Friday, October 29, 2010

Thank God for Virginia Baptists

The Virginia Baptist Mission Board has approved the publication of a pamphlet --- in layman's terms --- to explain the need for the separation of church and state. The resolution calling for the measure was deemed necessary, saying Baptists cannot be true to their historic roots if the idea of religious liberty and the Baptist fingerprints on the First Amendment guaranteeing the separation of church and state are replaced with a false version of history that is currently being promulgated by people like Glenn Beck and David Barton. According to the resolution, there has been a systematic effort in recent decades to deny the history that made religious liberty and the separation of church and state part of the Bill of Rights.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Problem With Polls

I love to read over the latest polling data, especially when it deals with perceptions about church and state issues. The very topic is one I enjoy studying and discussing. It is like Bruce Gourley says: It lights my Baptist fire. So when I found the latest poll from Lifeway Research that six of ten Protestant pastors disapprove of Obama's job performance, I cringed a bit.

OK. I did more than cringe.

Then I read where 47% strongly disapproved of Obama's performance. I almost fell out of my chair. The poll bothered me.

The poll did thrill me when it found that by a large majority of Democratic aligned pastors (84%) believe that endorsing candidates from the public pulpit is wrong. However, among Republican aligned pastors, that number fell to only 61%. This tells me that politics might be playing a role in more than the voting booth; it is quite possibly an influence on what is being preached.

Disagreeing with the public policies or actions of a politician is fine, even encouraged if we are to be a moral voice. We must always be careful that disagreement is done in the proper sphere, with the pastor walking that fine line between his or her personal and pastoral voice. What bothers me, however, is that too often history has shown that we will let politics become the moral voice instead the moral voice shouting down the politics.

I could cite all sorts of anecdotal evidence where the politics have been confused for the theology. Pastors have endorsed candidates from the pulpit because they believe that is what Jesus would want; public schools giving the mic to one religious group to lead the entire stadium in the worship expression of prayer, while excluding all other faiths and those other tax payers who are of no faith; or cities erecting the banner of one religious group using tax money but excluding all others (link to an opinion piece by Audrey Love who certainly needs a lesson in the history of our nation and the religious persecution that resulted in the First Amendment.).

So I would argue that while our pastors should be applauded that the see the need for a hedge between church and state, I also know that history has taught us that the hedge is likely to be cut down if the political yearning of the pastorate gets too excited. This is something we cannot afford to give an inch of the wall that separates the church from the state, lest both become corrupted by the power of Caesar instead of the power of the Spirit.

I guess that is why it bothers me when the poll showed such a large percentage of pastors who simply do not like Obama. Now I could argue that is due to pastors, by and large, have a lack of economics training to understand how desperate things were in Q4 2008, or Q1 2009; I could also argue that very few pastors understand the basics of tax policy well enough to grasp the dynamics of what is needed to fund the mandates the American people insist upon having. I could easily make the case that much of the criticism of Obama is due to simple lack of understanding of how things work economically and of our basic system of government or our history/legal system. While all that may be true, it is of little comfort to know that history is replete with examples where clergy have gotten so disgruntled, they climbed over the Wall of Separation and began using political weapons under the guise of spiritual truths.

Maybe it is time for pastors to step back a moment from the political fear mongering out there and begin concentrating on our mission instead of the next election.

Just thinking out loud.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Voting Those "Religiously Informed Values"

It used to be that everyone knew what the various denominations believed & stood for. The local papers published the sermons each week & everyone read them. Most folks knew the distinctions in doctrine between the various churches & most certainly the theological variations among the denominations. All knew, for example, the Methodists stood for social action & personal piety; the Baptists held tenaciously to "Soul Freedom" & the Separation of Church & State; the Presbyterians were big on the idea of Covenant & predestination; the Catholics proclaimed the rich history of tradition, the church universal, & the various orders; the Pentecostals delved into experiential theology, etc.

Sadly, today, folks don't even know their own theological distinctives, much less what other groups believe.

Thus, bringing us to the topic title: how can folks vote their "religiously informed values" if they don't even know what those values are, the history behind them, or the theological truths that give rise to the value?

I raise this question for two reasons. First, we need to realize that voting "religiously informed values" must never mean voting into law our religious dogma. Second, without an understanding of the theology, it is easy to be manipulated by religious leaders who rely on that ignorance to keep control of their power.

Let's think back to the early Colonists, many of whom came here to escape religious persecution. But what did they do when they got here? They set up the very sort of theocratic rule from whence they came. The majority's "religiously informed values" became the law. Dissenters were persecuted, whipped, shunned, or hanged. Is that the sort of society we want again?

The Founding Fathers intentionally drew a line of demarcation between the church & state. The gov't they established expressly forbade religious law from entering the civil code, even going as far to set up an entirely secular gov't with no place given for religious leaders.

Those theocracies were banned. And they should stay that way.

The difficulty people have is that they see their religious ideas as =the= truth for everyone. Now it may very well be that your religious ideas are 100% correct, but they may very well not be either. And even if those religious values you hold are entirely what God wants, God doesn't work through the legal code to carry out his plan. That is done via the spiritual establishment, not the gov't. Moreover, not everyone holds those same religious opinions & thus it is morally wrong to impose religious dogma onto others.

If there is no compelling =secular= reason for a law, the religious rational is simply not enough. Otherwise, the gov't is following the majority faith's religious dogma & establishing it with a Most Favored Status.

But the most ardent reason we don't vote our "religiously informed values" into law is the simple history of religious leaders in the past. History is replete with corrupt churchmen who rely on the theological ignorance of the people to manipulate policy. Just think of the charlatans past & present who misused Scripture to gain power for themselves.

And you're kidding yourself if you think there aren't charlatans out there who use faith as a means of gain. Tell the people what "God" wants them to do, rewrite the history, & suddenly the masses will do anything. With God on their side & a charismatic leader, there is no sin the people won't commit.

The danger of these "religiously informed values" become clear when applied to other faiths. What if the judge in Douglas County, GA, were Muslim & he insisted on the community's majority Muslim standards? What if "his courtroom, his rules" meant that every woman had to come in =with= a veil? What if women were not allowed to speak in his courtroom? What if he insisted on everyone swearing on the Koran & to Allah to tell the truth? What if Sharia Law was applied instead of the secular Constitution?

We've come too far & fought too hard for too long to let those sort of theocratic ideals have even a smidgen of a foothold. Not again. We've seen what happens in when faith & gov't become intertwined.

Not again. Not here.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Technology has Changed the Song Lyric

I was thinking recently (a scarey thought in and of itself) about how technology has changed music over the years. Remember that scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly plays a cover version of Johnny B. Goode and Marvin Berry calls his cousin Chuck on the phone and tells him he has found that "new sound?" Yep. The electric guitar (and some kewl licks) changed music forever.

Or how about the 70s groups of Boston or Abba? They used Phil Specter's wall of sound to perfection and changed the way we hear music.

But there are other technology changes that are not related to the sound but to the very nature of the song itself.

When the telephone become common, letter writing took a hit --- naturally. It is easier to call someone than to write a letter, mail it and then wait for a response. Still, the idea of the love letter or the phone call from that special someone was the lyricists best friend.

Until the cell phone, email and, of course, texting

Though the use of texting seems so cold when talking to a lover, wish-to-be-lover or a former lover, I can see where texting could solve problems for many couples-on-the-rocks. After all, how many high school sweethearts have been terrified to call that Hunka-Hunka Burning Love for fear the person that answers the phone would be the foreboding parent? Now, with a cell phone, a quick text that says, "Hi, I'm sorry" can save that passionate relationship for another, oh, two weeks.

So all that got me to thinking about songs that relate, somehow, to the idea of the phone call or the forgotten skill of handwritten letters. Here's a quick list I came up with in a few hours. Please feel free to add your's via comments.

Sylvia's Mother, by Dr. Hook.
Memphis, Tennessee, by Chuck Berry.
Please, Mr. Postman, by The Marvelettes and again by The Carpenters'.
Telephone Line, by Electric Light Orchestra.
Return to Sender,  by Elvis Presley.
Callin' Baton Rouge, made most famous by Garth Brooks.
867-5309,  by Tommy Tutone.
Rikki Don't Lose That Number, by Steely Dan.
Operator (That's Not the Way It Feels), by the amazing Jim Croce.
By the Time I Get to Phoenix, made popular by Glen Campbell.
Walking on Sunshine, by Katrina and the Waves.
Call Me, by Blondie.

Feel free to add some more via comments.