Showing posts from December, 2006

Happy New Year

The year 2006 is winding down. In a few hours (PST) we will bid good bye to 2006. Much has happened in these past 12 months, some good, some not so good. The war in Iraq continues unabated with no end in sight. But a change of fortune comes with a new Congress, one that hopefully will hold the President accountable. Barry Bonds passed the Babe, but being that he's under a cloud of suspicion, only we Giant fans want him to pass Hank! We witnessed the fall of two Colorado pastors and a Florida congressman because of homosexuality. A woman was elected Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church triggering rebellion. Yes, 2006 has been interesting.

Of those who have died this past year, no one in the US ranks with President Gerald R. Ford, although in some circles the death of James Brown is a challenger.

As for the coming year, well, I'm hopeful. Many are pessimistic, but I'm always optimistic about a new year. New Year's Day offers an opportunity to start afre…

Miroslav Volf on Denouncing Mischief-Making God's

Is there anything new being said by the "New Atheists" or are they just shouting louder. My experience from reading Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins is that their repeating much of the same stuff as previous critics, only their megaphones have gotten bigger. That being said, the gods of today need critiquing, especially the ones that promote violence, consumerism, totalitarianism, and incivility. These gods are legion and as a Christian, I'm beholden to join those who would decry their inroads into modern life.

Miroslav Volf, professor of theology at Yale, former professor at Fuller Seminary (my alma mater), student of Jurgen Moltmann, etc., offers a response to this new challenge. It's brief, but worth examining.

From Newsweek's "On Faith"
Mischief-Making False Gods Need To Be Denounced

There is nothing surprising in the recent resurgence of atheist and anti-religious thinking. The wave, which has not yet crested, is greatly a consequence of the mas…

How Old is the Grand Canyon?

I've never been to the Grand Canyon, but I've seen pictures. In fact, I've seen several good documentaries on the canyon. If you've seen the pictures or read the background, you know that it was carved over millions of years by the Colorado River. Apparently there is another story that is told, one that can be found in a book sold in the gift shop that offers a "biblical" view point. So, instead of millions of years, it was formed as a result of Noah's Flood.

The park superintendent wanted to remove it and allow rangers to answer questions about the canyon's age, but despite park service requirements to make use of the best scientific data, Bush appointees overruled sound science and required this to be sold instead == for more on this see this web site:

Such actions further the agenda, not of the Christian faith, but of people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins, who can use this as evidence that Christ…

The Value of Interfaith Conversation? 5 Views

The Boston Globe published on Christmas Eve five essays on the value of interfaith dialogue. Contributors included Harvard's Diana Eck, who has written about the value of religious pluralism; Alan Wolfe of Boston College; Notre Dame's Mark Noll, formerly of Wheaton College; Reza Aslan, author and graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, and Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things.

I would characterize the five essays as reflections on the Christian-Muslim conversation and its implications for peace in the world. Of the five Neuhaus' is the most guarded. Tolerance is needed, but it must be rooted in reason. Aslan, the only Muslim in the group (and a liberal one at that) provides a caveat that sometimes from the Muslim perspective, interfaith dialogue is seen as coercive. Of the five, the one I found the most interesting was Alan Wolfe's. His point is quite simple, really, let's broaden the conversation partners to include more than religious leaders.

Wolfe writes th…

Saddam's Execution -- A Reflection

It looks as if Saddam Hussein, former leader of Iraq, and by any measure a tyrant and dictator, will be executed on Saturday, December 30th. There is no doubt that Saddam was responsible for the deaths of thousands, if not millions of Iraqi's and Iranians (though in regard to the latter it was a war and we supported Saddam against Iran). He was a brutal dictator and if anyone qualifies for the executioner, it is him.

But, is it the right thing to do? Only history will tell us the effect his execution will have on Iraq's stability. I don't think that Saddam is beloved by anyone besides family and a small cadre of followers. It' s more likely that he was feared than loved. That being said, for many Sunni's and many Christians Saddam represents a time of stability and prominence. With a Shiite majority in ascendancy there is the fear on the part of both Sunni's and Christians that their rights will be curtailed. I think you could argue on pragmatic grounds either w…

Christian Crusaders in Iraq?

Robin Hayes, a Republican congressman from North Carolina, following in the footsteps of Ann Coulter, made news before Christmas for suggesting to a Rotary group that the solution to the mess in Iraq is Iraqi conversion to Christianity. Now that we have "control" of the nation, isn't it time to pacify them by bringing them to Christ.

Robert Parham in a piece on Ethics Daily (Friday, 12/29/2006) offers a differing solution. Why not have Americans, like the church going congressman, convert to Christ first.

The problem with this view is American Christians themselves. In America everyone knows about the birth of Jesus Christ and the accompanying message of peace on Earth. That knowledge is escapable, especially at Christmas. But that knowledge hasn't changed the bloodlust of the Christian Right, who see America as the Christian nation that it is not and violence as a missionary strategy that it isn't.

The knowledge of Jesus Christ hasn't turned fundamentali…

Remembering Gerald R. Ford

President Gerald Ford will be greatly missed. Though today I'm a strong Democrat, I've always admired President Ford. In fact, my first presidential vote was cast as an 18 year old in 1976. Ford lost that year to Jimmy Carter, but despite my political sea change, I'm not sorry I voted for Ford.

At a time when a political crisis threatened to bring down the presidency, when for the first time ever a sitting President resigned, he stepped in and brought the nation together. He was the right person for the job for the precise reason that he had never sought and never intended to seek the Presidency. In fact, as I've heard it, his greatest ambition was to become Speaker of the House (that would have required a change in party control, which wouldn't happen until 1994). His pardon of Nixon likely destroyed his re-election hopes, but it was the right thing to do (and history has shown that his courageous act was the right thing to do).

Ford was an old-style Republican. H…

Clergy Letter Project -- Science and Faith

A battle seems to be raging between science and religion. Nearly half the nation ascribes to a young earth creationist perspective; this despite the evidence! But not everyone has bought into the war. Some of us believe that it is possible to affirm the existence of God and affirm evolution as the scientific explanation for how things have come to be.

More than 10,000 clergy, biblical scholars, and theologians have signed the Clergy Letter Concerning Religion and Science. I'm among those signers and will again lead my congregation in the recognition of Evolution Sunday (February 11, 2007).

The letter is posted below. If you'd like to know more about the project or become a signer yourself, check out the website:

The Clergy Letter
Within the community of Christian believers there are areas of dispute and disagreement, including the proper way to interpret Holy Scripture. While virtually all Christians take the Bible seriously and hold it to be autho…

Merry Christmas!!

It's Christmas morning! Last night we gathered at the church to celebrate Christmas Eve with songs, Luke's story of the shepherds attending to the baby born in Bethlehem, and at the Lord's Table. That is the true foundation of Christmas, the rest is merely trappings. It's fun of course, but it's not the reason we celebrate.

I'll be off doing family things for a few days, so no posting for a bit.

Have a most joyous Christmas celebration!

Shepherds Watch by Night

Luke 2:1-20

When it comes to casting a Christmas pageant, shepherds rank low on the list of favorite parts. Mary and Joseph are, of course, the prime parts. Then there’s the magi. They get to wear fancy robes bring gifts to the baby Jesus and meet with Herod. Angels don’t rank with wise men, but at least they have more star power than shepherds, who get to wear bathrobes and towels on their heads. No crowns and no wings. No gifts and no songs. Instead of singing about the good news in the skies, they hang out in the hills with the sheep and the dogs. There’s nothing too exciting about these roles, except that Luke seems to think that they’re important.

You might notice that this telling of the birth story doesn’t have any wise men, kings, or magi – whatever name you want to give them. That’s Matthew’s version, and he has a different agenda. Maybe he knew that Christmas pageants would need some staring roles. But Luke doesn’t seem impressed with star power.

Although David was called the s…

Christmas Story: Hope for "lowly and forgotten"

From the Lompoc Record
Dr. Bob Cornwall
Faith in the Public Square
December 24, 2006

Harry Truman said “the buck stops here,” while George W. Bush declared that he was “the Decider.” Such states exude strength and power, and it seems that the stronger and more powerful the leader is, the more apt we are to listen (and obey) to their pronouncements. As history has shown, the demagogue will try to manipulate our emotions and prejudices in order to control us, and the charismatic figure will seek to gain our acquiescence through a cult of personality.

Since today is Christmas Eve, it's appropriate to consider a different view of power. Tonight, many Christian communities will celebrate the story of a baby born to a young mother in a stable (Luke 2:1-20). The backdrop is an insignificant town in a backwater part of a powerful empire. When read against the stories of the greats of the ancient world such as Caesar, Alexander, and Augustus, it's surprising that we would pay attention to t…

A Muslim in Congress!

I want to share with you this article entitled: "A Muslim in Congress -- What's the World Coming To?" It has been published in the online journal: SoMA Review. Thanks to John Spalding for his quick work in getting this up.

In it I give my take on the controversy over the election of Keith Ellison (D-MN) and celebrate this important marker in America's religious and political history. I hope you find it challenging and intriguing. These are interesting times and in light of all the blabber about protecting our civilization, maybe it's time to protect the Constitution!

Vital Christianity

What does it mean for a church to be vital? Is it the programs? The preaching? The music? It has been a mantra for the past several decades that Conservative churches grow and liberal churches don't. Just look at those Episcopalians, they're falling apart because they're so liberal. But if you read some of the things coming from some corners of Evangelicalism, the future isn't too promising for them either!

Maybe not everything is as it seems. Maybe we need some new definitions of what it means to be vital as a Christian community. Diana Butler Bass in a book I've been talking about here in several posts provides a helpful reminder that Mainline Protestantism has only recently begun to emerge from its Country Club status. It needs to be remembered that at the height of Mainline Protestant dominance, being a church member was considered important to upward mobility and community influence. Being a Presbyterian or an Episcopalian counted for as much…

Church and Change

Churches don't like change. Whether it's music, liturgy, or the carpet, we like things the way they have always been. We've all heard the adage: "We've never done it that way." But change is a fact of life and as Diana Butler Bass demonstrates it is at the heart of Jesus' message.

Since we're on the eve of celebrating the birth of Jesus, maybe it is worth considering his message. Diana writes:

In the New Testament, Jesus asks everyone to change. With the exception of children, Jesus insists that every person he meets do something and change. The whole message of the Christian scripture is based on the idea of metanoia, the change of heart that happens when we meet God face-to-face. Even a cursory knowledge of history reveals that Christianity is a religion about change. The Christian faith always changes -- even when some of its adherents claim it does not." (Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us, HarperSanFrancisco, 2…

A Bigot in Congress

Keith Ellison has been gracious in his response to Virgil Goode's rants against immigrants and Muslims. One must remember that Ellison isn't Arab, isn't an immigrant, but is an African American convert to Islam. He has rightfully affirmed that the Constitution is the deciding document in American life.

Virgil Goode apparently hasn't figured that out. Mr. Goode also hasn't been listening to Jesus either. So I'd just as soon that he remove the Bible from his office and take down the 10 Commandments, because he hasn't understood them either.

This morning's Washington Post editorial offers a needed response to this affair. They note that Goode's "dimwitted nativism" isn't new. But they go on to note the more dubious consequences of his rant:

No, the real worry for the nation is that the rest of the world might take Mr. Goode seriously, interpreting his biased remarks about Muslims as proof that America really has embarked on a civi…

Virgil Goode's news conference

Virgil Goode's news conference reveals he has no clue what it means to be anti-Muslim. I find it difficult to wipe away the critics as being politically correct because the question his reasons for reducing legal immigration. If your purpose in reducing legal immigration is to keep out Muslims, how can that not be discriminatory. In the news conference he repeatedly asked people to read the letter. I've read the letter and it's anti-Muslim. There is no other way to take it. I'm just glad that my congressional representative is smarter!

More on Virgil Goode's Reactionary statements

It's a good thing we have Virgil Goode serving in Congress. He wants to make sure that Muslims don't become a majority in congress. Therefore we must restrict immigration dramatically, or else. I mean if you have 1 Muslim in Congress, by 2010 there will be hundreds of them. Isn't that wonderful logic.

Anyway, Goode appeared on Neil Cavuto. Didn't catch it and for some reason it won't replay on my computer. But FoxNews does provide a written article, though I'm not sure this describes the content of the conversation. I'm waiting for more news.

Virgil Goode would have made a great member of the American or Know-Nothing Party of the 1850's. This was an anti-immigrant party that was worried about the invasion and dominance of CATHOLICS. I guess they knew what they were talking about because today a majority of the Supreme Court are CATHOLICS! Before you know it . . . well ... you know what I mean.

Bigotry is bigotry -- so I'm waiting f…

Obama -- The Anti-Bush

I don't know if Barak Obama will run and I really don't know if he's experienced enough. But who is? George W. was governor of Texas and as we've seen that didn't help him much. LBJ had served in the Senate for years and later was VP before becoming President and it didn't help in Viet Nam. Of course Lincoln didn't have a lot of experience, though he chose people like William Seward, the former governor of New York to serve in important posts.

Personally, I'm excited by Obama. As a Christian who believes that faith and public life are inseparable (though the institutions are separate) Obama's willingness and ability to speak from the heart about faith and his ability to connect his faith to public policy in a non-coercive, non-dogmatic way is not only impressive, but is very attractive. No Democrat that I know of has been better at this. There is a long time between now and election time and we don't know if he'll run and if he'll be able…

Accountability or Recognition

Would Ted Haggard and Paul Barnes have been spared their recent troubles if they had had better accountability measures -- ones that would allow them to share what's going on inside. That's quite possible. Being a pastor can be lonely and stressful. Burnout is common (when my first issue of Sharing the Practice comes out -- probably in February -- we'll have an excellent article on burnout and its causes). Having a group of fellow travelers who can listen and affirm and guide one in ministry is a great idea.

Such is the focus of this morning's LA Times article by Stephanie Simon (Melissa Rogers beat me to posting and commenting on the article). Simon writes:

"No one has proposed rethinking the theology that homosexuality is a sin. Instead, there's a growing consensus that the church must do a better job of helping pastors resist all immoral desires, such as a lust for pornography, an addiction to drugs or a lifelong same-sex attraction."

"Seminary profe…

Congressional Bigot won't Apologize

Since the reports are that Virgil Goode won't apologize or back down from his anti-Islamic statements, I must once again register mydisgust and angst. If we are to be a place where freedom of religion then such attitudes and statements are inappropriate at best.

A Direct Response to Sam Harris

Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins continue to make waves challenging the intellectual moxie of Christians. I've written a couple of responses, but I don't think I've written anything quite as direct as Jason Byassee of the Christian Century. In the most recent issue Byasee takes Harris on and wonders out loud if Harris has ever run into any real live Christians, especially Christians of the moderate to liberal type.

Harris's book would be stronger if it offered evidence that he has ever spoken with any living, breathing Christians. He frequently refers to Gallup polls, to standard storylines from the New York Times and to angry e-mails he receives in response to his work. He knows enough to be aware that self-professed liberal and moderate Christians exist, but he attempts to keep at arm's length such milquetoast believers, who simply lack the courage of conviction of their fundamentalist brethren—who, in fact, enable the destructive tendencies of irrational belief by …

A New Way of Being Church

I don't know about you, but I'm tired of reading "how to books" about church growth. Just do this and you'll be successful. Usually these purveyors of successful programming are big mega-church pastors. But when you're a small congregation with a limited budget, such "success in a box" guides leave you a bit flat and even discouraged. I'm more interested in reading books and attending conferences that allow me and my congregation to explore ways of being authentically who we're called to be. When we're able to be such a congregation then perhaps growth will be in store for us.

Pastors of big churches are often entrepreneurs, but in time they become CEO's. Having been a local pastor for the last 8 years, I will confess I'm not CEO material. Oh, I do my share of administrative stuff, but I'm no CEO. I'm more the jack of all trades, small business person.

That's why I so appreciate Diana Butler Bass's Christianity for …

Congressional Bigotry?

Melissa Rogers provides an excerpt from what should be a controversial letter from Rep. Virgil Goode (R. VA). With Keith Ellison (D. MN) about to take office, Goode calls not only for staunching of illegal immigration but reductions in legal immigration that would most specifically keep out Muslims. He fears that Keith Ellison won't be the last Muslim in Congress, but if we don't stop them from coming in to the country, there might be more! Oh. my! He can put up the Ten Commandments on his wall and swear on the Bible, but Mr. Goode's "Christianity" seems at odds with the biblical position of welcoming the stranger. Here is the excerpt:

Thank you for your recent communication. When I raise my hand to take the oath on Swearing In Day, I will have the Bible in my other hand. I do not subscribe to using the Koran in any way. The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil G…

The Middle Way

This is a few days old -- well almost a week old-- but I did find this God's Politics post by Diana Butler Bass helpful. She talks about two middle alternatives -- progressive pilgrims and emergent conservatives -- who walk less defined and more nuanced paths. This isn't neutralism or disengagement, but learning to listen and work together. More I suppose of the purple way (after all we're still in Advent).

The following statement, Diana shares, was originally part of a Washington Post on-line chat.

I do not believe that there are only two sides in this dispute - I can identify five distinct groups.
Yes, there are two parties in tension: Old-line liberals and radicalized conservatives. This is the fight we most often read about in the media. However, you point out a third possibility, a centrist party that is trying to navigate between the two extremes. The extremes aren't the
whole story.
However, there are two additional groups, and these two are far less noticed. I refer…

Changing Political Fortunes

With only 2 years before the next presidential election, what does the future hold? Which direction will the country go? For the past two decades we've been going rightward. Maybe that has to do with an aging baby boomer generation settling down and saying no to its earlier flings. But now the children of the baby boomers are beginning to make their claim on our attention. And the question is, what direction will they send us?

E.J. Dionne suggests that an under 30 crowd energized not by Rush but by Stephen Colbert and John Stewart are going left ward. And it is this crowd that helps set the tone for the future. Dionne writes:

Nowhere is the evidence of change more striking than among the young, whose attitudes and behavior are usually leading indicators of social transformation.

In 1984 three exit polls pegged Ronald Reagan's share of the ballots cast by Americans under 30 at between 57 and 60 percent. Reagan-style conservatism seemed fresh, optimistic and innovative. In 2006 vot…

Walling Off A School for Peace

I understand the Israeli need to feel secure, but this wall their building has become more than a security fence. It has become a means of destroying lives and undermines peace.

As we near Christmas Eve, word comes that a school for peacemaking that brings together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim young people is facing closure and demolition -- or at least parts of the school are.

Read the story and pray for changed hearts.

Ibrahim Issa, the Hope Flowers School's co-director says:

In a message sent to supporters to mark the Christmas season, Mr Issa explained: "[Our] school needs your support, like never before. The school is a beacon of light within a harsh reality. Today the 'Little town of Bethlehem' is imprisoned behind a giant concrete wall and a winding electronic fence."

He concluded: "Huge Israeli checkpoints surround the area completely restricting the freedom of movement for Palestinians, preventing them from reaching the outside world, from gainful em…

Schism in Virginia

Seven Episcopal Churches, including two historic and large congregations, Truro and Falls Church, have voted to sever ties with the Episcopal Church in the USA and link with the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

Ostensibly this is over ordination of gays and same sex blessings, but if you read the article in the Washington Post closely you'll see that this is a broader issue -- that can be traced back to traditionalist rejection of the ordination of women. With a woman as Presiding Bishop, they're heading out.

Evangelical and Gay -- new trends

As the two most recent "outings" have come in Colorado, it's not surprising that the Denver Post is covering the issue of homosexuality in the evangelical community. This piece by Eric Gorski, the reporter who has been covering the Paul Barnes situation, that is dated December 16 (Saturday) is quite interesting.

Gorski begins by telling the story of one such evangelical who was/is evangelical and gay.

Sheila Burris tried to pray it away. She would lock herself in her dorm room closet with her Gospel music, Bible and the belief she was going to hell.

If this is a choice, Burris thought, I'd be the last one to choose it. She was a Pentecostal youth minister and Sunday school teacher. God meant everything to her.

Only after a long journey that included re-reading the Scriptures and advice from her grandmother that she listen to God, not people, did Burris conclude that two important aspects of her identity were not at odds. She was a lesbian and an evangelical Christian.


"Atheist Chic"

That's what Dan Neil calls the new interest in atheism. Neil makes the claim that he's an atheist, just like Dawkins, Harris, Sagan, and the rest, but he's a bit uncertain about the tenor of recent turn to an almost evangelical atheism. Though he recognizes that as an atheist, he's part of a "despised minority" -- despite being a bit WASPish.

I do appreciate the company, and the ammunition in these books, and the occasional exchanged glance of solidarity in the bookstore. But I'm just slightly alarmed. The new atheism is pretty hard-core, militantly insisting we challenge religiosity wherever we meet it, or else enable its darker extremist tendencies. In other words, the new atheism is on a quest for conversion. Having insisted on tolerance of our non-faith, Dawkins and Harris' take-no-prisoners orthodoxy would have us be intolerant of others' faith. Oh boy, just when I was beginning to enjoy being an atheist.I can't bring myself to confront…

Not-so-true believers

That's the title of Jonathan Chait's LA Times op-ed piece today. It reminds me of Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? (Owl Books, 2004), a book that describes how Kansas social conservatives who are largely blue collar vote against their own economic best interests by aligning with a Republican Party that gives lip-service to their social issues but never deliver -- only to pass lots of laws that benefit the rich and powerful -- or something like that.

In Chait's essay, he talks about how GOP candidates such as John McCain and Mitt Romney pander to the Religious Right to get their votes. The focus here is on Mitt Romney who is apparently running for President as the social conservatives great hope -- but back in 1994 he sounded pro-choice and pro-gay, but now he's to be taken as the champion of the right. So which is the true Mitt Romney, the moderate son of a moderate Michigan governor who walked out of the 1964 Convention when extremist Barry Goldwat…

"Let us Prey" -- More on Left Behind Game

You know, I thought true believers were supposed to be raptured when Jesus returns, so why is there a born-again Tribulation Force that's fighting the Anti-Christ's minions? I guess I'll have to read the Left Behind books, or maybe I can play the video game. I don't plan on purchasing the game. In fact, I'd just as soon that my son doesn't play War Craft. But you know I'd rather he play War Craft than Left Behind, because Left Behind carries a theological message that I can't get on board with.

I earlier posted my misgiving and added a review of Barbara Rossing's excellent book: Rapture Exposed. In reading the LA Times today, I came across a short piece by Stephanie Simon that offers an interesting take on the game and its supporters and detractors. Though there isn't any blood or gore in the game, and you get more points converting than killing your opponents, it's still that idea that when push comes to shove, a muscular Christia…

The Episcopal Divide

I grew up an Episcopalian. I was baptized and confirmed, served as an acolyte and a lay reader. My mother remains a die-hard Episcopalian to this day. Growing up Episcopalian I heard all the old saws about them, the best being: "in all things moderation." Episcopalians have been known for their tolerance, their etiquette, and their primacy of place in America's civil religion. Ronald Reagan's state funeral was held in Washington's National Cathedral and was presided over by former Senator John Danforth, himself an Episcopal Priest -- this despite the fact that Reagan was born and raised Disciples of Christ and in his Hollywood years and later attended a Presbyterian Church.

Schism is anathema to Episcopalians. My own research area is the Nonjuror movement, which was a schism movement, but it always understood itself to be the righteous remnant. When the Episcopal Church says the Creed they put emphasis on the word Catholic, as in "one holy catholic and aposto…


Bob Cornwall
Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
December 17, 2006

I consider myself to be a pretty decent person. As for my religious proclivities, I can't find anything in my life and theology that's particularly dangerous. As a pastor of a Mainline Protestant church I try to present to the world a faith that is welcoming, generous, gracious, and that seeks the transformation of the world.

When I think of bad religion I usually have someone like Osama Bin Laden and Fred Phelps in mind; on the other hand, I expect that they might say the same thing about me. So, maybe it's really a matter of perspective.

We religious people want to believe that our religion is good, and we're not always sure about anyone else's. Maybe this is why I find Sam Harris' bestseller “Letter to a Christian Nation “(Knopf, 2006) so disconcerting. Harris is, if you don't know already, a very vocal atheist. In his mind religion may have had some evolutionary value, but whatever benefi…

Religious Tests for Political Office

Back in the 18th century, Great Britain had to deal with the question of religious tests. You see, to serve in Parliament, you had to be a member in good standing of the Church of England. Evidence of such standing required taking communion/Eucharist in the Church of England. The way of getting around this rule was for non-Anglicans to occasionally conform to the Church of England. In order to protect Anglican dominance, some high church Anglicans sought to ban the practice and were able to enact such a ban. Later in the century efforts were made to eliminate these tests. A final solution to this problem didn't arrive until 1829 and the repeal of the Test Act.

The Founders resolved this issue by placing a ban on religious tests right in the center of the Constitution. To those like Dennis Prager, Roy Moore, and the American Family Association and their supporters -- check it out. Article Six of the Constitution says:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Membe…

Best Defense Secretary Ever?

You wouldn't know it by the grand send off that Donald Rumsfeld bears large responsibility for the mess in Iraq. His good buddy, the VP, called him the best defense secretary ever. Maybe the first time around, but not this time.

He alienated Congress, the military, and just about everyone else. Despite the 19 gun salute and grand gathering of important politicos, we can't forget the mishandling of the war and an Iraq that's now left in shambles. He's gone,which is good, but others will have to clean up the mess.

Now we must watch and hope that cool heads will bring some order to an already unstable region. Consider for a moment the Middle East now. Israel and Palestine are in difficult straits, Lebanon, which was recovering, is again in disarray, Iran is now a power with an ideologue as President, and the US isn't talking to either Syria or Iran. Afghanistan is still roiled in something akin to civil war.

But I'll hope for something better.

Jimmy Carter, the Palestinians, and Apartheid

Jimmy Carter has been roundly criticized for his recently published book on the Palestinian issue. The book's title uses the inflammatory term -- apartheid. This word conjures in our minds the racial policies of the former White rule in South Africa. Carter has written an open letter to the Jewish community in America clarifying his use of the term and insisting he has no ill will toward Israel. A group of Rabbis from Phoenix who had informed Carter that they would protest his appearance at a book signing, invited him to discuss the book and its charges in person. In his letter he clarifies his use of the term:

We discussed the word "apartheid," which I defined as the forced segregation of two peoples living in the same land, with one of them dominating and persecuting the other. I made clear in the book's text and in my response to the rabbis that the system of apartheid in Palestine is not based on racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis for Palestinian …

Hanukkah Greetings

Christians often find it difficult to balance the spiritual and the cultural dimensions of the Christmas season. We insist that Christmas must wait for Christmas Eve and that we must attend to the call of Advent to prepare ourselves spiritually, but the demands of the season and all the commercial enticements prove difficult to resist.

We aren't alone. The American Jewish Community must do much the same with Hanukkah. In an intriguing LA Times article, Tami Abdollah shares how a Jewish festival that is meant to celebrate those who resisted assimilation has become a symbol of American assimilation. In other parts of the world, Hanukkah isn't a major festival, but in the US it has taken on the aura of American Christmas. Thus, being that it falls in December it has become the Jewish equivalent -- especially in regard to the gift giving.

So, on this first full day of Hanukkah I give my greetings and best wishes to my Jewish friends. May we together, Christian and Jew, work to keep…

Did Jesus Exist?

Being that it's Christmas and I'm busy (when I'm not blogging or reading blogs) getting ready for the happy occasion of Christmas Eve/Day. As it's Advent I'm trying to prepare myself appropriately (though again I'm spending too much time blogging -- I think I'm addicted). Anyway, I was approached by email from a person seeking a debate partner for Earl Doherty. I must confess I'd never heard of him, but apparently he's a Canadian Humanist, who argues that Jesus never existed. That is a fairly surprising assertion that has little scholarly support. Obviously there are many scholars who discount the orthodox Christian affirmation that Jesus is God incarnate. The idea of a virginal conception is rejected by many good Christians.

Remember that the Jesus Seminar hasn't argued over whether Jesus existed, but over which verses can be traced to him. The bold Red verses are few, but they're there. Though honored to be asked, I chose…

Where Will the Church Go? Concerning Homosexuality

I'm amazed at the interest there is in the recent resignations by Ted Haggard and Paul Barnes. I'm not sure if this is voyeuristic curiosity in something "sexual" or if it's people glad to see evangelical leaders fall. There is something in us that likes to crow when we think we detect hypocrisy -- though there's plenty to go around for everyone, whether you're religious or not.

It's interesting to see the evangelical Christian response to the most recent resignation -- that of Paul Barnes. A follow up article published yesterday, I believe, in the Denver Post quotes several leaders calling for compassion and an end to gay bashing. But, there's no sign that there's any change in belief/understanding. Leith Anderson, who replaced Ted Haggard as President of the National Association of Evangelicals made that point clearly:

I honestly don't think there is significant rethinking on evangelical positions on homosexuality, but I think there may be…

Being Biblical and Emergent

Brian McLaren entitles one of his chapters in Generous Orthodoxy: "Why I Am Biblical." It's not surprising given the evangelical context within which he is "emerging." As I read this chapter, I found someone seeking to remain reverent while at the same time seeking to learn from critical scholarship. His embrace of critical scholarship doesn't keep him from assuming that Paul wrote the Pastoral Epistles. His is a very cautious understanding. But I understand where he's coming from. He wants to be true to Scripture without becoming a biblicist. He's open to things like evolution, the equality of women, and I think on homosexuality (but here I may be reading more into what he says than is there). McLaren isn't Marcus Borg, but he's also not J.I. Packer. He likes Walter Brueggeman and N.T. Wright.

His is a practical understanding of Scripture -- it's useful for equipping God's people -- rather than dogmatic. Remember also…

Scientism Revival

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and more, have taken up the cause. Banish religion and all will be fine. Religion has a lot to be ashamed of, but would we really be better off without it? Both Dawkins and Harris accuse religious parents of something tantamount to child abuse for indoctrinating them into the Christian faith.

And so on radio, TV, in symposiums and mass rallies the non-religious faithful have taken up the cause. Of course, if you listen closely what you'll discover is a straw-man. It's not your normal church or mosque goer, it's something akin to Fred Phelps or Osama Bin Laden.

This week's edition of Sightings, an on-line newsletter from the Martin Marty Center wrestles with the challenge. Philip Hefner's article is entitled: "Going Beyond Belief" It concerns a symposium held at the Salk Institute of Biological Studies in La Jolla.

A number of the most articulate anti-religious self-proclaimed atheists were among the stellar group of scientists as…

Judge Roy Moore judges Keith Ellison unfit to serve

Keith Ellison (D-MN) was elected as the first Muslim to serve in Congress. I've already made some comments about this and responded to the silliness of Dennis Prager. Now comes a blast from that defender of the Constitution -- Judge Roy Moore. You might know him from his days on the Alabama Supreme Court and his demand that the Ten Commandments be posted in the court room. He lost his job when he refused to remove a marble monument to the Commandments.

So, what does he have to say about Keith Ellison? The headline of his column at WorldNetDaily says it all:

"Muslim Ellison should not sit in Congress." Why is this? Well, "can a true believer in the Islamic doctrine found in the Quran swear allegiance to our Constitution? Those who profess a sincere belief in Allah say 'no'!" I'm not sure where Judge Moore got his information, but Mr. Ellison has served ably in the Minnesota legislature and has a law degree, and apparently his district didn…

Religion in the Military

There is much controversy over a Campus Crusade related Video for the Christian Embassy, a ministry to political and military elite. Melissa Rogers's blog has been highlighting this growing controversy. But today she offers a chart that shows that 40% of Active Military personnel are evangelical, though only 14% of Americans are evangelical. At the same time 60% of chaplains are evangelical.

What are some of the explanations? The post doesn't postulate, but I guess there could be a few easy explanations. Is it possible that a large percentage of military personnel come from the South? Baptists are big down there. A sizable number of personnel are African-American, and most Black churches would fall under that same purview. Military personnel tend to be Republican, and evangelicals are a significant block in that group. Interesting statistics, but perhaps not surprising. Besides Jewish groups and Mainline Protestants tend to be more ambivalent about such things as war and milita…

Are We Ready?

Barak Obama could be the first African-American President (he's more specifically Kenyan-American). There are many questions about whether the nation is ready for such a bold step. I mean, we're only a century and a half beyond slavery! Then there's his name, which kind of sounds Arabic. A right winger called him recently Osama Obama. I'm sure people will have a field day with that, especially since we're in a clash of cultures -- but Barak Obama isn't Muslim, he's Christian (United Church of Christ). So, as has been reported, Obama is seeking to make the case that the nation is ready for such a big change.

But Obama isn't the only one who could be a first. There is also the possibility that Hillary Clinton could be the first woman President. Now that would be a major change, wouldn't it. Of course Pakistan, Bangladesh, Britain, Germany, Israel, and India, among others have already beat us to that cross-roads.

Then of course, there's …

GOP and Gays -- Is there room in the Inn?

I've been following with some interest the travails of Mitt Romney and the gay rights issue. Romney, being a member of the LDS Church (Mormons), wants to be President and with Conservative Evangelicals making up a sizable and vocal voting block within the GOP he has to show his conservative social credentials if he hopes to win them over to his campaign. Thus, gay rights is a key issue, and as the former governor of a liberal New England state that allows gay marriage, he must show himself to be truly "red state" savvy.

Well he has come out strongly in recent days against gay marriage and has decried the Massachusetts's' Supreme Court decision to allow them in that state. The only problem is that in 1994, in a senatorial campaign against Ted Kennedy he sought out the gay vote and in 2002 his supporters distributed fliers at a Gay Pride parade in Boston offering his support. So, which side is he on? That's what the SBC and Focus on the Family want to know. Are …

Rapture Exposed

The following is a review of Barbara Rossing'sThe Rapture Exposed, which appeared in an issue of Sharing the Practice, the journal of the Academy of Parish Clergy. In the light of the release of the Left Behind Game, I thought it might be helpful to consider Rossing's important book.

Barbara Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation, (Basic Books, 2004), $15.

The best-selling Left Behind series has put Christian fiction on the map and has heightened interest in end times scenarios. But, do these books provide a good reading of Scripture or offer a truly Christian world view? Barbara Rossing, Professor of New Testament at Lutheran School of Theology, says absolutely not.

Rossing’s book critiques the dispensationalism that underlies this series and similar books, while at the same time offering a different and more biblical view of our future. The dispensationalism of Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and Pat Robertson appears at first glance almost scienti…

Gay and Evangelical -- A Dilemma

With the outing of Paul Barnes, former pastor of the Denver area Grace Chapel, following so closely on the heals of Ted Haggard's fall, the question seems to be who's next? The question is: can you be evangelical and gay? The answer on the part of most evangelicals is no, but that doesn't mean there aren't significant numbers of gays who consider themselves to be evangelicals.

Well, this morning in the NY Times there is an interesting article that focuses on just this question. The article shares the dilemma that self-described gay evangelicals feel as they look for a community that will accept them as who they are and yet are sufficiently evangelical in their theology:

But even when they accept themselves, gay evangelicals often have difficulty finding a community. They are too Christian for many gay people, with the evangelical rock they listen to and their talk of loving God. Mr. Lee plans to remain sexually abstinent until he is in a long-term, religiously blessed r…

More on the Paul Barnes story

A fuller report on the Paul Barnes story appears in the Denver Post. In that report we learn that Barnes was a soft-spoken Dallas Seminary graduate who largely stayed out of politics -- unlike his more famous fellow pastor Ted Haggard. This included the recent Prop 43.

From the article the pastor confessed that he'd had infrequent liaisons, none recently.

As for his views of homosexuality, he doesn't believe they're inborn -- but rather they're environmental. I expect we'll learn more as the days go on.

Another Pastor Falls

I just caught wind of this story from Andrew Sullivan's blog. Apparently, as is being reported in the local Englewood, CO paper, D. Paul Barnes, pastor of the 2000 plus member Grace Chapel, has resigned for sexual misconduct. More specifically, for engaging in a homosexual relationship. I don't know anything about him and he doesn't have the exposure of Ted Haggard, but this underlines the need to have an honest and open conversation.

The article quotes Barnes, who had pastored the church for 28 years, as saying:

“I have struggled with homosexuality since I was a 5-year-old boy,” Barnes,
54, said in the videotaped message. “... I can’t tell you the number of nights I
have cried myself to sleep, begging God to take this away.”

Again, it's time to have this conversation before we hear of more revelations. Since I know little about him, I don't know his stand on homosexuality. That he is married and has struggled with homosexual impulses since childhood suggests that his t…

A Generous Orthodoxy -- a Mid point review

I think I've read enough of Brian McLaren's Generous Orthodoxy, (Zondevan 2004), to give a sense of where I think he's going.

McLaren's "Generous Orthodoxy" is post-modern eclectisicm. Now some people might find this to be a negative, but I actually like this direction. Perhaps that's because I too am a bit of an eclectic thinker. My roots are in the Episcopal Church, but I spent nearly six years hanging around Foursquare Churches. I've been part of Presbyterian and Baptist churches, and I'm of course an ordained Disciples of Christ pastor. I expect that something from all these experiences has influenced my life and my thinking. Add to that the fact that I have two degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary, which is the largest multi-denominational seminary in the world. Note that I used the word "multi-denominational" and not "non-denominational." Non-denominational is carries an anti-denominational connotation, a…

Heroes with Feet of Clay

Clint Eastwood's movie, Flags of our Fathers, which is based on a book by James Bradley, highlights the complexity of war and its effects on the soldiers who fight it. The book and the movie, for those who don't know, tells the story of the six Marines (actually one is a Navy corpsman) who raise the flag on Mt. Surabachi. It is actually a very good movie and worth seeing.

I took the image of the hero in the movie and hopefully raised questions about how we treat and understand our own young men and women who are fighting and dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. I read recently that there have been very few medals given during this conflict -- only 2 Medal of Honor winners. Perhaps we're my cynical these days and heroes aren't part of our world view.

In any case, take a look at what I've written in my Faith in the Public Square column this week for the Lompoc Record.

Jimmy Carter and the Palestinians

Jimmy Carter has a new book out on the Palestinian situation -- Palestine: Peace not Apartheid. It has been both praised and condemned. Opponents and critics raise the specter of Carter being out of touch, loony, anti-American, anti-Semitic, the worst President ever (GW is making a good run at that title). Carter has been since leaving office a thorn in the side of American presidents, Republican or Democrat. He's his own man and has gone where most ex-presidents never go. He is definitely a gadfly, but much good has come of his work.

The current debate focuses on the use of the word apartheid. Though Carter insists that he is not speaking of Israel proper, he does believe, and I think rightly so, that current Israeli policy in the occupied territories is apartheid like. A wall is being built that snakes through Palestinian territory, Palestinian movement within the West Bank and Gaza is controlled by the Israelis, Palestinian trade is controlled by the Israelis. Whatever word you …