Southern Religion

‘A Governing Agenda to end the Culture Wars:’ Okey-dokey


Were it not for Melissa Rogers on the list of endorsers, we would throw up our hands and walk away from the Third Way (over which Matthew Yglasias’ blog was big-footed).

Today’s press release headline from them proclaiming Longtime Foes Unite To Bring An End To The Culture Wars seems to us to defy experience with optimism by asserting that some group of leaders, somewhere, can actually do that.

They’re serious, and make altogether sensible arguments. For example, Reverend Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, in Florida and one-time President-elect of the Christian Coalition, says:

The culture wars have been characterized by vilifying those who differ from us on provocative issues and treating them as traitors and threats. I believe we can end those wars by thinking of our differences as ways we can learn from each other and advance without compromising core values.

Powerful stuff, and it confronts powerful organizations which wring large amounts of money out of the culture war by exciting extremes of emotion. Even waning proponents of the culture wars are still hard at work. From Kyle we have this Christian Coalition emailer:

As we begin a new year and a new congress comes into session, pro-family conservatives must face a stark reality: the liberal onslaught is coming.

It is coming because extreme liberals look at the election results as their opportunity to solidify domination of our government and our culture … [W]e know what they plan to do. It’s no secret. The only question is what will we do to stop them?

Liberals don’t want Christians like you and I to stand up and work together. They know how effective we can be when we speak with one voice. That’s why it is so vital that we work to educate and activate America’s Christian conservatives!

Stand with us as we work to prepare Christian conservatives to fight back against the assault on our values being waged in the halls of our government. But if you want to stand up for your beliefs, you simply must speak out … [N]ow is not the time for us to despair and give up. There is too much at stake for conservatives to be caught on the sidelines.

Please click here and make a contribution to the Christian Coalition today!

People who believe in the underlying ideas aren’t simply going to turn on a dime toward compromise after decades of insistence on clear-cut goals.

Yet in the face of the still relentless rolling barrage of such appeals, the Third Way proposes:

. . . seizing on a new political moment, emissaries of these historic adversaries have come together to send a letter to the President-elect and congressional leaders offering “a shared vision and a plan for ending the culture wars.

The Come Let Us Reason Together Governing Agenda breaks new ground by uniting key Evangelical and progressive leaders behind specific policy recommendations on abortion, gay rights, torture, and immigration reform – ground zero in the nation’s culture wars.

And they’re sending a letter with their proposal [.pdf], which we hope you will review (as we dig into it ourselves).

Addendum I

Pastor Dan at Street Prophets is also skeptical, albeit more gently than we.

Addendum II

Mark Silk at Spiritual Politics says, Culture wars over! Not.


… The way to end the Culture Wars is not to create a third way (pace Third Way), but to do the work itself. Sez I.

We’re still thinking Amen.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Politics | | 3 Comments

Pastor management/market contradiction

When the market goes one way and management strategy heads in the opposite direction, what happens?

Oklahoma pastor and Southern Baptist blogger Wade Burleson wasn’t writing about that when he penned:

The problem in conservative pulpits of America is not a denial of the Word of God, the problem in conservative pulipits of America is the preacher acts as if his words are the Word of God.

Burleson’s concern was pastoral authoritarianism, attributed by the New York Times to the conservative evangelical Seattle pastor of Mars Hill Church. That’s Mark Driscoll, the "R-Rated Pastor, who apparently responded forcefully to member dissent. He proclaimed in classical Batholic tones, “They are sinning through questioning.”

Burleson responds:

The Bible tells us that true leadership is found through men who are courageous enough to be questioned. Jesus said that real leaders are servants, not masters. The incredible notion that a member of a church should be shunned, persecuted or disciplined for simply asking questions of the pastor has more in common than the cultic practices of Jim Jones than the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Good ministerial counsel, and not market analysis.

If Americans are the market, however, it’s fair to ask how management even a little like Driscoll’s can reach a growing share of a market whose members write their own theology. Expansive and by Southern Baptist measures "liberal" theology. As they go and from diverse source materials. A market in which dissent is an accepted, and growing, way of life.

And pastors twist that market’s tail with the kind of authoritarianism Burleson has long felt conscience-bound to answer.

Is it any wonder that the fundamentalist-dominated Southern Baptist Convention can’t meet its growth goals? There are too many Batholics and Cathists, for whom the free market has been shrinking since they first emerged, worldwide.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Religion | , , , | Comments Off on Pastor management/market contradiction

Passion for ‘Christ-haunted Johnny Cash’ survived the Taliban


“When he brought his accordion to the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif on the New Year’s festival of Norouz, reporter Gregory Warner was hoping to jam with some traditional Afghan musicians. He didn’t realize he’d be asked to get on stage and play a tune … .”

Afghan Elvis is really the topic of the WYNC show from which this is taken. The phrase “Christ-haunted Johnny Cash” is from Douglas LeBlanc at Get Religion.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Cultural | , , | Comments Off on Passion for ‘Christ-haunted Johnny Cash’ survived the Taliban

Our theology à la carte nation

Denominational codifications are of little concern to most Americans. Most of us write our own theology.

Note a Barna Group survey released Jan. 12:

By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church. Although born again Christians were among the segments least likely to adopt the a la carte approach to beliefs, a considerable majority even of born again adults (61%) has taken that route. Leading the charge in the move to customize one’s package of beliefs are people under the age of 25, among whom more than four out of five (82%) said they develop their own combination of beliefs rather than adopt a set proposed by a church.

Heresy of some sort is a commonplace:

Among individuals who describe themselves as Christian, for instance, close to half believe that Satan does not exist, one-third contend that Jesus sinned while He was on earth, two-fifths say they do not have a responsibility to share the Christian faith with others, and one-quarter dismiss the idea that the Bible is accurate in all of the principles it teaches.

Religious instruction and Bible study are anachronisms, the study found:

Faith, of whatever variety, is increasingly viral rather than pedagogical. With people spending less time reading the Bible, and becoming less engaged in activities that deepen their biblical literacy, faith views are more often adopted on the basis of dialogue, self-reflection, and observation than teaching. Feelings and emotions now play a significant role in the development of people’s faith views – in many cases, much more significant than information-based exercises such as listening to preaching and participating in Bible study.

Heaven isn’t denied those who fail to hew to the current Southern Baptist faith and practice, or whatever, most of us believe. A recent Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey found that a majority of Christians believe people of other religions can find salvation and eternal life. Indeed, 52% of religious Americans say atheists may find eternal life.

In rationalizing the ways of God to man, Americans increasingly opt for a broadly inclusive view, old-time visions of traveling to warm places in hand baskets notwithstanding.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Religion | , , , | 1 Comment

How to word an inaugural prayer?

How should the Christian inaugural prayergivers speak their faith to our diverse national audience?

Jesuit priest Rev. Thomas J. Reese reminds us that:

Billy Graham did not mention Jesus in his inaugural prayers in 1989, 1993 or 1997. On the other hand, his son Franklin in 2001 ended his prayer with “We pray this in the name of the Father, and of the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” Likewise, Kirbyjon Caldwell (Methodist) in 2001 ended his prayer with “We respectfully submit this humble prayer in the name that’s above all other names, Jesus the Christ. Let all who agree say ‘amen.'”. Four years later, Pastor Caldwell softened it a bit but still kept Jesus: “respective of all faiths, I submit this prayer in the Name of Jesus.”

Denominational and social balance in prayerful participants has not, in the past, been an overarching concern. Writing for Newsweek/Washington Post On Faith, he goes on to explain that:

In fact, inaugurations did not start with a prayer until 1937. Perhaps the depression focused people’s minds on God. Roosevelt had a Protestant and Catholic minister pray. Truman added a Jewish Rabbi. Eisenhower added a Greek Orthodox bishop. Jimmy Carter cut it back to a Protestant and a Catholic. Ronald Reagan had only a Presbyterian for his first inauguration but by his second he had two Protestants, a Catholic and a Jew. George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton had Billy Graham, with Clinton adding another Baptist in 1997.

Sweeping inclusion was one of President-elect Barack Obama’s overarching campaign theme.

His approach to inaugural prayer and preaching appears to be steadfast in keeping that promise and, Reese’s account suggests, to set a new historic standard.

To honor that and respect the diverse audience, Reese says:

But in a public prayer outside a Christian institution, I think Christian ministers can and should pray to God without bringing in Jesus. This does not deny Jesus. It simply invites everyone in our pluralistic society to join our prayer to the fullest extent that they can. Would Jesus mind?

I don’t think so.

We who favor public prayer should be the first to acknowledge that a prayer at the inauguration will not magically save our nation, nor will the absence of a prayer damn us.

Surely, though, eloquent, thoughtful prayer can help unite us.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Politics, Religion | , , , | Comments Off on How to word an inaugural prayer?

Truly ‘National’ Prayer Service

Representative in the fullest sense, the National Prayer Service which caps inaugural activities on Jan. 21 will, according to the Associated Press, include participation by:

Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) president Rev. Sharon Watkins, the first woman to head a mainline Protest denomination and an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq and of torture, will give the sermon.

Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant.

It seems decidedly appropriate, especially when considered in view of the prayers which will precede the Jan. 21 National Cathedral service. Those will be by gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson, Southern Baptist megachurch pastor Rick Warren and black United Methodist minister Dr. Joseph E. Lowery.

Thus the incoming Obama administration finds its religious voice, not shrill or in any way ideologically narrow-minded, but sweepingly inclusive. A living reflection the historic great melting pot of American culture of which we are all so justifiably proud.

January 15, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Politics, Religion | , , , , , , , | 3 Comments