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Southern Religion

No comments = no future [updated]

SBC Today is a Southern Baptist niche blog which has called attention to itself by exiting the blogoshphere.

Specifically, it has no blogroll, it doesn’t accept linkbacks and has announced that it will no longer accept comments on its posts (it was that last action which marked its exit from the blogosphere).

Wikipedia accurately describes the blogosphere:

The collective community of all blogs is known as the blogosphere. Since all blogs are on the internet by definition, they may be seen as interconnected and socially networked, through blogrolls, comments, linkbacks (refbacks, trackbacks or pingbacks) and backlinks.

Clearly, little remains for SBC Today to remove itself from even the possibility of participation in the worldwide online conversation that drives the blogosphere, except perhaps to take itself offline altogether.

Even so, we do not agree with those who say SBC Today is no longer a blog. Its entries are hyperlinked, printed in reverse chronological order and make some use of hyperlinks to outside resources. Its publication platform is blog software. So in a truly minimalist sense, and you may quarrel with us about this, even with comments off, SBC Today remains a blog.

Just not a blog which respects its readers enough to accept comments.

Too bad.

The wages of disrespect for one’s readers is typically death.

Addendum

Wade Burleson wrote Saturday in a blog about his differences with the Baptist Identity movement, that “the premier Baptist Identity blog, SBC Today, has chosen to terminate all comments. . . . Shame on them. . . . .”

Burleson finished by quoting one of his frequent commenters, Jim Champion, who nailed the key online issue, writing: “If I want editorials I’ll go to print media.”

February 28, 2009 Posted by | WWW | , , , , , | 1 Comment

How many Southern Baptists?

Usually with a straight face, various news services reported this week that in 2006-2007, according to the latest edition of the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, the number of Southern Baptists declined 0.24% to 16.2 million members.

Annual % change in SBC membership

Annual % change in SBC membership

Surely no one thinks that “16.2 million” number refers to real, active members? Not for a denomination with a “50 year trend” of declining growth that has become real decline.

Real membership begins with baptism. Southern Baptist decline in baptisms is old news. USA Today reported last March:

Baptisms last year [2007] dropped nearly 5.5 percent to 345,941, compared with 364,826 in 2006, according to an annual report released Wednesday by LifeWay . . . . baptisms peaked in 1972 at 445,725 . . . .

As for active members, their comparatively small number is older news. In 2000, Ernest C. Reisinger and D. Matthew Allen wrote:

The Wall Street Journal reported in 1990 that, of the 14.9 million members of Southern Baptist churches (according to an official count), over 4.4 million are “non-resident members.” This means they are members with whom the church has lost touch. Another 3 million hadn’t attended church or donated to a church in the past year. That left about 7.4 million “active” members. However, according to Sunday School consultant Glenn Smith, even this is misleading, because included in this “active” figure are those members who only attended once a year at Easter or Christmas.

For those with time to spare, Adherents.com has a mind-numbing list of somewhat contradictory claims.

Writing about the “16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention” is somewhat like publishing the transcript of an interview with Bigfoot. Thus defined, with grossly inflated numbers which imply Christian solders in the field, it apparently doesn’t exist.

February 28, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Religion | , , , , | 1 Comment

Bishop Williamson the unrepetant radical rightist

Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson’s disingenuous apology was well-rejected by the Vatican. It is unclear whether the Society of St Pius X can withstand careful scrutiny today, but Williamson is a creature of the radical, racist right. The London Times’ Damian Thompson writes:

Trawling through Williamson’s sermons is a sad experience. There’s an intense piety there, powerful faith, but it’s poisoned by anger, hatred and an all-consuming paranoia. This troubled man has links to the political Far Right, and has written about Hitler “liberating” Germany from the control of Jewish money.

Even more bizarre than his frequently expressed view that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks were not carried out by terrorists, all of those assertions were in public view well before his excommunication was lifted.

We need not play that reprehensible game, “Kick the Pope,” to wonder where this is going and exactly why Pope Benedict XVI put matters on this path, making the radical right more bold and the Catholic Church’s position of moral authority less powerful.

February 27, 2009 Posted by | anti-Semitism, Catholic, Nostra aetate, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , , , | 1 Comment

Bumper-mounted idolatry

American license-plate worship has recently broken out like the hives, nowhere as intensely as in South Carolina. There, only a temporary federal injunction prevents state sale of cross & stained-glass illustrated “I believe” license plates.

Robert Marsden (Monty) Knight, pastor of First Christian Church in Charleston, S.C. and is one of four clergy plaintiffs in the lawsuit challenging his state’s proposed “I Believe” license plates. He told DisciplesWorld:

It’s just politicians trotting out a shallow veneer of Christian piety to court the Christians here in South Carolina. [The governor didn’t endorse it] He said, in essence, if your faith is no deeper than a license plate, it’s pretty shallow. There are other special plates…but this one came straight from the legislature- it was a violation of the First Amendment from the get-go.

Faith as deep as a license plate, as wide as chrome door trim? Faith politically demeaned by legislators.

February 27, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Bumper-mounted idolatry

Church blogging ain’t beanbag

Aggressively blog a church’s policies and governance, and the deacons may adopt a resolution directed at you and see it approved in a vote by the congregation [video].

Some approve of the action at First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Fla.

Some do not and defend the anonymously penned FBC Jax Watchdog blog, which is the target of the resolution.

FBC Jacksonville attracted considerable attention by sponsoring blog posts calling Catholicism a cult [eventually removed from the site]. Although the grievances of Watchdog certainly neither began nor ended there. They blogged, for example, about how the pastor accumulated power through changes in FBC Jacksonville’s bylaws.

The bylaws governing resolution of grievances within that church do appear to be heavily loaded against dissent.

Whatever the merits of any particular issue there, that oppressive approach tends to drive debate underground — often into anonymous blogs — not eliminate it.

Addendum

William Thornton notes that FBC Jacksonville conducted a “public flogging of a former member” without, of course, “naming names.” He goes on to say the disciplinary process sounds “less Biblical than it does medieval.” [Amen to that.]

February 27, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Religion, WWW | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Williamson apologizes [fails to recant]

Williamson

Williamson

Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson apologized today, after being booted out of Argentina, where on Feb. 9 he was dismissed as director of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) seminary in La Reja.

“I can truthfully say that I regret having made such remarks, and that if I had known beforehand the full harm and hurt to which they would give rise, especially to the Church, but also to survivors and relatives of victims of injustice under the Third Reich, I would not have made them,” Williamson said, according to the website of Zenit, a Catholic news agency. . . .
“To all souls that took honest scandal from what I said, before God I apologise,” he said. . . .
He did not say in his apology whether he had changed his views.

His failure to recant earned him the immediate rejection of some Jewish groups. This is a case in which half a measure should not be good enough for anyone.

Lest anyone be confused about where we stand: “Never again.”

February 27, 2009 Posted by | anti-Semitism, Catholic, Nostra aetate, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , , , | Comments Off on Williamson apologizes [fails to recant]

‘Who ya gonna call’ for ‘Hush Rush’ smush?

Ghostbuster Republican Sen. Jim DeMint’s amendment passed, exorcising the phantom of Fairness Doctrine revival.

To perserve the possibility that the Federal Communications Commission could actually still do part of its job in nonfairness areas, Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin introduced and won party-line approval for a counter-amendment. While fairness itself remains a refugee child of a less blindly polarized era.

Thus ample red meat is left on the legislative butcher block for appeals to put a stake through the heart the non-existent revived Fairness Doctrine which still doesn’t stalk the halls of Congress. Or the White House. The right to distract otherwise beleaguered religious broadcasters and their audiences is secure.

There is another goal, however — tidying up unfinished Reagan administration business by clearing the way for monopoly control of broadcast and other media markets. Hence the endless arm-waving and chanting over the unliving dead corpse of the Fairness Doctrine.

February 27, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics | , , | 1 Comment

Clear-eyed about OFANP

Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, was a signal addition to the advisory board of Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Her interview with the Greensboro News and Record this week revealed why. There are two key comments.

First, on hiring and firing at groups which receive grants:

When a group receives a government grant, it should not be able to discriminate based on religion for government-funded jobs. If there are jobs that the group is funding itself with its own money, then they should be free to hire and fire on the basis of religion. If the jobs are funded with government grant funds, then all the taxpayers that contributed to that funding should be able to compete for those jobs.

Second, on reforms at OFANP. We’ve boldfaced part of her comment because those views are a marked separation from the Bush administration’s use of faith-based funds for political purposes, and the Obama administration’s human services goals:

It’s very important for the administration to continue to welcome religious and neighborhood groups to partner with government. There’s a need to increase funding for programs that help people of low income – and there is a need to bring the partnerships in line with certain constitutional principles and to be careful about guarding against cronyism and religious bias in the peer review grants process.

Clear-eyed policy guidance is her job as a member of the OFANP advisory board, and she’s one of the best.

Now, if we can persuade her to start blogging again.

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Law, Politics, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Clear-eyed about OFANP

Delayed Office of Faith and Neighborhood Policies

Mark Silk believes Barack Obama was sidetracked by something along the way to implementing his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFANP) promises. Something like the complexity of the governing law, division among religious groups and [yes] the economy.

So, Silk concludes:

President Obama rushed the promised office into place in time for the National Prayer Breakfast; watered down its mission by internationalizing it; installed his religious outreach guy at the top; created three-fifths of an advisory board; and waved the tough questions in the direction of the lawyers. And then got down to the real business of rescuing the economy.

If that’s it, given the looming shadow of a potential international depression, sidetracking OFANP was the right call. Don’t you think?

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , | Comments Off on Delayed Office of Faith and Neighborhood Policies

Montana church’s speech rights violated, says appeals court

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Montana election law was unconstitutionally applied to an East Helena church which supported a 2004 ballot initiative to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Howard M. Friedman explains that Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church “advertised and hosted a one-time screening of a video in support of the amendment and made petitions available in its foyer for signing.”

Reversing a lower court decision, 9th Circuit ruled that “disclosure and reporting requirements are unconstitutional as applied to the Church’s de minimis activities,” violating the church’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

Circuit Judge John T. Noonan, in a concurring opinion, argued that the matter should have been decided on freedom of religion grounds:

“What has happened here is that a small congregation has been put to trouble and expense in order to exercise its right to speak on an issue seen by it to be of vital religious significance. One lesson of history is that small incursions on freedom are to be resisted lest they grow greater,” Noonan wrote.

This is an Alliance Defense Fund case and, because it tends to erode a previously defined boundary between church and political activity, a signal that the already contentious issue of religion in politics is destined to become more so.

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Montana church’s speech rights violated, says appeals court