Thursday, May 28, 2009

Liberty University Says They are Being Harrassed

Tax exemption of Liberty questioned - Richmond Times-Dispatch

Sometimes the truth is just stranger than anything anyone can make up.

Liberty University has said they are going to file a complaint with the IRS against Americans United for harassment.

I've heard it all now.

Blog post 1 --- original story

Blog post 2 -- update

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Liberty University Democrats Try to Regain Good Graces

Democratic Club Attempting to Regain Status at Liberty University | Politics | Christianity Today

So now the members of the Liberty University Young Democrats are now trying to be recognized by the school as an official student group again. They're drafting a new proposal, i.e., groveling, & will apologize for making statements that some school officials (denied by those officials) said one can't be a Christian & a Democrat at the same time --- never mind that is, in fact, what the school's action certainly implied to begin with.

I have to think that the school will accept the Young Democrats back into the fold. The bad press they got on this really looks like the school censors political speech of one political party, especially since the students seem to accept the school's pro-life & anti-gay rights position. View point discrimination could put them at risk for federal funds like student loans, VA benefits, etc.

And then there is the request by Americans United to the IRS for a review of the school's tax exempt status ... If that gets traction, it's gonna be a barn burner.
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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Actor Mike Farrell On Health Care Reform

I follow the Speaking of Justice website with Scott Drake. While the site is mainly for those scoundrels called lawyers, the videos usually give insight to some current issue that is quite interesting. Then I found the above video.

There is a desperate need in our nation to do something about health care. Call it reform. Call it overhaul. Call it starting all over. Call it whatever you want, but when there are people dying because they can't afford the most basic & inexpensive of medicines, in the most wealthy nation on earth, there is a problem.

There is no reason we can't come up with some sort of solution whereby everyone --- man, woman, boy, girl, teen, aged, everyone --- is covered by a basic system. As it stands now, the insurance companies are in an adversarial position with the health care providers. It's really simple: the insurance companies are trying to get by with paying as little as possible while the health care providers are trying to get deliver quality care. Granted, some of these providers are trying to make as much money as possible, even by fleecing the insurance companies, but that is small scale compared to the people having to make --- literally --- life & death decisions every day because they can't afford medicines or health insurance.

The way our current system delivers care is so convoluted that it looks like a Baptist committee developed it over several generations.
Pre-existing conditions don't get covered if you change jobs. The result is people get stuck in jobs without hope of moving up, just to keep health insurance. And those employers know that & use it, too. What is basic coverage in one plan is premium in another. Patients have to chose doctors based on insurance coverage instead of proximity, choice, or qualifications. Meds that are absolutely necessary for some to live are withheld due to an insurance company's guidelines.

There must be a better way to provide affordable, quality health care to all Americans. I don't know how; I don't know who nor when; nor do I even pretend to have the details. What I do know is that there is no excuse for the richest nation on earth to not have a viable health care option for all Americans. It is simply not acceptable.

We should be able to do this. People like the young baseball coach in my county shouldn't have to die because he couldn't afford the basic blood pressure medications that nearly everyone has to take. People like a friend of mine who can't leave her dead end job to better her life because her heart condition will not be covered under most insurance plans & she can't afford the out of pocket costs. People should not have to make the choice of paying for groceries or paying for medicines.

I'm not talking about the premier coverage. I'm talking about basic health care coverage. We can
develop a plan that covers the meds most Americans have to take; a minimal standard of care; policies for the care the aged will receive; & a plan that allows private insurance to pick up where the minimal plan leaves off.

No excuse not to. No excuse. Not any.
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Monday, May 25, 2009

Pastor's Salary: Rev. Brad Braxton of Riverside Church

New Riverside Church pastor Rev. Brad Braxton's $600K compensation prompts parishioners' suit

Riverside ChurchImage by Matti Mattila via Flickr

Riverside Church in Manhattan is a nice church. By "nice" I mean ginormous with high powered folks who go there. Prestigious. It is the Big Time.

The church has been transitioning from a most affluent white liberal membership to more African American. With the call of Braxton, a Southern Baptist & Rhodes Scholar, the church will take on a more personal piety dimension, & will almost certainly move to a more conservative position. (Link to Association for Church Renewal.)

But when Juan Gonzalez first broke the story about the annual salary package the church was going to pay Rev. Braxton, it brought rounds of criticism. (The Daily News.)

And rightly so ... if it were as Mr. Gonzalez lays it out to be, as follows:

  • $250,000 in salary.
  • $11,500 monthly housing allowance.
  • Private school tuition for his child.
  • A full-time maid.
  • Entertainment, travel and "professional development" allowances.
  • Pension and life insurance benefits.
  • An equity allowance for Braxton to save up to buy a home

Mr. Gonzalez is making the same mistake most Americans make when examining the way a pastor is paid --- &, frankly, most Americans, including Mr. Gonzalez, have no idea what they are talking about.

First, there is a

Rev. Brad Braxton of Riverside ChurchImage by Fellowship of Reconciliation via Flickr

huge difference between "salary" & "cost of employment." Salary is what the guy/gal actually makes & is the basis of the W2 wages. The Cost of Employment is the total amount the employer is allocating for that employee.

For example, a first year teacher in my school district makes around $35,000 a year. That is the teacher's salary. The W2 will reflect that as the amount of money paid to the teacher & all taxes must come from that dollar figure. The cost of employment to the school system, however, is much higher because that teacher also gets personal days off, health insurance, dental & vision insurance, etc., of which the school district pays a large portion. The school also pays half the social security tax for the teacher. All equipment the teacher needs is paid for by the school system, as well as staff development training, stipends, extra curricular activity monies, incentives to perform, etc. Then there is the money the school is required to put into the mandatory Teacher Retirement System. All of that adds up to the cost of employment, but the actual salary the teacher makes is far less.

In the case of Riverside Church, the salary the pastor makes looks like, if the story is accurate, is $250,000. That's a lot of money but it is a far cry from the cost of employment.

Mr. Gonzalez seems to not understand taxes very well, either. The housing allowance is per the IRS guidelines that allows a pastor to designate part of his salary as "housing" to prevent that portion from being taxed as regular income. This was done because pastors tend to move around a good bit & pastors end up getting shafted regarding home equity because of the whim of his superiors or the congregation. However, that housing allowance is still taxed for social security purposes --- nearly 16% --- & that has to be paid out of his salary.

The maid & tuition for the child are also taxed at fair market value & must be paid out of his salary.

The insurance & benefits are the same for any employee regardless the salary. No one thinks to include that when discussing how much salary they are getting paid from their employer.

The travel & education & other allotments are the same as when a school system pays travel costs for a teacher to go to an off site location for training. All employers do this. Why make an issue of it for this guy? We want teachers to get continuing education credits & we reward them, but not a pastor?

I'm not saying the guy is worth $250,000. Maybe he is. I don't know. However, in Manhattan, with that church, $250k may not be far off the mark. All I'm saying is that we need to be fair when discussing salary & not confuse it with the cost of employment. Otherwise we might just be telling that first year teacher that she is really making $60k a year, instead of the $35k she sees on her W2.

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Sunday, May 24, 2009

Colin Powell to GOP: Listen to moderates, too

Powell to Republicans: Listen to moderates, too AP 05/24/2009

The discussion got heated this weekend as Colin Powell & Tom Ridge exchanged air wave verbal slashes with Dick Cheney & Karl Rove.Powell & Ridge denounced the current GOP standard of going more to the right (as if it can go much further), while Rove & Cheney said those two aren't true Republicans 'cept in name only.

Colin Powell, Secretary of State.Image via Wikipedia

The fact is that the GOP has an image problem: they have painted themselves as the Grumpy Old Religious Right Chrsitian White Men's Party. Dissent is not tolerated & all those who disagree will be branded.

Goldslingers have taken over the GOP.

When God is on your side in both faith & politics, thinking goes out the window.
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Obama's New "Preventative Detention Proposal"

Facts and myths about Obama's preventive detention proposal - Glenn Greenwald -

Let's be consistent ...

If we didn't like Bush having this sort of power, then we can't give the nod to Obama having that power either. Obama, even if he has the sense to not abuse the system, won't be president forever & we don't know what sort of mad man may usurp that prerogative in the future & use it on political dissenters here at home.

This is why short-term fixes don't work: they create worse problems down the road. Let's do it right, by the book, with the Constitution & treaties in mind, knowing that one day it may come back to bite us.

Wisonsin Mother Convicted in Faith Healing Death

Leilani Neumann was convicted of second-degree reckless homicide in the death of her 11-year old daughter, Kara, whose diabetes went untreated. Parents relatives & friends prayed for the young girl as her health deteriorated and she finally went into a coma. The prosecutor described Neumann in his closing arguments as a religious zealot who let her daughter die as a test of faith. Neumann's defense counsel argued that she did not realize her daughter was so ill & did all she could consistent with her family's belief in faith-healing. Neumann faces a possible sentence of 25 years in prison. Her attorney says an appeal is planned based on the trial court's refusal to allow a faith-healing expert to testify at trial. Neumann's husband, Dale, will be tried separately on similar charges in July.

Chicago Tribune article.

Wausau Daily Herald article

Friday, May 22, 2009

Liberty University Tells College DEMs They are not Welcome

Liberty University Shuts Down Campus Democratic Party Club -

Liberty University has withdrawn recognition of Liberty University College Democrats as a student organization, according to the Washington Post. An email was sent to the group that said: We are unable to lend support to a club whose parent organization stands against the moral principles held by Liberty University. (Full text of new policy and of e-mail revoking College Democrats' recognition). The clubs advisor, Maria Childress, says she is trying to appeal the decision.

Lynchburg News-Advance reports on a statement Jerry Falwell, Jr. made today regarding the suspension:

"That club still has the right to exist," Falwell said, although it cannot use the university’s name in its activities. "They still can meet on campus," in certain rooms, he said. "There is absolutely no animosity at all toward any of these kids. They are good, Christian kids who sit with me at ball games. I just hope they find a pro-life family organization to affiliate with so they can be endorsed by Liberty again."
Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine issued a statement on Democratic National Committee letterhead urging the University to reverse its decision.

Now, I always thought dissent was a valuable & cherished part of Baptist life. In fact, Baptists were born out of dissent. Our very existence breaths of the priesthood of the believer, & that each person is answerable to God on with his own conscience. Since when is a political matter a reason to turn away a group, especially in a college where open discussion should be the cornerstone of a well-rounded education?

Stifling dissent is what the Pharisees did. It is what Godslingers to today. Is this what we've come to? I'm not saying a private school cannot do this --- they can. But it is not Baptistic --- nor American.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Judges & Prosecutors Go to Bat for Troy Davis

Judges urge hearing for Troy Davis

The guy was convicted of killing a policeman in 1989 but there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime & no murder weapon was found. There were 9 witnesses who said Davis did it, but 7 of them have since recanted claiming police intimidation. They also contend that another man did it, who is, ironically, one of the other 2 witnesses against Davis.

There is something terribly wrong with a system that allows this sort of evidence to go on without action from a justice system. We are supposed to have a justice system & why the system is not working in this case is beyond me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

GA Traffic Cameras on the Way Out

Georgia Red Light Cameras In The Red? « GeorgiaTrafficLawyer’s Weblog

I saw a report last month about a state legislator going up against some his colleagues in the legislature about those traffic light cams. It seems that several years ago these cams were all the rage, with claims from our gov't that the cams were going to "make everyone safer" & would "make safety a #1 priority."

Bull. These cams were about one thing: $$$$$$$$$$. And lots of it.

Now these cams are bringing in the dough like they once were & municipalities are doing away with them.

In Dalton, for example, the cams in 2008 brought in $344,126 in revenue from fines & ran up costs of $283,574. The biggest cost? Man hours to review the film. But there are also rental & maintenance costs.

However, January 2009 brought $24,500 in revenue and rang up $23,834 in expenses. In February, the city took in $11,760 in fines from tickets issued for violations caught by the cameras and had expenses of $23,475.

What happened for the drop in revenue? The state of GA mandated a simple change: add a single second to all yellow lights. That's all. A single, solitary second.

Now all those rented red light cams are not bringing in the revenue. So cities are doing away with the cams.

My questions are: 1) If it was all about "public safety" why aren't the cities keeping the cams? 2) Since they are doing away with the cams, it looks like they were more about a revenue producer than a concern for public safety; & 3) If it only took a single second on the amber lights to fix most of the problem, something that was brought up as an alternative before all these cams were put in place, why didn't local gov't try that before going straight to the cams?

It sure does look like the cams were being sold to the public as a "we're here to help" when in reality it was "we're here to extract more cash from you."

More important is the privacy quesiton: what does the gov't do with all that info that it collected on all of us, without our consent? What will they use it for? When will it be destroyed? What guarantees does the public have that the info on where citizens will not be used in some way? Serious privacy questions.

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Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Walking Where SBC Preachers Fail to Tread

I am borrowing the title to the thread from Wade Burleson because I believe that headline captures the essence of what needs to be done.

Accountability is needed & we ain't been doin' it!

Darrell Gilyard was a remarkable young man. In the late 80s & early 90s, he was taunted as one of the SBC's best young preachers. To be sure, he was. Mesmerizing. Powerful. He could put you in the text with words that would inspire like few others. The guy could preach & preach well.

But there was a side to him that was hidden; not true; shameful; criminal.

He was a fake.

I remember when the rumors first started flying about Darrell, rumors that first poked holes in his story about being homeless & living under a bridge as a kid. But all that talk was hushed when several big name pastors gave their personal stamp on him: Jerry Vines & Johnny Hunt, to name just two.

Soon there was a more accusations & the tales got worse & worse.

Finally. Gilyard has entered into a plea deal with prosecutors for multiple sex crimes. His sentencing will be this Thursday, May 21, 2009, in a FLA state court. Gilyard is agreeing to his guilt on all charges and to three years incarceration in a state facility and then three years probation. He will also carry a permanent record identifying him as a sexual predator/offender. The court has also mandated periodic psychiatric evaluations and ongoing counseling.

Things like this hurt the name of Christ, especially in the SBC. It causes the unchurched to laugh at us & scoff at our message of grace & peace. Fair enough. We have bad apples just like any religious group.

However, what makes this more egregious is the SBC leadership has known about the Gilyard Scandal for years & made no moves to do anything. While I will grant that every local church is autonomous & needs to be free of ecclesiastical control, the SBC has an obligation, IMHO, to have some sort ability to keep track of predators who abuse their position of power to manipulate a trusting flock.

I don't have the answers as to how it should be set up, enforced, utilized, etc. No clue. I'll leave that to smarter folks than me. But what I do know is that we need to do something. Something. Just try something to show we are trying & we can alter it as we go along.

Pastoral abuse, especially sexual abuse, is in a class by itself. It cannot be ignored any longer. We have a duty to protect believers, our witness, our Message & our God's reputation.

Wade Burleson's Blog on the subject
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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Airport Security

I like to travel. I like the airport hassle & even the oft mad dash to the gate when the security wait takes forever. Really. I just enjoy the travel gigs.

Last Thursday I had to fly out to Houston for a short business meeting. Just a 2 dayer, but I'd never been to Houston so I was looking forward to it.

I knew the Lakers were playing the Rockets in Game 6. Knew it was in Houston. What I didn't know is that I was staying in the same hotel as the Lakers, i.e., the Four Seasons. So when I came out of the business center door, turned right, & came waist to eyeball with Pau Gasol, I realized there was a reason I never could play basketball.

These guys are huge. Massive. They don't even look human. It is as if they were computer generated & somehow entered the physical realm.

Then there was Luke Walton & DJ Mbenga. These guys are so tall they have their own weather systems up there.

OK. So I was impressed to see the Lakers. I would have liked to have seen the Laker Girls but I don't think they get to go on road games. What a shame.

So here's the real adventure about airports. I've noticed that there is a lot of silicone in these places. Lots of it. And these women, for some reason, think the world revolves around them. The more silicone & the richer the hubby, the more the attitude.

While waiting at the gate, Little Miss Rich Silicone Barbie was on my left. She was on the cell phone most of the time but from the conversation I heard, there was more money in the bank than brains in the cranium. Let's just leave it at that.

But on my right was Crazy Man. Honest, the guy is certifiable. He had his laptop out & was working on something. Whatever it was, he wasn't too happy about it. He was muttering a good bit but he did take a minute or two to interrupt my very real worries about his sanity with a somewhat lucid conversation. Crazy Man does have a name: Mark. I don't know anything except "Mark" & that "Mark" was from Connecticut & now lives in Buckhead with his 2 dogs & a cat.

Mark begins with a wild eyed tale about his agitated demeanor. He told me he was angry at "those guys" in Houston because he had been working on "this project" for two years, it was his puppy, & they were taking the all the credit for it. He then said some other stuff but I couldn't make heads nor tails of it. I just sat there & wondered where the nearest cop was located because he got louder & louder, & more mad by the second.

Then he snickers & says he needs to relax. Like that is a revelation from On High. So he opens up a chess program on his computer & starts playing chess. Honest to God, chess. Who does that anymore? Chess? I could see Facebook or email. I could even see browsing the Yahoo News. Maybe even Twitter or, heck, even porn in his agitated state But chess? Chess?

Well, evidently, Mark was not of Russian descent & certainly not a chess master because the computer beat him. That was when I knew the guy needed some serious help because he didn't just start cussing. Oh, no. He started cussing the computer, the airport, the politicians, the world & even the little green men that must talk to him a good bit.

Let me tell you: the computer may have beaten him in chess, but it sure as Hades couldn't beat him in kick boxing.

He slammed the laptop on the ground & commenced to stomping it until bits & pieces & fragments were all over the place.

Then a nice team of helpful professionals with tasers, pepper spray & muscles, gently helped Mark to the prostrate position on the floor so he could worship. Then they all sang happy songs as they escorted him to a better place more suited for his disposition.

I wonder if Mark ever got his complimentary beverage & snack peanuts?

Godslingers at Southeastern Baptist Seminary

Baptists Today Blogs: Southeastern tightens the screws

According to Tony Cartledge, Southeastern Seminary now requires its ministry supervisors to affirm the Baptist Faith & Message in their personal life. OK. I think that is a bit far but I can understand, somewhat, the rational.

But now, Southeastern requires these ministry supervisors to also sign the Abstract of Principles, the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, and the "Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood."

Godslingers. Modern day Pharisees. They insist on strict doctrinal adherence to their interpretation, as if they are infallible. These doctrinal standards are then used to court martial any dissent, while using those belief markers as evidence of their own pious standing before God.

Luke 18:10-14 --- New Living Translation
Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a dishonest tax collector.
11 The proud Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: 'I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else, especially like that tax collector over there! For I never cheat, I don't sin, I don't commit adultery, 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.' 13 "But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, 'O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.' 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For the proud will be humbled, but the humble will be honored.

Beware of the Godslingers putting notches in their spiritual belt with pious sounding words but the end thereof is destruction, legalism & empty promises.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

GA's Back Door Attempt at School Vouchers Dies

I'll give credit when credit is due. It is due.

From my email:

A couple of weeks ago, (see 04/24/2009 blog) we told you about HB 100, a bill that passed the Georgia Legislature and was sitting on Governor Perdue's desk. The bill would have expanded the tuition tax credit program, making Georgia's misguided, backdoor voucher program even worse. We asked you to contact Governor Perdue to tell him that you don't support any expansion of this program. And thanks to your efforts, the Governor vetoed the bill.

First, we want to thank you for taking action. Second, we'd like to ask that you take action one more time. Please send Governor Perdue a note to thank him for vetoing this bill
(click here for link to send automated email.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Judge Diane Wood: Possible Obama Supreme Court Nominee

Judge Diane Wood. Remember that name.

Tomorrow the 7th Circuit Court re-hears an appeal of Lynn Bloh's suit against Shoreline Towers Condominium Association. The case involves the homeowners association's Hallway Rule 1, that said nothing can be hung in the hallways of the complex. Nothing. Not anything.

Lynn Bloch is Jewish & has placed a mezuzah on their doorpost in accordance with Jewish custom. But the rule says "no items in the hallway." The court initially said that the rule was fine since it applied to all religions equally.

But there was one dissenting opinion: Judge Diane Wood.

And her opinion was so well written that the court agreed to re-hear the case. According to Judge Wood, the rule doesn't impact other faiths like it does the Jewish faith. In effect, the rule prohibits observant Jews from living in the complex, & that makes the rule discriminatory:

[I]n a real sense, Hallway Rule 1 makes condominium units at Shoreline Towers functionally unavailable to observant Jews like the Blochs and, if it could be enforced, the rule would effect their constructive eviction. They are faced with a dilemma: a choice between observing their religion as they believe the Torah commands them to do and living in Shoreline Towers. Moreover, Hallway Rule 1 operates exactly as a redlining rule does with respect to the ability of the owner to sell to observant Jews. No such person could buy a unit at Shoreline Towers. The Association might as well hang a sign outside saying “No observant Jews allowed.”

Article from the Sun-Times

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Ave Maria: FLA Town Residents Have No Poltical Power?

The Naples Daily News is running a 3 part investigative report this week. The series is titled Ave Maria - A Town Without a Vote .

It seems when legislation creating the new town surrounding Catholic Ave Maria University was enacted, the same legislation contained some highly unusual provisions that gave permanent control of the town to the town's founder, former Domino Pizza owner Tom Monaghan, & and to local landowner Barron Collier Companies.

The newspaper says: The law makes landowners, not registered voters, the ultimate authority in Ave Maria. The law ensures Monaghan and Barron Collier Cos., as the largest landowners, can control Ave Maria’s government forever.

Hmmmm. The legislature gave permanent control of the town to the wealthy businessman & a developer? Again. Hmmmm.

Randy Forbes Wants to Back Door Quasi-Adoption of Christianity as State Religion

Last year Randy Forbes introduced HR 888. This year he reintroduced it (HR 397). Forbes is David Barton's Congressional minion, & is just flat out lying. Again & again & again, Barton has said these things & every time they are proven to be falsehoods, but he keeps coming back. Barton is an historical revisionist who wants so badly for the US to be established as a Christian Nation.

HR 397. Now there is a resolution that is replete with lies, misrepresentations & twists & turns to rewrite history.

The resolution is designed to get a "Religious History Week" recognized each year. However, the "Whereas" in the bill only supports Christian religion & is even called by Barton the "God Bill." When Forbes appeared on Barton's radio program last year, it was quite obvious the intent is to get the "Christian Nation" rewrite of history into the public school system.

Without going into all the stuff here, suffice it to say that Chris Rodda has outdone herself this time. She has masterfully exposed the Big Time Fibs of David Barton & his "Christian" means of telling the Whoppers to do God's work.

Of course, she exposed HR 397 for what it is: a political ploy to get the Revisionist View of history taught in public schools so that eventually the "True Christian History" can replace the "Godless, Liberal, Commie garbage" being taught now. (Gag.)

When Christians resort to manipulation & lies, it doesn't help our cause.

Here's the article by Chris Rodda. Take the 15 minutes or so & read it.

Friday, May 8, 2009

MIlitary Destroys Bibles Meant for Afghanistan

A US church sent some ethnic language Bibles to a soldier stationed in Afghanistan to distribute to the people there. General Order 1 prohibits soldiers from proslytizing, but Lt. Col. Gary Hensley, who until recently was the Army command chaplain in Afghanistan, was seen on video preaching at a highly charged religious service, telling the soldiers they have a responsibility “to be witnesses for him [Christ].” (Link from Rob Boston.)

“The special forces guys, they hunt men basically,” Hensley says. “We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down. Get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into the kingdom. That’s what we do, that’s our business.”

When the video aired on Al Jazeera showing the US soldiers trying to distribute the Bibles & talking about evangelism, there was quite a protest from the Islamic community who said the video supported the charge that the US is launching another Crusade, & the war is religiously motivated.

Now the military says the Bibles were destroyed & the video was an isolated incident, one that won't be repeated.

Baptist Joint Committee news link

Chris Rodda, historian with MRFF

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Conservative Churches More Marketing that Dogma?

How to Shrink a Church | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

The info is something that needs to be addressed.

It used to be conventional wisdom that conservative churches were growing because they demanded more from the members & the doctrine insisted on some personal piety. That has been the line of thought for as long as I can remember, even having classes on this subject at various times.

The idea sounds rational & since Kelly's Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, it has been the Gospel truth in church growth circles.

But a new book Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace, by Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke
Sinitiere, claims the conventional wisdom is just flat out wrong. Instead, the authors say the reason conservative churches are growing has more to do with being in tune with marketing than anything else.

The strict-church thesis needs revising. As the authors summarize: "We uncover little that is strict or demanding in our subjects' messages or ministries, and yet four of their churches are among the largest in the country." Instead, they argue that their success is due to effective marketing, meeting psychological needs, and appropriately addressing "the cultural tastes of potential clients."

The authors go on to argue, & rightly so, that the most strict religious groups tend to
not survive at all.

Should be an interesting read.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Student Newspaper 1st Amendment Rights

I remember my first lesson in a real life, honest-to-God free speech issue. It was 1980. A friend of mine was on the school newspaper staff & she wrote a story about a school safety violation. The story was about the fire extinguishers & how they were blocked from access in the cafeteria by something-er-nuther & so where several in the kitchen area. She went around the school & found that many of the extinguishers were not properly charged. That is a fire code violation. She did the research. She wrote the story. It got published.

And you would have thought she had grown horns, sprouted a tail & carried a pitchfork.

The papers went on sale in the cafeteria but that day the sale lasted a grand total of 5 minutes, 37 seconds, before the sale was stopped, all papers confiscated, & she was sitting in the Principal's office. She & the faculty advisor claimed it was a legitimate story. The school Admin didn't see it that way.

I didn't know it then but what had happened that day was a violation of the law regarding students' free speech & the student press, per a landmark 1969 Supreme Court ruling. Students had the right to print news articles without being censored.

Then came the more conservative 80s & another case came to the Supreme Court regarding the same issue. Administrators at Hazelwood East High School, just outside St. Louis, objected to a couple of stories about --- gasp! --- problems that teens face in the real world: teen pregnancy & the effects of divorce on children. Evidently the Hazelwood administration thought they lived in Lake Woebegone & didn't like those stories that discuss the warts & all. Amazingly, the Supreme Court ruled administrators did have the right to censure student newspaper content.

In come the "expert teachers" that schools love to hire: teachers that are trained in the legal aspects of student speech & student newspapers. Looks good on the schools Improvement Plan, you know.

Teachers like Barb Thill of Stevenson High School outside Chicago. Thill was recruited to the school expressly for her achievements with student newspapers. And she excelled too winning two National Scholastic Press Association Pacemaker Awards, the highest honor a school newspaper can earn.

That is until a few months ago when the student newspaper featured a story about the teenage practice of “hooking up.” The newspaper staff claimed they wrote it to enlighten parents about what teens were doing & encourage some open, honest discussion about sex. Apparently, the school administration up there thinks they live in Pleasantville & demanded all new articles be first reviewed by the principals. Thill refused. She was then stripped of her journalism classes teh next year & subsequently resigned. (Thill article.)

There there is Linda Kane, who had been the newspaper adviser ay Naperville Central, also outside Chicago, for 20 years & through the years won nine National Scholastic Press Association Pacemaker Awards. She was fired after refusing to submit to dictates of the administration that violated Student Press Law Center guidelines that Kane and her staff adhered to.

In Kane's case, the story that ticked off the administration was about teen drug use. The story contained some profanity, perfectly allowable under the guidelines if it "is in a direct quote if the words are imperative to the content or meaning of that quote." Only on Leave It to Beaver is there no profanity in school hallways, so it is not like the students have virgin ears. It's on the TV & music. It's in books. But when part of a quote in a newspaper article it is not allowed? Let's get real.

School admin says that was too real. Kane is no longer allowed to teach journalism class. (Kane article.)

A small number of states have passed laws protecting students & advisers from administrative retaliation for unfavorable newspaper content, including CA, ARK, MA, CO, IA, KS, & MA. Some others states, WA, CT & KY, are considering similar legislation.

Now this would be a worthy debate to have in the GA General Assembly but somehow I really doubt the 1st Amendment will get much play.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Joe the Plumber & a Doozy of an Interview

Q & A: 'Joe the Plumber' | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction

I kinda like Joe. Hardworking. Easy going. Down to earth kinda guy. Seems like the guy next door who just wants to do the right thing & be left alone to live his life.

Then I read this interview.

Now I'm scared that the millions of guys next door are closet theocrats, ignorant of history & have no clue about anything except what they have been led around by the nose & their pastor to believe.

Don't seminaries teach history anymore to have pastors tell their congregants the truth?

He starts out by repeating the Big Lie that our nation was founded on Christian Values. Really? I challenge anyone to point out one --- a single, solitary ONE --- uniquely Christian Value in the Constitution. Just one. Please. Only one will do. That statement shows a complete & utter lack of historical knowledge about the Enlightenment & all the events around our founding. Preposterous.

Then it gets better ... er, uh, worse: Joe actually proposes that civil liberties be a state decision & the equal protection provision of the 14th Amendment be nullified. Now I'm sure he has no clue that is what he just called for, but it is what he said. When calling for states to make the decisions about civil liberties, there is a problem. Why? Because states have a poor record of being fair. States usually end up with minorities being disenfranchised.

Now Joe goes from bad to worse & shows his bigotry when he says he has no problem with gay people but he doesn't want them around his kids. Uh? Like being gay implies a propensity for being a child molester? Or that a gay person will "rub off" on his kid & make his kid gay? So sad. Complete ignorance.

Next comes the idea that the God needs to be more than lip service in the GOP. Does he not see? The Taliban actually implemented that idea & look what it did in Afghanistan.

I think I'm gonna take some Pepto & pray extra hard tonight that the Religious Right doesn't win more political power, lest dissent be given the Faith Based Initiative of the Spanish Inquisition.

God help us.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Blogger Sues Sheriff's Office for Outing Him as Anonymous Church Critic

Associated Baptist Press - Authorities expose blogger who has been hounding FBC Jacksonville

This has been going on for some time but came to fruition last week. In case you don't know, First Baptist Church Jacksonville, FLA is/was a "major" church in the SBC. The new pastor came in. At least one member didn't like some of the things in the church. The member began to blog about the church/pastor anonymously. Church got all up in arms about it, as happens a lot in Baptist churches. Church tried to find out who it was doing the blogging. Couldn't find out.

Then it gets interesting.

One police officer in the church is also on the pastor's personal "security detail." Even though no threats had been made against the church or any of its members, & no illegal activity had ever been alleged, the police officer opened up an investigation via the sheriff's office. The police officer sent a subpoena to Google and Comcast to discover the owner of the blog.

Again, no criminal activity was alleged & the owner of the blog was not charged with anything.

The police officer/pastor's personal body guard then revealed to the church the name of the blogger, information obtained via the subpoena. After the pastor's body guard told church officials that the blogger was Tom Rich, the church issued trespass warnings against Rich and his wife, barring them from church premises.

Rich has now filed a lawsuit seeks damages exceeding $15,000 for alleged violations of his 1st Amendment speech and free exercise rights and for violation of the Establishment Clause.

Since when does the church get to know the name of the member who was exercising his right to speak anonymously, especially when no charges were filed against the blogger?

Is this a misuse of the pastor's body guard's power? Is it an abuse of the police power to investigate on behalf of a private religious organization to stifle dissent? Does the church then have the right to use that info knowing it came from a misuse of power by the pastor's personal body guard & the gov't's sheriff's office?

Amazingly, the sheriff defended the actions of the officer saying there was a complaint that some personal mail had been stolen from the pastor's home & someone had taken some pics of the pastor's wife. The SO said they routinely reveal names to those making complaints even when charges are not filed. IMHO, this is a lame complaint & has all the appearances of a "yeah, right." Looks like an excuse to open the investigation to get the name of the blogger, an abuse of power of the SO & a scary alliance of the state aiding the church to punish dissent. Will the SO next begin investigating members about gossip? Maybe alcohol use? Will their tax returns next be handed over to the church?

Here's another ABP article with more details.