Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Golf with Theological Debate

Today I played golf with a guy who when he told me his email address for the first time years ago--it's his first two intials and his last name @aol.com--he helped me remember the initials by saying "just think 'bowel movement' and you'll think of me.

He was right.

When we play golf, it's 4 hours of hacking and debating, two of our favorite things. I can't think of a better way to spend 4 hours than golf and discussing what it means that the Bible is inspired, or whether or not postmodern church leaders are spot on or gone off the deep end.

Thanks, BMW. And live with the fact that for the next 12 months, I can claim the better golfer title. By 2 strokes.

Plus I posted this picture just for you...

Monday, July 30, 2007

"Black" by Ted Dekker

My wife accuses me of being a snob about some things. Not very many things, mind you. I'm very laid back about just about everything. But the 3 or 4 things I'm snobbish about, well, I'm REALLY snobbish about. The list includes coffee, putting greens, wine, writing instruments, and sometimes gadgets in general.

Until recently some people would have put fictional books on that list. I don't typically read much fiction, but I read a ton of non-fiction. So some friends (April) have accused me of being snobbish about fiction. But the truth is I really enjoy fiction, I just tend to enjoy non-fiction more. And I do have a thing about poorly written Christian propaganda fiction (read "Left Behind"; there's that snobbishness again, I guess you have to add cheap art from the Christian ghetto to the list...)

The wife and the friends finally prevailed, and I read "Black" by Ted Dekker over the weekend. It started a little slow, but by halfway through I was really enjoying it. While I don't think it's quite the caliber of C.S. Lewis' "Out of the Silent Planet" trilogy (of which the 2nd, "Perelandra" is my fave), it's very good. And it's got me ready to read the 2nd in that series "Red". (Okay, I do think the colors are a little not-so-subtle Christian subculturish--black introduces sin and evil, and I'm sure red will be redemption and the 3rd book, "White", will have good triumphing over evil.)

But like I said, I'm ready to read it. So whoever has it checked out from the San Antonio Library needs to get it back...

Religious Liberty in Balance

Big Daddy Weave has this quote from an interview between David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) and presidential candidate Barak Obama:

Brody Question: There is the so-called "religious left" in this country that focuses primarily on social justice issues and there is the so-called "religious right" in this country that focuses more on personal salvation and the life and marriage issues. Some on the right believe that Evangelicals shouldn't be the only ones moving left. Rather, the left needs to move toward the middle as well and not just put the focus on their issues. What is your plan to bring these two sides together?

Senator Obama: Well, these are difficult problems and there are no easy solutions. But I think that there are some lessons that both progressives and conservatives might learn. For progressives, I think we should recognize the role that values and culture play in addressing some of our most urgent social problems. As I've said many times before, the problems of poverty and racism, the uninsured and the unemployed aren't simply technical problems in search of a ten-point plan. They're rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness - in the imperfections of man.For example, I believe in keeping guns out of our inner cities, and that our leaders must say so in the face of the gun manufacturers' lobby. But I also believe that when a gang-banger shoots indiscriminately into a crowd because he feels somebody disrespected him, we've got a moral problem. There's a hole in that young man's heart - a hole that the government alone cannot fix. So solving these problems will require changes in government policy, but it will also require changes in hearts and a change in minds. I think progressives would do well to take this to heart.For my friends on the right, I think it would be helpful to remember the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy but also our religious practice. Folks tend to forget that during our founding, it wasn't the atheists or the civil libertarians who were the most effective champions of the First Amendment. It was the persecuted minorities, it was Baptists like John Leland who didn't want the established churches to impose their views on folks who were getting happy out in the fields and teaching the scripture to slaves.It was the forbearers of Evangelicals who were the most adamant about not mingling government with religious, because they didn't want state-sponsored religion hindering their ability to practice their faith as they understood it. Given this fact, I think that the right might worry a bit more about the dangers of sectarianism.Whatever we once were, we're no longer just a Christian nation; we are also a Jewish nation, a Muslim nation, a Buddhist nation, a Hindu nation, and a nation of non-believers. We should acknowledge this and realize that when we're formulating policies from the state house to the Senate floor to the White House, we've got to work to translate our reasoning into values that are accessible to every one of our citizens, not just members of our own faith community.

I have no idea whether or not I would vote for Mr. Obama, but his candid take on his own faith and how it impacts the world are refreshing. It comes across as alive an authentic, not some rote set of rules to follow. It is tough to both speak for your faith and how that faith can make a difference in the world while still supporting the separation of church and state and religious liberty for everyone.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Roadmap to Peace in Israel/Palestine

President Carter ends his book with a summary of his thoughts on where the peace process needs to go. First, he sees two obstacles:

1. Some Israelis believe they have the right to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land and try to justify the sustained subjugation and persecution of increasingly hopeless and aggravated Palestinians; and

2. Some Palestinians react by honoring suicide bombers as martyrs to be rewarded in heaven and consider the killing of Israelis as victories.

Then he challenges the US to get back involved in the peace process by promoting these three key points of the Roadmap to Peace:

1. The security of Israel must be guaranteed.

2. The internal debate within Israel must be resolved in order to define Israel's permanent legal boundary.

3. The sovereignty of all Middle East nations and sanctity of international borders must be honored.

Carter readily acknowledges that while these obstacles and goals seem simple, the process to get to them is extremely complex. But it is clear that the US and the other members of the Quartet (Russia, the European Union and the United Nations) need to reengage leadership in this process. And maybe they are. Tony Blair, recently departed from his PM role in Great Britain, is now working as peace envoy for the quartet. He's got some tough choices, like how much (if at all) to work with Hamas, something that Colin Powell apparently thinks he should do, but stuff like this would have to stop.

The Hebrew Bible encourages us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I think that's a great idea. Let's pray for and work towards a real and sustainable peace that has justice for everyone involved.

Better late than never...

Not to be too "johnny come lately", but I just finished yesterday former president Jimmy Carter's 2006 book "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." The book took a lot of flack when it first came out, and after reading it, I can only think of three reasons:
  • He used the word "apartheid" in the title. No doubt this was provocative, and on purpose. I remember seeing President Carter on "The Tonight Show" last year, and even Jay Leno was struggling a little with that word. But even though it provokes those feelings, I have no doubt that President Carter believes it's the right word to describe the situation. The Israelis are building walls of separation, both physically and metaphorically, based solely on race, denying Palestinians even basic civil rights and occupying--even encouraging Jewish settlements in--land that does not belong to Israel according to the international community (land they took in the 1967 war and since). While Palestinians and other Arabs must both acknowledge Israel's right to exist and denounce violence (which doesn't help their cause in the long run anyway)--something Carter says several times in the book, Israel has repeatedly agreed in the past to return to their pre-1967 internationally-recognized borders but has yet to do so.

  • He's a liberal democrat. Which means that he will not have a good idea in the eyes of conservatives.

  • There are those that believe support of Israel should be unconditional based on their interpretation of the Bible. This is particularly true of premillenial dispensationalists like John Hagee and others. However even the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) challenges Israel to treat with justice the aliens living among them, something that is not always the case. Since Carter so strongly encourages the international community to push Israel to fulfill their promises related to releasing occupied lands and providing the Palestinians with their basic rights and self-governance.

In my next post I will talk about Carter's suggested solutions to pursuing peace in the region.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Religious Liberty

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) General Assembly in Washington, DC. Two highlights of this meeting of moderate, traditional Baptists were worth the trip by themselves: the joint worship on Friday night with participants from the American Baptist Churches USA and Progressive Baptists, and the Religious Liberty Council lunch, which featured a great speech from Randall Balmer. Here's his opening line:

“Dear Sir,” the letter began. “Start looking for a new job. The moral majority is going to put you and President Carter type of Christians out of a job.” This letter, written in August 1980 by a man from Dallas, was addressed to Jimmy Carter’s religious liaison, Robert Maddox, a Baptist. “Any staunch Christian would not support gays, would not support the ERA which contradicts God’s plan for women and would support voluntary prayer in the school. You guys are real bummers. You don’t even deserve to be called Baptists.”

Ballmer, a professor at Columbia and an ordained Episcopal priest, hammered today's most well-known Baptist leaders, particularly those within the Southern Baptist Convention, for their tossing out the window one of the top two or three historical Baptist distinctives--religious liberty. You can read the text of his entire speech (it's worth it!) here...

Probably my favorite lines came about the public posting of religious stuff, especially the 10 Commandments. He says:

Why the Decalogue, first of all? Why not the Sermon on the Mount, for those who want to make the argument that the United States is a “Christian nation”? The Sermon on the Mount, after all, is the highest expression of Christian ethics, although it does contain some of that unfortunate language about peacemakers and those who show mercy and turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies and storing treasures on earth. It also talks about the dangers of praying in public, after the manner of the hypocrites. Perhaps that’s why we prefer the retributive justice of the Ten Commandments over the ethic of love outlined in the Sermon on the Mount. Still, the soaring aspirations of the Sermon on the Mount surely would comport better with the American temperament than the prohibitions of the Ten Commandments.
But why not post the Decalogue in public places? Because, quite simply, it trivializes the faith and makes the Ten Commandments into a fetish. I was one of the expert witnesses in the Alabama Ten Commandments case, where Roy S. Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, plopped a two-and-one-half-ton granite monument emblazoned with the Decalogue into the lobby of the Judicial Building in Montgomery. Moore, who had run for office as the “Ten Commandments judge” and who claims to be a Baptist, repeatedly refused the requests of other religious traditions to have their sacred texts represented in the Judicial Building. And he also refused to acknowledge other precedents for American jurisprudence: the Code of Hammurabi, the Justinian Code, or the English Common Law tradition. He wanted only the Decalogue.

Religious liberty is important not because the religion diminishes the government, but because the religious principles get diminished when tied to governmental rule! My favorite Balmer zinger:

The lesson of Montgomery, Alabama, is that when religion looks for sanction from the state, religion is diminished. Faith is reduced to a fetish. Some of you may recall that after Judge Thompson ruled, properly, that “Roy’s Rock” violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment, and workers were preparing to remove it, one of the protesters screamed, “Get your hands off my God!”
Unless I’m mistaken, one of the Commandments etched into the side of that granite monument says something about graven images.

In our zeal for Christian morality, are we often putting aside our own Christian morality?