Friday, June 10, 2016

GA Baptists at it Again

So the Christian Index (the GA Baptist newspaper) has finally admitted it no longer believes in liberty. And editor Gerald Harris has finally said it publicly.

In front of God and everybody. Said it. Out loud.

I have a problem with the GA Baptist Convention. The problem has been a long time coming. It's like a long, hard, contentious break-up where two people just keep moving in opposite directions.

Wait. Not exactly. I've not really moved. My doctrinal positions are that of the historical Baptists, i.e, Priesthood the Believer, Soul Competency, and the Separation of Church and State. Sadly, GA Baptists no longer believe in those three foundational principles. They moved from those historical moorings with the Conservative Resurgence of the 1980s. And they moved away from me.

The GA Baptist Convention paid for part of my undergrad degree and the Southern Baptist Convention paid for nearly all of my graduate work. So I don't take this break-up lightly, but it is time to finally say thank you for the memories and the good times, but please, don't call me anymore.

I learned all about what makes Baptists different. I was proud that we were not only one of the underdogs of the European religious groups (everyone hated us there) but we were the underdog here in Colonial America, too. We were the heretics; the ungodly outcasts; the radicals; the liberals; the ones that would destroy everything good; the ones the Devil had beguiled. And not only were we the underdogs, we barked at the political Empires and every sectarian Overlord that demanded all other religious underdogs bow to the Crown and Pulpit. We fought for the Quakers and the Mennonites and whatever other small number faith getting thrashed in the public square. We took the public floggings; the loss of our lands; the mistreatment of our children; whatever else could be thrown at us.

Yet we stood for the complete, absolute and total Separation of Church and State at all times, for all religions, for all time. No religious idea of sect was to be giving a Most Favored Status by the government. It was our Baptist cry of Separation of Church and State (and some convincing of James Madison by John Leland under an old tree) that was the foundation of the first phrase of the first sentence of the first amendment that says government was not even to give even a hint of a Most Favored Faith.

That was us. That was the Radical Baptists. That was the idea that gave all faiths at all times complete liberty. That is what Thomas Jefferson told the Danbury Baptists what Congress had done with the First Amendment in terms Baptists understood.

Until now. Until Gerald Harris. Until the Christian Index decided that politics is thicker than doctrinal foundations. Until complete historical and theological ignorance masquerades as piety.

So when Gerald Harris says a mosque shouldn't be built because Muslims are not worthy of the same first amendment protections we Baptists fought for, I have ask: hypocrite much?  Why is religious liberty only good for some groups and not others?

I find it amusing Gerald Harris thinks he gets to decide who is worthy of protection and who isn't ... Gosh, that sounds just like the Anglicans and the other Establishment Churches of Colonial America when talking about Baptists.

Honestly though, Harris is just playing to the political base of the people of GA. He is saying politically what the majority wants to hear.

Hmmmm. Kinda like when Paul talked about those deceivers who just tickled the ears of people who to hear what they wanted to hear (2 TIM 4:3).

Sad, sad day for GA Baptists. Let's hope the rebuke by Don Byrd at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty will cause Gerald Harris to open a history book ... or maybe his Bible. You know, treat others the way you want to be treated.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Trump and Fascism

One doesn't have to be a history major to recognize the similarities between Trump's rise to top of the Republican party, and the similar stories of Mussolini and Hitler. But if you are a history major, your head is probably exploding with the insanity that few recognize it --- or worse, even care.

The message, the manipulation, the fear mongering, the vagueness, the demonizing of minorities, even down to the promise of "greatness again" is a direct copy of the fascist playbook.

America has to do better than this.

Here is a great article that details this from Robert Kagan in the Washington Post

Monday, April 25, 2016

Baptists and Our Own Hypocrisy

From to the Baptist Joint Committee

So let's just be clear ... 100 years ago, Baptists were fearful of Catholics using tax payer money to educate public school children by paying for religious instruction off campus, and also fearful of tax payer money funding Catholic community projects, even those that were being used for public good. Thus, the Blaine Amendments were passed in most states. Now, Baptists are wanting to do away with those amendments because it is blocking tax payer money from supporting our causes. Hmmmm. Hypocrite much?

If one group can use tax payer money for their religious causes, another group can do the same thing tomorrow. Thankfully the Baptist Joint Committee is calling out the hypocrisy. This is why I support this great organization financially ... it is also why the Southern Baptist Convention stopped supporting the BJC years ago. SMH.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Georgia Is Being Governed By Demetrius The Silversmith

Georgia Is Being Governed By Demetrius The Silversmith


This is so very, very sad. And terribly misinformed about Baptist history, our nation's laws, and our founding.

The US constitution guarantees that no faith will get a Most Favored Status from government, even if it is our own. We Baptists were the persecuted minority at the nation's founding and it is we that were told the Word of God was against us and our beliefs were not scriptural. It was the Established Churches that claimed they rightly interpreted the text and should be given special favor over the heretical Baptists. Our nation and stae are not governed by the Bible or any religious text but by the US Constitution. As far as I can tell, no church has been shuttered; no one has been denied access to a house of worship of any faith, even our own; and all public businesses have to be held to the same public accommodation laws that may not refuse service to anyone for any reason, =unless= they are LGBT, a non-protected class in our state. No pastor has ever been forced to marry anyone with whom he/she didn't want to; and no church has ever been forced to host a ceremony it didn't want to host. Now that is not the same for =BUSINESSES= since all =BUSINESSES= are held to the same standard of law. 

GA is not governed by the Bible, or more aptly one narrow interpretation of a select few passages. We are a nation of laws that protect everyone and makes sure everyone is treated the same in the public arena. If we don't make sure other interpretations of faith are protected in the public arena, then one day another religious group can force THEIR religious interpretation onto us in the business arena ... you know, kinda back to where we Baptists started in England, Boston, Virginia, etc., when we were refused service in businesses, or buying/renting property, or getting services from state employees, and the government sanctioned that discrimination because the majority faith said we were not true Christians.

An analogy of Demetrius is not the proper one in this case. Maybe it should have been the Pharisee standing outside the party Jesus was, saying: "Why does Jesus even associate with those sinners?"

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Got =THE= Atlanta United Tickets


I got 'em. I somehow managed to snag the ultimate season tickets for the inaugural season of Atlanta United.  While I don't normally pray for such temporal things and am (almost!) ashamed to admit it, I did. I prayed for these exact tickets.

Now let me explain something about soccer to the non-soccer fans out there: soccer is everything to the serious fan. There are no casual fans in soccer. There are no take it or leave it attitudes about this game. The idea that someone could purposely miss their favorite team's match ... or God forbid, a World Cup qualifying match, much less an honest-to-God World Cup match ... is anathema. Heresy! Blasphemous! Draw and quarter such!

As Liverpool FC manager Bill Shankly so famously quipped:  "Football's [soccer] is not a matter of life and death ... it's more important than that."

And Shankly was spot on.

I'm a fan. Big Fan. Love MLS and in particular the Portland Timbers. I've been a Timbers fan since the 1970s when soccer was an experiment in the US. Not sure what it was but I just liked Portland Timbers. When MLS took the Timbers in 2011, I immediately adopted them as my team. I've been to Portland and Salt Lake City to watch them play. It's on my Bucket List to go to every MLS stadium. I've got two more trips this year planned: Denver and Dallas. Can't wait.

But back to Atlanta United.

2017 is when Atlanta United begins play. Since that is my hometown team, I have to support them. And since I'm such a huge soccer fan, I put my name on the Founders Club list in 2014 to get season tickets. Paid my Founding Club dues (waiting list money).

It was announced via email the club would begin calling everyone to order their tickets on February 8, 2016. I waited. I waited. And I waited. I thought for sure I would end up needing the Hubble Telescope to see any play at all. Finally I get my call a month later: 10 March, 2016. And Brock (my Atlanta United account rep) sang the sweetest words I've heard in my life:  Why yes, Mr. Hale. Those seats are available. Would you like me to process that order to finalize it now?

And so I got my tickets. Two of them. Perfect tickets. As if I picked them out decades ago and Arthur Blank himself reserved them just for me.

Section 110. Row 1. Seats 9-10. That is front row. Dead center of mid-field line.

I'm on top of the world.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What does fascism look like?

Here's a good example that is generally held as basic principles of Fascism in nearly all textbooks I've seen (& Chris Hedges cites Dr. Luther Adams as saying the same  http://www.theocracywatch.org/chris_hedges_nov24_04.htm   ):

==== Article Quote =====
In an essay coyly titled “Fascism Anyone?,” Dr. Lawrence Britt, a political scientist, identifies social and political agendas common to fascist regimes. His comparisons of Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Suharto, and Pinochet yielded this list of 14 “identifying characteristics of fascism.” (The following article is from Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 23, Number 2. Read it at https://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php/articles/2710 External site) See how familiar they sound.

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism
Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights
Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause
The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military
Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism
The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Opposition to abortion is high, as is homophobia and anti-gay legislation and national policy.

6. Controlled Mass Media
Sometimes the media are directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media are indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security
Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined
Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected
The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed
Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts
Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts is openly attacked, and governments often refuse to fund the arts.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment
Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption
Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections
Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

This list will be familiar to students of political science. But it should be familiar to students of religion as well, for much of it mirrors the social and political agenda of religious fundamentalisms worldwide. It is both accurate and helpful for us to understand fundamentalism as religious fascism, and fascism as political fundamentalism. They both come from very primitive parts of us that have always been the default setting of our species: amity toward our in-group, enmity toward out-groups, hierarchical deference to alpha male figures, a powerful identification with our territory, and so forth. It is that brutal default setting that all civilizations have tried to raise us above, but it is always a fragile thing, civilization, and has to be achieved over and over and over again.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

I See Hypocrisy

I remember in 2008 and 2012 when Super Tuesday came around. Being in GA, it was a question of which Republican would get the most votes as there are few Democrats in state outside the metro Atlanta, Macon, or Savannah area. After all, GA wanted to be part of the GOP nomination process and it is a big, big deal.

So in 2008 and 2012, there was a lot of talk about Democrats crossing over to vote to vote Republican to help an "easier" candidate get the nominee in hopes of helping the Democratic nominee come the general election. I remember Shawn Hannity and (I believe) Rush Limbaugh talking about it. It was all the buzz locally as anyone who didn't support ordained GOP front runner was labeled as a suspected RINO or, even worse, a Democrat doing the damnable crossover voting.

As I was talking to a friend yesterday -- who happens to be strong Tea Party -- he suggested that if there is a GOP leader of significant numbers by the time Super Tuesday comes around, he was going to vote in the Democratic primary. Even more amazing, he was going to vote for Bernie Sanders.

After I picked myself off the floor, I asked him if he had been drinking or recently had a serious head injury.

"No," he said. Then he smiled. "I just figure I will vote for Sanders hoping to make one more tick for the Socialist will make Hillary move further left so the Republican can get elected in November."

"Wait," I told him, "Didn't you say this was wrong for the Democrats who did that in 2008 and 2012? Why are you now doing the very thing you said was wrong for them?"

"Because this is too important. We must stop the liberals from destroying what is left of our country and if this is what it takes to do that, then we have to do it. This is my patriotic duty and any real American would do the same." He was dead serious.

"But don't you think it is hypocritical to condemn the Democrats who did that but you do the same?" Now I knew this question would never phase him but I thought I'd try.

It didn't work. Patriotism. Communism. Liberals. Taking our country back. Muslims. Socialists. There were other words he threw into the next 2 minutes of his speech. I'm sure you've heard them all before so I won't bore you with the full text. The rant was predictable.

Hypocrisy only exists for the other side.

Pharisees never see it  in themselves.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Update on "In God We Trust" Stickers

This updates my previous post about the placement of "In God We Trust" stickers on the sheriff patrol cars in my county.

I read the NY Times article about these stickers in the adjoining county to mine. After reading it, I'm certain -- 100% certain -- the stickers are intentionally placed on these sheriff department cars as: 
  1. An explicit faith statement.
  2. A very narrow theological view.
  3. A vote pandering play.
  4. An example of manipulating people who really have very little training in history.
  5. A dangerous step that erodes the wall of separation between church and state.
  6. Something that will be quite a political and legal fight one day.
Although I am not a member of FFRF, nor really even support their shotgun-style blasting with lawsuits, I do believe this quote is completely accurate:

“This motto has nothing to do with the problem of police forces’ shooting people, but it’s a great way to divert attention away from that and wrap yourself in a mantle of piety so that you’re above criticism,” said Annie Laurie Gaylor, a co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, a Wisconsin-based group that has demanded that law enforcement officials stop exhibiting the motto. “The idea of aligning the police force with God is kind of scary. That’s the first thing you’d expect to see in a theocracy."

Yep. That's exactly right.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

"In God We Trust" but the Sheriff Still Carries a Gun

First, let me state emphatically that I am a lifelong friend of Sheriff Gary Gulledge, of Paulding County, GA. We grew up together, played sports together, have had many meals together, and I consider him a good friend who would do anything to help me just as I would for him. What I am about to say in no reflects a break in that friendship.

But, Gary, what the heck were you thinking?




It seems the Paulding County Sheriff's Department is placing "In God We Trust" stickers on all department vehicles. While the movement seems to be one that many departments across the nation are now doing, it doesn't make it right.

Let's be clear on something: I firmly believe Sheriff Gulledge's heart is in the right place. He is doing what he thinks is a good gesture towards the community, his personnel, and a bit of patriotism, too. He is not in any way trying to break the law, marginalize anyone, or cause problems. He is simply standing up for what he believes and trying to do something good.

None of that excuses the seriousness of the mistake of these stickers.

First, the Sheriff was quick to point out (see his statement here) that the stickers were paid for by his personal money, or the money of the deputies that chose to place the sticker on their patrol car. No taxpayer money was used. No problem, right? Well, that is a big problem: it shows that this is recognized as a distinctly religious statement and using taxpayer money would never fly from a Constitutional stand point. Thus, if it is recognized as an entanglement of church and state if taxpayer money was used, then it must be viewed as still a religious statement if private money is used. And since these stickers are on county vehicles, paid for by the county taxpayer, why are religious statements allowed?

Second, it should be painfully obvious that reasonable people would see this as a definite religious advancement, and thus an establishment issue. This is evident in the statements of nearly everyone that is praising God these stickers are on the vehicles. The people of the county see this for what it is: a clear religious statement on county vehicles.

Third, the Sheriff was explicit that he did this because he was doing exactly what the nation was founded on, i.e., God. While I disagree with him that the nation was founded on God or any uniquely Christian principles (or any religious values at all, for that matter), his statement that this is what the United States of America was found upon and is one of the principles I live my life upon demonstrates clearly that this is his advancement of religion using the official arm of the sheriff's department.

Fourth, it is highly problematic that deputies are paying for the stickers out of their own pocket. What if a deputy is of a different religion than the Sheriff? Wouldn't there be at least subtle coercion for the deputy to spend the money on an obvious faith statement? What if the deputy is of no faith? Will there be retaliation? I'm certain my friend Gary Gulledge would never --- not ever --- retaliate against a deputy for being of a different or no faith. I'm certain that wouldn't happen. But what of others in the department? How will they treat a fellow deputy who is singled out for being different? Fact is, there is an immediate coercive environment towards minority faith deputies, whether overt, covert, or perceived. It is there and there is no denying that.

Fifth, how does the community see this? Judging by the comments, nearly everyone loves the idea as God is getting the glory. Amen, right? Well, how do minority religions feel? To people of different religions or no religion at all, the message is very clear: faith is given the nod because this is a God-fearing county and if you aren't in the majority religion, you are 2nd class and don't get the benefit of the doubt. Many citizens will be marginalized, either real or perceived, and they will always wonder if they are getting the same treatment as the majority faith gets. This looks like the law enforcement arm of Paulding County gives favor to one religion, and that is the religion of the Sheriff.

Sixth, the stickers on patrol cars have never been challenged in court with a ruling one way or the other, as far as I can tell. So that means this is probably legal until a judge says it is not. Still, that doesn't make it right and the problems noted should be enough to say this is not a good idea.

Just as a last point of reference, the statement In God We Trust is indeed the US national motto, as of 1956. That doesn't mean it is not a religious statement. While most today simply see it as a legal generic nod to a ceremonial and patriotic duty, that idea is rapidly changing in every day practice as evidenced by the positive comments for these stickers. And, yes, the statement is on our currency, but that, too, is very recent and, like the motto change, done for the expressed purpose of making a religious statement as an up yours to the Soviet Union and their godless system of government. Again, everyone knew it was a religious statement then, and we know it is a religious statement now: the legal challenge will come --- eventually.

In the meantime, the stickers stand. It's legal. It's viewed as the placing of the national motto and not a religious statement. Still doesn't make it right.

Remember: if we open the door to putting God on the patrol cars, that same door will allow Allah on that same vehicle in the future. The only way to prevent the latter, is to make sure the former is not allowed either. Giving the hint of a Most Favored Religion is clearly a violation of the 1st amendment. I just pray that in our zeal to stand for God we don't forget that the majority faith in Paulding County, GA, once fought against this very thing when the Congregationalists, Anglicans, and Papists wanted their version of God given the nod of being more favored.