Thursday, January 31, 2008

Debating Thoughts

I must confess I didn't catch the Debate. I expect that this will be true of most Californians. I was out doing hospital visitations and eating dinner. Most Californians were probably on the road heading home for work. I guess I could watch a replay, but the big season opening episode of Lost is on tonight.

I've caught up with a couple of accountings of the debate. I enjoy the headlines. Yahoo says "Obama, Clinton trade Barbs." The NY Times puts it differently: One on One, Democrats Set Aim at G.O.P. Then there's the LA Times: Clinton Seeks to Upstage Obama in Hollywood Debate. CNN's Headline: "Clinton, Obama Debate with Less Fingerpointing."

So, from my headline spotting, it seems that this was a generally congenial debate, though it got "testy" at times. It doesn't seem like anyone made any big gaffs. So, we move on. I still think that by the end of Tuesday things will likely end in a draw. So, this thing is far from over.

More Obama Endorsements

In a week that gave us endorsements by Caroline and Ted Kennedy and Toni Morrison, now comes word of some more interesting ones.
  • First there's the vote of confidence from a respected econimist -- former Fed chair, Paul Volker. Volker notes that he's been reluctant to venture into political waters, though he's a Democrat (having been appointed by Jimmy Carter in 1979 and serving until turning things over to Alan Greenspan in 1987).

He concluded: “It is only Barack Obama, in his person, in his ideas, in his ability to understand and to articulate both our needs and our hopes that provide the potential for strong and fresh leadership. That leadership must begin here in America but it can also restore needed confidence in our vision, our strength, and our purposes right around the world.”

  • The question in the air concerns the opinions of Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House. Although she maybe reluctant to speak openly, because of her unique position as Speaker, one could discern her thinking from endorsements given by members of her inner circle. And those endorsements are going to Obama. Among those in this circle endorsing Obama including Pelosi's closest friend and ally in Congress -- Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) -- who added her endorsement to that of other California allies -- Rep. George Miller and Rep. Xavier Becerra. Here is what Eshoo had to say:

“Barack Obama inspires me. He gives me hope,” Eshoo said in a statement. “He appeals to the best in us, and in doing so he restores the sense of idealism that brought me to public service. He challenges us to dream bigger and reach farther.”

Obama is bringing in the money and closing in on Hillary in California. There is still time to reel this thing in.

Anti-Semitism, Old and New -- Sightings

Anti-Semitism has been a problem of long-standing in the Western World. It has led to pogroms and the Holocaust. It spurs stereotypes, discrimination, and violence. Sometimes it becomes deeply engrained in our societies, perhaps to the point that we don't even see it. In recent years there has been another issue that has difficulty -- the issue of Israel. Thus, we have, we're told, the old anti-Semitism, which is racially, culturally, religiously based, and a new anti-Smeitism, which is more an anti-Israeli position.
Sarah Imhoff, suggests that the debate over the definitions has led to an ignoring of the ongoing persistence of the "old" Anti-Semitism, seen in the ADL poll that found that about 15% of Americans can be defined as distinctly anti-Semitic.
As one who has strong friendships within the Jewish community and worked for the ADL, I stand with my friends. I'm a bit more ambivalent about Israel, but whatever our view of Isrrael, we need to hear this reminder that anti-Semitism isn't dead.


Sightings 1/31/08

American Anti-Semitism, New and Old--
Sarah Imhoff

The idea of a "new anti-Semitism" has ignited scholarly controversy in the United States for almost a decade now; many sources, a Nation article among them, call it a myth, while one book's subtitle calls it "The Current Crisis." If the original kind of anti-Semitism was a brand of racism that discriminated against Jews as individual people, the "new" anti-Semitism is characterized mainly by anti-Zionism and prejudice against Jews as a collective people. In a gross oversimplification, some explain that the target of the "old" anti-Semitism was the individual Jew, while the target of the new anti-Semitism is Israel. But while much of the American Jewish scholarly community is discussing whether and when anti-Israel discourse is anti-Semitic, and whether or not this anti-Semitism is "new," much of what everyone recognizes as anti-Semitism—without any qualifying age-adjectives—continues to occur unabated in the US.
Several recent and public anti-Semitic episodes demonstrate this strong continuation of the characteristics and motivations of the original sense of the word "anti-Semitism." For instance, anti-Semites continue to base their hatred on race and lineage and to use symbols, such as the swastika, to call attention to the Jew as a member of a biological group, and not a supporter of Israel. In November a clinical psychology professor at Columbia University's Teachers College discovered a large swastika spray-painted on her office door. Two times in the weeks before, she had received anti-Semitic flyers in her mailbox. Just before that, on October 10, a black professor at the college found a noose by her door. Almost all of the news coverage that mentioned the swastika also mentioned the noose, creating a parallel. Although Americans rarely characterize anti-Semitism as a species of racism, these events at Columbia and their subsequent news coverage indicate a distinctive racial component. Indeed, the swastika itself is a sign of racial categories. Hitler wanted to exterminate those with Jewish blood; he found cultural and religious categories irrelevant. The very fact that the symbol of the swastika still holds so much cultural power suggests that those race- or lineage-based categories still have powerful sway over our thinking.
Likewise, other contemporary events hardly fall into the category of a "new anti-Semitism" when they recapitulate the millennia-old trope of blaming Jews for the death of Jesus. In December ten young adults assaulted three New York subway riders because of their "Happy Hanukkah" exclamations. First the attackers hurled anti-Semitic slurs, and one reportedly remarked: "Oh, Hanukkah. That's the day that the Jews killed Jesus." Physical assault followed. (The silver lining to the story, however, is that a Muslim student from Bangladesh came to the defense of the three Jews.)
Along with continuing racial hatred and blame for Jesus' death, stereotypes of the Shylock-type Jew, money-obsessed and controlling, still have robust support in the United States. In November, before the two events described above, the Anti-Defamation League published its new poll on American anti-Semitism, concluding from its results that of 2,000 Americans randomly selected for the telephone poll, fifteen percent were "unquestionably anti-Semitic." This number has been almost unchanged since 2002, along with the contents of the poll, which asked respondents to agree or disagree with some stereotypical accusations leveled against Jews. In addition to reconfirming the "killers of Christ" prejudice (twenty-seven percent agreed), the most anti-Semitic respondents sang another familiar tune: "Jews wield too much power in the business world," "Jews have too much power in the US today," and "Jews have too much control and influence on Wall Street" were the statements most likely to elicit agreement (sixty-seven to eighty-four percent).
These results indicate the extent to which the very language of "old" and "new" is problematic. Such stark oppositions often function under the implicit assumption that the "new" somehow supercedes or replaces the "old," or that the "old" no longer occupies the place it once did (think of the contested history of Christian responses to the relationship between the "Old" and "New" Testaments). However, as recent events and the ADL poll demonstrate, the "old" anti-Semitism refuses to show signs of growing old at all, but seems to retain the same vigor it had several decades ago. Perhaps contemporary scholars should consider the possibility that by drawing attention to the "new" forms of anti-Semitism, they paradoxically allow the other, more deeply ingrained forms to abide. Instead of being categorized—misleadingly—as "old" or "new," all forms of anti-Semitism should be named and addressed as equally dangerous to the worth and dignity of human life.
References: You can see the complete results of the Anti-Defamation League's poll at
Sarah Imhoff is a PhD candidate in the History of Judaism at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

The January issue of the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by Sandra Sullivan Dunbar of the University of Chicago: "Agape, Special Relations, and the Global Care Crisis: Challenging a 'Two-Track' Understanding of the Obligations of Christian Love." Commentary from Gloria Albrecht (University of Detroit Mercy) and Peter Meilaender (Houghton College) 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, January 30, 2008

Santa Barbara Imam Forced to Leave the Country

Back in 2001, on two occasions I had the opportunity to meet Abdur Rahman, then the recently arrived Imam for the Santa Barbara area Islamic Community. This was in the months prior to 9-11, and then when 9-11 occurred, I invited him to join in an interfaith service of Remembrance and Prayer. He graciously accepted that invitation, serving as one of three speakers. He would reprise that role a year later, and appeared at countless events interpreting Islam to our community. We had a number of opportunities to sit and share about our respective faiths. A relatively young man, he showed wisdom beyond his years. I consider him a friend and have appreciated his willingness to go where needed.
Sometime last year he asked me to help him in an INS matter, which I did by sending a letter of reference. We hoped that his immigration status would be cleared up -- he had come into the country on a religious worker visa. Unfortunately the government has ruled against him and he must return to England. Apparently the reason is that he violated his visa -- by selling spiritual texts on line. It is true, he runs a publishing company and provides spiritual texts and guidance online, but surely this is a technicality.
My greatest concern is for the fledgling Islamic community, to which he has given leadership. They were set to finally build a mosque in the community, now that is certainly on hold. Thus, they are in my prayers. My prayers go as well to him and has family as they must make a quick exit from the country. I pray that he'll be able to return soon, for his community will need his leadership.
We talk about the need for "moderate" Islamic leadership and then when we have it, we get rid of it. Not smart!

A Two Horse Race

As we get ready to go into February 5th the process has winnowed the choices down to just a few on each side. On the GOP side, its down to three, though John McCain seems to have the upper hand. But more about that in a later post, perhaps.

It's on the Democratic side that things have gotten stark. John Edwards is dropping out today. He's not, apparently signaled his readiness to endorse anyone, so it's not known how this will affect things. It could help Obama or it might not. Edwards has largely drawn his support from white male union folk. The question is, where will they go. If Edwards offers an endorsement, that might help. If he were to endorse Obama, which I hope he'll do, that could be the edge Obama needs.

February 5th will not be decisive, but it could prove to be a catalyst for either candidate. Looking at the map, Obama doesn't need to win either California or New York, he just needs to do well. Besides these states there are lots to pick from. Illinois should give Obama a clear victory. Places like Kansas, Arizona, and that southern tier should provide fertile territory for him as well. New Jersey could be interesting. With support from Ted Kennedy and Duval Patrick, Massachusetts is ripe for the picking and that could overflow into Connecticut. There is also the question of whether Bill Richardson will make an endorsement, and if so, whom? An endorsement of Obama could do wonders for him in the Latino community.

All in all, this is getting interesting. Hillary might have a strong organization and lots of connections, but lately things have been going Barack's way! See you Tuesday at the polls.

Back to John Edwards. I like him and supported him in 2004. I do think his time came and went in the time that passed -- although as John McCain has shown, you never know. I think he will be in some one's cabinet -- indeed, I expect deals are being offered in exchange for his support. So, stay tuned.

Changes in the the LDS Leadership

Even as LDS member Mitt Romney battles John McCain for the nomination of the Republican party, Romney's church (the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- or the Mormons) is about to see a change in it's own leadership. With the death of President (and Prophet, Seer, and Revelator) Gordon B. Hinkley on Sunday (January 27, 2008) at the age of 97, a new leader will be anointed.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which keeps us in suspense, the LDS church has a simple method of selecting their next leader. No white smoke necessary, because the senior member of the Quorum of Apostles (not necessarily the oldest -- but the longest serving) is elected President. That next person is 80 year old Thomas Monson, a long standing fixture in the LDS church. The expectation is that Monson will continue Hinkley's policies that have tried to mainstream the LDS church. Whether totally successful, the LDS church has not only grown, it has become much more acceptable. Although some see Romney as a cultist and therefore won't vote for him, he has garnered considerable support among Evangelicals.

In an online Newsweek article we learn that:

The transition to the new prophet is likely to be smooth. Monson has served for the last 43 years in the top tiers of church leadership and is deeply respected. (LDS prophets don't operate unilaterally: the entire First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve work together.) In Monson's years as an apostle and counselor, he has served in roles that span the breadth of church life, including missionary work, welfare services, genealogy, education and leadership training. He is likely to continue many of the same themes of Hinckley's presidency: reaching out to members of other faiths, welcoming new converts, urging church members to reject the temptations of secular culture.

I've always been fascinated by the LDS Church, even from a young age. In 1965, at the age of seven, we stopped in Salt Lake on a trip to Denver. I can still remember touring Temple Square, hearing the organ in the Tabernacle, and taking in the Beehive House. We went back in 1974 and revisited many of these same places. Later I would learn (in my early evangelical days) that Mormon's were cultists, but at least to that point I was fascinated, not by their religion, but by their history and the grand buildings erected on the edge of the desert.
Today, I find much of their theology odd and obviously not mainstream Christian. But as I've said before, every Mormon I've known has been a person of good character and grace. So, I stop today to pay respects to the fallen LDS leader. The future, as the Newsweek article makes clear is likely to bring change -- even if the top echelon leadership remains, elderly, white, and male.

If you're interested, I'd suggest checking out Krista Tippett's interview with LDS scholar Robert Millet at Speaking of Faith. I think you'll find it very informative.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Obfuscating on Waterboarding

In his Senate confirmation hearings, Michael Mukasey said he could answer the question of whether waterboarding is torture because he'd not read classified memos. Now he says he can't rule on this issue because it's not currently being used by the CIA. I'm sorry, but I don't quite understand. It is either torture and thus banned by US law or it's not. That there's disagreement on the part of a few Senators is hardly reason not to rule.
He suggests that making a determination would signal to other nations what our methods of interrogation are. My response: why not tell the world that clearly inhumane actions will not be perpetrated by our country.
I watched on DVD The Bourne Ultimatum the other night. Though fictional (I hope), the movie suggests a scenario where the CIA has essentially become a rogue agency, creating brainwashed agents of death, killing without conscience and without knowing why. Our nation's top judicial figures need to offer guidelines as to what is acceptable US behavior. Apparently Michael Mukasey is not up to that job. I had hoped for better and I must say I'm bitterly disappointed.

WOW, Hillary wins uncontested primary

Hillary has shown us the kind of person she is. She likes the rules as long as they favor her, she doesn't like them when they don't. If she thinks that she'll need the Michigan and Florida delegations, both of which had been banned by the party from being seated, she will. The party says, don't campaign, but in Michigan she kept her name on the ballot and beat uncommitted and Dennis Kucinich. Now she's won Florida, again, a contest that is without value. She'll crow about her victory -- a non-victory. She winks at the ban, but of course got votes by saying I'll seat your delegation.
Shame on You!!

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius Endorses Obama

Yesterday it was Ted's turn, now, a day after delivering the Democratic response to George Bush's final State of the Union Address, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius has endorsed Barack Obama.

Sebelius is an important endorsement for several reasons.

1. As a woman she is a reminder that one can be a woman and not support Hillary's campaign -- it's okay. This is the same as with Janet Napolitono of Arizona.
2. She is a Red State Governor, having been re-elected with 58% of the vote in a state with 27% Democratic registration, a state that hasn't voted Democratic in a Presidential election since LBJ.
3. She is the current head of the Democratic Governor's Association.
In her second term, like Napolitono, she is a likely possibility for the VP sweepstakes. So, good news!!!

Monday, January 28, 2008

Clinton's Myth -- Black/Latino Disaffection

A while back a Clinton pollster and their Latino vote expert suggested that Latinos won't vote for a Black Candidate -- that there is historic disaffection. And not only didn't Hillary fire him, she agree with him. Gregory Rodriguez begs to differ with this analysis, which has since become "conventional wisdom."
So why these statements about Latinos not voting for Blacks --which Rodriguez notes isn't true. Tom Bradley received large Hispanic majorities, as did David Dinkins in NY and Harold Washington in Chicago?

So, given all this evidence, why did this notion get repeated so nonchalantly? For one, despite the focus on demographic changes in America, journalists' ignorance of the aspirations of Latino America is pretty remarkable. They just don't know much about the biggest minority in the nation. And two, no Latino organizations function in the way that, say, the Anti-Defamation League does for Jewish Americans. In other words, you can pretty much say whatever you want about Latinos without suffering any political repercussions.

Unlike merely "exuberant" supporters, whose mushy grasp of facts Clinton has explained by saying they can sometimes be "uncontrollable," pollsters such as Bendixen most certainly work -- and speak -- at the whim and in the pay of the candidate.

So what would the Clinton campaign have to gain from spreading this misinformation? It helps
undermine one of Obama's central selling points, that he can build bridges and unite Americans of all types, and it jibes with the Clinton strategy of pigeon-holing Obama as the "black candidate." (Witness Bill Clinton's statement last week that his wife might lose South Carolina because of Obama's growing black support.)

What is gained in this for Clinton? Ah, her campaign, having decided it's lost the Black vote, can create a sense of division where there isn't to confuse and manipulate a portion of the electorate. This isn't the kind of direction this nation needs to go. We've had years of it now, and it's time to do go a new direction. We need to open the window and let in some fresh air!

Ted says Yes We Can

As expected Ted Kennedy has given his endorsement to Barack Obama today -- standing with his niece Caroline and his son Patrick (D-RI).

Here is a brief clip from the LA Times account:

In a rousing speech at American University, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) called Obama, a freshman senator from Illinois, a leader "who can lift our spirits ... who has the power to truly inspire and make America great again."

While Ted Kennedy was offering his support to Obama, Bill Clinton further denigrated himself by casting Obama as simply the "Black Candidate" -- suggesting that he hadn't done anything different than Jesse Jackson. Excuse me but Obama's coalition is much larger, Jackson didn't win Iowa or come in a close second in New Hampshire. But this seems to be the Clinton strategy, divide and conquer -- quite Rovian, don't you think?

Wake up Democrats and smell the roses!!!! On February 5th stand up to politics as usual, politics that divides us against one another.

Virginia and Religious Freedom -- Sightings

Martin Marty is one of the most insightful interpreters of America's religious history. He will turn 80 shortly, so he has been a participant in much that has gone on these past four or five decades. And so when he speaks to the matter of faith and the Public Square, I do pay attention. Describing himself as not being a "strict" separationist, he none the less insists that America works best and has worked best when faith is voluntary and not imposed. Today he reflects on the Virginia "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," which was set forth in 1777 and became part of the Virginia Constitution in 1785. I think you'll find this informative, even if you're not in complete agreement.

Sightings 1/28/08

Virginia and Religious Freedom
-- Martin E. Marty

In January of 1777 in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a committee met to revise Virginia's laws as it was becoming a state. Thomas Jefferson then and there drafted a "Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom," an antecedent to the First Amendment of the Constitution. I've been to several celebrations in Richmond, where the Statute was enacted in 1785, to Charlottesville in 1985 for a bicentennial conference on the subject, and this year spoke at an annual forum at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. Such occasions lead me to reflect on this—dare I call it 'epochal'—document, and now will follow up with a comment on a particular point.

While Sightings is dedicated more to framing issues than spreading ideology, ideas and commitments do stand behind the work of historians and reporters who are not trying to make stump speeches. Here, in compressed and summary form, is part of what I get asked at observances like the ones mentioned above—and also in an election year in which religion is so much at issue in society: "While you are not a strict 'separationist' on church and state, why are you so nervous about enactments that prescribe public school prayer and the bannering of religious symbols in public places? Are you on the side of secular humanists who want to banish 'God' and 'religion' from public life?"

Yes, questioners, you are right: I am not a strict separationist, and I do not think that it's the best use of civil energies to try to get "In God We Trust" and similar almost meaningless creeds off our coins, to abolish public funding for military and some other kinds of chaplaincies, or to chase the chaplains out of the legislatures. Yes, you observe correctly: I can get nervous about government prescriptions of religious observance. I am neither on nor off the side of secular humanists, but I am not a would-be banisher of religion. But, in the light of the "Virginia Statute," let me add some positives to my answer.

Jefferson, the Virginia legislators, James Madison, the constitution-drafters and First Amendment inventors, and others, drew a line between what we can call "persuasive" versus "coercive" approaches to religion in public life; or we can draw the line between what is "voluntary" and what is "imposed" or "state-privileged." As for the persuasive and voluntary front: Let all the advertisers sell us God or any other deities if they will. They have a perfect right. Let the presidents of the United States form their piety and policy with their view of God in mind. Let others vote them down and out if they disagree. America was not founded as a Christian nation with a Godly-Constitution. Because it was not, as the Virginia Statute and its follow-ups make clear, there is room for Christian and other expression and energy virtually unmatched anywhere else, and certainly unmatched wherever religion was ever given governmental coercive power, establishment, or law-based formal privilege.

The founders, "fallible" though the Statute says all governing and other people are, did know and say that "all attempts to influence [the free mind] by…civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness." They are departures from the "Lord" who "chose not to propagate [religion] by coercions…" All people "shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion…" "Religion" is more than opinion, to state it more surely than Jefferson did, but with the opinions of free minds is a good place to start—and to stay, two centuries later. Virginia has much to celebrate, as do we all, non-partisanly.

References: The full text of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom is available at For further information, visit The Council for America's First Freedom at

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


The January issue of the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by Sandra Sullivan Dunbar of the University of Chicago: "Agape, Special Relations, and the Global Care Crisis: Challenging a 'Two-Track' Understanding of the Obligations of Christian Love." Commentary from Gloria Albrecht (University of Detroit Mercy) and Peter Meilaender (Houghton College) 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, January 27, 2008

Yes We Can!!!!!!!

Barack Obama calls us forth to embrace the future, to believe that our divisions can be healed -- not that we will have uniformity, but that in our diversity we can find unity -- and in that unity we can overcome what is set before us. As he says in this stirring message, "change won't be easy," but change is possible.

He stirs us with the reminder of the choices standing before us. It isn't that there aren't other fine candidates, it is a question of perspective: "This election is about the past versus the future." And so, here we are called to embrace the message: YES WE CAN CHANGE!

A Pair of Kennedy Endorsements

In the wake of Barak Obama's overwhelming victory in South Carolina, a victory that was not only fueled by African-American voters but a significant number of white voters, both Caroline Kennedy (daughter of JFK) and Senator Ted Kennedy have endorsed or will endorse Obama's candidacy. This is a considerable coup for Obama. The Kennedy name still holds considerable power in the Democratic Party. Of course, Hillary will downplay this endorsement, but it will provide considerable heft in a number of primary states.

I especially appreciate the words of Caroline Kennedy in a NY Times editorial (the same paper, remember that endorsed Obama's rival). She opens by saying:

OVER the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

And closes with these words:

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe
again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president — not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.

Caroline makes important points here about inspiration. Her father's time in office was relatively short and so we don't know how good a President he could of been, had he completed his term and likely won a second. But what we remember is the inspiration of his words that pushed the country to envision new heights and new possibilities -- whether it was the Peace Corps or reaching for the moon. Hillary discounts this ability and touts herself as America's CEO/COO. So this is our choice, a manager or one who will offer us a new vision for the future. Maybe it's the preacher in me, but I think we need more than a manager as President. If you want a COO, then go for Romney. If you want to set a new course, I think Obama's the one.

Affirming Life's Sanctity

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
January 28, 2008

There are several events that coincide with each other this month. There is the birthday of Martin Luther King, the “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity,” and something called “Sanctity of Life Sunday.” All of these events have come and gone, so I’m can’t invite you to join me in the observance. I mention these three events because I see in them a common thread; it is the attempt to uphold the value of life.
Martin Luther King sought to lift up those caught in deplorable conditions, whether brought on by racism, poverty, or war. The aim of “Sanctity of Life Sunday” is to highlight an anti-abortion message – though I consider myself pro-life, I also believe it’s appropriate to keep abortion as a legal option for those women who find themselves in difficult situations. Having said this, I believe strongly in the sanctity of human life. As for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – it might not seem to fit with these other two observances, but speaking as a Christian, it will take unity – among Christians and among all people of good will – if we’re to give voice to a truly life-affirming message (even when we don’t agree on the details).
We may differ on the question of abortion or even on some end of life issues, but surely we can agree on the importance of that life lived between birth and death. It is in this regard that Martin Luther King speaks so clearly to us. As a Civil Rights leader he fought with the entirety of his being for the full inclusion of every person, no matter their ethnicity or background, into American life (with the obvious emphasis on the rights of the African American community, of which he was a leader) -- whether it was in the voter’s booth or at the lunch counter. But this wasn’t the entirety of his message. Indeed, at the end of his all too brief life (he would have been 79 years old this month had he lived) he took up a broader agenda that included the eradication of poverty and bringing an end to the Vietnam War. His embrace of the cause of the poor, regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, or creed, along with his vocal opposition to the War in Vietnam cost him support from many long-term friends and allies, but he took up these causes because he understood that issues of poverty, war, and race are often interrelated.

In a 1967 sermon given at New York’s Riverside Church, Dr. King addressed America’s involvement in Vietnam. There he made the connection between war, poverty, and race.

“Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as
(Beyond Vietnam, April 4, 1967).

Whatever our views of the military, I believe we can agree that when we’re investing our resources in a war, other issues take on a lower priority in the national consciousness and budget.

Whether the issue is discrimination, poverty, or the violence of war (whether overseas or in our neighborhoods), I hear a call to affirm the sacredness of human life – whether it is American, Iraqi, Afghani, Iranian, Mexican, Burmese, Kenyan, Israeli or Palestinian. To be “pro-life” is to take all of these issues into consideration, and to work to make sure that this is a world that’s safe and secure for all, and not just a few. It’s a call to work together to improve the quality of life, by attending to such things as the environment, corporate practices, health care, housing, and education.

If we are to honor Dr. King’s legacy, we must work together to build a world that holds life to be sacred, a world where freedom, creativity, and dignity is held inviolable and violence is absent. Is it a dream? Perhaps, but it’s a dream worth pursuing. And to achieve this dream, we must stand together.

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 93105.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Obama Wins South Carolina

Taking 57% of the vote in South Carolina it would seem that Barack Obama won in a run away. Far back ran Hillary with 29% and Edwards with that 13% that he seems to be drawing everywhere he goes. The headlines will tell us that he won a racially charged election. But while Obama did take around 80% of the Black vote, he couldn't have taken 57% of the vote if he didn't have significant white votes as well.

We must be careful that we don't allow this to be about race and gender. No matter who wins the nomination or in November, that person must be the President of all Americans -- not just whites, blacks, Latinos, men, women, young or old. The Rovian message is divide and conquer. It may win elections, but it's not good for the nation.

So, I say to the press, the pundits, and to the Clinton camp especially -- watch what you say about this win.

So today, I'm thankful that my guy won. And I'm a white male in California!
Update: 6:50 PST
I just checked things again, and here's an up to date count with about 99% of precincts in:
Barack Obama -- 288,402 --- 55%
Hillary Clinton -- 138, 486 --27%
John Edwards --- 92,285 -- 18%

Friday, January 25, 2008

Family Values

Barak Obama's half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng speaks of her big brother, his growing up and his valuing of family. I think you 'll find it as informative as did I!

Thanks to Kentucky Fried Politics for clip.

Michelle Obama -- Obama's Secret Weapon

CNN commentators say, Michelle is a big asset, a bigger asset than the other leading candidate's spouse!

Is the Religious Right In Hibernation?

Many of us concerned about the over reach of the Religious Right have breathed a sigh of relief at its seeming demise. But perhaps we shouldn't relax too quickly. Philip Jenkins writes in an LA Times piece today entitled: "Apocalyptic politics: The religious right has splintered, but hard times could bring it back," that there are factors that could lead to its rebirth. We just don't know what form it might take. Jenkins points out that the Alliance with the Republican party has always been more one of convenience and therefore it's surprising it's lasted so long.
The GOP tacked on Moral Values to its platform of military strength and economic leadership to create a sort of three headed dog. As you look at the current candidates none of them quite fit the profile. They're all over the map -- so things look in disarray. Economics is currently taking the front seat, and people are disturbed and confused about what's been happening the past 8 years. But just as events of 1979-1980 led to change (yes Bill, Reagan transformed the conversation not you), things could happen again like that.

But before we hold a funeral for the Reagan coalition, we should note how easily the circumstances of the late 1970s could repeat themselves. Already, looking at inflation rates and oil prices, journalists are drawing comparisons with the events of 1979-1980 and projecting a recession at least as bad as those years.Now remember two things. First, there was no single issue or grievance that drove religious believers to the conservative banner. Rather, it was a generalized sense of threat to traditional ideals of community and family, and above all, the undermining of gender roles. Conservative rhetoric did a wonderful job of promising to restore traditional manliness by shoring up the family at home and reasserting American strength abroad.

Second, the real beneficiaries of Carter's 1976 victory turned out to be the Republicans, who managed to avoid blame for the problems of the late '70s.

If the Democrats manage to take the White House in November, something that doesn't look quite so certain now than it did a few months ago, we'll have 4 years to make things work or that coalition could rebound again. Whoever wins in November will be on a short leash. They will have to produce or be tossed out. People learned the lesson of 2004! Change may be in order, but the nation must be galvanized quickly.

And as in earlier eras of chaos and confusion, people would likely turn to those religious institutions that seem to offer hope and solidity. Quite possibly, we would be set for a new era of religious-based conservatism, in which the politics of military and moral reconstruction coincided neatly.

In 2008, the religious right may appear to be dying, but it could just be going into hibernation.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Two for the Price of One

Yesterday I took a break from my politically oriented blogging. I needed a respite so that I could keep my sanity. But that respite shouldn't lead you to believe I've given up on the political season, only that I need to keep my focus -- a focus on matters of faith.
So, renewed, I look out at the situation before us. I've raised this concern before -- a concern about dynasties, something that isn't in line with the American sensibility. We're just finishing up with Bush 2, and so the question is -- do we want to return to the Clinton era. Now the Clinton era wasn't as bad as the current one, but it wasn't perfect. In fact, it was an era marked by political gridlock and ill will. We had a President who decided to govern by manipulating ideas of the other party. Bill and Hillary accuse Barack Obama of praising the GOP as the Party of Ideas, but if you think back to the 1990s, Bill Clinton adopted and reworked many of those ideas for his own benefit. I remember reading accounts of frustrated Republicans, angry that Clinton was always grabbing their ideas and agendas -- like Welfare Reform to give an instance.
So here we are, getting ready for the possibility of Clinton 2. Hillary belittled the idea that Obama was running against two candidates on the same ticket, suggesting that Bill is no different from Michelle or Elizabeth. Now, I may be naive and all, but somehow having as your spouse the former President of the United States is a bit different from the situations that Michelle and Elizabeth find themselves in. Both are extremely intelligent, productive, supportive contributors to their husbands campaigns. Most assuredly they would be influential advisers should either husband be elected, but their situation is closer to what Hillary's was in 1992, that is Bill's in 2008. So, give me a break! Don't insult my intelligence by suggesting that Bill is just another spouse!
Rosa Brooks, writing in the LA Times today, makes this very point. Back in 1992, Bill Clinton campaigned on the premise that by electing him, the country would get two for the price of one. That same premise is behind Hillary's current campaign. Yes, she has her own credentials and her own platforms, but while that's true she wants it both ways. She wants to be her own person and also benefit from Bill's experiences and supporters. Many who are supporting her are looking nostalgically back to the 1990s and want a restoration of the Clinton Era in the 21st Century.
Brooks writes:

But the Clintons are playing a dangerous game. The more they remind us of what we liked about Act I of the Bill and Hillary Show, the more they also remind us of what we hated.

It's true that the Bush administration is enough to make anyone nostalgic for the Clinton era. Compared with the catastrophes that President Bush unleashed, Bill Clinton's misdeeds seem like minor peccadilloes. Under Clinton, the United States didn't fall into a potentially devastating economic crisis, didn't rack up record-breaking debts and budget deficits, didn't adopt a policy of torturing people, didn't seek to gut international human rights standards, didn't get bogged down in any major, pointless and unwinnable wars and didn't actively alienate huge swathes of the global population.

On the other hand -- and where the Clintons are concerned, it's always wise to wonder what the hand you can't see is up to -- once you stop comparing the Clinton presidency with the Bush presidency, it no longer looks so great. On the whole, the Clinton era was a time of culture war and scandal, "triangulation" and botched reforms (healthcare anyone?), vacillation and paralysis

So, are we ready for Clinton II? Are we ready for another dynastic reign? Are we ready for the bad that comes with the good? We as the electorate must pay close attention to these questions. We need to ask ourselves about the mean-spirited and deceptive campaign being waged, especially by Bill Clinton.
And so I leave you with this from Brook's column:

Obama offers something transformative and new, and this frightens some voters, who wonder if he can live up to his undeniable potential. The Clintons, meanwhile, offer something old and familiar. But will a trip down memory lane with Billary reassure voters or end up frightening them even more?

Dispatches from Home

Ah, to live in paradise, even in winter. Here it is, late January, and winter has come. Oh, I know, you who live in the Upper Midwest or New England, you who are shoveling snow out of your drive ways and all (I know what it's like, I've lived in snow country), my report of winter weather in Southern California won't impress you. Indeed, it's a study in contrasts. Atop this post is a picture from my street of the snow covered mountains behind us. And though it's cool (cold for us), here is a bird of paradise blooming colorfully in our midst. Such contrasts, it's one of the reasons why I must confess to enjoying living in this neck of the woods!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In the Confessional

I was thinking about things this morning. I thought about the name of this blog -- Ponderings on a Faith Journey -- and also the weekly column I write -- Faith in the Public Square -- for the local newspaper. And thought, a confession was in order.
As I pondered things, I realized that by and large my recent posts have been heavily charged with political content -- more a "faith in the public square" kind of thing, than a "faith journey" thing. Michael Westmoreland-White is bound to agree! I'm a political junkie -- I'll admit to that -- though I'm more words than action. I've gotten into the debate, defended my candidate, took shots at the opponent. There's nothing wrong with that, but what about my faith journey?
Now, I'll not be stopping the posting of political commentary, that's part of what I do here, but perhaps I should attend to the spiritual side of the journey a bit more. It's just that arguing politics is so fun -- even if it is deadly serious. But if I'm true to my confession that my politics is governed by my faith, then surely I must attend to it.
Confession is good for the soul, so they say. Of course the kind of confession that's usually in mind is a bit more private than what's provided by the blogosphere. The point I guess is that politics, as important as interesting as it might be, if we let it take control, it will poison our hearts and destroy our relationships with God and with one another. So, for a moment I stop to consider what is happening in my heart and in my relationships, both vertical and horizontal. Won't you join me in the same consideration?

The Experience Quotient!

One of the issues in the current Presidential campaign is experience. How much importance do we give to experience. Hillary has been making much hay about her greater level of experience as compared to Barack Obama. The question is -- how important is experience? And if experience is the most important criteria, then why are the three candidates left standing (yes I know that Dennis Kucinich hasn't dropped out yet) are the least experienced of the Democratic candidates who have run this year. Obama is starting his 4th year, Hillary her eighth. John Edwards served one six year term. How does that compare to those already discarded -- Dodd, Biden, Richardson and Gravel?
And if Hillary wants to make experience her hallmark, she'd better hope John McCain isn't her opponent in November.
Nicholas Kristoff has analyzed this question of experience in a NY Times op-ed, and noted that some of our greatest Presidents of the 20th century had little political experience. TR was governor for 2 years and had 6 months under his belt as VP (but that charge up San Juan Hill!). And of course America's greatest president -- another guy from Illinois, served one term in Congress -- Abraham Lincoln.
The reality is that there are all kinds of experiences -- Obama's experiences as a community organizer and even his time spent in Indonesia as a child could be the kind of experiences we need in a President for the 21st Century.
And just to prove the point -- this from Kristoff:

To put it another way, think which politician is most experienced today in the classic sense, and thus — according to the “experience” camp — best qualified to become the next president.

That’s Dick Cheney. And I rest my case.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Emerging/Emergent -- What's the Church Coming too?

There are new voices emanating from the church -- some on the Evangelical side and some on the so-called "Mainline" side. We call this emerging or emergent, though what and who that is one can't easily defined.

Tony Jones is Coordinator of Emergent Village -- he's at least to some degree Evangelical and he talks about Emerging Church stuff. Marcus Borg also talks about emerging Christianity. The word is the same, but the meaning may not.

I just finished listening (finally) to the Emergent Conversation at the recent AAR meeting that included Tony, Diana Butler Bass and Scot McKnight. You can find the podcasts at the Emergent Village site. Here is the link for part 1. There were some fireworks -- but nothing like Obama and Clinton last night -- over the Mainline and its future. Tony doesn't have much faith in our survival, but Diana begs to differ. He's right in parts, but I think Diana has the best insights on this.

The Emergent Movement (Conversation) is an intriguing one. It's spokespersons are relatively young -- about a decade or more behind me. They're mostly young, white, male. They've emerged from Evangelicalism (like I have) but where they'll end up who knows.
Tony Jones has a new book coming out with the title The New Christians. That's an audacious title, but the question will be -- what's new about it? I've not read it, but I asked Mike Leaptrott to review it for the March issue of my journal -- Sharing the Practice . Mike has done what I've asked and posted a version of it on his blog -- Progression of Faith.
Here is an excerpt focusing on the relationship of Emergent to more Progressive theologians/biblical scholars:

I suspect that this Emergent conversation may be the first glimpse into modern mainline theology for many Evangelicals. It might be fair to suggest that these young Evangelicals are just now catching up with scholars like Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan, and Walter Brueggemann who have been willing to tackle tough theological questions and create dialogue for a long time. There is ample evidence of that trend. His friend and fellow Emergent author Brian McLaren, credits both Brueggemann and Crossan in his latest book “Everything Must Change”. However, Tony Jones is a bit critical of these scholars. He suggests that Borg, in particular, has missed the mark by rejecting orthodox beliefs in the resurrection and interpreting the bible’s miraculous stories as symbolic parables. (p.148, p.156) I feel Tony might have been too quick to make that judgment. Mainline scholars have long been the champions of fresh theological perspectives and he might be overlooking some worthwhile advocates in the journey ahead.

It looks like an interesting book, and it's a conversation we need to have. The questions I'd like to see answered, questions raised by Diana at the AAR event, but never really answered are two:
1. What is Emergent emerging from?
2. To what is Emergent emerging?
Tony said in the podcast that once they claim to have reached the point of having "emerged" then the movement is over. That is likely true, but . . .

I'm No Geek!

I may spend my life at the computer -- mostly blogging (so my family says) -- and I like The Big Bang Theory (CBS) -- watch Star Trek. But according to one of those many quizes out there -- I'm not a Geek!

Whew! That's a relief.

23% Geek

Free Louisiana Personals

In fact, I'm so ungeekish I'm not sure how to get rid of this Louisiana personals thing! But, with all that poltical stuff -- need a breather. Thanks to my friend Roy for his tip.

A South Carolina Slugfest

I didn't watch the debate, but have caught snippets of it in the news. The parts highlighted of course are the points of strong personal disagreement between Obama and Clinton. I'm sure that viewers came away thinking nicer things about John Edwards, who seems to have had both a difficult time getting a word in and when he did tried to play the more mature partner in the "conversation."

I'm sure that supporters of both Obama and Clinton (and I'm supporting the former) look at this differently. Hillary says that Obama is speaking out of frustration because he's losing (you can see that she's back as the "establishment" pick -- which is probably good for Obama). But the reason he's frustrated is that he has the former President constantly attacking him. Hillary's comments about Michelle and Elizabeth also participating in this misses the point. Neither of them are the former President of the United States. But the real issue here is the Clinton campaign's continued efforts to distort and sling mud at Obama. And you know if you throw enough of it some sticks -- even if you're the Teflon President.

From the looks of things -- Hillary was the aggressor and Obama parrying her blows (well enough I think). If the voters begin to connect the dots and realize that Obama is really truly fighting a "couple," which I think he is, they'll have to decide whether or not a dynasty is a good thing. Personally, I don't think it is. In another time and place Hillary might be an excellent candidate, but this is not that time. It's time to move on. Enough of the Bushes and the Clintons!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pipe Down Bill!!

I realize this an unprecedented event in our nation's history. The spouse of a former President is running for President. It's different even from the Father/Son relationship of the Bushes. If Hillary becomes President, the former Mr. President moves into the White House as well. And spouses generally stand by their partner in times like this. All the wives are campaigning hard for the husbands.
In many ways Bill Clinton is in a no-win position. That being said (and yes I'm biased) the tone of his campaigning has been a problem. I like Bill and think that by and large he was a successful President, but he was known then and is known now to get a little out of control. His attacks on Barack Obama have been unseemly and un-Presidential. He may think it worth the price to use up his personal capital to support his wife, but I'm not alone in finding this problematic. According to a Newsweek article, a number of key party leaders, including Ted Kennedy have given him an earful. So far he's not heeding their advice, but I hope someone gets through to him. Not only could he damage his wife's campaign, but the Democrats in November.
I'm trying to be generous here, but he has lost a lot of good will from people such as me.

Unity is the Great Need of the Hour

Here is Barack Obama's sermon from yesterday at Ebenezer Baptist Church. I say sermon, because that is what it is. It's a political speech, but it's rooted in Scripture and speaks of God's vision.

Take a listen:

Unfulfilled Dreams -- Thoughts for Martin Luther King Day 2008

Unfulfilled Dreams — Thoughts for Martin Luther King Day --> Cross published at Faithfully Liberal.

It is Martin Luther King Day. I’m sitting at the computer, while my 17 year old son is participating in a rally. I could be there too – probably should be – but I’m letting the written word speak instead.

I went web surfing this morning, looking for something from Dr. King’s own words that I could share with you. I found a site that posted some of his sermons and found one entitled “Unfulfilled Dreams.” Now, we know his great speech of 1963, delivered on the Mall in Washington. It is a brilliant and powerful statement that carries the name – “I Have a Dream.” I quoted it and posted it on his birthday. In some ways, this sermon is the next chapter.

It’s a sermon he preached on March 3, 1968. That would have been my 10th birthday. At that point in my life, I don’t think I knew much about Dr. King. I didn’t know that in a few weeks after this sermon was delivered he would lie dead, taken down by an assassin’s bullet. No, most assuredly my mind was elsewhere that day in 1968, but it would appear that Dr. King had a sense then that he wouldn’t live to see his dream fulfilled. Like David and his Temple or Gandhi and his dream of a free and united India, he had the sense that the dream would have to be carried on by others.

So many of our forebearers used to sing about freedom. And they dreamed of the day that they would be able to get out of the bosom of slavery, the long night of injustice. (Yes, sir) And they used to sing little songs: “Nobody knows de trouble I seen, nobody knows but Jesus.” (Yes) They thought about a better day as they dreamed their dream. And they would say, “I’m so glad the trouble don’t last always. (Yeah) By and by, by and by I’m going to lay down my heavy load.” (Yes, sir) And they used to sing it because of a powerful dream. (Yes) But so many died without having the dream fulfilled.

And each of you this morning in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. (Glory to God) And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.

Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: “It may not come today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. (Yes) It’s well that you are trying.” (Yes it is) You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. (Yes) It’s well that it’s in thine heart.

Yes, the point is that the dream live on and that we seek to bring it into existence. I was a ten year old boy, living in Klamath Falls, Oregon, far from the Civil Rights battles raging in other places of the country – Los Angeles, Atlanta, Memphis. I was oblivious, but in time my mind and my heart was awakened, and I, a middle class, well-educated, white man, have been enlightened, but the dream remains unfulfilled, needing to be picked up by the next generation. I don’t know that my son full understands the issues, but as a senior in high school, he chose to take Black Studies. That’s an interesting choice, but a harbinger of something new and powerful happening.

I don’t know if Barack Obama will win the nomination or become President, but the fact that he can run as a viable candidate and gain not just black votes but white votes is testament to the power of a dream. That there are still significant pockets of the country that won’t vote for him because he’s black tells us that Dr. King’s dream remains as yet unfulfilled.

But the key is not that we’ve reached perfection, but that we’re right road. In this same sermon, Dr. King speaks of salvation in just this fashion.

And this brings me to the basic point of the text. In the final analysis, God does not judge us by the separate incidents or the separate mistakes that we make, but by the total bent of our lives. In the final analysis, God knows (Yes) that his children are weak and they are frail. (Yes, he does) In the final analysis, what God requires is that your heart is right. (Amen, Yes) Salvation isn’t reaching the destination of absolute morality, but it’s being in the process and on the right road. (Yes)

We’ve not reached the Promised Land, but we’re on the road. There’s a long way to go, but we’re making progress. And the point isn’t that we’ve reached the end, but that we’ve chosen/been chosen the right road.
May we honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King today, by attending to the path he pioneered five decades ago.

Unjust War -- Sightings

The War in Iraq will soon conclude it's fifth year of engagement, longer for us than the Civil War, World War II, or WW I. I think many Americans hoped it would be kind of like the Spanish-American War. Quick in and out -- big victory -- Rah! Rah! Many of us, however, knew deep down that this wasn't going to be a short stop in Baghdad. Sure the initial combat phase might be quick -- we had the fire power, but we knew things wouldn't turn out well. Indeed, it didn't take long to see that this was true.
Martin Marty speaks today of a new book by Andrew Greeley, a collection of columns dealing with the Iraq War entitled A Stupid, Unjust, and Criminal War: Iraq 2001-2007. Marty points out that Greeley isn't a pacifist and doesn't oppose war in general (he defends WWII as just), but as you can tell by the title, he doesn't deem the Iraq War to be in the same category.
The point that Marty wants to make, as you'll see, isn't that we should all go out and read Greeley's book, but that his analysis points to an important conclusion. People like Greeley -- and perhaps me and other clergy and academics and such -- might not know everything about the war and its intricacies, but we know enough to know that not only are things not working right, but that the premises on which the war are based are wrong. As usual, Marty has his finger on important ideas.


Sightings 1/21/08

Unjust War
-- Martin E. Marty

A Stupid, Unjust, and Criminal War: Iraq 2001-2007 by priest, sociologist, novelist, and columnist Andrew Greeley is a collection of 121 columns dating back to 2001, in their original form. As the title suggests, the columns are not long on nuance. They have going for them guts, consistency, a readiness to use the language of the prophets and the Church, prescience, and not a little hold on truth in reporting. Columnists who once supported the war and others who were critical all along can profitably compare notes with Greeley .

The Chicago priest, who has a passion for Catholicism, is dispassionate enough to have a lover's quarrel with the Church, and is impassioned about bringing church teaching on wisdom (as opposed to "stupidity"), just war theory (as opposed to "unjustness"), and law-abidingness (as opposed to "criminality") to bear on events of this long, long war. He celebrates what the popes of these years, Vatican spokespersons, and many bishops have had to say for peace and against capital punishment, nuclear armament, war-making in general, and this war in particular. At the same time he mourns that so little of what they said reached the Catholic faithful. And he is scornful of most religious leaders who were cowed into silence for fear of sounding unpatriotic when they might have been helpfully vocal in criticism of governmental and military policy. In a world where many were snookered into blandness or silence, he remains unsnookered.

The Martys compare opinions as we read four daily papers. We come to most agreement on wartime issues when we read Greeley 's syndicated columns in the Chicago Sun-Times. From before the first gun was fired, he stopped just short of charging that we were being led into the war by leaders who, too often, wanted war but didn't count the cost. Now uncontroversial are his once contentious early comments on how unprepared the U.S. administration and military were before they invaded Iraq. Greeley is no pacifist, and recognizes, for example, the "necessity" of World War II and the valor of those who supported the Allied cause. He is not naïve about the scope of the threat of militant Muslims and terrorists, but was suspicious of those Americans who immediately after 9/11 labeled all forms of action and reaction a "War" on terror.

I do not picture that most readers of Sightings will read this book, either because they do not welcome priestly comment and criticism or because they have been reading the columns all along, usually affirming them, and don't need a repeat. Nor can I quote enough from these pages to document how true to conditions and prospects Greeley has been. Instead I want to pass on something that crossed my mind while reading him, as follows: Pastors, priests, professors, nuns, teachers, editorialists, and other leaders were consistently told back during the Vietnam War that they lacked expertise to analyze what only some military and governmental leaders, setting out to monopolize comment, knew enough about. We hear the same now on issues dealing with the environment, the global economy, and more. It becomes clear once again that biblically informed, theologically inspired criticism and proposals can come from highly fallible people who, like everyone else, do not "know enough," but who do "know enough" from another angle, to make their own contributions to conversations that remain urgent. Folks like Greeley have the satisfaction of seeing that their prophecies have been confirmed, but take small comfort in that.

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


The January issue of the Martin Marty Center's Religion and Culture Web Forum presents an essay by Sandra Sullivan Dunbar of the University of Chicago: "Agape, Special Relations, and the Global Care Crisis: Challenging a 'Two-Track' Understanding of the Obligations of Christian Love." Commentary from Gloria Albrecht (University of Detroit Mercy) and Peter Meilaender (Houghton College) 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, January 20, 2008

Obama's Words at King's Church

Today Barack Obama was at Ebenezer Baptist Church -- Bill Clinton apparently will be there tomorrow, while Hillary was up at New York's Abyssinian Baptist Church getting an endorsement from the church's pastor.

Anyway, from Ben Smith's Politico Column, I was able to find a passage from Obama's remarks that is important. Although, like all politicians he's not immune from a little pandering, but for the most part Obama has been willing to speak truth to important constituencies. So, here it is:

For most of this country’s history, we in the African American community have been at the receiving end of man’s inhumanity to man. And all of us understand intimately the insidious role that race still sometimes plays – on the job, in the schools, in our health care system and in our criminal justice system. And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that none of our hands are entirely clean. If we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll acknowledge that our own community has not always been true to King’s vision of a beloved community. We have scorned our gay brothers and sisters instead of embracing them. The scourge of anti-Semitism has, at times, revealed itself in our community. For too long, some of us have seen immigrants as competitors for jobs instead of companions in the fight for opportunity.

I think this sounds quite balanced. But then I'm biased.
At another point in the message -- yes a sermon! He spoke of Martin Luther King's legacy and the need to join together -- to seek true unity in the country.
Every day, our politics fuels and exploits this kind of division across all races and regions; across gender and party. It is played out on television. It is sensationalized by the media. And last week, it even crept into the campaign for President, with charges and counter-charges that served to obscure the issues instead of illuminating the critical choices we face as a nation.
So let us say that on this day of all days, each of us carries with us the task of changing our hearts and minds. The division, the stereotypes, the scapegoating, the ease with which we blame our plight on others – all of this distracts us from the common challenges we face – war and poverty;
injustice and inequality. We can no longer afford to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. We can no longer afford to traffic in lies or fear or hate. It is the poison that we must purge from our politics; the wall that we must tear down before the hour grows too late.
I know that the campaign ahead will be difficult. Obama will have off days, say things he'd just as soon not have. There will be those who will believe the lies and the innuendo -- much of which is being passed along virally via email. He may not win, but his message needs to be heard. In fact, he needs to make it even more strongly, even as he did today in Atlanta. Politics as usual can't be our motto!

Opening Our Eyes to Homelessness

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
January 20, 2008

“Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matthew 8:20). This is Jesus' description of his own living situation. If we take this passage at face value, it suggests that he was homeless.
A follower of Jesus, I've never known true homelessness. Living for a time in the Pasadena YMCA is as close to being homelessness as I've ever been. After paying the first month's rent, I had less than a $100 in my pocket and no job. My situation was difficult, but there were prospects for a job and a family who would have helped - even if they lived out-of-state. As brief as my stay on the edge of homelessness was, it gave me a glimpse into what it must be like to not know where the next meal will come from or not have a roof over one's head. It was only a glimpse, but for many it's a daily reality.
People are homeless for different reasons. Though incomprehensible to many of us, some of the homeless choose to live on the streets. But there are many others, the vast majority, who didn't choose this life. Some are there due to mental illness or drug and alcohol issues. Others have landed on the streets or in shelters because of economic factors - including health-related bills. Each has his or her own story to tell, and many of the stories are heartbreaking - especially when children are involved.
Unlike in larger communities, the homeless problem is less visible in our community, but it's present. Indeed, our local shelter was involved in a confrontation over donated beds, which ended up in the dump. This raised questions about how the homeless are treated in our community.
As pastor of a church that has supported Bridgehouse and Mark's House over the years, and which provided volunteers for this ill-fated venture, I had concerns of my own. A visit to the shelter and a conversation with its director gives me confidence in the decision to continue this long-standing relationship. It's unfortunate that my congregation, along with others, was caught in the middle. We, like others involved, assumed that this donation had been coordinated with the shelter, but this assumption proved unfounded. There is, of course, more to this story, but that's not why I'm writing today.
If there is a silver lining to this episode, it's that it brought to our attention the reality of homelessness in our community. It reminded us that living among us are the poor, the needy, the sick, and those without adequate and affordable housing. It's not someone else's problem to address, it's a problem the entire community must face. Indeed, it's a problem facing thousands of people living across our country. The unemployment rate may be fairly small - about 5 percent - but even many employed men and women find it difficult to obtain safe and affordable housing. The result is that they live on the edge or on the streets, not knowing where they'll find a bed and a meal.
To better understand the issue, I did a little online research. I ran across HUD's “Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress” (February 2007), which estimates that between Feb. 1 and April 30, 2005, there was a daily average of 334,744 people living in homeless shelters, while another 338,781 people were living unsheltered. Of those in shelters, 66 percent were individuals, while another 34 percent involved an adult with at least one child.
Another study estimated that over a five-year period upwards of 8 million Americans experienced at least one night of homelessness. These numbers are significant enough that they should get our attention.

Finding a solution to the problem won't be easy. It will take money and political will. Religious communities, like the one I pastor, will have a role to play in this effort, but ultimately it will take the community as a whole - government, businesses, schools, nonprofits, mental health, and medical providers - working together to find a solution.
Ignoring the problem won't make it go away, and as a follower of one who once was homeless, I know I must open my eyes to the problem and join in the effort to make a difference.
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.
January 20, 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Division, Diversity, and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

I'll admit it, I almost forgot about the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity." In fact, despite our strong commitment to Christian Unity, I can't say that this observance is strongly pushed. Here in Santa Barbara, it was one of my Catholic colleagues who would talk about it each year.

In this centennial observance of the "Week of Prayer for Christian Unity," the question is why it is that ecumenism no longer seems to have the cache it once had?

Peter Steinfels notes that one reason might simply be that ecumenism is the victim of its own success. A century after the event was launched there is less urgency about inter-Christian efforts at unity. But besides being the victim of its own success, Steinfels offers 3 other reasons for the change of focus in a New York Times essay.
1. What was once seen as the scandal of division is now seen as the virtue of diversity. In other words, all that dialogue made the divisions look less like tribal warfare than different brand names. The various groups have the purpose of keeping alive various emphases. Besides:

Sociologists of religion have argued that Christianity has flourished, in fact, where a diversity of church forms and practices have met the needs of different social groups.

2. Relations with other religions, especially Islam, have supplanted Christian unity as a primary concern. It's not that everyone is into interfaith dialogue, but this seems to be a more pressing concern. With religiously inspired violence on the minds of everyone, the fine points of Eucharistic Doctrine seem less pressing.

Today, the greatest need for dialogue, building relationships and learning what really animates another believer seems to lie in yawning and dangerous differences between Christianity and other religions, rather than among the different Christian churches, denominations and sects.

3. With the question before us no longer being whether doctrinal boundaries are too absolute and exclusive, but rather whether the various Christian groups have any clear cut identity at all to define changes the dynamics. And the truth is, most church members have no real clue as to the differences. They choose a church on the basis of the music, the preacher, and the youth program, not on its views of the Trinity, Predestination, etc.

This anxiety about identity is most evident in a stream of conservative positions taken by Pope
Benedict XVI
, his predecessor John Paul II, and their Vatican offices. It has been easier to question the wisdom of these measures than to argue that the anxiety behind them is unwarranted.

As Steinfels points out most of the issues -- like homosexuality -- are being fought out within denominations, not between them.

Despite this seeming lack of urgency, I will pray this week that we might experience the oneness that is promised us in Christ (John 17).