Friday, February 29, 2008

Clinton Whines Again

This has been a very odd nomination season for the Democrats. It's astonishing to watch Hillary's campaign complain every time it seems as if she's going to lose or has lost. Even though she was the "presumptive" nominee back in the fall, and assumed she was going to be in it for the long haul, you would think she'd know what the rules are. Over the past months she's complained about caucuses, claiming that they favor Obama's voters. My question is: why is that? Why can't she reach out to a broader range of voters? Or, is the real reason for her losses is that she has been out organized.
So, now, just days before the Texas vote, with Obama seemingly ahead, she's challenging the rules. Why? Because she thinks they're unfair. But funny thing is -- her husband was able to do just fine under the same rules. Why are they such a mystery now?
Hillary, here's my suggestion: stop complaining about how everyone is picking on you. It's not a good sign if you think you should be the next Commander in Chief.
The simple fact is: Barack Obama is more than a good speaker, he's an excellent organizer. And that is why he's winning.

A Giant Fan Considers the Post-Bonds Era

It was great while it lasted -- the Bonds years from 93 to 2002. 2002 was the year the Giants were just a few outs shy of winning their first SF World Series. Things fell apart quickly when Rob Nenn couldn't throw anymore. The next year they won 100 games, but fell apart in the playoffs. Then the steroids questions arose, Bonds passed Hank by, and the Giants collapsed.

This Spring there is no Barry Bonds. His era is over. The star on the field is center-fielder Aaron Rowand, their only free agent pick up. We're kind of back where we were after the 100 loss 1985 season. Not knowing what will happen. For those who forget or weren't paying attention that year, 1986 saw the emergence of a cocky first baseman named Will "the Thrill" Clark. Will homered off Nolan Ryan in his first at bat and we began wondering about Hall of Fame credentials. Robby Thompson was the other key rookie that year, a scrappy 2nd baseman who with Clark formed a fantastic left side of the infield. That year the Giants pushed past 500. The next year, 1987, the Giants, led by the aforementioned duo, along with Chili Davis and Jeffrey Leonard, made it to the playoffs and almost knocked off the Cardinals. And then, 2 years after that, though they got swept in 4, they made it to the World Series. What a turn around we long suffering Giants fans had seen.

So, as we face the future, sans Bonds, with no real "star" on the day-to-day roster, we wonder about the future. Will Dan Ortmeier break out at first base? Will Kevn Frandsen be the next Robby Thompson or Matt Williams? And what about that starting rotation that looks so good. Will Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum become the dominant starters so many hope they'll become? And then there's Barry Zito and Noah Lowery. Will they come back and shine as in earlier years? So much is up in the air. Our expectations are low. This season may be a long one, but then again the Giants haven't had a winning season since 2003.

Since the mantra of change is in the air -- in politics, in church life, and more, then perhaps, it's not a bad place to be in. Who knows, another Will Clark may be lurking out there in the Giants camp. They didn't look great in their first exhibition game, but these past few years they've done well in the exhibition season only to fall flat during the regular season.

So, here we go, off into a new era. I'm kind of excited! Besides, I'm not a Cubs fan!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Ministry of the Missional Church -- Review

THE MINISTRY OF THE MISSIONAL CHURCH: A Community Led by the Spirit. By Craig Van Gelder. Foreword by Alan J. Roxburgh. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007. 204 pp.

“Missional” is an in vogue word in contemporary Christian circles. The “Missional” movement crosses denominational and theological boundaries, attracting evangelicals, mainliners and Catholics to its banner. Whereas earlier generations sent out missionaries, this movement calls on the church be the agency of God’s mission in the world. It is a movement that calls on the church to move beyond seeing mission as something the church does. In this view, mission is what the church is.

Alan Roxburgh, one of the leading figures in this movement of congregational transformation, writes in the foreword to Craig Van Gelder’s book on Missional ministry, that the key to understanding this movement is discerning “what the Spirit of God is up to in the world and, therefore, the ways in which the Spirit is seeking to shape the ministry of the church” (p. 12). A quick glance at the table of contents of this book will provide evidence of the Holy Spirit’s importance to the success of this movement. Van Gelder, Professor of Congregational Mission at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN, argues in this book that ministry in the Missional church is Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered. If we take it the term in its more biblical sense, one could say that the “Missional” church is charismatic.

To better understand what the Missional church is up to, the author offers a syllogism:

The Church is.
The Church does what the church is.
The Church organizes what it does.

He writes that “the key point to understand is that the Spirit-led ministry f the church flows out of the Spirit-created nature of the church” (p. 18). In other words – being precedes doing. Doing and organizing comes after understanding the church’s essence, which is being the agent of God’s redemptive mission in the world. In focusing on the church’s essence, this movement challenges one of Protestantism’s greatest weaknesses – its lack of a strong ecclesiology.

Focusing on ecclesiology – on being rather than doing – could lead to passivity, but in Van Gelder’s mind, by first focusing on being the church is empowered to do. A missional church isn’t insular; it is instead actively engaged in ministry in the world beyond the walls of the church. But rather than focusing on its own success or effectiveness (church growth), it seeks to live “into all that the Triune God intends the church to be in the light of its creation by the Spirit” (p. 182). That purpose is the redemption/transformation of the world.
In many ways this is a very theoretical book. You won’t find a six-step plan to more effective ministry or even a ten-step plan for establishing a “Missional Congregation.” What you will find is a sustained call for the church to be engaged in world transforming ministry.

The book’s seven chapters move from basic definitions of “Spirit-led ministry” to an exploration of what this kind of ministry looked like in the Bible. From there the focus moves forward into the present – exploring Spirit-led ministry in a global context and then an American context. With this foundation – rooting missional ministry in context, Van Gelder looks at matters of decision-making, leadership and organization, and growth and development.

“Spirit-led ministry” is rooted in God’s act of “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19). The church becomes missional when it becomes a community of reconciled diversity that is led by the Spirit into the world so as to unmask the powers through suffering service. To accomplish this goal one must recognize that the context for doing ministry is ever changing. While the mission may not change, the manner in which it is done will change. The image he offers here is that of the church continually “forming” (Missional) and “Reforming” (confessional). That is, the Reformation principle that the “church is always reforming” (semper reformada), that it is always reengaging with its heritage must be balanced with contextualization – “the church is always forming” (semper formada). These two poles keep the church in a creative tension, so that it is both rooted in its heritage and able to engage its context. To do so effectively will, of course take great skill and awareness.

To guide this effort at being missional in context, Van Gelder lists seven aptitudes. Spirit-led missional congregations must: 1) “learn to read a context as they seek their contextuality.” This includes both sociological and theological readings. 2) They must “anticipate new insights into the gospel.” They will seek to discern the fuller meaning of the gospel by listening for indigenous voices. 3) They will “anticipate reciprocity” – that is, they should expect to be changed by the encounter with the context. 4) They will “understand they are contextual, and, therefore, are also particular.” While the missional church is “catholic” it is also very “local” – embedded in a particular context. There can be, therefore, no one size fits all programs or even “model congregations.” 5) It must understand that ministry is always contextual and, therefore, is also practical.” It must develop specific practices that are rooted in its time and place. 6) It will “understand that doing theology is always contextual and, therefore, is also perspectival.” Theology is rooted in long held confessions of faith, but these confessions must be understood in their particular context and culture. Thus, there is, he says, “no universal confession.” We must learn to confess the faith anew in our own context, translating themes, beliefs, and ideas. Finally, 7) we must “understand that organization is always contextual and, therefore, is also provisional.” This assumption recognizes what is present in the New Testament – the church formed itself in different ways in different places. The form the church takes – organizationally – will reflect its surroundings, and that is good news, he says, because “congregations are able to relate to any culture and to any context” (pp. 63-67).

Writing primarily to an American audience, Van Gelder, takes the reader into this very specific context. American church life, he says, has taken on three primary forms: established, corporate, and missional, with most contemporary churches being corporate.” That is, they see themselves as existing to accomplish something for God on a voluntary basis. Focus here is on function and is defined by organizational views and values. Through the history of America, this church has taken on various guises, often guided by business or governmental theory. The “corporate” model has, he believes, run into a major wall in the last several decades – that wall is a growing anti-institutionalism. The result is that traditional denominations have begun to struggle.

Into the void has stepped this new model, one less focused on church growth or effectiveness – including seeker and purpose driven models – and more on the mission of God (missio dei) or the redemptive reign of God. The author pushes us on further toward being congregations that are “missionary by nature” and participating “in God’s mission in the world.”

Missional ministry requires distinct skills and aptitudes in discernment, decision-making, and organization, the subject of chapters five and six. This work requires new ways of looking at scripture and doing theological education. Diversity of methods is key, while always keeping God in the discussion. Action is guided by both biblical theology and sociological theory – always keeping in mind the community. Indeed, this process must be communal. As for organizing itself, closed systems – bureaucracy, etc. – are out. Instead, more organic – “open-systems” models is key – chaos theory -- to the process, for structure is formed by mission.

Finally, Van Gelder comes to where the rubber meets the road – the issues of growth, development, and change. To do ministry in this modern world, we must recognize that change is ever present and that growth comes as we recognize this reality, adapt as necessary, and remain true to God’s mission of redemptive love in the world. There is, he believes, no better place to look for an example than the Book of Acts, which provides a lens to see how the dynamics of change and growth interrelate. In introducing planned change, we must recognize two orders of change – one requires no change of values and the other requires changes in core values – the latter is more difficult, for it leads from revision to recreation.

Although this book is relatively brief (182 pages of text), it is really quite dense. It wrestles with the church’s theology, sociological theory, and organizational theory, bringing both theology and the social sciences to bear on the Spirit’s work of ministry. It’s not an easy read, but it will prove helpful as the church of today seeks to discern what it is and what it is to be doing in the future. And what the church is called to be now and in the future is attending to its calling, which is “living into all that the Triune God intends the church to be in light of its creation by the Spirit. The church created by the Spirit is missionary by nature – it is called, gathered, and sent into the world to participate fully in God’s mission” (p. 182). Thus, we begin with the church as it is and discover that what it does and how it organizes what it does, is rooted in what it is.

Larry Norman Remembered

Back in my conservative Evangelical days -- I was into Christian music. Love Song, Barry McGuire, and of course Larry Norman, were all favorites of mine. Larry Norman was, back then, a bit of an iconoclast. His theology was very conservative and apocalyptic ("I Wish We'd All Been Ready" was one of his, but he liked to challenge the norms. He wore his blond hair long, talked direct and tough. I remember going to a concert in Portland during my college days. Unlike an Andrae Crouch concert, which was always enlivening and inspiring -- kind of like church -- Larry's message was hilarious and biting at the same time. He would tell a story and you wanted to laugh, but he seemed so serious you felt like you should hold back.

He was an early proponent of Christian Rock and Roll. I remember him telling us (this was around 1978) that the Christian bookstores would sell tickets to the concert but not sell his albums. One of his most famous songs said it well: "Why should the devil have all the good music." Most of us agreed. We were uncertain about whether we should listen to Neil Young and the Beatles, but we didn't want to listen to Bill Gaither either.

I've not listened to Larry Norman in recent years. I don't have any of his albums in my collection either. My theology is a long way from his. But I remember him and his music with fondness -- even if it could be off-putting at times.

Well, this week I learned that this pioneer of Christian Rock, has died. Born April 8, 1947, he died February 24, 2008. He would have been 61 this April. Despite the direction of my spiritual journey, Larry Norman helped move me along the way. May your memory be blessed.

The Frontiers of Marital Pluralism -- Sightings

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the global Anglican community (though unlike the Pope he doesn't have any coercive power -- just persuasion), has been in hot water lately on a number of counts. In fact, he seems to be finding every mine field out there to step in. Most recently the debate has been over British accommodation of Islamic law, especially in resolving family questions. John Witte, of Emory University, takes a look at this issue in the context of broader religious question of marital pluralism. As you'll see, he suggests that a way to resolve the question is recognize that there must be a basic legal foundation -- religious courts can add to but not take away. It's an interesting piece because it helps us wrestle with all manner of marital issues, including same-sex marriages. It also reminds us that our nation, like Britain, is composed of people whose religious backgrounds are other than Jewish or Christian.


Sightings 2/28/08

The Frontiers of Marital Pluralism

-- John Witte, Jr.

Anglican Archbishop Rowan Williams set off an international firestorm this month by suggesting that some accommodation of Muslim family law was "unavoidable" in England. His critics argued that England will be beset by "licensed polygamy," "barbaric procedures" and "brutal violence" against women and children, all administered by "legally ghettoized" Muslim courts immune from civil appeal or constitutional challenge. Consider Nigeria, Pakistan and other former English colonies that have sought to balance Muslim Sharia with the common law, other critics added. The horrific excesses of their religious courts — even calling the faithful to stone innocent rape victims for dishonoring their families — prove that religious laws and state laws on the family simply cannot coexist. Case closed.

This case won't stay closed for long, however. The archbishop was not calling for the establishment of independent Muslim courts in England, let alone the enforcement of Sharia law by state courts. He wanted his nation to have a full and frank debate about what it means to be married in a growing multicultural society. What forms of marriage should citizens be able to choose, and what forms of religious marriage law should government be required to respect? These are "unavoidable" questions for any modern society dedicated to protecting both the civil and religious liberties of all its citizens.

These are quickly becoming "unavoidable" questions for America, too, where we already have a lot more marital pluralism than a generation ago. Various legal options are now available, from Massachusetts, which offers traditional marriage and same-sex marriage, to Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona, where couples are offered either a simple contract marriage or a covenant marriage with more rigorous rules of entrance and exit. Still other options now draw in religious law, too. In more than twenty states, marriages arranged by Hindu, Muslim and Unification Church officials have been upheld, with divorce the only option left for parties who claim coercion or surprise. A number of religious couples now choose to arbitrate their marital and family disputes before religious courts and tribunals rather than litigate them in state courts. Courts generally uphold the judgments of Jewish and Christian tribunals in these cases. Muslims, Hindus and other religious minorities are now pressing for equal treatment.

To deny Muslims divorce arbitration while granting it to Jews and Christians is patently discriminatory. But the bigger question is whether state recognition of any religious marriage laws puts us on a slippery slope that ends with parallel state and religious legal systems of marriage, and no control over the latter if they become abusive. What if religious parties want freedom to "covenant" out of the state's marriage laws and into the marriage laws maintained by their own voluntary religious communities? Which religious laws deserve state deference: just those governing husband and wife, or those on parent and child, property and inheritance, education and maintenance? Which religious communities have religious laws that deserve state deference – Christians? Jews? Muslims? Mormons? Hindus? What about the twelve hundred other religions now in place in America, a few with very different marriage and family norms? These are the frontier questions of religion and marriage that will soon face American courts and legislatures. We don't have much constitutional guidance yet, and to simply invoke the principle of separation of church and state, return all marriage and family questions to the state, and roll back the concessions already made to religious laws and tribunals would have enormous implications for the complex laws of labor, charity, and education, where religions and states cooperate closely.

We have better guidance in the law of religion and education. A century ago, states wanted a monopoly on education in public schools. Churches and parents claimed a right to educate their children in religious schools. In the landmark case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the Supreme Court held for the churches and ordered states to maintain parallel public and private education options for their citizens. But later courts also made clear that states could set basic educational requirements for all schools. Religious schools could add to the state's minimum requirements, but they could not subtract from them. Religious schools that sought exemptions from these requirements found little sympathy from the courts, which instructed the schools either to meet the standards or lose their licenses to teach.

Marriage, like education, is not a state monopoly, but the state has long set the threshold requirements of what marriage is and who may participate. Religious officials may add to these state law requirements but not subtract from them. A minister, for example, may insist on premarital counseling before a wedding, even if the state will marry a couple without it. But if a minister bullies a minor to marry out of religious duty, the state could throw him in jail. If religious tribunals get more involved in marriage and family law, states will need to set threshold requirements. Among the most important rules to consider: No forms of marital union not recognized by the state. No violation of elementary freedoms of contract and conscience. No threats or violations of life and limb. No violation of basic rules of procedural fairness, and more. Religious tribunals may add to these requirements but not subtract from them. Those who fail to conform will lose their licenses and will find little sympathy when they raise religious liberty objections.

This type of arrangement worked well to resolve some of the nation's hardest questions of religion and education. And it led many religious schools to transform themselves from sectarian isolationists into cultural leaders. Such an arrangement holds comparable promise for questions of religion and marriage. It not only prevents the descent to "licensed polygamy," "barbaric procedures" and "brutal violence" that the archbishop's critics feared. It also encourages today's religious tribunals to reform themselves and the marital laws that they offer.

John Witte, Jr. is Director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University in Atlanta.
Editor's Note: A longer version of this essay is available on the website of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, at

The February issue of the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by M.Cooper Harriss of the University of Chicago, "The Preacher in the Text: Zora Neale Hurston and the Homiletics of Literature." Commentary from Kimberly Connor (University of San Francisco), Dolan Hubbard (Morgan State University), Carolyn Medine (University of Georgia), and Teresa Stricklen (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) will be available on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also post responses.
Access the discussion board at:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A campaign's demise

This is kind of an addendum to an earlier posting about the coming end to the primary season. Reading commentaries by Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich in the NY Times, the revelation is clear. The Clinton campaign was undone by two things -- a dour message and an incompetent campaign strategy.
Dowd notes that Clinton can't figure Obama out. He's an enigma to her and thus any of us who support him must be deluded -- bedazzled by the glitter.

She has been so discombobulated that she has ignored some truisms of politics that her husband understands well: Sunny beats gloomy. Consistency beats flipping. Bedazzling beats begrudging. Confidence beats whining.

Experience does not beat excitement, though, or Nixon would have been president the first time around, Poppy Bush would have had a second term and President Gore would have stopped the earth from melting by now.

What's so strange about this campaign is that Hillary consistently insults the electorate she hopes will put her into office. I find it funny that Obama's supporters are supposedly latte drinking intellectual elites and yet are so gullible that we'll drink kool-aide. I do drink lattes and have just a bit of an education, but I'm not drinking poison spiked kool-aide.
Rich points out that Clinton's campaign has a lot in common with the Bush led Iraq War. It has no strategy and collapsed when America didn't reach out and embrace her from day one. She thought that major combat was going to end on February 5th, but she was undone by an insurgency that is well planned and well run. The difference between the two campaigns is pretty simple. He was prepared for February 6th, she wasn't.
And so the question is: despite her considerable experience and talent, the manner in which she has run this campaign suggests that perhaps Obama is the better leader, the better executive. And as I said before, the fact is, the end is near. Hopefully she will recognize it and not keep believing her campaign gurus who seem oblivious to what is going on around her. She can't keep blaming the system -- if inexperienced and naive Obama can figure out the intricacies of the primary season, why can't she?

The End is Near

I don't mean to sound apocalyptic or anything. I'm not planning on quoting Hal Lindsey or Tim LaHaye, but politically the end of the primary season is here. On the GOP side Mike Huckabee has become increasingly irrelevant. He's not at a Mike Gravel point, but he's becoming an after thought -- someone for disgruntled social conservatives to register their complaint. But for all intents and purposes, John McCain has won the GOP nomination.

On the other side, Hillary seems willing to trudge along for at least another week. Last night's debate, from the clips I saw and the analysis I've read, show that Obama held his own, offered a dignified presence, and made no major gaff. There are suggestions that Hillary received more than her share of attention from the moderators. That may well be true. Whether or not the press has taken it easy on Obama, the reality is that now she's the one with something to prove. She's far behind in actual delegates (Superdelegates can change their minds) and hasn't won since February 5. The question at this point isn't whether Obama is fit to be President but why she's holding out. The question of whether he's fit to be President will be taken care of in the campaign with John McCain.

Yesterday offered us a different sign of hope. While I don't think McCain and Obama are pals, McCain's actions yesterday in rejecting the statements of a hate mongering Ohio Republican talk show host who had been called on to warm up the crowd suggests that his campaign won't swift-boat Obama. If the two sides can sit down and figure out how to have a dignified issues driven campaign, the fall campaign season could be a bit different from what we've seen in recent years.

My advice then to Hillary is this: bow out gracefully now, before you do damage to the party and the nation.

Another Debate -- No New Revelations

I either teach a Bible Study or have some other church related event on Tuesday evening, so once again I missed the debate between Barack and Hillary. That's okay -- I've already cast my vote (I voted in California's primary on February 5).

This was, however, the last debate before the March 4th primaries in Texas, Ohio, Vermont, and Rhode Island. Everyone, including Bill Clinton, concedes she must win Texas and Ohio or drop out. By most accounts she must win these by sizable amounts and then run the table. The likelihood of this is not high. She had to hope that tonight he would make a major blunder, but he didn't. Most polls suggest that Obama is now slightly ahead in Texas and is closing in quickly in Ohio. Now, as we know the polls have been fickle of late. But, if the momentum is as strong as it seems to be, it's quite likely that he will win at least one of these two states.

So, at the end of the night. They had their toe-to-toe. From what I read, no knock out punch was thrown. She made her points, he made his. Now, the voters will get their chance. And then, decisions will have to be made. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dodd Endorses Obama

You can see it now, the tide has turned and the momentum is surging. Today, on the day of the Ohio Debate, Chris Dodd, a former candidate for the Presidency, a senior Democratic leader, someone who can truly claim the mantle of experience, has stepped forward and endorsed Barack Obama. His voice and his reasoning is clear. Obama is ready to lead -- though initially Dodd says he was skeptical, he's decided that Obama's time is here. Dodd is the first of the candidates to endorse. My sense is that Biden will do so soon.

Dodd says what a lot of party leaders are thinking. It's time to end the campaign. Obama has taken a clear national lead among Democrats. He has a significant lead in pledged delegates (not including super-delegates). Hillary would have to run the table, which isn't likely unless Obama just flat out does something stupid -- like have an affair. Since that's not likely, the time is now to get ready to face John McCain. By continuing her attacks all that Hillary is doing is giving fodder for the McCain campaign.

As Robert Novak, no Democratic leader, asked: Who will tell her? I think Chris Dodd is the first to tell her. Biden will be next -- I expect.

Monday, February 25, 2008

America's Changing Religious Climate

Among Western nations, America remains the most religious of nations. But the makeup of America's religious presence appears to be changing. According to a new study, released today, by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, things are in flux.

According to this study, Protestantism as a whole is in decline. In the 1970s, Protestants made up around 2/3rds of the population. It's now down to 51%, with Evangelicals forming a slim majority. Roman Catholics make up 25% of the population -- holding steady over the decades only because of immigration. I found it interesting that about 10% of Americans are former Catholics. Unaffiliated is the fasted growing group, with 16% of Americans and 20% of men claiming this status. This is a growing trend.

We're likely to change our religious affiliations -- over 25% are part of a faith tradition other than the one of their birth (and that doesn't include inter-Protestant switching). Now, as for this statistic, I'm surprised it's not higher. Born an Episcopalian, I've been a Pentecostal, a Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Disciple. I've switched plenty of times. My wife has, interestingly, returned to the denomination of her birth, but from about 8th grade until we returned to the Disciples after we got married, she'd been part of a number of Protestant groups.

The question that all of this raises concerns the future of faith. As I begin negotiating with a new congregation, I'm of course interested in what the future holds for the church -- especially Mainline Protestantism. Evangelicalism has grown in popularity, but as Stephen Prothero notes in comments found in the NY Times article, it maybe the personal nature of evangelical piety that has proven so effective.

I hope to talk more about this later as I get more information.

On Rowan Williams -- Sightings

Anglican leader, Archbishop Rowan Williams, has been in a difficult situation for some time. He's caught in the middle of a broader Anglican dispute over women and gays and lesbians in the church. But more recently he's been caught in the middle of concerns at home about accommodation of Muslims. His suggestion that British law give some room for Sharia caused a major controversy and Williams seeking to find a way to embrace Britain's religious diversity is under attack from both secularist and traditionalist forces.

Martin Marty, of course, is as always a keen observer of these things. In brief compass, he helps us understand the situation. So, here is this week's Monday morning publication of Sightings.


Sightings 2/25/08

On Rowan Williams
-- Martin E. Marty

The Church of England today is a weak institution with a strong leader. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, though given few official powers, uses his office and voice in efforts to hold together the polarized eighty-million-member Anglican Communion. He is also a first-rate theologian and respected moral philosopher. So when he speaks, many pay attention. He spoke this month and many listened and reacted. As is well known, on February 7 he made a statement which some found outrageous, others merely provocative, still others realistic, and still still others a well-intended effort to reduce religious tensions in Britain. Was he "throwing in the towel" in the face of a growing and sometimes militant Islamic presence there, or reaching out as people in the biblical tradition should to "the stranger in their midst"?

Williams appraised the current inter-religious and legal situation in Britain and assessed that if there was to be social cohesion there, the nation must adopt some elements of Islamic sharia. What he evidently thought was a judicious proposal was very widely heard as injudicious. Just as Pope Benedict XVI roused furies when some seasons ago he quoted a figure from long-ago to the effect that the prophet Muhammad fostered conversion through violence, now Archbishop Williams fuels a different set of furies. Mention friendliness to minority Islam in majority secular Britain and you face a nation that is on edge, bewildered about how to live with its pluralism, and hostage to firebrands who use Williams-type comments and proposals to exploit the fears and befuddlement.

I decided to do my sighting this week in the British secular press, namely in the Economist, a London- and Washington-based weekly which naturally reflects British viewpoints. Editors of the February 16 issue were not as spooked out as many in Britain (and the U.S.) were about the prospects of sharia law having a say. Given the record of such law in many nations, there is reason to be spooked out. The Economist reflects secular Britain's nervousness about accommodations already made in England to policies that erode lines between "church" and "state", especially because privilege to the Church of England still exists. Why, the editors ask, show favor to one body? "Faced with this anomaly, the archbishop proposes to expand the privileges of all religions;" but, editors write, he should instead rethink the situation of his own faith. "Nor does it make sense in a largely secular country, to give special status to all faiths."

The editors then look our way: "Even in determinedly secular states like…the United States, the political authorities often find that they are obliged, in various ways, to cope with the social reality of religious belief." They cite exceptions to existing law made for the Amish or others in matters of family law, where quasi-courts of the faiths share rule. Next the editors notice Canada, which they cite as a place "where fear of Islam has made religious arbitration untenable." Here's an interesting closing note: The presence of Islam is changing habits, rules of the game, and perspective. "Defining the relationship between religion and the state was certainly easier when it could be assumed that religion's hold over people's lives and behavior was in long-term decline." Now with Islam on the rise and Christians more defensive, things are more tense. "On that point at least, Archbishop Williams was quite correct."

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

The February issue of the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by M.Cooper Harriss of the University of Chicago, "The Preacher in the Text: Zora Neale Hurston and the Homiletics of Literature." Commentary from Kimberly Connor (University of San Francisco), Dolan Hubbard (Morgan State University), Carolyn Medine (University of Georgia), and Teresa Stricklen (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) will be available on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also post responses.
Access the discussion board at:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Undermining America's Moral Fabric

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
February 24, 2008

How far should a nation go to protect its people? Where should we draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable measures of gaining information from suspects and sources? This isn't a hypothetical question. It's a question being debated at the highest levels of government, because we live in dangerous times.

When we discuss interrogation methods in this country, we don't like to use the word torture. Torture is something barbarous that others may engage in, but not us. On several occasions President Bush has declared that the United States doesn't condone torture, nor does it practice it. Instead, we use “enhanced methods of interrogation.” When put this way, U.S. practices don't sound as harsh and unseemly, and besides, the information gained from these interrogations is said to keep us safe. But is a practice such as waterboarding simply torture by another name?

It is waterboarding that has become the focus of the current debate. The White House recently admitted that the CIA has used this method of interrogation on three al-Qaida suspects, a method of interrogation that dates back to the Spanish Inquisition. In practice, waterboarding simulates drowning. It doesn't leave physical marks, but it is mentally and emotionally intense. The Geneva Conventions, of which we're a signatory, outlaw torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” Does water boarding fit this description?

Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who knows something about torture, has given strong support to our adherence to these conventions and has said: “Anyone who knows what waterboarding is could not be unsure. It is a horrible torture technique used by Pol Pot and being used on Buddhist monks as we speak. ... People who have worn the uniform and had the experience know that this is a terrible and odious practice and should never be condoned in the U.S. We are a better nation than that.”

The sad truth is that we have made use of this practice, and the current Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, is unwilling to rule it illegal or inappropriate, even though he admitted in Congressional testimony that he personally would experience it as torture.

Recently legislation passed the House and Senate that would require the CIA to adhere to the methods stipulated in the Army Field Manual and would prohibit actions such as waterboarding. The president, unfortunately, has threatened to veto this legislation.

Whatever the name given to the practices, torture is immoral. It's because torture is a moral issue that I joined more than 18,000 other religious leaders and signed the National Religious Campaign against Torture ( ). This is a statement of conscience declaring that “Torture is a moral issue.” It calls on the American people to oppose any use of torture, even in the protection of our national security:

“Torture violates the basic dignity of the human person that all religions, in their highest ideals, hold dear. It degrades everyone involved - policy-makers, perpetrators, and victims. It contradicts our nation's most cherished ideals. Any policies that permit torture and inhumane treatment are shocking and morally intolerable.”

In consideration of this statement, Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, the Archbishop Emeritus of Washington, DC, declares:

“There is a special dignity in every human being that comes from the fact that we are brothers and sisters in God's one human family. It is because of this that we all feel that torture is a dehumanizing and terrible attack against human nature and the respect we owe for each other.”

I realize these are dangerous times, but the ends don't justify the means. Ultimately, our willingness to condone barbaric acts in the name of security will not only undermine the nation's moral fabric, it will tarnish the nation's image before the world. This nation has long been a beacon of freedom and opportunity, but interrogation practices such as waterboarding only serve to damage that image.
If you are a person of faith, I pray that you will consider this question prayerfully and then join in the campaign against torture. Even if you're not a religious person, won't you join in opposition to practices that stand contrary to our national ethos and interests?
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.
February 24, 2008

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Discerning the Direction of God

Father, I am seeking: I am hesitant and uncertain, but will you, O God, watch over each step of mine and guide me. (St. Augustine)

We are home from our journey. We spent time with a great search committee in a city far from our Southern California home. We return with much on our hearts, knowing that they also must discern God's direction. In due time all must make their decisions -- and I have more than one decision to make. Do I stay where I am, knowing that I am loved and encouraged. Or, do I take a leap of faith and take up a new challenge. There is much to be said for both options.
These words from Augustine are helpful, for they speak of my own sense of things at this time and place. The reality is that God is at work in both places. The question is where God would have me (I should say us, for it involves Cheryl as well) be.
The important point to make at this point is that we seek to be the missio dei, the mission of God where we are placed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Living By Faith

I am a person of faith and hopefully I live my life by faith (though it isn't a blind faith that asks no questions). The most famous biblical passage dealing with faith is, of course, Hebrews 11, which offers a definition. "Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." If you have sufficient evidence, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that something is in fact true and incontrovertible, then obviously this isn't what's in mind here.
I'm a fairly rational person. I ask lots of questions, know that doubt is something I have to deal with, and accept the reality of the gray areas of life. In fact, it is the gray areas of life that require faith. The world of fact is black and white, but life is full of gray. Moving forward in the midst of the gray, of course, requires faith.
When it comes to matters of faith, I rarely have doubts about the existence of God. I do, however, have questions about how we are to understand the nature and character of God -- for instance.
But faith impacts us most clearly in how we lead our lives and make decisions. I will soon be faced with making a decision about where to live and where to work. That decision will likely involve much faith on my part. If faith is ultimately a matter of trust, then I will need a lot of it. I'm in a city far from home, in an area I've never been before, looking at a church that has great potential, it's share of red flags, and tremendous opportunities for ministry. To come here, if they should pursue me and I decide to pursue them further will require that I take a tremendous leap of faith. I may not make this choice. I may choose to stay closer to home, remain with the church I know and love, believing that while safer, it offers it's own opportunities. In the end, no matter the choice, I will have to act in faith.
I think this is the "evidence" of God's presence, that one can have peace in the midst of critical life decisions. I'll let you know how things work out! In the mean time, I continue to live by faith.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What Does the Headscarf "Mean" Anyway -- Sightings

The relationship between church and state differs from place to place, culture to culture. In America, in spite of the often contentious debates, religion and the state live in general harmony. There are other places, let's say Saudi Arabia or Iran, where religion is the determining factor in "church-state" relationships. Europe, which has become increasingly secularized, often goes the other way from the American ability to peacefully coexist. Overt public displays of religion are often discouraged and sometimes even outlawed. In Turkey, which has taken the French model for itself, has sought to discourage, even outlaw some important expressions of Muslim culture -- including the woman's headscarf. That is being challenged, but as University of Chicago Grad student Jeremy Walton points out in this Thursday edition of Sightings, the question is not just about whether this is right or wrong, but what the headscarf means in this discussion. I think you'll find this brief essay illuminating.



What Does the Headscarf "Mean" Anyway?
-- Jeremy Walton

Early this February, the Turkish Parliament voted to approve emendations to the Turkish Constitution aimed at legalizing the wearing of the headscarf by devout Muslim women in public space, and, in particular, on university campuses. This vote comes as no surprise to any casual follower of the vicissitudes of Turkish politics; the governing Justice and Development Party and its predecessors have long touted legalization of the headscarf in universities as a prominent plank of their political platform, and the election of Abdullah Gül to the presidency last August created, for the first time, the grounds for a consensus on the matter between Parliament and the executive branch. Indeed, the political tribulations surrounding Gül's election—massive 'pro-secular' protests, a boycott by members of the secularist Republican People's Party, a successful challenge of the initial election in the constitutional court, rumblings of a possible coup from the staunchly secular military, and, finally, a second election—focused on the fact that Gül's wife dons the headscarf. From the perspective of Turkey's secular establishment, a veiled first lady is a flagrant violation of the aesthetic taboos of Kemalism. In as much as Gül's election was widely interpreted as a referendum on the "headscarf issue", the constitutional changes were expected by proponents and opponents alike.

As a result of the ideological din and political polarization over the issue, a great deal of perspective has been lost. A broader consideration of the genealogy of the controversy would include the roots of Turkey's stringent secularism in Mustafa Kemal Atatürk's reforms of the 1920s; the turbulent clashes between the Turkish Left and Right during the seventies, which prepared the ground for the revival of political Islam during the eighties; and more recent crises surrounding the headscarf itself, such as the expulsion of a former Parliamentarian after she entered Parliament with covered head in May 1999. While such a thorough examination is beyond my scope here, even a cursory review of the public debate of the past few weeks and months provides insights into the manner in which religion comes to be defined within the purview of political secularism in Turkey. Briefly put, arguments both against and in favor of the freedom to wear the headscarf have attempted to define the "meaning" of religious practices in relation to institutions and privileges of citizenship. In other words, political debate in Turkey has elevated the symbolic status of the headscarf over its pragmatic importance as a means to piety on the part of Muslim women.

For supporters of the ban—the army, as well as journalists and politicians from the secular establishment—the headscarf is only "meaningful" as a symbol of the (political) oppression of women by a patriarchy rooted in religious traditions. Perhaps unsurprisingly, opponents of the headscarf in Turkey are uninterested in its traditional and ritualistic qualities. More interesting, however, is the fact that critics of the ban have been equally interested in its political meaning. The keywords for the progressive Muslims and liberals who have rallied against the ban are "freedom" and "equality"; they have articulated the headscarf as a symbol of the freedom of choice that must be guaranteed to all citizens of the secular Republic, including devout Muslim women. Indeed, the suggested change to the Constitution reads: "No one should be denied their right to higher education due to their appearance or clothing." Any mention of religion per se is absent from the proposal.

During my research among both Islamic and secularist foundations in Istanbul and Ankara—conducted from 2005 to 2007—I spoke to many women who wore headscarves of one type or another (indeed, the political contention that all headscarves are created equal is deeply problematic). While most were unanimous in their condemnation of the ban, this condemnation was almost always followed by a crucial elaboration: As one friend remarked, "The freedom to choose the headscarf is important, of course, but, for us, the headscarf itself isn't what ultimately counts. We are trying to be better Muslims, and the headscarf helps us to do this. That is the important thing."

The political uptake of the headscarf issue has articulated fundamental questions of the relationship among religion, liberal citizenship, and governance in Turkey. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that the political articulation of religious questions exhausts the "meaning" of religious practices themselves. In the case of the headscarf, a veiled university student may be seen to have made a "choice" in her garb, but, from her perspective, this "choice" may be more of an obligation and a means to piety than a political statement. It is this "important thing" itself that has been veiled in the vituperative political debate over the headscarf.

Jeremy Walton is a PhD candidate in Anthropology at the University of Chicago.


The February issue of the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by M.Cooper Harriss of the University of Chicago, "The Preacher in the Text: Zora Neale Hurston and the Homiletics of Literature." Commentary from Kimberly Connor (University of San Francisco), Dolan Hubbard (Morgan State University), Carolyn Medine (University of Georgia), and Teresa Stricklen (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) will be available on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also post responses.

Access this month's forum at: .

Access the discussion board at:


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

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ten In A Row!

I had to wait until this morning to see what happened in Hawaii. There was some thought that Hillary might ultimately do well there -- having gained the support of a couple of big unions and Sen. Daniel Inoye. But Obama's victory was huge -- 76-24%. That's on top of the 58-41 drubbing he gave her in Wisconsin, a primary in which the polls going in suggested that she'd pulled even. Didn't happen.
That John McCain is setting his sights on Obama (and getting nasty) suggests that he knows who is opponent will be. I don't expect Hillary to quit before March 4, but if Obama wins one or both of these two big states and she doesn't win in landslide fashion, then she will have to step aside. If she doesn't I expect that her Superdelegates will start to pull back, switch sides, and her financial backing will dry up. Unless she'd rather have John McCain be President, she needs to put aside her ego and consider what's best for the party and the nation. In other words, don't be like that former governor from Arkansas (not your husband) and hang on too long.
As for McCain, who tries to take up Hillary's failed litany about empty rhetoric, Obama has a nice response: McCain is a genuine hero, but unfortunately he has tied himself to the failed policies of the Bush administration. That will be his undoing -- his support for George Bush on the war, on economics, and now on torture.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A HUGE WIN in Wisconsin

There was talk that Hillary might sneak in and win this thing. Indeed, there were those who said that Obama might have crested and will start to slow down. A close race was assumed. The answer my friend, that's blowing in the wind, is this. At this point with 85% of the votes in. Obama leads 58% to 41%. Barack Obama has won a major victory in Wisconsin, a state Hillary originally thought about passing by and then went after. It's also telling that John McCain is lighting into Obama, using much of the same "failed" rhetoric of all style and no substance, of false promises, and such -- all of which hasn't gotten Hillary anywhere. I was hoping a McCain-Obama race would be civil, but at least at this point that doesn't seem likely. Which, is too bad!

In a season of transition, where America seeks change, 2008 is increasingly looking as if we will have a major choice to make. As Donna Brazile noted last week, the choice is between "Fear, Fear, Fear" and "Hope, Hope, Hope." Which one will you choose? As the parent of a soon to be 18 year old, whose going off to college, I'm putting my money on hope!

The race isn't over on the Democratic side, but barring major missteps, it would seem difficult for Hillary to catch up. I expect that she will become increasingly negative, at least in the near term, but I don't think it will get her anywhere. The next test is March 4th, when Texas and Ohio are in play. Obama is, it appears, already drawing close in Texas. Time will tell, and maybe soon.

Fidel and the Future of Cuba

I turn 50 this year. So does the Cuban Revolution. Dwight D. Eisenhower was President when I was born -- to be followed by JFK, LBJ, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush 1, Clinton, Bush 2. That's ten presidents.

For 50 years Castro has been persona non grata. We've made peace with Russian, China, and even talk on occasion with North Korea and Iran. But, as for that little Island off the coast of Florida, we've had little connection. Alone among the world's powers, we have kept our distance from Cuba -- largely as a result of the political clout of the Cuban emigre community in Florida.

US Law prevents any meaningful contact as long as Fidel (or his brother Raul) are in power. Today, Fidel resigned from the Cuban Presidency. His younger brother is likely to be named President in his stead and the transition will begin.

You would think that after 50 years of a failed policy we would be interested in a course change. But for some reason we live in fear of what would happen if we would engage Cuba. My sense is that engagement with Cuba would lead to reform and renewal. Isolation has done nothing but damage our image in the world and create hardship for the Cuban people.

My sense is that Barack Obama is the most likely candidate to reengage. His principle is that we should sit down even with those we don't like. Don't negotiate out of fear, but don't fear to negotiate -- he likes to quote JFK. Too bad JFK didn't do this in 1961 rather than adopt a CIA hatched plot doomed to failure. Remember the Bay of Pigs?

Now, I'm no communist and I'm no apologist for Fidel, but enough is enough. Indeed, America is bigger than this! I see a new day is dawning in Cuba, let's join them in building it. Let's put away fear and live in hope!

On Wisconsin (and Hawaii too)

It's election day again, and we await the returns with baited breath. A win by Obama today in Wisconsin keeps that old momentum ball rolling. A win by Clinton puts up a road block of sorts. In terms of delegates its likely not to matter much. With proportional distribution, whoever wins will pick up a few more than the other. Its more symbolic than anything.
I'm finding Hillary's campaign efforts more and more desparate. The accusations that he's ducking debates -- he's got 2 scheduled with her -- is ludicrous. They've debated already -- a debate is simply free advertising for a good debater. Then this thing about plagiarism. Now that's really specious. Borrowing lines from a friend isn't plagiarism. And if he's plagiarizing Deval Patrick, then as Obama points out, what about her use of "fired up, ready to go." Some how I think Obama has being using that for some time. If that's as good as it gets, then Hillary needs to go home.
Then there's this "solution" express. Hillary has solutions to all the world's problems. I may be alone in this type of thinking -- but too often politicians campaign on ready made solutions to problems that either they don't have sufficient information about or that won't be issues a year from now. I'm more interested in knowing how a candidate will bring people to the table to find solutions.
To give you a personal example of what I mean. I'm currently looking at churches for a possible move. Now I can give committees a 10 point plan of action as to how I'll solve their problems, but until I'm in place, seeing what's happening, know what recources are available, my one-size fits all plans are pretty useless. The same is true of the candidate promises. What I appreciate about Obama isn't his "plans" but his willingness to seek out advisors from various perspectives and his more bottom up rather than top down process. The key to a successful Obama presidency won't be all the plans he's drawn up now to be implemented later, but the quality of staff and cabinet he puts together. If, as I believe, he will bring in the best people possible to staff key positions, good things can happen.
So, today we wait for Wisconsin and Hawaii to offer their votes. But as we do, let's let go of all these specious arguments about substance versus style.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Growth, Violence, and the Coming Religious Peace -- Sightings

I envy Martin Marty. He has such a command of what's being written and said about religon in the world today that is incomprehensible. I think of myself as being aware of much of what's going on, but he is amazing. Anyway, this morning he points us to three articles in the March issue of the Atlantic that deal with the role of religion in the world today. Contributors include Walter Russell Mead, author of the book God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World, who looks at the moderating influences on evangelicalism; Elizabeth Griswold, daughter of former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who looks at the religious fight going on in Nigeria between Christian and Muslim; and finally a piece by Alan Wolfe that offers a look at a way out of the religious dilemma of the age, a solution that will require a dose of secularism and compromise.
It looks to be an excellent issue -- here's a preview.


Sightings 2/18/08

Growth, Violence,
and the Coming Religious Peace
-- Martin E. Marty

Decades ago an Atlantic editor suggested an idea for an article which I somehow failed to produce. I recall him saying that the magazine rarely covered religion, but when it did, as it had in a recent feature article, it quickened an enormous response. Today, Atlantic editors, along with so many others, recognize the ever-growing power of religion in the world and treat it in depth, as in the commendable March issue.

The cover banners the three major stories. First is Walter Russell Mead's: In sum, "America's evangelicals are growing more moderate—and more powerful." His observations and thesis run counter to favored opinion of not long ago, pioneered by Dean Kelley in 1972 in Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, which contended that in order to grow and grow powerful, churches had to be strict, hardline, demanding, and counter-cultural. Mead notes that today, Adam Smith-ian enterprising competition to 'get butts in the pews" has turned this around. Yes, there are still some latter-day Fundamentalists, but the winners are churches that offer most, are most at home in pop culture, and are "flexible, user-friendly, and market-driven." They are moderating, and thus growing more powerful.

Contrast this with the major and tragic story, "God's Country" (Nigeria) by Eliza Griswold. "Using militias and marketing strategies, Christianity and Islam are competing for believers by promising Nigerians prosperity in this world as well as salvation in the next." There are mass conversions, defects, animosities, and massacres in this dire competition between the Muslims of the North and the Christians of the South. Rene Girard's thesis about "the mimetic principle" is in effect: The two sides imitate each other and escalate in both marketing efforts and militial action. The well-document killings by Muslims are truly abhorrent; Christian belligerency, reactive or initiatory, is apocalyptically fierce. Griswold tells, for example, how the Christian Association of Nigeria "militia" attacked a Muslim town, killing 660 Muslims, burning twelve mosques and three hundred homes.

Griswold's father had been primate of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A at the time of the massacre, and a colleague of Archbishop Peter Akinola, who was then the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria. Akinola is now the head of the eighteen-million-member Anglican Church in Nigeria, and the spiritual and ecclesiastical host to many dissident American Anglicans who have accepted him as their bishop. To put it politely, Akinola, stiffing Griswold, launched into an attack linking Islam and liberal Protestantism while defending what Americans call "the prosperity gospel." "I've said before: let no Muslim think they have the monopoly on violence." Both sides in the Muslim-Christian conflict cite their Scriptures; one pastor legitimated rape by Christians on the basis of Matthew 24:19: "But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days."

Those who think Atlantic is interested in religion only when there is conflict in its name can find a match for Mead's piece in a third article by Alan Wolfe, a regular commentator on religious trends in the U.S. He writes on "the coming religious peace" in an article called "And the Winner Is…" The price of peace, says Professor Wolfe, is an American version of "secularism," which pervades market- and success-minded churches. I think his definition is a bit too neat and he is too sure about its victory, but he has a strong point overall. Given the cost in lives—on both sides—of Nigerian religious self-assurance, the American compromise looks attractive. Archbishop Akinola would call that confession a sell-out, typically "satanic," and would cite biblical texts to back himself up.

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

The February issue of the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by M.Cooper Harriss of the University of Chicago, "The Preacher in the Text: Zora Neale Hurston and the Homiletics of Literature." Commentary from Kimberly Connor (University of San Francisco), Dolan Hubbard (Morgan State University), Carolyn Medine (University of Georgia), and Teresa Stricklen (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) will be available on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also post responses.
Access the discussion board at:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Our Presidents and their Legacies

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
February 17, 2008

Mount Rushmore enshrines the visages of four presidents, each of whom left their mark on the American experience. Two of those so honored were born in the month of February, a fact that has given birth to our celebration of President's Day this weekend.

Looking back through history America has been led by a series of presidents. Some, like Lincoln and Washington, Jefferson and Roosevelt, left a legacy of service and wisdom. Others, of course, have been disasters, though I'm sure we'd have a vigorous debate as to who belongs on this latter list. History is, ultimately, the judge of one's legacy. Some, who were judged great in their own day, haven't been treated quite so well as time has wore on. Others, considered failures in their own day, are enshrined as great leaders. I think Lincoln fits this latter category quite well. Others, either because of illness or the assassin's bullet, didn't live long enough to leave a legacy. The greatest of our presidents have left a lasting legacy that has been passed on from one generation to the next. These legacies inform our lives and guide us into the future.
Consider these four persons at Mount Rushmore and their legacies. George Washington is first and foremost the father of the nation. He set the precedent for the future of the country. He could have, if he had chosen, become king, or at minimum served as president for life. But he chose a different course.
As a young man, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, stipulating that we're each endowed by the Creator with equality. Later he would help define the relationship of church and state. And what of Abraham Lincoln - he who governed during one of our nation's darkest hours? His legacy is two-fold: the saving of the union that is the United States and the final demise of the horrible tyranny that is slavery. In many ways, he was the right person for the times, a man who seemed to understand the gravity of the situation.
And what of Teddy Roosevelt? TR is an intriguing character in American history. His vision of America's role in the world was broad and his vision of the homeland was progressive. At a time when global warming is an issue of great importance, it's fitting to remember TR's environmental credentials, best seen in his commitment to preserving the greatest of our national treasures through the expansion of America's National Park system.
At this very moment we watch the waning moments of a presidency and wonder about its legacy. History will write the final judgment as to whether this legacy has been positive or negative. Whatever that legacy might be, we have now turned our attention to what will come next.
After months of party battles, the contests have essentially come down to the final four. There's an interesting mix here, some offering historic possibilities, but as for their legacy, all that lies before us is potential. On one side of the battle lines is a former POW and war hero, while another is a socially conservative preacher turned governor. On the other side of the ledger is an African-American, the son of a Kenyan and a white woman from Kansas; the other candidate is a woman, an esteemed senator and the spouse of a former president.
This epic clash of political voices has grasped a hold of the nation like few others in recent memory. There is great excitement in the electorate, and record numbers, especially young people, have gone to the polls. Rather than opting out, they're opting in.

Some of this excitement is due to the historic possibilities of the first woman or the first person of color being president. Even if that doesn't happen, we have reached a point of no return. The time is here, whether in this election or not, that the nation has begun to embrace its full diversity.
In the coming months we will choose our next leader from among these people. Depending on whom we choose (and yes we do the choosing), we will write the future of the nation's history. Whoever becomes president will bequeath to the nation a legacy - either positive or negative. If you're a person of prayer, won't you join me in offering a prayer for the future course of the nation?
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.
February 17, 2008

Friday, February 15, 2008

Anti-Torture Bill Passes the Senate

The Senate voted today to support an anti-torture measure that would bring the CIA into line with the Army's Field Manual -- prohibiting such tactics, including water boarding. This is the press release from the National Religious Campaign against Torture:

February 13, 2008
For more information contact: Linda Gustitus (202-557-8867)

NRCAT Praises Senate Vote to Stop CIA "Enhanced Interrogation" Program(Washington, D.C.)
Statement of National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) President Linda Gustitus on Senate vote on Intelligence Authorization Conference Report:

"Congress has spoken with a majority voice against the CIA's use of 'enhanced interrogation techniques' as authorized by the President. These techniques have included torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Our country and the world are breathing a sigh of relief. Now it is up to the President to sign this bill and make the CIA comply with the Army Field Manual while conducting interrogations. If he does so, then we will finally be able to turn the page on this shameful period of history."

National Religious Campaign Against Torture 316 F Street NE, Suite 200Washington, DC 20002

Both California senators voted for the amendment. Unfortunately John McCain, apparently needing to consolidate conservative votes, voted against the bill -- which is a surprise since he has stood strongly against the Bush position on torture. Obama and Clinton both away campaigning didn't vote. I would expect them to return to Washington to overturn a Bush veto.

How the Establishment Candidate Got Outflanked

Unless you live in Boston, you may still remember the Super Bowl. On Super Sunday, just a few weeks back, just days before Super Tuesday, the proud and to that point unbeaten New England Patriots, met the lowly wild card Giants on the field of battle. One team was led by the time tested and beloved quarterback, the other by a superstars younger brother, a QB who had yet to establish himself with any consistency. But on that day, it was the underdog who went away the victor.
Last Fall, Hillary Rodham Clinton, wife of the former President, put together a team of established Democratic vets, culled numerous super-delegates, and laid out her plans for the future. Only one problem, there was this young "untested" upstart who turned everything upside down.
But, as E.J. Dionne notes, there have been chinks in the armor from the beginning. Clinton has detailed policiy plans, but no central message. Indeed, as Dionne notes, she keeps changing her slogans, while he has stayed with a broad basic theme:

Clinton has offered experience and some well-thought-out policies. That might be enough in a different year. But when it comes to a larger theme, her campaign has been all over the lot.

You can tell a campaign has difficulty establishing a message when its slogans keep changing. In recent weeks, the Clinton campaign has featured one banner after another: "Big Challenges, Real Solutions," "Working for Change, Working for You," "Ready for Change, Ready to Lead" and "Solutions for America."

Obama has stuck confidently with the slogan "Change We Can Believe In." Clinton must either get voters to stop believing in the change Obama promises, or make them an alternative Big Offer that they can believe in more.

But its not just a theme, it's a way of campaigning as well. Dionne points out that Clinton campaigns have always been top down affairs. But Obama, with his community organizing experience has excelled in the grass roots movement -- as seen both in his online giving receipts and his huge wins in the caucuses -- wins that have allowed him to take a sizable lead in the "pledged delegates as opposed to the less fixed Supers.
Will he win in the end, we don't know. But he seems to have a strong game plan. If things continue as they have, then his methods might just work.

I've been Simpsonized

Is this me? I've Simpsonized myself!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Indiana Jones Returns

Okay, this doesn't have much to do with anything religious or political or even Valentines Day, but hey, I loved the first three Indiana Jones movies and expect to love the next one. Indy maybe older, but so am I. Besides, when it comes to action you can't beat him!

Here's the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Crystal Skull. It's due out May 22nd!

An Ode to My Valentine!

It is Valentine's Day today.
And I'm no poet.
There will be no flights of poetic whimsy
to be found in these words of mine.
That may well be,
But in this heart there is great love
for the one who is my wife, my companion and my lover.
To my Cheryl, with all of my love.

Thugs and Religion in Myanmar -- Sightings

Not too long ago we watched and read accounts of an uprising in Myanmar or Burma. It was led by monks, who are revered in this heavily Buddhist nation. The military responded by cracking down on the monks and little has been heard since. Burma has, in a sense gone back into a closed system.
In today's edition of Sightings, Professor Jason Carbine of Whittier College gives us a bit of insight into the dynamics at work in a Buddhist society such as this. He explores with us the traditional interplay of state and Buddhism, and the possibilities of change in this country.


Sightings 2/14/08

Thugs and Religion in Myanmar
-- Jason A. Carbine

Four months ago, Myanmar was all over the headlines. For the first time since 1988, monks and lay people had staged major protests in the streets. The self-professed Buddhist military had beaten, shot, and killed Buddhist monks. After forty-five long years, the country again seemed poised on the brink of major political change. But where do things stand now? A military clampdown, phone lines cut, internet access reined in, the opposition terrorized into partial submission, a reassertion of military support for Buddhism, and not even page six in the newspapers. It was once suggested to me that much Buddhist history can be understood in terms of the relations between thugs (i.e. despotic rulers) and legitimators (i.e. monks). This dynamic certainly is at play in the Burmese situation: The Sasana, or the teaching of the Buddha, is deeply embedded in paradoxical ways in the current crisis of power that grips Myanmar, and a consideration of the Sasana illuminates the complexity of religion's role in Burmese society.

Traditional Sasana texts and rituals affirm the existence of a multi-tiered cosmos in which countless sentient beings are born, die, and are reborn. In this cosmos, Buddhists are supposed to undertake practices that are meant to help them move through the cycle of rebirth in positive ways. These same practices are also believed to help maintain the Sasana itself, without which people will lose the knowledge of how to escape rebirth. The junta adheres to a model of kingship from ancient India, whereby the lay government should play a significant role in sustaining activities that promote the persistence of the Sasana. The positive effects of the military's emphasis on the "affairs of the Sasana" include publication of Buddhist texts, renovation of numerous temples, funding for lay and monastic meditation centers, and large-scale Buddhist ceremonies.

Nevertheless, the military's excessive violence and repression, coupled with its effort to cloak that violence and repression under the guise of an ideal Buddhist political order, cross the threshold of acceptable behavior for a government performing its proper Sasana role. The massive amounts of money the military has poured into supporting the Sasana cannot undo the negative impact of its own violence. Moreover, by giving so much material support to the Sasana while pursuing so much violence against its monastic representatives, the military has contributed to the strengthening of a powerful enemy: the monkhood itself, motivated by compassion for the suffering of the Burmese people and by the perception that its way of life is under severe attack.

That being said, even if a large number of monks oppose military rule, monks themselves are aligned in a crucial way with the military, in that they serve as key transmitters of the very religious worldview that stands at the heart of the military's ideological effort to sustain its power. However much monks contest the current Burmese military junta, monastic transmissions of the Sasana provide a ready-made, latent system of legitimation for any government that sponsors monastic groups and the Sasana they transmit. To put the point as strongly as possible, monastic transmissions of the Sasana have been conducive to sustaining military rule in Myanmar, and hence to the violence the military perpetuates, precisely because those transmissions laud and often depend upon lay governments (even repressive juntas) that support them as representatives of the Sasana.

Even while they are very much divided over the use of threat, coercion, and repression, monks and members of the military are actually aligned on the general importance of the Sasana. This intermingling of disagreement and agreement seems to be sowing the seeds for that which the junta fears most: profound socio-political change. Is positive political change possible in a cultural setting where religion plays the kind of paradoxical role portrayed here – simultaneously as a basis for alliance between monks and the military, as a basis for monastic and other criticisms of the military, and as a basis of latent legitimation of the military? As the public protests demonstrate, dissident monks and their lay supporters willfully and openly rejected not only the military junta's claim that it is a good sponsor of the Sasana but also the latent legitimating roles of monastic transmissions of the Sasana. If these efforts can be sustained, even with continued repression by the military, and if they can help encourage massive defections from the armed forces, they may finally open the door to the change so many have sought.

Jason A. Carbine earned a Ph.D. from the Divinity School in 2004 and is Assistant Professor of Religion at Whittier College.

The February issue of the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by M.Cooper Harriss of the University of Chicago, "The Preacher in the Text: Zora Neale Hurston and the Homiletics of Literature." Commentary from Kimberly Connor (University of San Francisco), Dolan Hubbard (Morgan State University), Carolyn Medine (University of Georgia), and Teresa Stricklen (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary) will be available on the forum's discussion board, where readers may also post responses.
Access the discussion board at:
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Woman President?

There are those who believe America isn't ready for a woman president. Don't count me among them. If a woman was running, whom I believed was the best qualified person to serve in that capacity I'd vote for her in a heart beat. As a historian, I know that there is a long history of women serving effectively as national leaders. I just watched Elizabeth: The Golden Age. Elizabeth I of England was one of England's greatest monarchs. Catherine the Great of Russia was one of her country's great leaders. I may not be a big fan of Margaret Thatcher, but she was a strong an effective leader. Golda Meier and Indira Gandhi can be added to that number. Benazir Bhutto might not have been the most effective leader, but she was elected Prime Minister of a Muslim country, and women have led several other Muslim countries. So, there is plenty of precedent for a woman leader.
So the question we're facing now isn't whether America is ready for a woman President, but whether Hillary Clinton is that person. I think that she has many very strong qualities, but she has serious weaknesses as well. Some of the criticism is disgusting and distasteful -- and anti-woman.
But there are other issues that stand before us, including issues of judgment.
And, as Maureen Dowd writes today, part of her problem is the fact that she is wrapped up in her husband's career. If his presidency was a two-fer, so will hers. They are one and the same thing. Although Bill Clinton had remarkable qualities, he his massive problems as well.
Dowd writes of Hillary:

As a possible first Madame President, Hillary is a flawed science experiment because you can’t take Bill out of the equation. Her story is wrapped up in her marriage, and her marriage is wrapped up in a series of unappetizing compromises, arrangements and dependencies.

Instead of carving out a separate identity for herself, she has become more entwined with Bill. She is running bolstered by his record and his muscle. She touts her experience as first lady, even though her judgment during those years on issue after issue was poor. She says she’s learned from her mistakes, but that’s not a compelling pitch.

And she concludes her comments on the impact of Hillary's candidacy for women.

If Hillary fails, it will be her failure, not ours.

I think that is true. There are some strong women leaders emerging -- Kathleen Sebelius and Janet Napolitono to name just two. Both have been successful governors of Red States. Both could be on the short list of Obama VP candidates. So, this isn't about women, it's about Hillary.