Southern Religion

Former Southern Baptist camp director faces more charges

Stephen Wayne Carter, former director of a Baptist summer youth camp, “now faces six charges of engaging in sexual activities with children,” Cathy Wilson wrote in The Daily Advance.

The Biblical Recorder reported in July that:

A Baptist association in North Carolina is standing by a camp director indicted July 13 on two counts of engaging in sexual activities with a child. Police arrested Stephen Wayne Carter, director of Cale Retreat and Conference Center in Hertford July 1 on charges of taking indecent liberties with a child and first-degree sex offense involving a child. He was released from jail on $80,000 bond.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | SBC | , | Comments Off on Former Southern Baptist camp director faces more charges

GOP must condemn ‘indecent, disgusting’ tea party signs


National Jewish Democratic Council to GOP: Condemn those Nov. 5 Capitol Hill “Tea Party” Holocaust imagery/anti-Semitism signs:

Today’s G.O.P. “Tea Party” on Capitol Hill opposing health insurance reform invoked disgusting Holocaust imagery and outright anti-Semitism. Top Republican Party leaders including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH), House Republican Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-IN) stood before a crowd that included a banner protesting health care reform and displaying corpses from the Holocaust. Yet another sign charged that “Obama takes his orders from the Rothchilds” [sic].

On his twitter feed Friday afternoon, Elie Wiesel said: “This kind of political hatred is indecent and disgusting.”

Boehner spokesman Michael Steel told Politico: “Leader Boehner did not see any such sign. Obviously, it would be grossly inappropriate.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center also decried the signs as “a cheap and disgusting abuse of history.” Mark Weitzman, the Wiesenthal Center’s Director of Government Affairs, said “It reflects only the ignorance and callousness of those who cannot debate an issue on its merits and should be immediately repudiated by all responsible parties. Both the memory of the victims of the Nazis and the American public deserve better.”

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) attacked the same issues in a video he posted on YouTube, calling out the rally’s organizer, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN):

November 6, 2009 Posted by | anti-Semitism | , , , | Comments Off on GOP must condemn ‘indecent, disgusting’ tea party signs

Incurable Southern Baptist demographic shrinking disease


Doomed by demographics, The [Southern] Baptists Shrink in numbers, writes historian Andrew Michael Manis in the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life’s thrice-yearly journal Religion in the News.

The standard Southern Baptist cure for its wasting disease is “increased doses of fervor and evangelistic aggressiveness,” Manis explains this week. This year’s version of the cure is called Great Commission Resurgence and is driven by desperation.

The SBC isn’t attempting to reverse a declining growth rate, as it had been for five decades. It is trying to reverse real shrinkage in membership numbers, attended by forecasts of future shrinkage.

That the effort is foredoomed by the SBC demand that everyone recruited to the denomination accept not only Biblical inerrancy, but also the arguably homophobic, sexist Southern Baptist brand of inerrancy.

There is ample survey data which demonstrates that as a result, Southern Baptists are drawing from a “diminishing pool” of potential new members, as Manis explains. He writes:

The 2008 American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) found that less than 30 percent of Americans identify themselves as evangelical or born-again (excluding those Catholics who self-identify that way). For its part, the Pew Forum’s 2008 U.S. Religious Landscape Survey put evangelicals at 26.3 percent of the population. Either way, more than two-thirds of Americans are unlikely to accept Southern Baptists’ understanding of the Bible.

The Landscape Survey’s questions on belief make this sufficiently clear. Only 27 percent of the national total said they believed that “there is only ONE true way to interpret the teachings of my religion.” Only 24 percent of Americans believe their religion is the “one true faith leading to eternal life.” And only 33 percent believed that “the scriptures are the Word of God, literally true, word for word.”

Of course SBC evangelism is full of the conviction that those who disagree can be brought into the tent as part of the process of conversion. But that isn’t what happens. New members join because they already agree. Manis, who attended Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, further explains:

The vast majority of converts to SBC churches are Bible-believing cultural conservatives when they arrive. According to a 1993 study by the SBC’s North American Mission Board, only 1 out of 9 described themselves as ever having been “unchurched.”

Outside the pews of other fundamentalist denoniminations, national survey data says there is no pool of potential recruits who are somehow being overlooked.

Quite the opposite. Manis writes:

[According to 2008 ARIS] the non-denominationals are the only segment of the American religious community that has experienced significant growth over the past two decades.

Southern Baptists believe that right theology trumps sociology. The fundamentalist takeover of the 1980s was predicated on a bet that inerrancy would be a prophylactic against numerical decline.

It wasn’t. Isn’t. Will not be. The SBC has the shrinking disease conservatives regard with enduring contempt in mainstream, liberal protestant denominations. Or perhaps it is H.L. Mencken’s wasting disease, taking final hold now that the conservative fundamentalists are in undisputed control of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Whether written on the wall, or elsewhere, the story told by competent, unbiased analysis of the abundant demographic data is the same. Down the well-trod path of resurgent evangelism on behalf of fundamentalist inerrancy lies accelerating decline.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Religion, SBC | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Right-wing politics, not theology, drives anti-abortion opposition to health reform

Sara Posner explores the inescapable:

… Democrats, who claim to be pro-life, are playing politics with health care reform, aligning themselves more closely with the anti-choice hard right and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) than their own party. They insist that efforts to ensure that no public funds will be used to cover abortion services are insufficient. This game-playing is not about public funding of abortion, already outlawed in the Hyde Amendment (which bars federal funding from being used to pay for abortions for low-income women under Medicaid and other programs). Indeed, the House bill already incorporates Hyde through its own amendment authored by pro-choice California Democrat, Rep. Lois Capps.

Instead, these Democrats, led by Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, are pushing for an amendment to restrict womens’ access to abortion. And that’s not theology, it’s politics.

Read the entire piece here.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Medical Care, Politics | , , | Comments Off on Right-wing politics, not theology, drives anti-abortion opposition to health reform

Mourning Fort Hood where one, stress-deranged man precipitated a tragedy

We mourn our dead and pray for the wounded at Fort Hood and remember there is thus far every reason to believe this was the work of one stress-deranged man, alone.

Speculations that “this is the work of a jihidi” infiltrator are at this point vacant fear-mongering. They make reference to possibilities that are without clear, modern domestic U.S. military precedent.

The last comparable incident of which we are aware was at Fort Bragg in 1995, when Sgt. William J. Kreutzer Jr. opened fire on members of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment during their morning exercise on post. Both of the partners in this service were on the ground, writing about that incident at the time. The motivations in that case were personal, not political and Kreutzer was mentally ill.

American Muslims mourn the deaths and fear backlash because the identified gunman – Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a 39-year-old from Virginia – is a muslim who was apparently stressed to the breaking point by his scheduled deployment to Afghanistan. The Council on American-Islamic Relations responded:

No political or religious ideology could ever justify or excuse such wanton and indiscriminate violence. The attack was particularly heinous in that it targeted the all-volunteer Army that protects our nation. American Muslims stand with our fellow citizens in offering both prayers for the victims and sincere condolences to the families of those killed or injured.

It is to the credit of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that he urges moderation in response to events at Fort Hood.

Wajahat Ali writes in the British Guardian:

After an American soldier’s tragic outburst of violence at Fort Hood, Texas – the army’s largest US post, with some 40,000 troops – dominates the headlines, a fear-mongering hysteria concerning his supposed religious motivations is taking priority over questions regarding his mental health.

The FBI had already been prompted by his online postings to investigate him.

Gen. Robert Springer got it right in comments to WRAL when he said it was “another example [like Kreutzer] of someone that went, we use the term, ‘Off his rocker,’ at the moment and attacked his own troops.”

The Army encourages soldiers to seek help, and the base commander at Fort Hood explicitly did so [.pdf] a short time ago. It is a searing tragedy that Nidal, a troubled psychiatrist and “mortified by having to deploy” to Afghanistan, was apparently somehow unable to do so before exploding.


November 6, 2009 Posted by | Crime, terrorism | , , , | 1 Comment

How do you explain away $130 million?

Why would a church spend $130 million for renovations?

A Fort Worth Star-Telegram story says Robert Jeffress, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in Dallas, offered this explanation:

“If [Dallas Cowboys owner] Jerry Jones can spend $1.5 billion to build a temple to the god of sports 13 miles away, we can build a spiritual oasis in the heart of Dallas.”

So, it’s OK for the church to spend an outrageous amount since a professional football team spent an even more outrageous amount.

On the First Baptist web site, Jeffress puts it this way:

“God has placed our church in the heart of America’s fastest growing city, adjacent to the nationally-acclaimed arts district, which includes some of the most architecturally stunning buildings in America. I believe the most beautiful and magnificent building in downtown Dallas should be a worship center that reflects the splendor and majesty of the great God we serve.”

So the building has to be the nicest in the neighborhood. After all, it’s a reflection on God.

And on a web site describing the church’s plan, Jeffress has this to say:

“As I look around downtown Dallas, I see spectacular temples of commerce, of culture and of government – many new, some restored to former glory, and all intended to stand for generations. The Kingdom of God needs a home to equal them – a spiritual oasis in the middle of downtown.”

Downtown Dallas may very well be a spiritual desert, but will an audaciously ornate church building look like cool water to thirsty souls?

And finally, this description of the proposed renovations in a story on the church web site:

“Plans revealed glass corridors allowing light to infiltrate campus, new educational spaces each designed to met the needs of specific age groups, a roof top garden and an outdoor grassy fountain plaza sure to draw in the downtown community with it’s beauty, and a worship center, high and lifted up in the center of it all.”

Interesting choice of words — “high and lifted up.” Sound familiar? It’s in the Bible, Isaiah 6:1. Isaiah describes seeing “the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up.”

Isaiah’s reaction to his vision of God is humility. He is “undone” because he is a man “of unclean lips.” Renovations to the tune of $130 million hardly seems humble.

All in all, which is more bothersome – the church spending that much to renovate its building or the reasoning behind it?

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Churches, Cultural | Comments Off on How do you explain away $130 million?

He’s back (Ted Haggard starts a new church)


Ted Haggard, who started New Life Church in his Colorado Springs basement, plans to host a prayer meeting in his living room next week.

In 2006, Haggard resigned from New Life amid a predatory sex and drug scandal.

His expressed goals for this venture are humble to a fault:

“This is a Thursday night prayer meeting in our home,” Haggard said. “What we want to do is be able to tell our schedule and our story and know that we’re covered in prayer. And we want to hear their stories and give them the assurance that they’re covered in prayer as well.”

Reactions to his modestly stated goals for this project were generally skeptical, as they have been since he made his peremptory return to the ministry. Adrienne S. Gaines of Chrisma magazine wrote Thursday:

Ministers who have worked with Haggard say it is premature for him to launch into ministry.

Mark Barna of the Colorado Springs Gazette wrote:

Several people who have worked with Haggard said it’s premature for him to be leading a church. C. Peter Wagner, who co-founded New Life’s World Prayer Center with Haggard, said the former pastor should first seek approval from the overseers before leading people in prayer and worship. Haggard quit the five-year restoration program in February 2008.

The man who once led the National Association of Evangelicals and a church with a membership of 14,000 appears to have mapped his path carefully.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | Churches | , | 2 Comments

FBC Jax pastor Brunson expresses limited remorse

Pastor Mac Brunson of FBC Jacksonville, Fla., preached on Nov. 1 a sermon in which he alluded to remorse, apparently for statements he made in April about Thomas A. Rich, the formerly anonymous blogger who blogs at FBC Jax Watchdog.

Brunson did not ask for Watchdog’s forgiveness, even touch in passing on the manipulation of the Jacksonville [Fla.] Sheriff’s Department or acknowledge the fundamental abuse of power that is at the core of events there. There was, similarly, no mention of the emptiness of his church’s argument in court that Watchdog’s suit should be dismissed because action will “require excessive entanglement [by the courts] in church policies, practices and beliefs.”

FBC Jax Watchdog is more confident than we that the sermon is something other than a pass at damage control, directed at his parishioners, and driven by the lawsuit Brunson precipitated is likely to see lost.

Review the sermon [Itunes podcast] and read FBC Jax Watchdog’s assessment here.

November 6, 2009 Posted by | SBC, WWW | , , , , | 1 Comment