Southern Religion

Nonpartisan Christian call to civility

Amid hyperventilating rhetoric, seasoned by calls for revolution and racist shouts at members of Congress, comes a Covenant for Civility:

The church in the United States can offer a message of hope and reconciliation to a nation that is deeply divided by political and cultural differences. Too often, however, we have reflected the political divisions of our culture rather than the unity we have in the body of Christ. We come together to urge those who claim the name of Christ to “put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

For some of the signatories, it was perhaps a commitment to repentance. As Kyle observed, the signatories included Harry Jackson, Samuel Rodriguez, Robert George, and Chuck Colson:

Let’s see, Rodriguez recently participated in the right-wing anti-health care reform “prayercase” where he declared “the same spirit of Herod who 2000 years ago attempted to exterminate the life of the Messiah today lives even America. The legislation that incorporates death and infanticide all under the canopy of reform.”

Jackson has been militantly crusading against marriage equality in Washington DC , declaring that it is an effort by gays to oppress blacks and warning of “bloodletting” if the issue is not put to a vote.

And Colson, who believes that gay marriage causes terrorism, recently teamed up with George to produce The Manhattan Declaration, which they sold as Christians’ last hope for preventing America from sliding into totalitarianism and Nazi-like dictatorship.

Even so, evangelical minister Jim Wallis said in explaining the motivation for the pledge:

Members of Congress have been calling me saying ‘It’s never been as bad as it is now, but we can’t do much about it because we’re not credible to a lot of Americans.’ They said to the faith community, ‘please help us.’

The document has 114 signatories, among them the president of the National Association of Evangelicals, the head of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the general superintendent of the Assemblies of God and the president of the progressive Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good.

Not on the list, points out Mark Silk, “is anyone from the Southern Baptist Convention, whose prime spokesman on public policy issues, Richard Land, has been among the most vociferous opponents of HCR.” (Note in the lede our “hyperventilating rhetoric” link to a comment on Land.)

Their pledge is sevenfold:

1) We commit that our dialogue with each other will reflect the spirit of the Scriptures, where our posture toward each other is to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

2) We believe that each of us, and our fellow human beings, are created in the image of God. The respect we owe to God should be reflected in the honor and respect we show to each other in our common humanity, particularly in how we speak to each other. “With the tongue we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God …. this ought not to be so” (James 3:9, 10).

3) We pledge that when we disagree, we will do so respectfully, without impugning the other’s motives, attacking the other’s character, or questioning the other’s faith, and recognizing in humility that in our limited, human opinions, “we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We will therefore “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

4) We will ever be mindful of the language we use in expressing our disagreements, being neither arrogant nor boastful in our beliefs: “Before destruction one’s heart is haughty, but humility goes before honor” (Proverbs 18:12).

5) We recognize that we cannot function together as citizens of the same community, whether local or national, unless we are mindful of how we treat each other in pursuit of the common good in the common life we share together. Each of us must therefore “put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).

6) We commit to pray for our political leaders—those with whom we may agree, as well as those with whom we may disagree. “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made … for kings and all who are in high positions” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

7) We believe that it is more difficult to hate others, even our adversaries and our enemies, when we are praying for them. We commit to pray for each other, those with whom we agree and those with whom we may disagree, so that together we may strive to be faithful witnesses to our Lord, who prayed “ that they may be one” (John 17:22).


This is the most recent in a series of similar efforts in the past year. One in October was greeted on the right as a conspiracy. More recently, before the health-reform-related race baiting, a Southern Baptist Republican balked at GOP incivility. In October, the Interfaith Alliance called for “a restoration of civility.” And there have been others.

The alternative, however, is to concede the field to the proliferation of political strategies based on fear.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Politics, Religion | | Comments Off on Nonpartisan Christian call to civility

Dear Pope Benedict XVI, a little Southern Baptist advice …

Christa Brown’sLetter to the Pope” strips the hide right off Southern Baptist Convention enabling of sexual predation by clergy who are so inclined.

She says, for example:

For starters, take a lesson from the Baptists and quit keeping so many records on your clergy. I know you’ve got that pesky little problem of Catholic canon law, which requires record-keeping. But since you’re the top-dog, why don’t you just issue some sort of edict?

You could just say, “No more record-keeping.”

That’s how it works in Baptistland. No records — no trace — no trouble.

Read the rest here.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | SBC | , , | 1 Comment

Legionaries ask forgiveness and disavow their founder

The Legionaries of Christ’s leaders have apologized once again, and have in a formally constructed statement taken the extraordinary step of disowning their founder. On the Legion’s Web site, they said of their founder:

For his own mysterious reasons, God chose Fr Maciel as an instrument to found the Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, and we thank God for the good he did. At the same time, we accept and regret that, given the gravity of his faults, we cannot take his person as a model of Christian or priestly life.

Christ condemns the sin but seeks to save the sinner. We take him as our model, convinced of the meaning and beauty of forgiveness, and we entrust our founder to God’s merciful love.

The language of the admissions seemed well calculated, like their well-timed admissions just over a year ago. For example, they said:

We had thought and hoped that the accusations brought against our founder were false and unfounded, since they conflicted with our experience of him personally and his work. However, on May 19, 2006, the Holy See’s Press Office issued a communiqué as the conclusion of a canonical investigation that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) had begun in 2004. At that time, the CDF reached sufficient moral certainty to impose serious canonical sanctions related to the accusations made against Fr Maciel, which included the sexual abuse of minor seminarians. Therefore, though it causes us consternation, we have to say that these acts did take place.

Indeed, “the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, […], mindful of Father Maciel’s advanced age and his delicate health, decided to forgo a canonical hearing and ask him to retire to a private life of penance and prayer, giving up any form of public ministry. The Holy Father approved these decisions” (Communiqué of the Press Office of the Holy See, May 19, 2006).

We later came to know that Fr Maciel had fathered a daughter in the context of a prolonged and stable relationship with a woman, and committed other grave acts. After that, two other people surfaced, blood brothers who say they are his children from his relationship with another woman.

We find reprehensible these and all the actions in the life of Fr Maciel that were contrary to his Christian, religious, and priestly duties. We declare that they are not what we strive to live in the Legion of Christ and in the Regnum Christi Movement.

Their apology, however, was sweeping and inclusive. Most important was their commitment to provide continuing support to those who have been harmed:

It is also our Christian and priestly duty to continue reaching out to those who have been affected in any way. Our greatest concern is for them, and we continue to offer them whatever spiritual and pastoral help they need, hoping thus to contribute to the necessary Christian reconciliation. At the same time, we know that only Christ is able to bring definitive healing and “make all things new” (cf. Rev. 21:5).

Lest anyone wonder about the pope’s ability to impose the decisions he bases upon the apostolic visitation, they promised to accept those, whatever they are:

We will embrace with filial obedience whatever indications and recommendations the Holy Father gives us as a result of the apostolic visitation, and we are committed to putting them into practice.

Altogether the letter seemed not so much a dodge as a necessity, dictated by their circumstances, as they said.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI, Religion | , , | Comments Off on Legionaries ask forgiveness and disavow their founder

Conservative intellectual honesty’s price: Part II

Just as David Frum was fired for his “Waterlooanalysis of the Republican health reform loss, Bruce Bartlett was fired by National Center for Policy Analysis in 2005 when he shared with them the manuscript of his book, “The Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy.”

Bartlett reflected Thursday on the scope of the scope of the intellectual dishonesty involved in Frum’s dismissal.

The takeaway:

Since, he is no longer affiliated with AEI, I feel free to say publicly something he told me in private a few months ago. He asked if I had noticed any comments by AEI “scholars” on the subject of health care reform. I said no and he said that was because they had been ordered not to speak to the media because they agreed with too much of what Obama was trying to do.

It saddened me to hear this. I have always hoped that my experience was unique. But now I see that I was just the first to suffer from a closing of the conservative mind. Rigid conformity is being enforced, no dissent is allowed, and the conservative brain will slowly shrivel into dementia, if it hasn’t already.

Indeed, some Religious Right minds already have episodes of doleful echolalia.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Politics, SBC | , , | Comments Off on Conservative intellectual honesty’s price: Part II

Read the NY Times’ predator-priest documentation yourself

Don’t fall for anyone’s spin. Read the underlying documents from the online repository the New York Times created for you. No one is out to get the pope, except perhaps the facts.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, children, Pope Benedict XVI | , | Comments Off on Read the NY Times’ predator-priest documentation yourself

Churchly pain & same-sex marriage in DC (as elsewhere)

Pastors may not have noticed when by a vote of 59-36, the Senate rejected an amendment to the health care reconciliation bill that would have stopped same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia, pending a referendum.

Several pastors whose denominations oppose or are undecided about same-sex marriage may have been wrestling with how to meet the demands of conscience and the yearning for marriage ceremonies by homosexual couples in their flock.

Daniel Burke of the Religion News Service wrote of Methodist Rev. Mary Kay Totty, who plans to risk church discipline by performing same-sex marriages at Dumbarton United Methodist Church (UMC). She told ABC 7 News:

We will celebrate love and loyalty wherever it’s found. And love and loyalty are the same, whether it’s shared between a man and a woman or two men and two women.

The UMC is unequivocal about same-sex unions. Linda Bloom of the United Methodist News Service wrote in November:

The denomination’s top legislative body, the General Conference, first took a stand on the incompatibility of Christianity and homosexual practice in 1972. Since then, Dell said, “the General Conference has moved steadily to more and more explicitly conservative positions.”

The Rev. Dean Snyder, whose Foundry UMC the Clintons attended while in the White House, is one of 19 current and former UMC clergy in DC who support Totty, without taking the final step of agreeing themselves to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest U.S. Lutheran denomination, has no clear policy. What they have, is an open issue:

The ELCA has no policy on the blessing of same-sex unions. In 1993 the Conference of Bishops (65 synodical bishops elected by congregations on their territories) stated that there was no basis in Scripture or tradition for an official ceremony by this church for the blessing of same-sex unions, but that “Nevertheless, we express trust in and will continue dialogue with those pastors and congregations who are in ministry with gay and lesbian persons, and affirm their desire to explore the best ways to provide pastoral care for all to whom they minister.” The Conference of Bishops provides advice and counsel but is not an ELCA legislative body.

As a result, Bishop Richard Graham of the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. Synod says, “This is a live issue for us.” And when ELCA pastors have asked him for permission to marry gay couples, he has granted it, contingent on the approval of their congregations. But that is an interim approach until the Washington synod draws formal guidelines.

The Rev. Amy Butler of Calvary Baptist Church, plans to marry same-sex couples and faces no such denominational obstacles.

They’re Baptist, you see, but not Southern Baptist Convention (where disfellowshipping usually follows policies of gay acceptance). The larger Baptist groups with which they do affiliate [1, 2, 3] are most unlikely to act against them, and the diaconate adopted an unequivocal “statement of equal access affirmation[.pdf].” Among other things, it says:

After prayerful discussion, a smaller group came up with the statement listed above. We felt this statement captures the spirit of our church at this time, that all members of Calvary are welcome to participate in the life of the church as the Spirit moves them, including as members of boards or in other leadership opportunities. In addition, we agreed that all members of our church should have full access to all pastoral services.

Passionate warnings against the “acid” of theological liberalization issue from Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and his peers. Yet public support for same sex marriage, even in California where it was recently rejected at the polls, continues its long shift toward general approval. With church and denominational policies moving, often quite fractiously, with apparent inexorability in the same direction.

March 26, 2010 Posted by | Churches, Law, Politics | , , | 1 Comment