Southern Religion

Tuesday execution set for Larry Swearingen, whom four pathologists say is innocent


The execution of Larry Swearingen is scheduled for Tuesday in Texas.

Four forensic pathologists agree that he could not have committed the murder because Swearingen was in jail when Melissa Trotter was killed.

Chuck Lindell wrote for The Austin American-Statesman:

The four include the medical examiner whose testimony helped secure Swearingen’s guilty verdict. That medical examiner now says college student Melissa Trotter’s curiously preserved body could not have lain in the East Texas woods for more than 14 days — and probably was there for a much shorter time.

The results mean Swearingen was in jail when the 19-year-old’s body was left behind, the pathologists say.

“It’s just scientifically impossible for him to have killed the girl and thrown her into the woods,” said James Rytting, Swearingen’s appellate lawyer. “It’s guilt by imagination.”

The Houston Chronicle argues in a Jan. 23 editorial, Room for Doubt:

With the inmate facing an irreversible sentence — capital punishment — it is imperative that Texas Gov. Rick Perry stay the execution to prevent the death of a possibly innocent man.

Detailed, concise and readable analysis is provided by Jeralyn here.

Grits For Breakfast examines the issues in detail here.

The Texas Monthly examines the issues at great but well-written length here.

If you agree that a stay should be granted, your can use the Amnesty International USA form to send Governor Perry an email asking him to stay the execution.

Or stand aside while Swearingen becomes the fourth Texan executed this year.

Update: Reprieve granted

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans granted Larry Swearingen a reprieve Monday [01/26/2009], giving his lawyers time to present evidence that he did not commit the 1998 murder.

January 25, 2009 Posted by | Crime | , , , , | 1 Comment

Church brands lose their following

CBN News reports that denominational loyalty is on the decline:

Ellison Research, a national marketing company, found 51 percent prefer their denomination, but would consider others. Thirty-three percent of church-goers do not prefer any one denomination.

For Catholics, the survey shows that denomination is more important. Sixty percent would only consider the Catholic Church.

Comparatively, what does that mean?

Ellison Research president Ron Sellers points out that Protestants are about as loyal to their denomination as they are to their toothpaste.

Julia Duin, Religion Editor at the Washington Times, attrbutes “the exodus of people from churches to a lack of community friendliness, changing worship styles, and controlling pastors. … ‘they can’t get through to their pastors.’ “

The best pastors are, of course, adapting quickly.

January 25, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Religion | , , , , | Comments Off on Church brands lose their following

Why uproar over the pope’s reinstatement of Richard Williamson?

BBC reports:

The Pope has lifted the excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church of four bishops appointed by a breakaway archbishop more than 20 years ago.

One of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s appointees, Briton Richard Williamson, outraged Jews by saying the Nazi gas chambers did not exist.

Two of the other three appointees are French while the fourth is Argentinean.

Israel’s envoy to the Vatican said the papal decision would “cast a shadow on relations with Jews”.

Listen to Williamson (who for remarks like these is under investigation for violation of German hate crime laws):

The antisemitism goes on. The other three use a liturgy which calls for the conversion of Jews. Williamson has endorsed such anti-Semitic forgeries as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Certainly the anyone concerned about ant-Semitism is likely to view the decision with unease. Along those lines, The Jerusalem Post reported:

The American Jewish Committee’s director of Interreligious Affairs, Rabbi David Rosen, said that “while the Vatican’s reconciliation with the SSPX [Society of Saint Pius X] is an internal matter of the Catholic Church, the embrace of an open Holocaust denier is shameful, a serious blow for Jewish-Vatican relations, and a slap in the face for the historic efforts of Pope John Paul II, who following his predecessors, made such remarkable efforts to eradicate and combat anti-Semitism.

The Vatican’s position is that he is lying but lying is not grounds for excommunication.

So the excommunication, amid complexities of canon law and the drive to undo a schism in the church, is undone.

But Williamson’s views are repudiated and he and the others are still not functioning bishops in the Roman Catholic Church.

Bernard Fellay is one of the Roman Catholic “traditionalist bishops,” as they are termed, and head Swiss-based Priestly Society of Saint Pius X.

The Associated Press reported:

The head of the Swiss bishops’ conference, Kurt Koch, later released a statement saying the gesture followed a letter from Fellay on December 15 asking the pope to lift the excommunications and recognising “the teachings of the Church and the primacy of the Pope.”

Some additional process of reconciliation is to follow and through it we will see whether evil views are indeed somehow being embraced.

Update: The troubled history of the Lefebvre movement

Historically immersed in anti-Semitism. Read about it here.

January 25, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , , | 7 Comments

More about bWe: Baptist Women for Equality

Shirley Taylor, who with her husband publishes bWe: Baptist Women for Equality email newsletter and Web site, told us via email on Jan. 24:

Shirley Taylor

Shirley Taylor

I am just an ordinary woman who got fed up with the Southern Baptist Convention which holds sway over the local church, the local Baptist association, the state convention, and refuses to realize that the greater sin is not that women be allowed to serve, but that the greater sin is to keep women in their so-called place.

She explains, writing with the quiet tone of an after-church conversation, that SBC disregard for women can be cured, because it is a result of ignorance. Pastors “just don’t know” how many of the women in their congregations believe women should be free to serve as deacons and “even pastors.”

She is determined to enlighten misinformed pastors, and brings the summary force of a hammer blow to her convictions.

I wonder if that is in part because she has three granddaughters and would like a better future for them. In any case, she wrote:

Many of these church members have daughters and granddaughters who are feeling the call to go into ministry, and there is no option for them except to go on to the mission field. We are more than willing to ship our daughters off to a foreign land, but we allow our sons to stay home and preach. Doesn’t anybody see the hypocrisy in this? Our bellies are full of camels that we have swallowed while straining out the gnat when it comes to women in authority. We stab those scriptures with our bony fingers and declare that women shall not have authority over men, and then we put them on every committee and give them every responsibility in a church, except as the office of a deacon. What makes the office of a deacon so sacred that we argue endlessly and heatedly about who should or should not be “scripturally allowed” to be one?

Women have been tainted with the sin of Eve long enough. If we truly believe that Jesus can wash away our sins, then why are we saying that Jesus cannot forgive women for something that Eve did, which was not even our sin. It is time we accepted the fact that Jesus makes both men and women whole through his saving grace.

She is a former employee of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and knows most of her denomination’s top leadership is moving away from, rather than toward accepting women into its pulpits. But she is not alone. Enid, Okla., pastor Wade Burleson recently reprinted on his blog a persuasive account by Mimi Haddad explaining the role of women in the growth of South Korean churches.

Burleson, clearly aware of addressing himself to a church which is foundering on growth problems, then invites the theological debate which could lead to the changes bWe seeks. He includes with that invitation the example of a very effective Southern Baptist voice who, it is implied, would be far more effective if not barred from the pulpit:

I have two questions: What fault, if any, do you find in Mimi’s biblical reasoning? Has Beth Moore been released within the Southern Baptist Convention?

Some agree but are pessimistic. Some Baptist women raise other questions about Southern Baptist Church attitudes toward women. And there are some who see a failed and Biblically erroneous SBC strategy.

Meanwhile, the volume of Southern Baptists asking their fundamentalist leaders to reconsider the theologies which led them to push women out of and away from a place in the pulpit, is rising.

January 25, 2009 Posted by | Cultural, Religion | , , , , | 2 Comments

Abuse of power is the Haggard issue

Abuse of power is the principal issue raised by fallen Christian fundamentalist star Ted Haggard’s relationship with a younger church member.

This week, New Life Church officials disclosed that in 2006 a young, male church volunteer reported having a sexual relationship with Haggard, who was pastor there at the time. And the church says there were others, thus far unnamed. All of this shortly after a Denver male prostitute claimed to have had a three-year cash-for-sex relationship with Haggard and so pushed Haggard out of that pulpit.

There is no confusion at all about the ethical, moral, psychological and spiritual violation which occurs when a pastor forms a covert, improper sexual relationship with a member of his congregation.

Nor is the abusive nature of such pastor/parishioner relationships late-breaking news. A 1998 report developed for the Christian Life Commission of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and published in the journal Christian Ethics Today, and thus made widely available, says:

Seminary professors Stanley Grenz and Roy Bell assert that sexual misconduct in the pastorate is a grave betrayal of trust that operates in two directions.

It is a violation of a sacred sexual trust, marring the beautiful picture God has given of the relationship of Christ and the church. And it is a violation of a power trust, abusing the privilege of the pastoral position with which the ordained leader has been endowed by the church and its Lord.”

Sexual exploitation ordinarily occurs in an atmosphere of enforced silence. This silence is maintained not only by the participants but also by others who are unwilling to breach the dictated censorship.

The director of an organization for survivors of clergy abuse writes that the initial response of church officials is to hush the victim and cover-up the sexual abuse, which continues unchecked for years. [psychologist Peter] Rutter insists that this “code of silence” must be broken.

New Life Church in Colorado Springs maintained the code of silence. Brady Boyd, who succeeded Haggard as senior pastor of the 10,000-member New Life Church in Colorado Springs, told The Associated Press:

Boyd said the church reached a legal settlement to pay the man for counseling and college tuition, with one condition being that none of the parties involved discuss the matter publicly.

Boyd’s explanation of that agreement, honest to a fault though it may be, is as you can see a contradiction of the well-known ethics and psychiatric dynamics of such relationships:

It wasn’t at all a settlement to make him be quiet or not tell his story. Our desire was to help him. Here was a young man who wanted to get on with his life. We considered it more compassionate assistance — certainly not hush money. I know what’s what everyone will want to say because that’s the most salacious thing to say, but that’s not at all what it was.

Not hush money, but with an attached requirement of silence.

Silence reinforces the victim’s sense of helplessness and shame. Victims need therapy, emotional support and reassurance that life-sustaining church relationships will not be harmed. If the church is providing those things, good. We would like to hear and write about it. But not just financial payments with an attached requirement of silence. Taking away power from those victimized through the abuse of power is a repetition of the abuse.

January 25, 2009 Posted by | Religion | , , , | 2 Comments