ), and then there was Alan Keyes (I didn't know he was running).

Of the candidates on the stage and really in the GOP primary, even though I disagree with him on numerous issues, I like Mike Huckabee. He's got himself under control. Answers the questions. Is polite. Seems to understand at least some of the issues. I'm surprised he hasn't made gains. I'm equally surprised that Religious Conservatives haven't joined his bandwagon. You'd think they'd like a SBC preacher, southern governor, who is "pro-life" and opposes gay rights.

But back to the original issue here -- it should be an embarrassment to the Republican Party that the leading candidates chose to not be there. Supposedly they claimed this would be a hostile crowd. From what I could see this was largely African American, but the reception wasn't just polite but seemingly Republican.

We'll see how this all works out!

Essay Contest: Are Civil and Gay Rights Movements Equivalent

Earlier today I posted a portion of an interview that I did with Steve Kindle, Executive Director of Clergy United for the Equality of Homosexuals. Be sure to read the complete interview at Faithfully Liberal.
One thing I didn't ask Steve about in the interview was his essay contest -- a contest he's been advertising in places like the Christian Century. Disciples World, the unofficial magazine of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has a story about the contest on its website.
The article quotes Steve and describes the contest:

This belief of Kindle’s inspired the topic of the essay contest. Clergy United will award $500 for the winning 2,000-2,500 word essay on why the gay rights movement is the moral equivalent of the Civil Rights movement. In the interest of stirring up discussion, the organization will also award $500 to the winning pro-gay rights essay arguing why the gay rights movement is not the moral equivalent of the Civil Rights movement.

Even among Christians who support gay rights, there is debate over the comparison to the Civil Rights movement.

This is an interesting idea. As Steve's friend, I've not written an essay -- not that I think he'd give me the $500 award just out of friendship!
In any case I'd like to pose the question here: Are Gay Rights and the Civil Rights Movements Moral Equivalents?

Advocating for Gays in the Church

My good friend, Steve Kindle, is a happily married, straight, Disciples of Christ pastor who has heard a call to advocate for the equality of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons in the church. I did an interview with him for Faithfully Liberal, a blog that I also write for.
Here is the beginning of the interview; you may continue reading at Faithfully Liberal.

Interview: Rev. Steve Kindle, Executive Director of Clergy United -->

By Pastor Bob Cornwall

The Rev. Steve Kindle has a unique ministry. He is Executive Director of Clergy United for the Equality of Homosexuals , a consulting and education organization focused on the inclusion of homosexuals and transgender persons in the church. Originally ordained in the conservative Churches of Christ, in whose colleges and seminaries he received his theological education, today he has standing in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ. Before founding Clergy United, he served as pastor of two “Open and Affirming” Disciples congregations, and since then has served as consultant to congregations exploring the process of becoming open and affirming to the GLBT community, and this fall he’ll be speaking to a number of Log Cabin Republican groups. Since the blogging bug has bit Steve, he has launched a new blog called Open Hearts – Affirming Pages.

Q. You’re straight and happily married, so why this cause?
A. Yes, it’s true that I have no “hidden agenda” behind my interest in promoting gay equality in the churches. It comes, very simply, from my understanding of the gospel: We are to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us—unqualifiedly, without exception.
Q. Since your background is fairly conservative, what was it that changed the way you looked at homosexuals?
A. I was raised in a very conservative home, both politically and religiously. My understanding of the gay community was formed by all the stereotypes that typically accompany such an upbringing: that they are in the main promiscuous, self-centered, lust filled, choose this “lifestyle,” and are not to be trusted around children. I happened to move from North Dakota to San Francisco and, in the course of getting to know the gay community, I discovered the startling reality that GLBTs are as normal as any other large segment of America. Also, working with many gay Christians challenged my view that “gay Christian” is an oxymoron. So, I began a lifelong pursuit of examining the scriptures used to support the antigay view and found the traditional interpretations wanting.

Click here to continue reading.

The Witness of the Buddhist Monks

We are witnessing a most powerful and intersting expression of religious life in Burma/Myanmar. Burmese Buddhist monks have taken to the streets, facing soldier's bullets, to defy a repressive regime. As "Faithful Progressive" points out, this expression of nonviolence is proof of religion's value to human life.
Here is just a clip from his comments:

The events in Myanmar are a classic illustration of why the New Atheists, in general, and Richard Dawkins in particular, are wrong about the value of religious belief in human history and evolution. It's pretty simple: the Buddhist monks have moral authority. It is hard earned. They live a disciplined life that focuses on compassion. They have been politically active, and brutally put down, since the 1930's. But they endure, as do their fellow Buddhists in Burma/Myanmar. Together, the monks and the people are strong; strong and pure like their belief in Buddhism.

With these comments are added clips from several news sources.
Nonviolence has its dangers, and yet it has proven itself to be effective. It commands moral authority -- but too often, as we're seeing in Iraq and elsewhere, we prefer the "quicker" mode of violence. The problem is that this never seems to end.
We shall watch and pray with the Burmese people, hoping that this march by the monks will lead to their freedom from oppression.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Perils of Religious Ignorance

Regularly someone, usually a good Christian soul who isn't a radical Christian fundamentalist, sends me an email with blatantly untrue and slanderous information about Islam or some other religion (usually Islam these days). They're all quite sure that Muslims are by nature evil people seeking to take over the world and impose Sharia law on us -- or if not that blow us to smithereens. They're quite sure of this.
A recent Pew Forum survey on religious understanding shows just how little people know about Islam or other religions.
Here is a clip from a LA Times piece -- with key statistics in bold:

The survey of 3,002 Americans was conducted last month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public

Although 58% of respondents said they knew little or nothing about Islamic practices, 70% of non-Muslims said Islam was very different from their own religious beliefs.

Pew Forum senior fellow John Green said that respondents' knowledge of Islam might be even lower than the survey results suggested. Respondents "tend to overestimate their own knowledge, so these figures may well underestimate their lack of knowledge," he said.

70% say Christianity and Islam have little in common, and yet 58% say they know little or nothing about it. It would appear that a lot of people are making big assumptions based on little if any knowledge. Ignorance of others poses extreme dangers on our nation and world. It allows unscrupulous politicians to manipulate folks to support ill-advised war efforts - just for instance -- and could lead to even bigger consequences.

Wendy McCaw Revealed!

The NLRB trial in Santa Barbara that has focused on whether the Santa Barbara News Press illegally fired reporters for union activities is nearing an end. Featured at the end of this trial has been the testimony of owner-publisher Wendy McCaw. As described this morning in Craig Smith's blog -- what we have running the local paper is an angry frumpy woman who has created a hostile workplace -- especially for any reporter who would write on matters of wildlife. The animal rights activist finds bias in any report that would suggest that her precious feral pigs and coyotes don't deserve the utmost in protection -- even if the pigs are destroying the environment on the Channel Islands.

What we see in the way she runs the paper is first pure hypocrisy and second a demand that the reporting of news follow the lead of the editorial page. In other words -- bias is in the eye of her beholding!

Again, it is too bad that a city like Santa Barbara is left with a daily paper that isn't worthy of putting in the bird cage or lighting the barbecue. I say this of a paper that before the meltdown was among California's best.

Back to School Night -- 1 last time

Every fall for 13 years I suppose, Cheryl and I have gone off to Back to School Night at Santa Barbara High School. First it was to check out the kindergarten class back in Manhattan, Kansas -- Marlatt Elementary. Then every year we would make that pilgrimage and get a sense of what the year would be like. Since Cheryl is a teacher, she has seen this kind of event from both sides of the podium.

Now Brett is off to his senior year and we make our last pilgrimage of this sort. We'll meet teachers -- actually he only has 2 new teachers, the rest he's had before. We'll get the run down about the semester, and begin looking forward to that big day when he walks the plank (I mean across the platform).

It's hard to believe we've come to this point, but it does happen. A senior year is often a turning point in young person's life. They gain a certain confidence from having reached this stage of life. Freshmen look up to them. They walk with a certain swagger. They wear special garb (senior t-shirt) marking their new status. And then it's over.

So to all of you reading this who haven't started this program -- of being a parent -- enjoy it while it lasts. Treasure the moments. Support the educational enterprise -- teachers need your support. Encourage your kids every step of the way! And keep an eye on them. They won't like it -- I assure you -- but deep inside they appreciate it!!

So, as they say at Santa Barbara High -- "Once a Don, Always a Don!"

Separate but Equal -- Redux

In the 1950s it was determined by the Supreme Court that the principle of "separate but equal" wasn't just and therefore unconstitutional. And so desegregation began.
The question arises now concerning gay marriage. Some have proposed civil unions rather than marriage for gays -- but in almost all cases the "rights" granted under civil unions -- including tax benefits -- don't benefit gays. So is it fair and just -- the mayor of San Diego, Jerry Sanders, a Republican with a lesbian daughter, has said no. Interesting!
Steve Kindle, at his "Open Hearts -- Affirming Pages" blog has taken up this issue along with the corresponding issue of companionship -- the idea that we find in Genesis that it is not good that one should be alone.
He writes:
Ultimately, the refusal of marriage to same-sex couples is a denial of their humanity. When the church denies marriage to gay couples it is saying that you are not worthy of having your loneliness relieved in the only way it is possible. In other words, you are not worthy of being a human being. Imagine the anguish of a straight person not being able to marry, ever, unless he or she married someone of the same sex. This is the direct connection that Mayor Sanders made as he compared the life he lives with his wife against withholding the same benefit to those such as his daughter. He could not refuse what God has ordained. God created us all in the image of God. Who are we to prohibit that which God has deemed necessary?
This is an intriguing question -- check out his entire piece and leave a comment -- letting him know you were here first!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Children's Health Held Hostage

George Bush isn't shy about spending billions on an ill-advised war in Iraq, but for some reason increased funding of children's health care is unreasonable. He claims the carefully crafted compromise bill extending the S-CHIP programming-- one carrying the co-sponsorship of such liberals as Orrin Hatch and Charles Grassley -- is simply a liberal Democratic political ploy.
Years ago Ann Richards spoke of a silver spoon in GW's mouth. That silver spoon has come back to haunt him. Whether or not this will lead to increased government involvement in health care is irrelevant. If we don't increase health care funding more and more children will fall through the cracks -- many of them in the middle class. But then cowboy George wouldn't know about that. He likes to play good old boy -- cowboy, but he's the product of a wealthy aristocratic legacy.
Spending money now to provide quality health care for children just might save a whole bunch of money later on. So, let us say to George -- sign this thing. And to Congress, make sure you've got all the votes you need to tell George that he's simply out of touch with reality!!!
For more check this NY Times editorial.

Monday, September 24, 2007

All Saints Probe over but questions remain!

The Los Angeles Times reports that the IRS has dropped its probe of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. The whole sordid thing began back in 2004 when Rector Emeritus George Regas happened to challenge George Bush's Iraq War policy. Someone complained to the IRS who threatened to pull it's tax exempt status and demanded all kinds of documents from e-mails to sermons. The church fought back, refused to comply, and now months later they say they're dropping the probe. The only thing is, they insist that All Saints broke the law -- they just don't say how they broke the law. Well, according to the report, All Saints wants both clarification and an apology -- and both are due them.

What is interesting about this case is that the church has discovered that the Justice Department -- you know the one run by partisanship run amok Al Gonzalez -- was involved in all this. Additionally, the IRS never allowed the church to respond to the charges and provide explanations.

It looks as if partisan politics may have had a hand in this -- not from the church, but from others within the government. But things haven't worked out as expected.

Congressman Adam Schiff, who represents Pasadena commented:

"The real message from today is that the IRS picked on the wrong church," said Schiff, whose district includes Pasadena. "They thought that All Saints would fold up the tent and admit it was wrong . . . but instead they found a church that would stand up for itself."


Mother Teresa's Agony

What makes religious faith so durable? Why don't people "face the facts" and abandon religon?
Mother Teresa's life and message continues to inspire people to hold on even when faith isn't easy. Here is Martin Marty's thoughts for this Monday.


Sightings 9/24/07

Mother Teresa's Agony
--Martin E. Marty

Once when Mormon origins were being radically questioned by a man who turned out to be a forger, I asked Jan Shipps, foremost Gentile scholar of Latter-Day Saints, what if the publicized fake documents turned out to be authentic? Wouldn't such shaking of the foundations bring down the whole edifice? No, she reminded me: The faithful have ways, indefinite and maybe infinite, of responding with new explanations. Without cynicism, Shipps noted that religions do not get killed by surprises that would seem to necessitate revision.

I thought of Shipps' dictum this month when a beautifully sad or sadly beautiful book by the late Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light, saw the light of day and met the glare of publicity. Aha! was the instant and general response of well-selling a-theists: This shows that a character on the way to sainthood was inauthentic, and her failure to experience God "proves" God's non-existence.

Not to worry, was the main literate Catholics' response. Catholic apologists and experts on mysticism addressed Teresa's agony over her non-experience of God and her disappointment in the Jesus in whom she believed but whom she did not experience. They scrambled to show how her story would more likely lead people to the search for faith than it would disappoint them and drive them away. But if Mother Teresa had trouble feeling the presence of God, wrote critics, the old hypocrite should not have hung in there as a model, a self-sacrificing but not always easy to applaud rigorist. We were told that she would be a challenge to every right-thinking and right-experiencing Catholic.

Wrong. Her published diary is likely to sell as well as those attacking her. From what I have read, it is a cry of the heart to a heaven evidently empty and silent to her: "Lord, my God, who am I that You should forsake me?" In response, historically informed commentators reached back to the Psalms or medieval precedent for analogies. Those familiar with mysticism were ready with "Is this the first time you've heard of this?" or "Let's make this a teaching opportunity." Eileen Marky in September 14th's National Catholic Reporter laid it out well, as did colleagues in most weekly Catholic and many Protestant papers. Most asked what any of this had to do with the existence of God.

Then followed, in most accounts, learned revisitations of believers who had doubts or were victims of what medievalists called accidie or, deeper than that, "The Dark Night of the Soul." While few who value the experience of God's presence would envy Mother Teresa, most expressed sympathy to a now deceased figure who always offered compassion but did not always receive it. The Jan Shipps dictum did not even have to be put to work. Catholics and other Christians did not need to reinvent the faith--austere, threatening experiences like Teresa's are as old as faith itself. It was asked: If there are bright sides to this darkness or palpitations to replace the numbnesses of spirit, so that the darkness can be, conditionally, a boon, why don't believers put more energy into preparing their fellow devotionalists, showing that such silence may be in store for them, and then telling them not to fear.

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

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

Visit of Iranian President to US

I'm not a fan of the Iranian President -- Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- In fact I think he's kind of a nutcase. But he has taken on an air of populism and defiance to American pretensions of power that has caught the eye and ear of many around the world. It's no surprise that he's not being warmly received in the United States, his message is a vitriolic one.
Some say he shouldn't be allowed to speak at forums such as the one at Columbia University. The question is why? What do we have to fear from him. Let him speak, let's hear his rhetoric. If we judge it inappropriate or incendiary, then so be it. If all he brings are words, then there's nothing to fear. To try to silence him only gives him power.
The key is to ask why he has reached the ears of so many, even of those who are not natural allies of Iran? Consider this from the LA Times.
I've posted on this at Faithfully Liberal.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Ruling By Divine Mandate?

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
September 23, 2007

In a recent conversation with a close friend I was stunned by his insistence that God chooses our presidents for us. Apparently God is guiding the nation's voters - or at least the Electoral College. My friend finds the constant criticisms of the president, including my own, troubling and inappropriate - for we're to honor our leaders and support them.

His beliefs, which I don't think are unique, have a long history - they're rooted in a tradition of “divine right monarchy.” This ideology of earlier years held that because God is sovereign and God chooses the ruler, from family to nation, we who are ruled should not resist that person's judgments. We should, instead, trust in the ruler's judgment - for surely they know more than do we about the affairs of state.
The idea that our leaders lead with a divine mandate often seeks to draw from biblical precedents, such as David's reticence to touch Saul because he was God's anointed (1 Samuel 26:9). Then there's this verse from Paul's letter to the Romans:

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1 NRSV).

That seems rather direct and to the point, but what we tend to forget when we read and try to apply a passage such as this is that it has its own context. We forget that the governing authorities mentioned here are Imperial Rome and its proxies. Perhaps Paul was cautioning prospective rebels to reconsider. What this passage doesn't have in mind is American-style democracy, where at least in principle the people are the foundation of government.

That was my answer to my friend's statement - we the people choose the president of the United States - sometimes we make good choices and at other times not so good choices, as history has demonstrated. Because the people make the choice, the president - this president and every president - is therefore accountable to the people of this country. This point needs to be made at a time when the religious rhetoric in the public sphere is becoming increasingly sharp.
As we wrestle with texts like Romans 13 that encourage us to obey our leaders, we need to remember that our nation was founded in the midst of a revolution that threw off the designated governing authority - King George III. We should also remember that if we take Romans 13 very literally and apply it indiscriminately, then we must apply it not just to our leaders who are democratically elected, but to all leaders - including Hitler, Stalin, and yes even Saddam Hussein.
If a leader believes himself or herself to be divinely chosen, or if that person's supporters speak in terms of divine mandate, that ideology will certainly steel them up when making difficult choices. But such a sensibility can prove to be dangerous, for to believe that one carries a divine mandate creates blind spots and insulates them from listening to advice that runs counter to their agenda. Indeed, a leader could delude themselves into thinking it appropriate to “go it alone” despite the opposition or misgivings of allies. And when combined with a vision of “American Exceptionalism,” such a sense of divine calling could lead to an arrogant expansion of American imperialism around the world.
With a growing number of candidates on both sides of the partisan divide expressing themselves in religious terms, it's important that we remind them that as elected leaders they have a responsibility to the people. If they're people of faith, then their faith traditions can and should help guide their decision making - hopefully making them more compassionate, more gracious, and more committed to justice and peace - but ultimately they must remember that the people have chosen them to lead, and it's to the people that they're accountable.

If I understand Paul in his context, I can hear him remind us that God desires order not chaos. But if there is any divine mandate to be considered it is our calling as people to exercise good judgment in choosing our leaders, and then having chosen them we should pray for them but also show due diligence by holding them accountable to the highest standards.
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.

September 23, 2007

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Evolution and Wonder

Darwin is often spoken of as a sort of high priest of secularism, or even a spokesman for the Devil. He's portrayed as a force completely hostile to religion. But was he really? Or is his story more complex than we're often led to believe?
This week Krista Tippett's Speaking of Faith show explores Charles Darwin's impact on both the world of science and of religion with James Moore, a Cambridge University professor and biographer of Darwin. The program is titled "Evolution and Wonder: Understanding Charles Darwin." In the program Moore notes that in the Origin of Species Darwin spoke very respectfully of the Creator even if he was challenging how people of his age understood creation.
One of the points that Moore makes concerns Darwin's context. Darwin came of age in the middle decades of the 19th century. In that day, society was stratified and everything had its place and order -- a place and order determined by God. To say that we have evolved not only overthrew theological ideas, it overthrew the social order of the day.
I think you'll find this conversation interesting. If you visit her site by clicking here, you can can listen online or even download a podcast, and find many other resources. . As you listen you'll discern that while Darwin posed difficulties for people of faith he was not antagonistic to faith. He's not the "devil" some have made him out to be. In fact, as you listen you'll discover that he was a man of great compassion and was horrified at going to Brazil and seeing first hand the effects of slavery.

Jesus Walks

I'm not a hip-hop fan, but this video I found at Chuck Currie's site, raises important questions about our nation, the church, and the continuing prevalence of racism.

Whence the Resurrection Body?

Living as we do in a modern age that must attend to the insights of scientific discovery, an age in which it's pretty difficult to imagine that heaven is up above past the clouds and hell down below our feet, we must attend to the question of what resurrection might entail. In previous discussions on this site I know that some find this idea problematic at best. But there are alternative views to consider, ones that allow us to fathom the idea of eternal life and even resurrection. I posted earlier from Hans Kung's book Eternal Life.
Kung notes that modern anthropological insights do not allow for a body/soul dichotomy. So, when we think about resurrection we can't understand it as the "natural continuance of a spirit-soul independent of our bodily functions." Thus, we are a new creation, a transformation of what was to what is.
He writes further:

Is it then a bodily resurrection, a raising up of man with his body? yes and no. No, if we understand "body" in physiological terms as this actual body, the "corpse, " the remains." Yes, if "body" is understood in the New Testament sense as "soma," not so much physiologically as personally: as the identical personal reality, the same self with its entire history, which is mistakenly neglected in the Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation, even though the latter stresses the new (admittedly earthly) corporality. When we talk of the resurrection of the body, we mean then as the Catholic theologian Franz Josef Nocke expresses it, "that not only man's naked self is saved through death, when all earthly history is left behind, all relationships with other human beings become meaningless; bodily resurrection means that a person's life history and all the relationships established in the course of this history enter together into the consummation and finally belong to the risen person." (Eternal Life, Doubleday, 1984, p. 111).

The issue, Kung points out, is not about the continuity of the body "as a physical entity and consequently scientific questions like those about the whereabouts of the molecules simply do not arise." It is the person's identity -- what John Polkinghorne spoke of an a Speaking of Faith episode as the "patterns" of our identity -- which are continued and indeed possibly recreated.

Friday, September 21, 2007

No More Barry

I've been a San Francisco Giants fan from before I can remember -- back in the days of Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Gaylord Perry, and Juan Marichal. It was back when a young Bobby Bonds patrolled right field and gave a fair imitation of the guy manning center next to him. I've watched through the ups and downs of the franchise -- seen them at their best and their worst.

Though the didn't win that night, I went to one of the 1989 World Series games -- the postponed game after the city was rocked by the earthquake. I watched in disbelief as they fell five outs short of winning the 2002 series in six games -- if only Robb Nen had 2 innings left in him. Ah, the San Francisco Giants and I are about the same age -- and I'm still waiting with them for that elusive championship.

So, tonight we learn that the Barry Bonds era is coming to an end. Playing their last two home series of an otherwise forgettable season, the Giants have told Barry they're moving on. If he's going to play next year it'll be somewhere else. Perhaps Steinbrenner will open his pockets for the son of Bobby.

I realize a lot of people dislike Barry, and that's their right. I'm a Giants homer and so I've stuck by him (even if that's meant closing my eyes and ears to what might be true). But now it's time to move on.

I'm looking forward to a Giants future built around Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum -- as well as Barry Zito, Brian Wilson, Noah Lowery, and the other younger players that they hopefully will now feature. The Giants have become slow and unexciting these past 3 years. So, we wait until next year.
In the mean time, my bobble headed Barry is turned around in mourning.

Charge Church -- Stifle Speech

I posted yesterday about the City of Simi Valley, CA charging a UCC church 40,000 for police protection after protesters showed up to picket the church, which was serving as sanctuary for a woman appealing deportation orders. Word in the LA Times today is that the City is standing by a City Council decision to bill the congregation, but in so doing is sending a chilling message to churches.
The City Manager made the following comment:

"We're sensitive to the moral issues here, but it's still against the law," to be in the country without proper documentation, Sedell said. "We warned [church officials] that if they flaunted it in the public, then these [protests] will occur and there will be consequences."

I'm not sure how the church flaunted in public. The protesting group -- Save our State -- had protested a Long Beach church the night before. They seem to be following the woman, essentially harassing her and anyone who is willing to giver her a place to stay.
What is clear from this action is that if you take any controversial stand, one that might draw protesters you'll be charged for it. If this is allowed to stand, it will likely encourage other government entities to do the same.
An ACLU attorney says that he doubts that this will hold up, because it is the job of the police to protect any one/group exercising their rights of free speech. That's the "price of living in a democracy" said Peter Bibring of the ACLU. "They're basically charging by the hour for political expression," Bibring said.
This is a sad day for our country -- that's for sure. But apparently some are willing to throw out the Constitution to "save our state."

Dobson's losing his Seat

From all appearances, Jim Dobson, that paragon of evangelical righteousness and kingmaker, isn't happy with his choices. It looks as if he's not at all sold on Fred Thompson -- Fred doesn't go to church all that often and he's not going to talk about religion. I'd really be surprised if he and Rudy could get along. He doesn't like McCain and Mitt's a Mormon (while on most values issues their on the same page, theologically he doesn't fit). So he's he left with -- Mike Huckabee. Huckabee would be the perfect candidate -- he's an ordained Southern Baptist Pastor, Southern governor, doesn't believe in evolution, and is right on gays and abortion.
But so far Jimmy's not buying. See Marc Ambinder's comments here.
Now as for talk that Huckabee could be VP material. I'd be surprised -- I remember him earlier hinting that if the nominee wasn't toeing the line on gays and abortion he'd consider running as an independent. That pretty much leaves out Rudy, but a Mitt/Mike ticket is possible.
But again, this race seems like a real mess!

The Empire's Tentacles

This war in Iraq has more twists and turns than Mulholland Drive. We knew that much of the support work for the military was being outsourced to private companies and we heard rumors that the CIA was doing the same, but now we are discovering that more and more of the "security" in Iraq and elsewhere is being handled by murky mercenary groups. These companies, which can hire out foreign nationals at a much lower salary than must be paid to American soldiers -- and without them having to count against our losses -- this is a win-win situation.
You can read more about this in a Rosa Brooks op-ed in the LA Times. But here is an important section:

The White House's motives are obvious. Why fight another war, with all the bother of convincing Congress, if you can quietly hire a private military company to fight it for you? Why interrogate suspected insurgents if you can outsource the whole messy business? Why go through the tedious process of training Afghan judges if DynCorp will handle it instead -- as long as you're
not too picky about the results?

As for the corporations so eagerly lapping up the contracting dollars, there's no conspiracy -- it's just the good old profit motive. If the White House wants to sell off U.S. foreign policy, someone's going to buy it. Prince, the former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater, is straightforward about his company's goal: "We're trying to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did for the Postal Service."

Since FedEx rendered the post office irrelevant for all but the most trivial forms of mail, this means you can kiss our national security apparatus goodbye.

Yes, and it is also a mark of an empire whose tentacles have reached out too far. Essentially we're fighting a war over which we have ceded control to well paid contractors. The message it seems is this -- there will be peace only at the point of a gun. Not the kind of peace Jesus has in mind.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Intimidating a Welcoming Congregation

When a church follows its conscience and welcomes the stranger into its midst -- that shouldn't be too controversial. Our mandate as people of faith is to give asylum and care for those in need. Apparently the city of Simi Valley -- not far south from where I live -- doesn't see it that way. In fact it seems that this city doesn't like having such an entity in its midst.
When the other day protesters from an anti-immigrant group chose to picket the church, the scene made our local news. The video of this scene pictured a bunch of angry white folk protesting one small church's actions. This act of kindness on the part of a congregation is an expression of the New Sanctuary Movement and is an expression of social justice. It is in fact a considered response to our government's unwillingness to deal with immigration.
How then did the city deal with this outbreak - -they billed the church approximately $40,000 for police protection. Now this came in spite of the fact that the church had nothing to do with the protest -- except that were offering sanctuary to a woman appealing deportation. The Ventura County Star, a local paper, fortunately has taken the city to task for its silliness and its lack of understanding of the 1st Amendment.
The great thing about the United States of America is that there is freedom of speech (to support legal residency for Liliana, for example); of the press (to publicly announce Liliana is being assisted by the church, for example); of religion (to express religious sentiments that "What we
have is a faith stronger than fear and a belief that doing justice is a high and holy calling," as stated by the Rev. Goudey, for example); and "the right of the people peaceably to assemble," (as exercised by members of Save Our State and counterprotesters at the United Church of Christ on Sunday, for example).

What is the price of exercising and protecting our First Amendment rights?
Forty thousand dollars? A million dollars?
No one on Earth could afford to pay for the First Amendment.
I agree! I want to commend Rev. June Goudey for her courage and her convictions. That she and her congregation is willing to go the distance is truly an expression of Christ's love. I only wish I had the fortitude to do such good work.
thanks to Chuck Currie -- of Portland -- for pointing this out!

Blog Rush Invite

Bloggers want readers, at least I think that's why we spend precious time opining on all manner of issues. If you're a blogger, you should check out Blog Rush. I just installed it and am learning the ins and outs.

You will notice on my side bar the Blog Rush widget. Check it out, click on the little tab, and look to add Blog Rush to your blog. Or just click here.

Understanding the Resurrection

I mentioned earlier that I would be leading a memorial service for one of our members, a gracious and loving woman, who will be greatly missed by all. As a pastor speaking hope to my community, I take much hope in my belief in the resurrection and in the afterlife. It is not an academic issue, but is in fact a matter of life and death.
But, having said that I can't just flippantly say I believe, the question is what do I believe? The question arises about the nature of resurrection. In the next couple of days I want to post some quotes from Hans Kung's book Eternal Life? (Doubleday, 1984). It's not a new book but its a helpful one. So here's the first:

It is obvious then that biblical and modern anthropological thinking converge in their conception of man as a body-soul unity, a fact that is of crucial importance also for the question of a life after death. When the New Testament speaks of resurrection, it does not refer to the natural continuation of a spirit-soul independent of our bodily functions. What it means -- following the tradition of Jewish theology -- is the new creation, the transformation of the whole person by God's life-creating Spirit. Man is not released then -- platonically --- from us corporality. He is released with and in his -- now glorified, spiritualized -- corporality: a new creation, a new man. Easter is not a feast of immortality, of a postulate of practical reason: it is a feast of Christ, of the crucified Christ now glorified. (p. 111).

As Kung points out, in regard to the doctrine of resurrection, we must let go of the idea of the immortality of the soul and the body-soul dualism that has so influenced our theologies.

The Role of Churches in Immigrant Life

Living in Southern California, where the cultural landscape has been changing dramatically over the past several decades, I see the impact of immigration. We are reaching a point in time where there is no "ethnic majority" in the State. Hispanics are the largest ethnic grouping, but as with all ethnic groupings even that community is not monolithic.
An article by Bob Allen at Ethics Daily served to remind me of the importance that religion plays in immigrant communities. It is, he points out, an often neglected part of the immigration reform debate. Religious communities -- churches, mosques, etc. -- provide a cultural bridge, a place of sanctuary in the midst of a new environment.
One thing that I noticed when pastoring a church that rented out space to a Hispanic congregation (Guatemalan based) was that they met as often as possible. Our congregation met on Sundays and then occasionally for women's groups or whatever -- but in the case of the Hispanic congregation, they would meet as often as we would let them meet. As one of their leaders shared with me, it was important to meet regularly because of the enticements of American culture.
Allen's suggestion is that we not forget the important role that churches/religious groups play and will play in organizing and connecting immigrants. They are the bridge between the old and the new, making passage just a bit easier.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

For the Bible Tells Me So -- Updates

The documentary For the Bible Tells Me So, a film dealing with homosexuality and the role of religion in the oppression of gays and lesbians is due out in at least some theaters in October. My friend, Steve Kindle, was involved in the program and is actually seen in this clip to follow -- a trailer from it.

We're hoping to get it here to Santa Barbara, but if you go to the web site you'll see where it is scheduled to appear. Take a look at the trailer and then keep your eye out for it!

Join Me at Faithfully Liberal

I want to invite you to join me over at Faithfully Liberal, a blog run by a couple of guys late of Chicago Theological Seminary. Aaron Krager is the head honcho over there and he's asked me to contribute to that blog. So, on most Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, you'll find me posting over there as well as here.

You can find the Faithfully Liberal blog and my first post here. So won't you join me in the conversation over there as well as here?

The GOP -- The White People's Party?

Has the party of Lincoln, Radical Reconstruction, and Teddy Roosevelt become the "White People's Party"? A Washington Post article this morning raises just this question -- or more specifically party leaders are beginning to wonder about the practices and rhetoric of the leading GOP candidates.
They have consistently turned down opportunities to debate before minority groups. This is on top of the anti-immigrant rhetoric that is being used to satisfy a nativist base. Listen to former VP candidate Jack Kemp:

"We sound like we don't want immigration; we sound like we don't want black people to vote for us," said former congressman Jack Kemp (N.Y.), who was the GOP vice presidential nominee in 1996. "What are we going to do -- meet in a country club in the suburbs one day? If we're going to be competitive with people of color, we've got to ask them for their vote."

I close with this from Tavis Smiley, scheduled to host one of those snubbed debates:

"When you reject every black invitation and every brown invitation you receive, is that a scheduling issue or is it a pattern?" he asked. "I don't believe anybody should be elected president of the United States if they think along the way they can ignore people of color. That's just not the America we live in."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hope in the midst of death

Every day we hear that people die, but when it strikes close to home you reflect more on it.
I was listening this morning on my way up from Santa Barbara to Krista Tippett's interview with British theologian/physicist John Polkinghorne. He was talking about the interaction of religion and science -- especially in what he refers to as the cloudy places. When it comes to things like resurrection and after - life -- Polkinghorne (who is in tune with panentheism) is a big proponent of both. Anyway, he was talking about eschatology and after life and our basic intuition that there must be something more. You can't prove it scientifically. You can't necessarily see it, but you know it has to be. Thus our intuition is the key.
Today one of my members died. I spent the afternoon at the hospital as the doctors tried to save this wonderfully gracious and loving woman. But it was not to be. I was there to pray with her husband and her family. I was there to give voice to the hope of the resurrection. Perhaps it is "mere" hope, but I trust that Mary Ann is in the presence of God. What form she has taken I don't know, I just have that intuition, that hope this is true. To speak otherwise would be of no comfort to the one who has lost a loved one, nor much help for me as well.
We can have academic discussions and debates about such things, but as a pastor I must take solace in that hope of the resurrection or else I will have nothing to say when I stand by a loved one.

Honoring the Constitution

Yesterday was Constitution Day -- the 208th anniversary of the passage of this document that guides our nation's life. Like with the Bible, we continue to argue about the interpretation and application of this document.
I must confess that I've not read the Constitution as a whole recently -- though I probably should -- I know the contents of certain parts of it. I know that the first amendment guarantees freedom of speech, religion, and press, but I had forgotten that it also guaranteed freedom of assembly and the right to petition. These five freedoms are important to the life of our nation, and yet we tend to forget about them and many of us are willing to curtail these constitutionally protected rights -- when it suits our needs.
Our ignorance of the contents of this document can have unforeseen consequences. The fact that a recent poll suggests that 55% of Americans believe that the Constitution enshrines Christianity is worrisome. So is the fact that " "97% said the right to practice the religion of your choice is essential or important, but only 56% said freedom of religion applies to all religious groups."
The question is -- who decides? That was the point of the 1st Amendment -- I get to decide what or whether I will be religious.
This statement from a USA Today op-ed from yesterday says it well:

Just as the Founding Fathers didn't apply freedom of religion just to Christians, neither did they limit freedom of speech, freedom of the press or freedom of assembly just to those who behave politely or avoid offense. How could it be otherwise? If freedom of religion means anything, it must apply equally to minority religions. And if freedoms of speech, press and assembly mean anything, they must apply to all — most particularly those whose views might not be in the current mainstream.

In a democracy, if freedom is not available to all, then no one is truly free.

Whether or not you're a "strict constructionist," if you want to honor the Constitution then it must be applied equally and blindly. The opinion piece can be viewed here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Balm in Gilead -- A Sermon from 2001

I am set to preach on Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 on Sunday. It is the same text I preached from six years ago -- in the weeks following the events of 9-11. I will be using the basic theme and title from that sermon this Sunday, but I thought, having offered here my sermon from the Sunday after 9-11, that I would offer the one that followed. As you read this overly long sermon, consider the criticism offered of me by some of my mmebers -- that I didn't deal with 9-11.

Sermon preached:
By Rev. Dr. Robert Cornwall
First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Santa Barbara, CA
September 23, 2001

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

In last Sunday's News Press, David Foy's column begins: "Healing is not the goal." He is right, we must not trivialize or lessen the loss we feel from the events of September 11, and justice must be done, but is their no balm in Gilead? Lance Morrow, in his Time Magazine commentary, writes: "for once, let's have no fatuous rhetoric about `healing'." Healing, he says is "inappropriate now, and dangerous." Let us put off our tears and sorrow for now and instead "nourish rage." Morrow is right, we must be relentless in pursuing those who caused this terror and would continue to unleash terror on us and others, but is their no balm in Gilead, no healing salve that will soothe our pain and lead us not only to justice but also to reconciliation?

In contrast to these voices, voices that not only incite America to action, but also incite men and women to commit deeds of evil, deeds such as beating up a young Saudi student in our own community, we want to hear the voices raised last Sunday evening. Yes, last Sunday evening hundreds of us gathered at the Methodist church, a crowd that filled the sanctuary well past capacity, to hear voices that called for justice and for healing and reconciliation.

I was incredibly moved by that service, by the outpouring of prayer and support exhibited by this very diverse congregation. While Foy and Morrow call for angry retribution, we heard the Imam of the Islamic Society of Santa Barbara declare that these terrorist acts do not reflect Islam, that they violate its teachings. We heard the Rabbi call for a measured and thought out response, and reminded us to take care in our response. We heard Susan Copeland remind us that Jesus said if we have the faith the size of a mustard seed we can say to the mountain be moved and it will move. Therefore, we need not be afraid, because God is with us. As Christians, Susan said, we "hold the seeds of faith, hope and love in the deep shadow land of sorrow and trauma, of terror and unspeakable pain." This faith, this hope, this love, enables us to engage in acts of compassion and grace in our world.


In Jeremiah 8 we hear several voices, Jeremiah's for sure, but at points we also hear the voice of Yahweh, the Lord our God, expressing grief, sorrow, sickness of heart at the state of God's people. God weeps and the people of God cry out, "Is the Lord not in Zion?" Jeremiah speaks for himself and for God to people suffering from drought and from the pressure of invading armies. Yahweh confesses that the people of Judah have provoked him because of their images and their idolatry, their sense of arrogant self-sufficiency. But now the time of harvest is past, summer has ended, and the crops are absent. Jeremiah weeps at this sign of judgment.

As we stand here less than two weeks after the tragedies of September 11, we would rather not hear words of judgment on ourselves, and yet I think we need to hear it. Oh, the people in those buildings, they are innocent and we mourn their loss and grieve with their families and friends; but we as a nation and as a world community must recognize our complicity in the events of that day. These were not simply random acts of violence, they are rooted in human alienation. I'm not saying that God used those planes as some kind of divine vengeance on America, and I'm not saying that God has lifted has hand of protection on our nation, but in our unwillingness to listen to each other, to find peace with one another, to take care of those in need, we have sown the seeds of our own judgment.

September 11 was and is a wake up call, a reminder to us that we must take care of the business of humanity. We must start with our families because even here it is difficult for us to listen and hear the cries of those in need. We miss the cries of our brothers and sisters, our mothers and our fathers, our sons and our daughters, our husbands and our wives for help and for understanding. We turn away; we refuse to talk to each other; we judge each other. We are broken and we experience judgment. But, what is true of our families is also of our communities, our nation, and our world as a whole.

We wonder how the terrorists could have done such a thing as this? The sheer magnitude of these acts, the number killed, the means of the destruction, they are inconceivable to us. And yet, except for the number of people killed and the level of destruction in New York, are these acts all that different from the shootings at Columbine, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, a man's shooting rampage in a Texas church, or a fatal attack on a Sikh man in Arizona because he looked different? The difference is not one of intent but magnitude. We too could do this act of violence. Jesus says that unremitting anger is the same as murder, even if we do not act on our anger.

Jeremiah's words remind us of that we too experience alienation from God, and because of this alienation there does not seem much hope for tomorrow. Jeremiah's people were suffering and he wept for them. Jeremiah looks at us and sees our confusion, our alienation, and on God's behalf, he weeps for us.

Jeremiah cries out in response to the condition of his people: "Is their no balm in Gilead? Is their no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?" As Jeremiah concludes his lament, we stand no closer to a resolution.

"O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears, so that I might weep day and night for the slain of my poor people!"

Jeremiah wishes that his own tears might end the drought, and yet he senses no such possibility exists. The word of judgment is too strong and unremitting. Judah has undone itself. There is no medicine strong enough to heal their disease, not even the vaunted balm of Gilead.

And yet, in spite of the pessimistic tone of the passage, we must ask: do you mean there is no physician? Is there no one, who can heal our affliction? And, I hear the words: here I am, the great physician, and I come to you bearing medicine for the soul. That is the word I hear from Jesus? On the way into Jerusalem, Jesus wept for the city:

"If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes" (Lk. 19:42).

Jesus came to Jerusalem bearing the message of reconciliation, but Jew and Gentile joined to crucify him. And yet, the Resurrection remains the sign that this act of inhumanity does not stand, and in this I take hope and guidance.

Again, I return to last Sunday evening and the power of that event. I find words of hope in the statement made by the Imam, Abdurrahman:

Despite the reason of us having to come together today I still find it so wonderful. As it was mentioned prior to me that to see us all from different faiths, different backgrounds, different ideologies coming together. The only bad thing about today is that we have come together due to the calamities that have befallen our nation. We should have done this so long ago.

Is their no balm in Gilead? I believe it is here in our midst. It is the healing presence of our God who draws us together so that we might listen to one another. Tuesday afternoon I will be having coffee with the Imam so that we can become friends. Yes, the healing balm of Gilead is working in our midst.

At a time of national tragedy, as we began to look at possible responses to the terrorist acts, we heard the good news that the Palestinians and Israelis would begin to talk, that a truce would take place. Oh, it won't be easy. There are many who will disrupt it. It didn't take long for a Palestinian militant to ambush an Israeli family, and surely there will be calls for retaliation on the Israeli side, but if the balm of Gilead is to do its work, both sides must say no to the law of retaliation and move forward.
Remember the battle over Kosovo? That was a war that had been going on for centuries. The only way to find healing is to stop the spiral of violence. Then the healing powers of God can begin to do its work.
With that old spiritual, "There is a balm in Gilead," we sing out:

"There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul."

As followers of Jesus, we may not fully understand or live out this call to be people of healing, but we can be the bearers of the balm of Gilead that makes us whole, that makes us new. We can, I believe, learn to listen to each other, because God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, making all things new. We may not agree on everything; in fact we may strongly disagree on important matters, but we must listen, because God is at work in us. In response to the David Foys and the Lance Morrows we must say: healing must begin or we will fall into the self-destructive crevasse of evil that consumed the purveyors of this evil act on innocent people in New York and Washington.

And we must let the healing powers of God's Spirit work in our own communities, restoring us to God's presence, to overcome the alienation that we feel from God and from each other. Yes, let the balm of Gilead be poured out on us!

Ambivalence in a Time of War

In this week's edition of the Alban Weekly, Katie Day offers an insightful response to the upcoming Ken Burn's piece -- WAR -- a piece on World War II. World War II has come to be seen by many as a necessary, just, and ultimately good war. But as Day points out, at the time there was great ambivalence on the part of those fighting and those at home. Churches were conflicted -- not wanting to bless the violence of war they felt constrained to be of service to nation and word.
As Day points out, many of the leaders of our churches were part of that fight or were children of it. This may be why we struggle now with what to do about the Iraq War. She writes:

Although the church’s role in public issues has been dissected in just about every other context, one of the least studied is its role during the Second World War. For good reason: major Christian traditions were bogged down in internal debates about entering into the war, torn between the pacifism that had been in vogue in theological circles after the first World War and the sense of national duty after the invasion of Pearl Harbor. Reinhold Niebuhr, a leading theologian at the time, argued strenuously on political and theological grounds for joining in what he saw as a struggle for the survival of Western civilization itself. “We are witnessing the first effective revolution against Christian civilization since the days of Constantine.”1 However, he and denominational leaders were also cautious about joining in a “war hysteria.” The boundary between church and state loyalties seemed to melt as the Church was caught in an ambivalence, the most positive construction being a “cautious patriotism.”2 The Disciples of Christ denomination articulated the conundrum: “The church of Jesus Christ cannot bless war, but the church in wartime should have something more significant to contribute than a negative attitude. The church has positive and constructive duties to perform to the nation and to the world.”3 Not wanting to appear unpatriotic, most church groups followed suit, quelling their prophetic voice which had led in other times to public critique.

As Day reminds us, however, these elders of our community who were thrown into battle at a young age -- most now in their 80s if not older -- can be a resource to our conversations -- if we are able to free them from their silence.
For the full essay click here.

New Atheists -- Sightings

Martin Marty is always insightful. He has seen enough American religion to understand the nuances and offer helpful insight to those of us who have trod this path a much shorter time. Many of us are troubled by the loud and often ignorant rantings of the "New Atheists." Their arguments, as Marty points out, aren't new. David Hume pretty much said what needed to be said back in the 18th Century. Darwin raised important questions but Darwin didn't overthrow God -- we have just had to figure out how best to adapt to Darwin's discoveries.
So, in this Monday's contribution to his Sighting's newsletter, we are treated to some important questions to be reflected on.


Sightings 9/17/07

The New Atheists
--Martin E. Marty

"For the first time in living memory, religious skepticism is hot," writes Katha Pollitt in The Nation (September 24). In a sensible one-page column, she points to best-sellers and talk show appearances by "the new atheists." These skeptics do not particularly impress the progressive media, she observes, yet they get a hearing. Why, if their arguments are not very good?

"It's no mystery why these writers are doing so well even though there haven't been any new arguments against the existence of God since around 1795." For the past seven years, she writes, born-again Christianity has been shoved down everyone's throat via public policy, and this has "sickened and disgusted a lot of us members of the reality-based community." Skeptics also speak up at the gross immoralities of "televangelists and right-wing family-man politicians."

Pollitt, counting herself a skeptic, also criticizes some political "progressives" who, counseled by advisers to be even more overt about their faith and to brush up on their religious vocabulary, suddenly sound too religious and are too ready to relate faith to public policy. (Pssst! They long have been so, but they are being noticed for it once again, and some of them might be glad to be noticed. But that's a topic for another day.)

She heaps on Democratic presidential candidates who answer intimate questions about their own faith in ways that seem designed to curry favor. It's fine with her if they believe in God, but she does not like the parading of faith in public—she might have quoted Matthew 6:1, which cautions that showcasing piety before others leads to no heavenly reward—or the suggestion that the candidates' faith would profitably affect their policies.

Political assault and spiritual hypocrisy inspire reaction from the new atheists: "It's one thing to show respect for religious belief in the context of social tolerance in a pluralistic society . . . but when Christians make faith a matter of public policy, it becomes hard to explain why nonbelievers should be deferential."

I can picture many aggressive religionists using columns like Pollitt's to suggest that "we are doing something right. Jesus warned disciples: 'Woe if all people speak well of you.' Now some speak ill of us, and that's a sign that we are serving the Kingdom of God ." Christian faith is supposed to be a scandal, something people trip over, says the wincing counter-attack. "At last we are picking up scandalized enemies, who are tripping over our expressions of faith and the policy proposals based on them."

A question will come up more and more as soul-searching goes deeper among religious (in this case, Christian) "progressives" and conservative Catholics and evangelicals alike. Christianity's scandal was supposed to be over the cross of Jesus, symbol of the heart of the faith: Are all these aggressive political programs near the heart of faith; or are they, as their critics suggest, "just politics?" Making distinctions, showing restraint, finding appropriate ways for faith(s) to work for the common good—these will demand and receive new attention.

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

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