Southern Religion

The social justice imperative

Skye Jethani, writing at Out of Ur, raises — then dashes — hopes for the end of a 100-year-old conflict within Christianity:

The impact of the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversy shaped the direction of the American church for most of the 20th century by creating an ‘either/or’ scenario. Either a church cared about social justice or it focused on saving souls.

In “The Battle Lines Over Justice,” Jethani cites findings by LifeWay Research that younger evangelicals are increasingly likely to regard social justice as a “gospel imperative.” The post considers whether the trend indicates the closing stages of a century-old division between Christians who emphasize social issues and those who stress repentance and salvation.

Hopes that “both/and” thinking might replace the “either/or” conflict, are dim. While some think fundamentalism is on life support, the heated debate cited by Jethani and further articulated in user comments shows that last rites for the either/or are premature.

Certainly this isn’t the first time evangelicals have shown an interest in social action movements.

Sojourners, a group that seeks to “articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church, and the world” formed in 1971.

In 1973, a group of evangelicals released the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern, which led to the formation of Evangelicals for Social Action. And a second Chicago statement was issued 20 years later. (Both statements are available here.)

A 1979 article in Christian Century outlined “A Fundamentalist Social Gospel,” tracing the rise of social action in the 1970s to the “neoevangelical” movement in the 1940s.

The highly publicized controversy within the Southern Baptist Convention that started in 1979 was a reaction to a perceived rise in the liberalism in SBC seminaries.

The recent Out of Ur article shows that similar perceptions are alive and well. It first references an article by J. Mack Stiles, a former InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff worker. Stiles fears InterVarsity is “slipping into the errors of liberal theology” due to the elevation of justice issues by the ministry and says the pursuit of justice is a gospel implication not a gospel imperative.

On the other side is Richard Stearns, president of World Vision, who says, “Proclaiming the whole gospel, then, means much more than evangelism in the hopes that people will hear and respond to the good news of salvation by faith in Christ.”

Commenters on the post stake out both positions, with few taking a conciliatory approach.

In 2000, Richard Mouw called for “Reclaiming Evangelicalism” from the Religious Right in a column on BeliefNet:

I wish that we evangelicals could work together to promote a third way — a middle course between withdrawal from politics and campaigns that give the impression that we are attempting to impose a full range of moral and religious specifics on our fellow citizens.

That “third way” can only be found by a broad cross-section of Christian believers who respect and work with each other. And Jethani at Out of Ur sees an unresolved dichotomy:

One side is vowing to guard the gospel against neo-liberalism; the other side is hoping to restore the gospel to its fullest expression by reconciling proclamation and demonstration.

Still work to be done.

January 28, 2010 Posted by | Religion | , , , | 3 Comments

Martin Amis goes ‘Soylent Green’

Conservative Catholic site Pew Sitter warned, “UK Author Calls for ‘euthanasia booths’ on street corners.” That author is Martin Amis, who is getting his nose bloodied primarily because the son of “the finest British comic novelist of the second half of the 20th century” showed his ageism.

Writer Joan Brady responded, when Amis called the elderly “an invasion of terrible immigrants, stinking out the restaurants and cafes and shops:”

That’s what racists say about anybody with a different skin color or an alien headdress: “They stink.”

Amis explains that his words had satiric intent, although that doesn’t excuse him. Nor does it help that he confesses that he is soon to be old himself. But it is enlightening to know that he lost “his stepfather, Lord Kilmarnock, the former SDP peer and writer, in March aged 81, and his friend Dame Iris Murdoch,” a novelist who died in 1999 at the aged of 79, two years after her husband revealed that she was suffering from Alzheimer’s. His stepfather “died very horribly … ”

Knowing those things, we can at least begin to understand why he told the Guardian:

What we need to recognize is that certain lives fall into the negative, where pain hugely dwarfs those remaining pleasures that you may be left with. Geriatric science has been allowed to take over and, really, decency roars for some sort of correction.

None of that will quiet the voices at Pew Sitter, who regard both both euthanasia and abortion as different forms of murder.

Amis is apparently one of those who seek no dialog on that:

I increasingly feel that religion is so deep in our constitution and in our minds and that is something we should just peel off. Of course euthanasia is open to abuse, in that the typical grey death will be that of an old relative whose family gets rid of for one reason or another, and they’ll say ‘he asked me to do it’, or ‘he wanted to die.’ That’s what we will have to look out for. Nonetheless, it is something we have to make some progress on.

His point of departure from conservative Roman Catholic, fundamentalist Southern Baptist and like views is a commonplace one:

Frankly, I can’t think of any reason for prolonging life once the mind goes. You are without dignity then.

While that stand is logically arguable, his careless invocation of “euthanasia booths” burdens any rational debate with the unappetizing husk of “Soylent Green:”

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Health, Medical Care, Religion | , | Comments Off on Martin Amis goes ‘Soylent Green’

Devilish comments help none

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said yesterday that he would not allow a gay pride parade in the city, and repeated comments he made two years ago that such a march would be “Satanic.”

Luzhkov is reportedly a “devoted Orthodox Christian believer.”

That an Orthodox Christian would strongly oppose homosexuality is not surprising.

The Orthodox Church’s teaching on homosexuality, however, focuses on ministering to homosexuals and separates what it considers to be sinful acts from concern for the people involved.

Labeling a gay-pride event “Satanic” hardly exhibits such concern. Mean-spirited rhetoric effectively reverses the ministry called for by Christian compassion.

In 2007, homosexuals who marched in spite of a ban were “beaten up by right-wing counter-demonstrators or detained by police,” according to a BBC report. Last year, some activists were detained before the parade began.

More crackdowns can be expected this year, unless Luzhkov sets aside meanness for ministry.

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , , , , | Comments Off on Devilish comments help none

U.S. religious prejudice unmeasured

Gallup released Thursday a poll which asked Americans about their views of Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism. Having rolled all of Christianity into a single ball while ignoring Scientology, atheism and others altogether, it found that a whopping 53 percent see Islam unfavorably.

Mark Silk gets it exactly right when he says:

If Gallup had wanted to do something more useful, it would have gotten responses for other faiths, and differentiated the Christian category.

Read the entire, concise, piece here.

January 21, 2010 Posted by | Politics, Religion | , | Comments Off on U.S. religious prejudice unmeasured

Holocaust-denier Bishop Williamson returns with his verbal wrecking ball



The Vatican-SSPX talks are a “dialogue of the deaf,” Bishop Richard Williamson said in an interview with French anti-zionist Pierre Danet, posted at DailyMotion Tuesday.

Stepping on the pope’s toes, already aching after a tense peacemaking visit to Rome’s main synagogue last week, Williamson broke his months of silence by saying of the talks:

I think it will finish by becoming a dialogue of the deaf, because of two things. One: The two positions in themselves are irreconcilable. For example 2+2=4 and 2+2=5 it’s irreconcilable. Therefore of three things, one: either they say 2+2=4 , enounce reality and say 2+2=5 –that is to say the Fraternity would abandon the truth that God forbids us to do or that those who say that 2+2=5 convert and return to the truth or the two come half-way, that means everyone decides that 2+2=4 ½ . It’s wrong. Therefore, either the Fraternity betrays itself or Rome converts, or it is a dialogue of the deaf.

[Full translation of the interview here.]

The pope set off a firestorm of criticism by lifting the excommunication from four Society of St Pius X bishops last January, among them holocaust-denier Williamson. The pope eventually admitted his handling of the matter was a mistake. Yet controversy over the attempt to reconcile with the historically anti-Semitic SSPX continues to simmer.

In his most recent interview Williamson skates past his Holocaust denial, still without apologizing. Yet his interview is still rich in points of controversy. For example, he does say Christians have been “chased out” of the Holy Land and he defies mainstream Catholicism with the claim that Jews who don’t accept Jesus are no longer the “chosen people.”

Williamson’s comments probably do harm by giving resounding affirmation to negative views of the Vatican’s attempt to reconcile with SSPX. Yet he is not a spokesman for SSPX. Williamson is, in effect, speaking out of turn. His Holocaust denial caused such an uproar early last year that the head of the SSPX, Bishop Bernard Fellay, issued a gag order and Williamson was removed as head of the SSPX seminary in Argentina. Now at home in Britain, he lives in an SSPX home in the Wimbledon section of London in what he called “an unexpected but quite agreeable sabbatical year.”

Do you not wonder if Bishop Fellay will now further define for Williamson the restrictions of that sabbatical?

[H/T: Cathy Lynn Grossman ]

January 21, 2010 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Holocaust-denier Bishop Williamson returns with his verbal wrecking ball

A predator’s phrase dictionary in the Matt Baker murder trial testimony

Christa Brown parsed the verbal signatures of a sexual predator from the testimony about Southern Baptist pastor Matt Baker in his Waco, Texas, murder trial.

Excerpting from Erin Quinn’s trial blog, Brown created a hair-raising phrase dictionary of sexually predatory grooming and controlling intimidation by a pastor who is systematically misusing his authority. For example, Baker’s former mistress, Vanessa Bulls, testified that:

  • He told her to “just date your pastor.” [isolation]
  • Baker took the divorce counseling he provided Bulls at church to a new level. He started saying she was beautiful and asked her to come over. [abuse of a dual, pastor/counselor role]
  • He told Bulls during counseling “that God is such a forgiving God. I don’t think that God believes that a person can be with just one person for the rest of their life.”
  • He told Bulls that no one would believe her if she told anyone what he did because he was a preacher. [use of pastor role to intimidate | the jury believed her]
  • Bulls told Baker to turn himself in [for murdering his wife Kari by smothering her with a pillow] and he told her “God has forgiven me.”

She was testifying to events in a world where clerical predators flourish because in well-documented ways, they are allowed to flourish. Baylor University’s Diana R. Garland and Christen Argueta have documented the psychological profile and technique of sexually abusive pastors. The common themes of the church environment which allows clerical predators to flourish and as Brown says, “church-hop through Baptistland,” have also been well-explained.


The murder of Kari Baker and surrounding human devastation showed with startling drama how tragically lives spin out as a result of Baptistland’s refusal to apply well-known remedies to clerical predation. Investigators found evidence that Matt Baker had for years led “a secret life as a sexual predator.” Brown wrote:

Prosecutors said that he had made advances and assaults on at least 13 young women, including 4 minors. Yet, despite multiple reports of sexual abuse and sexual assault, Matt Baker was always able to continue his career through churches, schools, and organizations affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas.

When a Waco, Texas, jury found Matt Baker guilty Wednesday, it by implication indicted Southern Baptist failure to act forcefully to stop clerical predators in its midst.

January 21, 2010 Posted by | Crime, SBC | , , , , | 1 Comment

Torture talk from a serial commuter

Past Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, whose many prison pardons and commutations while governor of Arkansas are well documented, showed his national security credentials by talking tough about how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should be treated.

Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor who now has a Fox News talk show, suggested on a recent show that Abdulmutallab be tortured. Specifically, Huckabee mentioned putting the explosives back into Abdulmutallab’s underwear, where he reportedly had them on an airline flight when he was captured, and detonated if that was required to make him talk.

Huckabee later said he was being facetious. Someone should tell him that sadistic levity about a deadly serious topic hardly befits a president, a presidential candidate, a former presidential hopeful or even a television talk show host who may or may not seek his party’s nomination for the office again. For that matter, neither is blaming others for gubernatorial pardon and commutation mistakes.

[H/T: Ambassador Gwen]

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Politics | , , | Comments Off on Torture talk from a serial commuter

Haiti, a week after the earthquake

Nicholas Laughlin at Global Voices writes:

Relief efforts are under way in southern Haiti, exactly a week after the country was devastated by a 7.0-magnitude earthquake. As many desperate Haitians flee the capital, Port-au-Prince, for what they hope will be relative safety in other towns and rural areas, and as growing numbers of relief aid workers and foreign troops arrive, bloggers and Twitter users continue to report on local developments, make pleas for emergency assistance, and comment on the government and international response to the crisis.

He recommends:

  • Musician and hotelier Richard Morse, tweeting as @RAMhaiti:

    A 6 or 7 story hospital building collapsed and fell over on the Dessalines School. No chance 4 the children.Search&Rescue headed 2 St Gerard

  • Radio and TV journalist @carelpedre:

    I love haiti! I see hope and smile on so many faces today:

  • Photographer Frederic Dupoux tweetingh as @fredodupoux:

    Just spoke to a 5 y-o girl a block fell on her head its an open wound and there’s no help around. People around just gave her amoxiciline.

  • Troy Livesay in Port Au Prince tweeting as @troylivesay:

    Our clinic turned into a hospital,and our sewing room into a surgical ward,and an arm was amputated with a reciprocating saw.

Laughlin also pointed us to Konbit Pou Ayiti where melindayiti wrote:

This afternoon, feeling helpless, we decided to take a van down to Champs Mars (the area around the palace) to look for people needing medical care to bring to Matthew 25, the guesthouse where we are staying which has been transformed into a field hospital.

Since we arrived in Port au Prince everyone has told us that you cannot go into the area around the palace because of violence and insecurity. I was in awe as we walked into downtown, among the flattened buildings , in the shadow of the fallen palace, amongst the swarms of displaced people there was calm and solidarity. We wound our way through the camp asking for injured people who needed to get to the hospital.

Despite everyone telling us that as soon as we did this we would be mobbed by people, I was amazed as we approached each tent people gently pointed us towards their neighbors, guiding us to those who were suffering the most.

We picked up 5 badly injured people and drove towards an area where Ellie and Berto had passed a woman earlier.

Gwenn Mangine at The Life and Times of the Mangine Many in Jacmel wrote:

Mad props to my kids and staff. I miss being around them. Except Hugues, cause he’s there working alongside of us. Really hard– just as hard as we are, no, actually probably harder. Tonight he was just toast after another long day of carrying boxes virtually all day long. I told him that since tomorrow is his day off he should just take it easy and not worry about coming to the airport– we’d find someone to do his work. He refused. He said he wants to be there as long as we’re there. I tried to talk him out of it, but he says his country needs him now. I really, really love the spirit of Haitian people– love it, love it, love it.

January 20, 2010 Posted by | news, WWW | , | Comments Off on Haiti, a week after the earthquake

Pat Robertson’s budding secular humanism

Watching serious theologians’ tangle with televangelical self-promotionist Pat Robertson’s assertion of a Haitian pact with the devil was a humorless exercise until we stumbled across Martin E. Marty’s Jan. 18 Sightings.

Marty, a University of Chicago professor emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity, was the first we’ve come across who explained that Robert’s “pact with the devil” is rooted in secular humanist literature and nowhere in the Bible.

Marty wrote:

You won’t find “pact with the devil” in your biblical concordance, as the phrase did not enter our culture from the Bible.

Mention a “pact with the devil” and you will immediately be dredging up the explicit language of the Faust legend, whether from Marlowe or Goethe or Thomas Mann, who told classic versions of Dr. Faust’s famed contract.

Search the literature and you will find secular humanists touting the greatest, Goethe’s Faust, as a “secular humanist manifesto.”

Something good to say about Robertson, then? Yes: We like to document popular evangelicalism’s enlarging scope; here is an instance. Could Robertson have been courting secular humanists with this turn to non-Biblical sources?

Really: Pat Robertson, fumbling toward late-life intellectual growth? Almost gives renewed meaning to “all things in good time.”

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Politics | , , , , | 1 Comment

Help now, debate later

Fourteen groups associated with atheism have joined together to provide relief for earthquake victims in Haiti through “Non-Believers Giving Aid.”

An announcement about the effort on Richard Dawkins’ web site says that in addition to helping the Haitians, people who donate will be “helping to counter the scandalous myth that only the religious care about their fellow-humans.”

An article in the Christian Post presents a Christian view of the atheists’ program.

Such debate is better left for another day. Meanwhile, an atheist’s dollar will provide just as much relief as a religious one.

January 19, 2010 Posted by | Religion | , , | Comments Off on Help now, debate later