Saturday, December 29, 2007

China Bans Reincarnation

There are some things that are just so outlandish that it defies reason to even mention it. I remember when I was joking around with this one young lady about how the Russians were going to launch a manned space craft & land on the sun to do experiments. She, rightly so, quickly responded that they couldn't do that because they would burn up. Hook. Line. Sinker. All I had to do was give the punch line: "They're going at night." That's funny, right there, I don't care who you are.

Somehow this girl's synapses managed to do the impossible. She looked at me, square in the eye & said in a most defiant attitude, "Well, you didn't tell me they were going at night & they would be landing on the side with no heat."

I stood there with my mouth open, unable to even utter a word. So did the other 10 folks standing there. Amazing.

In come the Chinese. 2007. And they have banned reincarnation. That's right. It is now illegal in China for Tibetan Buddhist monks to reincarnate without the permission of the Chinese gov't.

According to the news report, there are strict guidelines about a reappearing Buddha, though the penalty is not mentioned. The article pointed out that it effectively gives the Chinese gov't the legal authority to name the next Dalai Lama.

The law is further explained in China Daily (e.g., propaganda that doesn't pretend to make sense) that the law is to aid religious freedom. Get this quote:

"The rule is bound to have significant impact on standardizing governance on living Buddha reincarnation, protecting people's religious freedom, maintaining the normal order of Tibetan Buddhism and the building of a harmonious society."

Sounds like Double Speak to me . . . or like the "justification" on resolutions telling bloggers to hush because it is hurting our evangelism efforts. Again: do whuuut? Like dissenting blogs of SBCers are being read by the unchurched. Yeah, right.

And the Russians are going to land on the Dark Side of the Sun for exploration.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

When dissent is silenced

One of the most cherished rights we Americans have is the right to voice our opinions on any topic without fear of gov't reprisal. That doesn't happen most anywhere else. Even in England, there are Soapbox Sundays where you can say whatever you want in the public parks --- except anything against the Queen. (Not sure if that is the correct terminology but that is what the guide told us in 2005 when we were in London.)

In America, we can even say our President is a low-down, lying, good-for-nothing, coward --- & then claim those are his good traits. No fear of gov't coming down on us.

Until recently.

Baptists have always been the same way. We treasured dissent & valued the debate because it made us into what we are now. Baptists have evolved greatly in the last 400 years & we are, what we are, because of the dissent of years gone by. We changed. We adjusted. We amended. We evolved.

This is not to say that we changed overnight. Nor is it to say the dissent & the evolution wasn't painful. It was. We fight a lot. Always have. But we agree to put our discussions in the public view because it means a transparency & an opportunity for everyone to come to their own conclusions. You know, priesthood of the believer. We Baptists don't decide our doctrinal distinctives in a back room meeting with a few elites. We don't come to a vote on what we believe & then demand everyone agree with it or leave. Instead, we reach a consensus & invite even those who disagree to continue to cooperate on matters of missions & education.

Until recently.

I'm deeply concerned that what we are seeing today is an entrenchment of the "You're either with us or you're against us." The kind that says, "You're not a Christian nor a patriot if you disagree with us."

And what bothers me the most is that it is on a national & a denominational scale.

When I was college, I had several professors make a rather bold statement. They said the US was more in danger of becoming Fascist than Communistic. They claimed that Fascism uses faith & patriotism to consolidate power. I was young & told them they had lost their mind.

Now, I look around & realize how right they were.

The national scene is almost to the same level of the Red Scare. Don't question any gov't policy because it is "un-American." Disagreement is not patriotic.

On the Baptist level, any dissent is decried as "hurting our evangelism efforts" or "causing trouble in the fellowship." Some honest disagreements on non-essentials have resulted in brothers & sisters being labeled "un-Christian." Even worse, some political disagreements are causing some believers to be called "heretics" if they don't tow the official line of the Baptist leaders.

I now see why we Baptists placed a priority on the idea of soul freedom. It is a foundational principle. I also understand why our Founding Fathers placed such a premium on the ability to dissent, so much so that it is enshrined in the 1st Amendment.

Dissent is a treasure. It is what makes us examine ourselves & our beliefs. It forces us to pour over the Scripture to make sure we can account for the totality of the text. And it is the Word that changes us. Without dissent, we may never have to examine ourselves.

We may disagree. We may fight. We may begin new churches or new denominations. But what we may never do is stifle anyone's right to speak, question or disagree. Once we create rules, laws or policies that effectively tell people to be quite, we are indeed taking that 1st step of Fascism.

When we meld faith & politics, both become unbearable.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Has the SBC Ethics Committee Endorsed a Presidential Candidate?

I'm perplexed.

On one hand, the SBC Ethic's Committee Chair, Richard Land, told the Texas Baptist Convention that he won't endorse candidates. His exact words were, "I don’t. I won’t.” Instead, he said he wanted a well-informed electorate.

Sounds good. But how has it been playing out? After a bit of a review, it looks like Land has endorsed Fred Thompson. Let's consider the following from Rob Boston on his Americans United blog:

* In April, Land told The Hill, a Washington, D.C., newspaper, “Fred Thompson reminds me of a Southern-fried Reagan. To see Fred work a crowd must be what it was like to watch Rembrandt paint.” Land went on to say that he would not support former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani or Newt Gingrich, partly over their marital histories. He excused Thompson’s divorce, saying the circumstances matter and noting that Thompson’s first marriage was an amicable split that ended years ago.

* Not long after that, the Politico newspaper reported that Land introduced Thompson during a meeting of the secretive Council for National Policy in Virginia. Thompson went on to deliver a speech critical of church-state separation.

* Land rushed to Thompson’s defense after James Dobson of Focus on the Family criticized the former senator’s stand on the Federal Marriage Amendment and his failure to attend church regularly. Land told David Brody, a reporter and blogger at TV preacher Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, “I’ve received phone calls and e-mails from Southern Baptists about Sen. Thompson. They are all furious at Dr. Dobson. They just feel that, first of all, there was a mischaracterizing of his positions. Do I wish that he supported the marriage protection amendment? Of course I do. To say that he is for 50 different views of marriage in 50 different states is a gross mischaracterization of his position. Secondly, do I wish that he attended church every Sunday? As a Baptist pastor, of course I do. But does that make him a person of unbelief? That’s harsh and unwarranted.”

* On July 12, 2007, Land told Brody, “My assessment is that at this moment in time it is Fred Thompson’s race to lose. It may be a convergence of the right man, in the right place and at the right time. I have never seen anything like this grassroots swell for Thompson. I’m not speaking for Southern Baptists but I do believe I have my hand on the pulse of Southern Baptists and I think I know where the consensus is.” Brody later wrote of Land’s “fascination with Thompson.”

* Land told the far-right evangelical magazine World that Thompson will win because he offers “red meat” to socially conservative evangelicals.

* A pro-Thompson Web site, Blogs for Fred Thompson, notes at least two examples of Land pushing Thompson on right-wing radio shows.

Do your own Google Search using the names "Fred Thompson" & "Richard Land." Draw your own conclusions as to whether or not Land endorses any candidate.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Grinch

Yeah, I'm a Grinch. I admit it. And as soon as the tree/decorations/Taj Mahal decor comes down, I'll stop fuming --- until next Labor Day when Christmas starts all over again.

1. I can't stand having schedules imposed on me. I should be merry now? Not later? Not next week? Has to be right now? How about now?

2. I want everything to stay open all the time: like Vegas.

3. I remember when I was poor and how Christmas ground me down. "Honey, what can we charge with the maxed-out Shell card we got through borderline fraud? You think your mother would like the gift of 30 weight? Can we charge lottery tickets? Oh, look, honey, peach-scented candles at the Citgo are 3 for a dollar!"

4. The awful music. "Have yourseeeeelf aaaaa merry little Christmaaaaaaa--" BANG! There's your merry little Christmas you mooing, moaning, vowel-extending hambone. And I got one for you, too, Little Drummer Boy. Rum pum pum BANG! Hey, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Venison. BANG!

5. It's an entire season (money version) designed to rip us all off; buying things for people we don't like; with money we don't have; & making us feel guilty if didn't give away our future retirement checks.

6. It's an entire season (family version) centering on "being together." Oh, boy. What fun. Like I enjoy hearing Uncle Billy's story 40 years ago when he shot the poor neighbor kid who only wanted to borrow (i.e., steal) his new pellet rifle. Or the story about Aunt Shirley who didn't listen to the adults, ate too fast, got some food caught in her throat, & nearly died. Inspiring stories, I tell ya!

7. It's an awful lot of kid time. Plus, you have to be nice to them. And then you finally do lose it, and start chasing them around the house brandishing an empty Scotch bottle and screaming: "Dang it! If you kids don't give me some peace I'm gonna give all your presents to poor people!" Well, not really "yelling." But I do yell at the dog --- & I would like to give its toys away. I'd like to give the dog away too, but no one would take a fat beagle that sleeps all day.

What? That's just my family?

8. Watching the news reports about the crowded malls. Here's my news flash: Dollar General & the Citgo gas station have everything I need, at better prices, & I can be done with it all in an hour. After season sales are even better.

9. Reruns. Just when I really need them, my TV friends go away. In their place we get Christmas Specials that were crap thirty years ago too. We all know that Charlie Brown ended up an urban-outdoorsman (e.g., homeless) 15 years ago after the break-up of his disastrous marriage to Lucy, which was followed by a decade-long descent into depression and oxycontin addiction. So making us watch him with his little Christmas tree is just cruel.

10. And of course, shopping. Long, long ago I proposed a simple solution to my friends and family: everyone writes everyone else a check for $25 bucks. It all evens out: no winners; no losers. The whole thing is over in five minutes and we're not all stuck buying a bunch of useless crap no one wants, or receiving a bunch of useless crap ourselves. Over time we would reduce the size of the checks, finally eliminating them altogether and contenting ourselves with a simple "Merry Christmas." This, over time would be reduced to, "Yo!" and our long national nightmare would be over.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Dallas Nativity, Part Whatever

I had a call from a good friend today who told me that this blog was too "sterile" on relating the events of the Nativity &, as a result, it needs to be more detailed to explain the matter. Then another gentleman accosted me today with a rather vengeful attitude thinking again this whole matter of "taking down the Nativity" is my fault.

I will repeat again: I did NOT file a personal complaint against the city. I did NOT file a lawsuit to take down the nativity. I do NOT want the nativity removed.

How more clearly can I say it?

One particular individual raised the question as to legality of the city owning a nativity display & placing it in such a way that gives the impression the Mayor's church was getting a special favor. If you have ever met this lady, you would understand why she would not be the first choice to speak to the city about the issue. She is a Yankee. Really, she is a nice lady but it would best be left to a more moderate interaction for our Southern senses of grace. I still call her a dear friend.

The issue is very simple: tax payer money purchasing a religious display & placing it in a distinct location that gives the impression there is a Most Favored Religion & Church. That is the issue. Nothing more. She never once asked that it be taken down. No one locally has asked that the display be taken down. The whole idea of "removing the display" is patently false.

Now let's stop right here: everyone has the right to protest & have an action of government reviewed by the legal process. Everyone. No one is exempt from the legal process. Right or wrong, everyone has that right.

The local chapter of Americans United does not involve itself in protests or lawsuits or that kind of stuff. We educate & discuss ways to improve things, not destroy or divide. We meet & discuss issues regarding faith of many traditions & in all parts of the world. We discuss how education is handling new problems with increased numbers of religious minority students. We discuss how Catholic students here in Paulding County are regularly accosted & told they will "burn in hell for praying to Mary." Those are the issues.

Because the local chapter believes the issue may be legitimate, the entire chapter agreed unanimously that it needs to be addressed. The chapter agreed that right or wrong, the appearance is that tax payer money was endorsing one particular faith. It was decided that since I have an office in town, I would be the logical one to mediate on behalf of the chapter & this lady in particular. Repeat: mediate. Be the peace maker. Try to solve this issue so it didn't become a nightmare.

The city manager is, I believe, a good & honest man. He was most gracious. After explaining the issue, he didn't seem to want to work something out. I offered to buy the nativity to make it completely legal & remove any & all questions about the display. He said he would look into the matter & get back with me.

No names were mentioned, & for good reason. People were afraid that honest disagreement will result in an actual persecution, especially on religious matters. From what has happened to me, I think they are right.

After a week of no response, the chapter agreed as a whole that the matter needs to be referred on to Washington where a more "legalized" reason could be sent to handle this matter quietly. Again, at no time did anyone ever say they wanted the display to be removed, but to get it privatized to resolve the issue. No one locally ever even hinted that it should be removed. The criticism of the city's action was forwarded on to Washington by me, not as a personal complaint, but as a chapter forwarding a question that was raised & to hopefully mediate on behalf of everyone.

Note this again: this is NOT a personal complaint. This is a legitimate questioning of tax payer money that purchased religious emblems, & displayed them in such a way that gave the appearance of a Most Favored Faith. This was NOT my complaint. It was a question the entire chapter agreed should be addressed & clarified. At no time did it ever get mentioned that the display should come down. Other phone calls & emails to AU were made by local people questioning this display & in support of privatizing the nativity, but AU would not give me those names citing privacy concerns.

A few days latter I received the email & fax that was sent to the city of Dallas. Basically, the letter said that the city was on very shaky legal grounds for purchasing the display with tax payer money.

As I leave the office one afternoon (which one, I can't remember: it is all kinda running together now), I saw the WSB TV news van in front of the creche. I stopped & asked what was it about. The reporter explained that someone had called in about the nativity & he asked if I knew anything about it. After going over the details, he asked if I wanted to go on camera. Obviously, that would not be a good idea, so I declined. (Not to mention my mom had gum surgery that day & my dad's cancer is really causing him some discomfort: I had already promised to handle supper for them that night & wouldn't back out.)

I spoke with the Mayor again on Monday, 12/17/07, & tried to explain all this again. I don't think he is too enthused about it much. I even offered to buy the display, leave it there & remove all questions about the conflict, but he refused. After another attempt to extend my hand today, I get the feeling he is still upset.

Let me repeat this again: at no time did anyone locally ever ask the nativity be removed. It was a question regarding the use of tax payer money that really looks like it was used to favor one faith over all others. That is the issue. Nothing more.

Whether we agree on the question of Church and State is irrelevant: the lady has a legitimate right to ask it be reviewed. The chapter agrees it doesn't look good. It gives the appearance of impropriety. The chapter has the right to forward a legitimate complaint for review.

I have been amazed at how our attempts at mediation caused us all to be in the cross hairs. Teachers are afraid to mention they think spending tax money on this is wrong. Other Christians are now afraid to honestly discuss the role of government in their church because they are scared of the backlash. Non-Christians have said they are now more afraid than ever to admit they disagree with the government endorsing a religion because of how they might be perceived. One lady in Kroger was even loudly proclaimed a heretic & that she was going to burn in hell for disagreeing with the spending of tax money on religious displays.

Personally, I have been called a liar, a heathen, a heretic & even worse (won't print those things).

In America, we don't persecute people for believing differently or having differing opinion. Looks like we only say it but don't really believe it.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Roger Williams, You're Da Man

I remember Roger Williams from my seminary days, learning he was the first Baptist in America. Of course, he spoke out. Prayed on his own. Questioned the establishment. Did Bible studies without the Congregationalist Pastor present.

Naturally, he was kicked out of Boston for being "unchristian" & a heretic when he disagreed with the majority politics.

Then there was good ol' Thomas Helwys. It is never a good idea to write a treatise about how the Government shouldn't control the church or the conscience, and that religion should be a private matter not supported by the state. Helwys was a real Baptist: he signed his name to it & sent it to the King.

Naturally, he got his head chopped off for being "unchristian" & a heretic when he disagreed with the majority politics.

I have learned much over the last 72 hours, mainly that politics is a blood sport & those who participate in the sport will do anything to anyone to gain political advantage, even if it means destroying another's reputation. It may not be the same as chopping off a head, but character assassination is still murder.

In the last 3 days I've been called everything from a "Godless Heathen" to an "unchristian" heretic, to a "Commie Liberal" to the Most Hated Man in Paulding County.

I certainly understand, to some degree, how Roger Williams & Thomas Helwys felt.

I have been accused of wanting to take Christ out of Christmas; destroying Tradition; wanting to remove any emblem of Christ from our Nation; & even taking down Nativity Scenes.

Let's set the record straight: I do NOT want the nativity display taken down. I want it to remain. But trying to mediate in the role of a peace maker is not easy, even when there is a legitimate complaint. When tax payer money is used to decorate the area around the Mayor's church, there is a problem. It is wrong. It is unethical. It smacks of establishing an official church, the Mayor's church, & The Honorable Mayor gets to bestow his church with a Most Favored Status.

It is also clearly illegal and I don't believe it is going to stand.

Let it be known here & now: I offered to purchase the Nativity Display from the city of Dallas, GA, when I met with the city manager so as the display could remain. That would remove what I believe to be a legitimate complaint.

No response was given & after a week of the city's non-returned phone calls, I forwarded the complaint.

Honest disagreements about politics & the role of the government's relationship to the church are legitimate political questions. We don't, however, persecute for having an honest disagreement.

And we don't assassinate character because we do disagree.

Baptists have always valued dissent --- until recent history. Now I get the feeling that the majority-minded Christians no longer want anyone to disagree with them on any political or religious issue. The dissenter is told to "leave & go to some unchristian country."

Naturally, these people will later be kicked out of our nation for being "unChristian" & a heretic when they disagre with the majority politics.

Sometimes following the command of being a peace maker will mean the guns get aimed at peace maker too.

Sad when Christians devour their own when their own disagree on honest issues.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

City of Dallas, GA, to Spend A Lot of Taxpayer Money

Well, it looks like the city of Dallas, GA, is run by either some really shrewd politicians, or the most incompetent boobs known civilization. According to the news report (click here for the video), Dallas officials have decided to not take action on an American United for Separation of Church and State request to, hopefully, transfer from city to private ownership or remove a city-purchased nativity display that is, amazingly, set up to show off the landscaping around the Mayor's church. The mayor, Boyd Austin, smiled when he said the city council would take up the issue at the January council meeting. That means he either: 1) is completely incompetent and doesn't understand the legal costs to the taxpayer, nor the Constitution of the US; or 2) he is willingly allowing the tax payer to pay the legal costs of something he knows he won't win but will be able tell the voters how he stood up to the godless anti-Christs. Votes he'll get. IQ points are another matter. I am willing to bet the judge will be ruling against the city of Dallas rather quickly in this matter and the January council meeting will be deciding how to pay the legal bills. It just looks bad when tax payer money is spent to make the Mayor's church look good.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

UPDATE of Nativity Display in Dallas, GA

On Monday, December 3, 2007, the City of Dallas, GA, was officially notified with a by an email and fax (and subsequent letter) from the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, that the city owned creche that decorates the landscaping in front of the Mayor's church, was in violation of the Constitution of the United States.(See prior post 1 and prior post 2.) The city was given 3 days to respond. As of Friday, December 7, 2007, no word from the city or the AU as to any discussions. The creche is still on display (making the Mayor's church area look all pretty) and still owned by the city as far as I can tell since there is no mention of it on the city's website where public notices are given.

There was no mention of this at the Dallas City Council meeting on Monday evening.

More details when they come.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Small Town Dallas, GA

When I was a kid, the highlight of the season was the Downtown Dallas Parade, second only the Christmas Day, of course. Back then there would be a few hundred people marching down the street with the band leading the way. A few horses. A couple of pickup trucks with ribbons that we would call a "float." That was about it.

The 2007 Paulding Christmas Parade was held December 1, and that is the reason I've not posted in a few days: I'm still in recuperation mode. It is much bigger now than when I was a kid. Now there are thousands of people in the parade and another 15,000 or so spectators.

Still, it reminds me of what Mayberry's Parade would have looked like.

This will be my last year at organizing the parade. Just tired. It is not as much fun as it used to be and I can't afford to let clients suffer for an entire month (November) when all I work on is parade stuff. Yes, also a wee-bit tired of getting cussed at, fussed at, and called everything but a Christian. Never would I have dreamed people would get so worked up over an assigned parade position. Then again, I am Baptist so it really shouldn't surprise me at what people do get upset about.

At least we gave a record amount to Paulding Christmas for the needy kids and families this year: $5000. Going out with a bang.

Here's the link to see the 90 minute parade in only 30 minutes.