Archive for March 2012

A Prayer for Trayvon Martin’s Mother Sabrina   1 comment

Since I didn’t hear a prayer for Trayvon Martin’s mother Sabrina Fulton on Sunday at church (and probably you didn’t either if you attend a typical Evangelical church), I want to offer this beautiful one by Ruth Bell Graham as my heartfelt prayer for her:

“Listen Lord, a mother’s praying
low and quiet: listen please.
Listen what her tears are saying,
see her heart, upon its knees;
lift the load from her bowed shoulders
till she sees, and understands,
You, who hold the worlds together,
hold her problems
in Your hands.”

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“Business As Usual” Until It’s Too Late – or Is it?   Leave a comment

“Democracy don’t rule the world. You better get that through your head.This world is ruled by violence … but that’s better left unsaid.”   Sundown on the Union, Bob Dylan

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I don’t know about you, but when I look around, I can’t believe the way so many people behave these days. What I mean is, I read what’s in the paper and the online news, and it’s enough to make me lose hope – or at least lose sleep. It makes we want to shout from the rooftops, protest in the streets, and try to use social media to shriek the truth. I want to talk to anyone who will listen. And yet, so many people seem to be going about their lives as if nothing were happening – for them it’s just “another day, same sh–.” But it’s not just another day” and it’s not just the “same sh–.” It’s a new day, and soon what’s happening quietly and noticed by a minority, will be felt by the masses. By then of course, it will be too late to do anything about it. Or maybe it’s already too late.

Here a just two very potent examples of what I mean:

A GIANT NEW CENTER TO SPY ON AMERICANS

* As we speak, in Utah the NSA is building what will be the country’s biggest spy center ever. When completed it will be five times the size of our nation’s capital, and be used to intercept emails and phone calls from millions of people of interest (Americans) and others who are connected to them. The NSA is doing this already, and has intercepted between 15 and 20 trillion communications since 9-11. William Binney, formerly a senior NSA crypto-mathematician largely responsible for automating the agency’s worldwide eavesdropping network, is now warning against it. Holding up his thumb and forefinger close together he says, “We are, like, that far from a turnkey totalitarian state.” I read this article almost a week ago, and I still can’t get it out of my mind. And yet, unless I missed it, it hardly created a stir online or in the press. The Hunger Games is much more important.

A BRUTAL AND ORGANIZED SYSTEM TO SUPPRESS DISSENT

* Today I read an Aljazeera article. I haven’t seen anything quite like it elsewhere. It seems only an outsider can really show us the mess we’re in. In his article “The Myth of Freedom in the Land of the Free”, John Stoehr summarizes the forces behind the disappearance of freedom in the U.S. – they are threefold:  “One is the funneling of wealth upward so that the top 10 per cent owns and controls half the wealth. The other is the organising of state violence to protect the oligarchy in case anyone gets wise to what’s happening. Perhaps there’s a third: the executing of state violence in the name of security.” For those of us involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, these are not new revelations. Stoehr is just naming what we’ve been seeing in New York City, Oakland, UC Davis, and plenty of other places across the country. And even though most people have seen these things too – so many seem unmoved or unconcerned. Don’t they know that they could be next? I know not everyone is sympathetic to the Occupy Movement. OK, that’s fine. But why is it only liberal politicians and liberal religious leaders speaking out about civil rights abuses? It seems pretty important to me. Again, are you waiting until the system turns upon you to be concerned? (It may be sooner than you think.)

My burden is twofold. I’m hoping that through my small voice and the voices of others, the masses will wake up to what is happening. People power is the only thing that can save us. That’s the one side. The other part of my burden has to do with the church – the believing church (conservatives, Evangelicals, etc.) I don’t understand their silence, and since I’m one of them, I’m frustrated and embarrassed, to say the least.

In his new book, How God Became King, the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and renowned Bible scholar N. T. Wright says that the Wesleys got it right as Christians in a way that has since been lost. They put together “… both the ‘spiritual’ experience of knowing the love of God in one’s own heart and life and the ‘practical’ experience of living a holy life for oneself and of working for God’s justice in the world….” (p. 37) Today’s believing church focuses almost entirely upon “knowing the love of Christ” and “living a holy life for oneself”, and seems oblivious to God’s concern for “justice in the world.” This is inexcusable and not honoring to God. It truncates the “knowing” and the “living”, and eliminates credibility for those who look on. It has to change, but I see no evidence that it will.

Maybe I’m just a fool for believing things can change (or should be changed).

Maybe I just haven’t let Dylan’s words really sink in.

Evangelical Regret Over Santorum Endorsement in Baptist Church   4 comments

For Evangelicals, it just keeps getting worse, and this Sunday was definitely a low point. I’ve spent most of my life in Baptist churches (twenty years as a pastor), and I identify myself as an Evangelical, so I was particularly interested in this story. In it, Rev. Dennis Terry, the pastor of Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Greenwell Springs Louisiana, introduces Republican candidate Rick Santorum to his church with some red hot rhetoric. Now, it’s not Rick Santorum, but me that wants to “throw up.”

The problem is that, in addition to some understandable preaching about the church being the “conscience of America”, Pastor Terry went on to say that, in this country “we believe in God” (“There is only one God, and his name is Jesus.”), and that, if you don’t agree, or are a member of another faith –  if you don’t want to do it our way, you should “GET OUT!” of our country. I know, you probably think I’m exaggerating or taking things out of context. What follows is a brief quote and here is  the link to the video:

“I don’t care what the liberals say, I don’t care what the naysayers say, this nation was founded as a Christian nation…There is only one God and his name is Jesus. I’m tired of people telling me that I can’t say those words.. Listen to me, If you don’t love America, If you don’t like the way we do things I have one thing to say – GET OUT. We don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Mohammad, we don’t worship Allah, we worship God, we worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

Greenwell Baptist Church exists in a bit of a bubble when it comes to the racially diverse city of Baton Rouge and of Louisiana itself. The population is almost entirely white, and the church staff of 16 white folks mirrors this. I mention this only because, it seems that the pastor’s views are informed more by his bubble, and less by the Bible, the U.S. Constitution or just plain old-fashioned common sense about diversity of the U.S.

For instance, according to the 2007 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, over 20% of Americans either practice other religions (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu) or don’t identify with any religion. Anyone “in the business” of religion, knows that there is a lot of “nominalism” in these numbers too – that is, that many people identify as “Christians” but don’t really practice. Many of these people are Christians “in name only” (nominal). Bottom line, what Pastor Terry is suggesting is the answer to the problems in the U.S. are that over 20%, and actually way over 20% of its people “get out.” Really Pastor Terry, that is your considered opinion?

Another problem in the pastor’s sermon is his “we” statements. “We” believe this, and “we” want that, and “we” want you out if you don’t like it. If he’s speaking for the majority of Americans who identify as Christians, which I doubt is the case, then we need to know the specifics of his emigration plan for the (minimum) of 62 million American’s who aren’t deemed fit. But, like I said, I doubt if Pastor Terry really believes that the rest of the roughly 311 million Americans are true Christians. What about liberal churches where the Bible isn’t preached? What about Mormons? What about Catholics like Rich Santorum? Believe me, it won’t be hard to find Baptists somewhere preaching that Catholics aren’t true Christians. (I’m not endorsing this, only reporting it.) My point is that, the religious cleansing proposed by Rev. Terry will have to remove these “misfits” also, and that such a cleansing is far from what the majority of Americans (“we”) want. I think the “we” is Pastor Terry refers to is himself and the others cheering him on in his white-enclave bubble – in Louisiana!

As for the constitution and U.S. history, I think it’s clear that our country was forged around the belief in religious liberty, and eventually (by means of the bill of rights), on the belief in religious liberty for all. There is nothing new or controversial about saying this. What may be new to some is the idea that historically Baptists – let me repeat, Baptists – were at the forefront of the battle for this liberty. A simple google search for “Isaac Backus” will provide hours of reading on this point, and he is only one example. This is big because today, when people think of Evangelicals and Baptists, they often think of narrow-minded bigots intent on forcing their religion on everyone else (and the video from Terry’s church only exacerbates the problem). The fact that historically, the concept of forced religion is repugnant to Baptists (whose beloved distinctive of “soul liberty” expresses just the opposite, would be news to many.) No matter, truth is truth, and the fact of the matter is that Rev. Dennis Terry is out of step with the truth on which our nation was founded. After all, the First Amendment clearly proclaims that, in this land, that we will have no “established religion”, and that at the same time, the “free exercise of religion” will not be prohibited. What that obviously means, among other things, is that no particular version of religion will be forced upon anyone, and that everyone’s “exercise of religion” (their own religion) is protected by law.

But I want to emphasize, that Rev. Terry, is not only out of step with his Baptist roots and confession – he is marching in the wrong direction and, like a pied piper, seducing a church full of others to follow him. I’m all for having convictions, speaking out courageously against the culture, and calling others to join you in pursuing a higher, better way. Jesus himself did that. The thing is, when Jesus did it, what he had to say was heard as good news. People loved and followed him. Later, many would die for him rather than renounce him. Only the conservative bigots and threatened religious leaders of his day hated him. The message that Rev. Terry preached on this occasion wasn’t like that. It’s full of hate and pandering. It doesn’t make any sense, it doesn’t respect the image of God in his creatures, and it’s a betrayal of the best principles of the United States, and of people of faith everywhere – and especially of Baptists.

This isn’t about Santorum for me, but really, you have to wonder what he was doing in this church.

Postscript: Mr. Santorum has since tried to excuse himself for his standing ovation of Rev. Terry’s remarks, but in the lamest way. As for Rev. Terry, he has claimed that the media misrepresented him. I’ll leave it for you who have seen the video to decide for yourself on that.

Guest Blogger: Tim Durnin on The Beginning of Life and Equal Protection Under the Law   1 comment

This week I want to thank Tim Durnin for agreeing to be a guest blogger. His well-written article will no doubt rock the boat – and hopefully with good results. I know this is an issue of interest to Evangelicals, and I hope it can become an issue in Occupy circles as well, since it has to do with fighting for the rights of the “arguably the most defenseless among us.” (Durnin) The contention and polarization of the past doesn’t have to be perpetuated into the future, and in my opinion, people on both sides of the political spectrum would benefit by re-examining their assumptions and arguments on this issue. Here’s the article:

The Beginning of Life and Equal Protection Under the Law

In the nearly 35 years since Roe v. Wade, the abortion debate has yet to resolve the most important point of contention.

By Tim Durnin, Noozhawk Columnist | @tdurnin | Published on 03.07.2012

I minored in communication. My senior project was to create a presentation that took a new look at the abortion debate with the stated goal of opening dialogue between what were then and remain now the diametrically opposed factions. I must admit I failed.

The presentation started with the observation that the respective political parties were on the wrong side of the debate. Democrats, with a long history of defending those without a voice, didn’t take notice of those who are arguably the most defenseless among us. Republicans, long heralded as the party of less government intervention and individual rights, were opening the door to our bedrooms and inviting themselves in. It is an interesting conundrum.

To begin, let me say that no matter where you find yourself on this issue, you’re probably not going to like what I have to say. But 25 years after my first offering of these particular arguments, there is even less dialogue and more polarization. I figured I would give it another shot with a reminder that the intended purpose of this column is to promote dialogue — not a specific agenda.

Roe v. Wade was a disaster. As far as U.S. Supreme Court decisions go, it has to have been one of the most anemic, poorly written and cowardly opinions rendered by the court. It fails to respond to the only question that matters from a constitutional perspective: “When does life begin?” Failing to define that, politicians and the electorate have been cut loose to drift and make their own way.

The issue is a simple one. Any “life” as defined from a constitutional perspective is granted “equal protection under the law.” Neither Roe v. Wade nor any related decisions since have begun to address this question, and yet, it is the only question that matters.

To recap the respective parties’ positions on this, the Democratic position can be summed up this way. Life begins when the mother believes it does or when the child is actually born, whichever comes first. Ironically, this has not prevented liberal prosecutors from seeking murder convictions against those who kill an unborn fetus/child.

Following their logic, life is defined by intention. If the woman intends to bring the child to term, it is a life and enjoys constitutional protection. However, if the mother chooses to end her pregnancy, no such protections exist. It is an absurd position. On the other side, the position held by most Republicans is that life begins at conception.

My question to the court is this: Should constitutional protection be granted simply on the basis of geography? Are we to accept that if the fetus/child is inside the mother, it has no constitutional protection, but if it is outside the mother it does? This seems absurd to me.

It is unconscionable to the vast majority of Americans to suggest that late-term abortion is acceptable. I would conjecture that upwards of 90 percent of Americans would concur that if a fetus/child is viable (able to survive outside the womb), abortion should not be considered an option and that constitutional protections should be extended. This because, with few exceptions, we can agree this is a life.

As an aside, let me offer a tip to the pro-life movement. Had the pro-life leaders not waged an “all or nothing” campaign, some ground would have been taken. This is what happens when the need to be right overshadows the right thing to do.

Prior to the point of viability, the waters get a little murkier where information, dialogue and medical research become extremely important. Opinions take a stronger foothold here as well. That said, it occurs to me that we should probably use the same criteria to define life on the way in as we do on the way out.

In so doing, we are not looking for a heartbeat or breathing; we are looking for clear, identifiable brain waves that indicate some level of consciousness. I leave it the medical experts to inform the court on this particular point. However, it does seem to me to be a reasonable matter for discussion and a rational point at which we can say life begins.

The waters regarding “life” before this point get murkier still, and I will refrain from offering further argument. But I believe what has been said is worth consideration and discussion. It will not serve anyone for the opposing sides to remain huddled in the corner throwing stones across the room. We need to talk, find a point of agreement and move on from there with some degree of respect.

In the end, I do not believe this to be a political issue but rather one that belongs in our courts. I also believe it is an issue that will go a long way in defining who we are as a people for future generations, regardless of the petty battles being played out today.

My hope is that reason will prevail and that we can move forward and beyond the divisiveness engendered by this debate. Life is a miraculous and beautiful thing. I believe it to be worth our while to think about the point at which it becomes essential that we grant that life “equal protection under the law.”

— Tim Durnin is a father and husband. He can be reached at tdurnin@gmail.com for comments, discussion, criticism, suggestions and story ideas.

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For further reading:

10 Questions a Pro-Choice Candidate is Never Asked by the Media

Why I Am Pro-Life by Thomas Friedman

Posted March 14, 2012 by occupyevangelicals in Evangelicals, Religion, Social Justice

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