Tuesday, July 30, 2013

On the Democracy of the Heart

"I fear the plutocracy of wealth, I respect the aristocracy of learning, but I thank God for the democracy of the heart that makes it possible for every human being to do something to make life worth living while he lives and the world better for his existence in it."
-- William Jennings Bryan

Thursday, July 25, 2013

On the Demographic Demise of the Religious Right

An excerpt from Dr. David Campbell's guest lecture at the University of Oklahoma on February 7, 2012. Campbell is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame University and co-author of the book American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us

Moderate and Progressive Baptists will note that the time when evangelicalism began to decline and the "nones" began to rise also coincides with the completion of the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and the increasing union of the SBC with the GOP.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Journey out of the Religious Right

Frank Schaeffer: My Journey Out of the Religious Right from Bruce Prescott on Vimeo.

Frank Schaeffer, author and son of the late Francis and Edith Schaeffer, speaks on the topic "My Journey Out of the Religious Right and into Mainstream Politics and Progressive Causes."

He spoke at the invitation of the University of Oklahoma's Religious Studies Program on the evening of April 8, 2013.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Our Moral Obligation to Address Climate Change

I will be speaking this afternoon at the Sierra Club's Climate Action Bus Event on the campus of the University of Oklahoma. Here is what I plan on saying:

The scientific evidence for anthropogenic climate change is clear and unequivocal. The weight of evidence is so great and the consensus in the scientific community is so overwhelming that it is dishonest and immoral to deny the reality of climate change.

Reducing green house gas emissions is the most important ethical issue of our time. It is a moral imperative. We have an obligation to God, to our children and our grandchildren, to all humanity, and to the biodiversity of life on this planet to take immediate action to stop contributing to climate change.

I am a Baptist minister. Scriptures common to people of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths tell us that God created all of the diverse forms of life on this planet and said that it was good. God made us stewards of life on this planet with responsibility to care for it and keep it. People of every faith and philosophy recognize that we are all obligated to preserve an environment that can sustain life as we know it.

I am a father and a grandfather. I want my children and grandchildren to experience a quality of life that is as good, and preferably better, than my own. I have no desire to make life harder and more difficult for them. Climate change threatens to make the world my children inherit completely different from the world we live in today. As President Obama indicated, "we have a moral obligation to act on behalf of future generations" and leave them a planet as hospitable as the one that was given to us.

I am a human being. All human beings are created in the image of God and have value and dignity. Increasingly extreme weather events – droughts and floods, tornadoes and hurricanes – are making life treacherous for people around the world. With ever increasing regularity, extreme weather events are destroying our homes, schools, lives and livelihoods. We have an obligation to lend aid to people not only when catastrophe strikes, but we must to do everything possible to mitigate the emissions that are fueling these extreme weather events.

I am part of an ecosystem. In one way or another, all the forms of life on this planet are connected. Scientists tell us that global warming is going to cause a lot of extinctions. The destruction of biodiversity is dangerous for our entire ecosystem. Each one of us has a responsibility to do whatever we can do to reduce our own greenhouse gas footprint.

Do whatever you can to stop contributing to climate change. Make this a burning issue when you are in the voting booth to elect leaders. The future of life on this planet depends on it.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Our Guilty Silence

Mitch Carnell, editor of Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, offered some sound advice on Ethics Daily for how to respond to the uncivil rhetoric that permeates our public discourse:

Our democracy depends on lively, informed, healthy political debate. No American wants a society where nothing is challenged and everything goes. Debate is the life's blood of our way of life. If you have a better idea, put it on the table and let's see if it can stand up to rigorous scrutiny.

It is not the other group or the other person who is responsible for gutter language in our national debate, or for the shameless and often baseless attacks on individuals. It is any of us who engage in such tactics or fail to challenge them when and where we encounter them.
Well said.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Domestic Threats to Democracy and Civility

Currently there are a number of genuine domestic threats to our democracy and civic dialogue.

Foremost among them are those neoconservatives and others who believe that public discussion has become an empty formality in our democracy. In their eyes, the idea of openness and discussion has become outmoded.

In actuality, there are a number of reasons for that position. First, small and exclusive committees and coalitions are making key decisions behind closed doors and then "framing" the language they use to describe the issues in ways that conceal the effects of their decisions. Second, corporate interests and special interest groups are unduly influencing committees and key decision makers through lobbyists, campaign donations, and other favors. Third, the press and mass media have become subject to corporate and special interests that are using them to "manufacture consent" to further private interests.

Another threat to democracy and civility comes from those who believe that pluralistic democracy is heresy. Adherents of Christian Reconstructionism would replace democracy with a Christian theocracy. R. J. Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, opposed pluralistic democracy because:
"In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions."
-- Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 294.
They have embarked on a long term project to restore America to the rule of biblical law as practiced by the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630.

A broader movement, heavily influenced by Christian Reconstructionists, are the Dominionists who believe that conservative Christians are commanded to take control of civil government and, ultimately, to exercise dominion over all the earth.

The largest group threatening pluralistic democracy and civility are the Christian Nationalists. They believe that Christianity was the established religion of America until 1962 when the Supreme Court kicked God out of the public schools and established a religion of secular humanism by separating church and state. They are determined to have Christianity declared the established religion of our nation.

A more insidious threat comes from those who are actively working to takeover churches and the public square with the intention to undermine and/or exclude progressive voices from civil dialogue.

A number of philanthropists and corporations, believing that public discussion is a threat to their private interests, have funded an ever growing number of think tanks, political and media entities, publishing houses, colleges, universities, and law schools. These entitites are already playing a significant role in public life. A good example of this threat is the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

Finally, there are some who are deliberately working to manipulate and dominate the public dialogue. They are destroying civil conversation in the process. The consolidation of corporate media, the venom of talk radio, and the clamor of both the right-wing and the left-wing noise machines have completely overwhelmed all principled dialogue between opposing perspectives.

At this moment, more than anything else, we are in dire need of what Martin Marty has called a convicted civility:
"People who are civil often do not have very strong convictions, and people who have strong convictions often aren't very civil. What we need to cultivate is convicted civility."
It is time for those committed to pluralistic democracy and civil discussion as a means of governing to stand up and defend their convictions.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Anti-Abortionist Batting Percentages

I heard Oklahoma State Senator John Sparks speak today at noon. He made much of how little the Religious Right had to show for 34 years of political activity in regard to abortion. His talk reminded me of comments (with minor modifications) I made years ago about fundamentalist batting percentages:

Whenever the Religious Right gets desperate to convince mainstream Christians to see things their way, they often pull out a bat and try to knock people out of the Christian ballpark.

Their favorite club is the "You can't be a Christian if you don't agree with me!" stick. Jerry Falwell was an MVP at swinging this bat. In September 2004 he said, "You cannot be a sincere, committed born-again believer who takes the Bible seriously and vote for a pro-choice, anti-family candidate."

If that's not a home run, it is at least a triple. In the swing of a single sentence he made a connection that questioned the sincerity (first base), salvation (second base), and spiritual fidelity (third base) of anyone who doesn't vote for candidates he approved.

Still, it frustrates the Religious Right to see a runner standing on third base. They've got to drive their point home. That's why they always have a clean-up hitter on deck. The clean-up man swings the "You've got to be a baby killer!" stick. This one often clears mainstream Christians from the ballpark, but not because they are convinced. They leave because they don't know how to respond to people so insulting.

I've learned that the only way to hold your own in a political game with Fundamentalists is to turn the tables on them. That's why I always keep a quote from C. Everrett Koop handy. C. Everrett Koop was the Surgeon General in the Reagan Administration. He co-authored, with Francis Schaeffer, the book and film series that educated most evangelicals about abortion -- Whatever Became of the Human Race. In Bill Martin's book, With God On Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, Koop explains why he dropped out of the abortion controversy:

If the pro-life people in the late 1960's and the early 1970's had been willing to compromise with the pro-choice people, we could have had an abortion law that provided for abortion only for the life of the mother, incest, rape, and defective child; that would have cut the abortions down to three percent of what they are today. But they had an all-or-nothing mentality. They wanted it all and they got nothing.
Note that the exceptions Koop described coincide exactly with the exceptions that Southern Baptists supported before the political takeover of the SBC. Since the takeover, Southern Baptists have shifted to the "all-or-nothing mentality."

The truth is, even if the Fundamentalists were correct about all abortions being murder, then conservative Christian intransigence is responsible for 97% of the murders and compromising mainstream Christians are guilty of 3%. None of us will come out of this guiltless, but one percentage requires a lot less grace.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Judge Jones on Intelligent Design

Judge John E. Jones' lecture on "The U.S. Constitution's Intelligent Design."

The lecture concluded an interdisciplinary dream course at the University of Oklahoma. It was delivered on December 6, 2012.

Judge Jones was the presiding jurist in the Kitzmiller vs. the Dover Pennsylvania School District case that ruled on whether "Intelligent Design" could be taught in public schools.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Videos from the Religious Leaders Dialogue on the Death Penalty

Videos from the Religious Leaders Dialogue on the Death Penalty sponsored by the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty at Capital Hill Methodist Church on March 14, 2013.

Videos include statements from Rev. Mike Girlinghouse, Bishop for the Arkansas-Oklahoma Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), Rev. Adam Leathers, Director of Criminal Justice and Mercy Ministries, Dr. William Tabbernee, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, and Rev. Dr. Marlon J. Coleman, pastor of the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church in Muskogee, OK, and Ms. Lydia Polley, co-chair of the Oklahoma Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

On Baptists and Religious Liberty

I will be speaking about separation of church and state at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lawton this morning. Below is an excerpt from my sermon.

Speaking opportunities at your church, service organization, social club, or political organization are welcome.

From the sermon, "Trading Places" (Matthew 22:15-21) --

Baptists joined the revolution to secure more than liberty from the English crown in earthly matters. John Leland, the leader of the Virginia Baptists, told George Washington that “liberty of conscience” is “dearer to us than property or life” and he meant it. Baptists were fighting for liberty in spiritual matters. Baptist came to this country seeking religious freedom only to discover that it was denied them in many of the colonies –- particularly in Massachusetts and Virginia.

The Puritans in Massachusetts flogged Baptists for conducting unauthorized worship services -- and that was lenient. They hung four Quakers for the same offense. Between 1772 and 1776 the jails in Virginia were full of Baptist preachers who were arrested for preaching the gospel without a license –- and they couldn’t get a license because they were Baptists.

That’s why, for Baptists, the war for independence was a war for religious liberty.

And that’s why Baptists would not rest until the constitution of this new nation explicitly guaranteed that every citizen would have an equal right to liberty of conscience.

For the Baptists of that time, liberty of conscience meant that church and state would be separate, that no one could be forced to pay taxes to support religion, that no one could be forced to participate in religious exercises against their will, and that everyone would have freedom of religion or freedom from religion -- according to the dictates of their own conscience.

237 years later most Baptists don’t know this history and really don’t care to know it.

That’s why the values of those revolutionary Baptists are remarkably different from the values of most Baptists today.

Today, most Baptists no longer believe in separation of church and state – they think it is a communist idea found only in the constitution of the Soviet Union.

Today, most Baptists think it is fine for both the state and the federal government to distribute tax dollars to the churches that work the hardest to get-out-the-vote in political elections.

Today, most Baptists believe the Supreme Court provoked the wrath of God when it prohibited government agents from forcing school children to participate in acts of worship –- the daily recital of officially approved prayers.

Today, most Baptists think the constitution created two classes of citizens –- first class citizens -– people of the majority faith who are free to impose their religious values on society by legislation, and second class citizens –- people of minority faiths who are tolerated only so long as they remain invisible and stay away from the public square.

No doubt, if the Baptists of 1776 traded places with Baptists today -- both would be shocked.

The Baptists of 1776 would be shocked to learn that they have less in common with their Baptist descendants than that they do with the descendants of the Congregationalists in Massachusetts and the Episcopalians in Virginia who once persecuted them so mercilessly. Modern Baptists would be shocked to discover that they have more in common with the loyalist conservatives of the Church of England than they do with their liberal, radical and revolutionary ancestors.

Frankly, most Baptists and other evangelical Christians today are a lot like the Herodians and Pharisees of Jesus day –- they just don’t comprehend what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Endorsing Medicaid Expansion

I have been to emergency rooms several times in Oklahoma hospitals. Our emergency rooms are clogged with uninsured people with simple headaches, sore throats, ear aches, tooth aches, low grade fevers, rashes, insect bites, and minor scrapes and burns. Many only need over the counter medicines for a common cold or a prescription for the flu. They would be better treated at a doctor’s office or a dentist’s office, but they are underemployed, uninsured and can’t afford one. The only place they are sure to get medical attention -- even for minor ailments -- is at an emergency room.

Meanwhile, care for people with genuine medical emergencies is delayed and their recovery is prolonged and made more difficult.

If the governor and the legislature would accept healthcare expansion, our emergency rooms would not be clogged with people who would be better treated at a doctor’s office or a dentist’s office.

If the governor and the legislature would accept healthcare expansion, public expense for the care of the uninsured would be much more cost effective.

If the governor and the legislature would accept healthcare expansion, emergency room doctors would be able to spend more time treating people with genuine medical emergencies, recovery times would be shorter and outcomes would be better.

If the governor and the legislature would accept healthcare expansion, Oklahomans who have health insurance would no longer be subsidizing expenses for unnecessary emergency room visits by the uninsured.

Accepting healthcare expansion is not only the right thing to do and the moral thing to do, it is also the most cost efficient way to keep Oklahoman’s healthy. And that is without saying anything about the hundreds of millions of dollars that the federal government will send us to help defray the cost of healthcare expansion.

The Oklahoma Faith & Freedom Network joins the Oklahoma Conference of Churches and the Oklahoma Policy Institute in encouraging Governor Fallin and our Oklahoma state legislators to accept the federal government's medicaid expansion.

Failing to expand medicaid coverage in Oklahoma could leave 130,000 Oklahomans without health insurance.

We are convinced that the Oklahoma Policy Institute has been providing the best information on the strengths and weaknesses for Oklahoma regarding the Affordable Care Act's expansion of medicaid for the uninsured.

Here is a link to a page with links to the resources and information that the Oklahoma Policy Institute has gathered on this issue.

We encourage all religious leaders to prayerfully study this issue and then let their voices be heard by taking action to contact the Governor and their state legislators. Here's a link to a resource that will help your voice be heard.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Endorsing the Clergy Letter Project

The Oklahoma Faith Network endorses The Clergy Letter Project which is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible. We want to help elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.

Each year the Clergy Letter Project promotes an evolution Sunday encouraging ministers to devote a Sunday to discuss the compatibility of religion and science.

If you are a minister, we encourage you to participate in the next evolution Sunday.

If you are not a minister, we encourage you to ask your minister to participate in the next evolution Sunday.

Monday, July 1, 2013

What is the Oklahoma Faith Network?

The Oklahoma Faith Network is a project of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists. It is a statewide group of mainstream religious leaders united in support of liberty of conscience, religious freedom, civil liberties, and strong public education. We seek to promote the positive role of religion in public life through advocacy and community education.

Our primary areas of concern include:

1. Involving religious leaders in the political process at the state legislature and the state board of education.

2. Working with the media to ensure that the religious right is not the only representative of people of faith in the news.

3. Organizing and publicizing clergy statements on important political issues of the day.

4. Training people of faith to speak with an effective religious voice on issues facing our communities.