Friday, July 28, 2006

bad taste? perhaps

A few folk have called me to task for calling W an idiot in an earlier post... Perhaps it was a cheap shot, particularly when I didn't address the issue he raised. During his first ever veto, the pres equated using embryonic stem cells for research with murder. Actually, he was stronger than that. He said it is murder. And this, while claiming the higher ground and refusing to use taxpayer funds to kill children.

Let's look at the implication of his statement. If using an embryo for stem cell research is murder, what is throwing 10's of thousands of them into the trash? Should all fertility clinics that use in vitro fertilization be closed? After all, each procedure produces a number of embryos that will be discarded. If destroying an embryo is murder, then that is a multiple homicide. And should the couple be charged as accessories? After all, they provided the eggs and sperm to produce the embryos, knowing full well that many would be destroyed. And what about the laws regarding the disposal of deceased persons' bodies... do they apply to embryos (it is murder)? And if using embryonic stem cells is murder, why is it that private research companies can continue to do it as the law only referred to government funding, not private?

Finally, the president said that never before have government funds been used to murder children. What about the thousands of Iraqi children who have died by American bombs (paid for with tax payer money)? To say that collateral damage in war is not the same as murder would be a fine distinction that I think the mothers of those children would have difficulty seeing.

It all seems obvious that using the word "murder" was a deliberate attempt to inflame the passions of those who equate the procedure with abortion. Clearly he doesn't really believe what he said or he would be pushing to outlaw those fertility clinics, arrest the workers in the clinics and the prospective parents, and establish legal standing for the embryos.

Finally, I did not argue for embryonic stem cell research, although I think it may hold some promise. What I should have said is that the president's logic is seriously flawed... actually I should have said it was idiotic.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

ABC content... the story continues

Last week, Roy Medley - the General Secretary of the ABCUSA - released a letter that has caused a great deal of discussion on the left and the right. In the letter, Roy promises to "implement the policies of the General Board." The two biggest questions are "Why now?" and "What is he trying to accomplish?" Unfortunately, he also conflates sexual abuse by persons in positions of power with homosexual relationships... but that is another issue entirely.

A bit of history here again... in '92 a resolution was passed by the general board that read simply "We affirm that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." It was an unusual resolution in that there was no theological or sociological background and no steps for implementation. Additionally, it was passed in an unusual way - by mail, with no discussion. Presumably, this is the policy that Roy is planning to implement even though it prescribes no steps for implementation. It is also the policy that PSW was requesting be implemented before they voted to withdraw from the denomination.

In '93, a second resolution on human sexuality was passed. This one included all of the background materials and steps for implementation. Among other things, this second resolution calls on American Baptists to "Acknowledge that there exists a variety of understandings throughout our denomination on issues of human sexuality such as homosexuality and engage in dialogue concerning these issues."

Read together one can only conclude that the second resolution is a corrective to the first. "We" don't affirm anything in common regarding homosexuality. Indeed, there are a variety of understandings held by American Baptists ranging from the idea that no homosexual relationship is ever anything except sinful and that homosexual people should never be allowed in leadership roles all of the way to the belief that homosexual relationships are just a reflection of the diversity of God's beautiful creation. If a resolution needs to be implemented, it is the second which, again, presumably corrects the mistakes of the first one.

Still, it looks as if Roy is responding to the call of conservatives and speaking solely about the first resolution. Why now? and what is he trying to accomplish? Why didn't he say these things earlier when he instead stood for Baptist principals and seemed to be standing on the second resolution? At the last biennial meeting, he said that he would not allow differences over these issues to separate him from sisters and brothers in Christ. It may have been that PSW would not have withdrawn had he given this "sermon" rather than the one he gave. I can only conclude that the folk at our headquarters didn't expect that the PSW would actually withdraw and that now that PSW has, they are trying to keep other more conservative regions from following suit. In doing so, they are breaking from Baptist tradition, violating the fully formed, discussed, and more recent resolution, and may be pushing some of the more left-leaning churches to look to other connections.

I joined ABC in about 1977 because I was impressed by the diversity - racial, cultural, and theological. I believed and believe that a Christian communion like that most clearly reflects the kindom of God. I believe a denomination with that openness to one another and commitment to learning from those with whom we differ has the best position to speak in a post-modern world. I truly believe that my understanding of the Baptist tradition holds the most hope for a denomination in the future. Sadly, the short-sighted stands taken by those in Valley Forge seem to be pushing us towards extinction. The conservatives will not be placated. The liberals will be hurt. The post-moderns will pack their bags and walk because they have more important issues to discuss. Very little will be left.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

so much to write about

Boy... there is so much to write about. President Bush once again shows he is an idiot... declaring that federally funded stem cell research would be doing something that had never been done in the history of our country - using federal money to fund the killing of children... I guess he doesn't watch the news to see what is going on In Iraq. We won't even talk about the logical end of declaring that destroying an embryo is murder.

The Southern Baptists have shown their idiocy again too... they approved a resolution on the environment at their June meeting saying they would not "support solutions based on 'questionable science' that could hurt the economy," i.e. they don't believe in global warming in spite of virtually unanimous agreement about it by atmospheric scientists.

Nope... I'm going to write about separation of church and state. Trinity United Methodist church is a congregation that I know well. It is located on a busy street in downtown Albany, NY, crowded with bars, restaurants, and lots of people. Together with the other FOCUS churches, they have a long history of involvement in social justice issues and outreach to those on the edges of society.

Trinity has begun a program to give teenagers someplace to go and something to do. They have started a concert series with rock/punk/ska/ etc. bands and it evidently is attracting a lot of kids. The city of Albany has cited them for running an illegal nightclub! The city is trying to define what their ministry can be and even what constitutes church music. The police chief, James Tuffey said "An organ recital is a church event. This is not a church event."

This is precisely the kind of issue that the early proponents of separation of church and state foresaw. Those early proponents were people of faith - Baptists, Quakers, and Unitarians mostly - who believed that faith had to be free to be real and that no government had any right to constrain it in any way. The doctrine was articulated not to keep faith out of government, but to keep government out of faith. The city of Albany has no right to define Trinity's ministry or to constrain it from following what it believes to be the leading of the Spirit. If the city prevails in court today, it bodes badly for all of us who are seeking to do the ministry to which we have been called. At any time, a city government could step in and say, "can't do that."

Here's an
article in the Albany paper.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

it doesn't work

Let me first say, Israel exists... and it has a right to continue existing. Israel has a right to defend itself. The people of Israel have a right to security.

Their strategy however, doesn't work. Never has. Never will. The king has no clothes. Let's say it out loud! For decades Israel has responded to terror with military strikes with huge numbers of civilian casualties. Every univolved casualty creates an extended community of people filled with anger and hatred. Destroying Lebanon will not stop Hezbollah... it will only add new members to its numbers as innocent Lebanese find themselves hating what they have experienced as disproportionate and random violence at the hands of Israel. All of this does not make Israel more secure. It makes Israel less so. Wouldn't you wish the destruction of a country that just launched a missile at your home when you had done nothing to that people? Israel is not defending itself. It is lashing out at targets it cannot distinguish and in the process constructing a history that becomes more difficult to escape each day.

There is no question that Hezbollah is in Lebanon, that they keep weapons among civilian populations, and that the Lebanese government is powerless to control them, but wouldn't a more effective strategy have been to work with the Lebanese government to root out Hezbollah rather than destroying the infrastructure of the country? Wouldn't a more effective strategy have been to work with the more moderate Arab states for their common interests - peace? I realize that the US debacle in Iraq has only served to make everything worse in that region of the world but wouldn't there have been some value in at least trying to bring together the world community to stop the trading of arms, both legal and illegal ones, into this volatile region? to end the poverty and despair among refugees that leaves little room for any emotions other than hatred? to recall a history of a place that was home to a variety of different religious traditions who lived together in respect?

The current strategy simply does not work. And it doesn't work for the Palestinians either. They have a right to a home, to economic security, to self-determination but the continuing violence ensures only that they will have none.

I guess it does work for Hezbollah. They alone further their agenda with this destruction. Continuing the pattern only makes them more successful.

Idiots like the Newt are declaring it World War III and may succeed in creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. It certainly could become that if someone doesn't scale things down and begin negotiating. An idiot president making cowboy-like remarks with overly simplistic advice rather than using the positive power of the US to help craft a pathway to peace doesn't help.

As a world, let's do something that does work. Let's work for peace in that area. Nobody but Hezbollah loses then.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

the end of the spear

A few days ago we rented The End of the Spear, a film about missionaries who worked among the Waodani people of the Amazon basin. Throughout their history, the Waodani's culture was marked by the cycle of revenge. Each generation was exacting revenge on their neighbors for killing their family members... who of course were speared in revenge for earlier violence. And the cycle continued until one village was willing to stop the violence and choose to follow the path of a God of love and forgiveness rather than vengeance and retribution. They chose the end of the spear rather than dying at the end of the spear.

Today the Israeli government attacked Lebanon and the Gaza strip again, in retaliation for soldiers who were captured by Palestinians and for rockets launched into Israel. Of course, the soldiers were taken and the rockets launched in retaliation for earlier violence which came in response to earlier violence.

This evening I heard a commentator on the radio speaking about Ithe ongoing violence between the Israelis and the Palestinains. The commentator remarked that he could not see an end to the violence until one of the two peoples had been completely iradicated. Neither would willingly choose to end the cycle of revenge.

I hope the commentator is wrong. I hope that someone will have the courage to say" "no to revenge and stop the cycle of violence. I hope that politicians around the world, especially in America, will apply pressure on all of the parties to end the killing and let the place be what we call it - a holy land, marked by forgiveness and love, shaped by the presence of God, held in the hope of a future of shalom/salam.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jubilee & government functions

In the 25th chapter of Leviticus there is an interesting law... the Year of Jubilee. Every 50 years all debt was to be cancelled and all lands and property returned to the family that originally owned it. Due to hard work or luck on one family's part and or laziness or bad luck on another's, capital was consolidated in the hands of some families while others went without. It is a self-perpetuating system once it gets moving. Those with many resources get more. Those with few end up with less. God's wisdom did not allow for an aristocracy to form and one of the functions of the government was to re-allocate resources so that this consolidation would not become permanent.

Needless to say, scholars do not see evidence that the Year of Jubilee was ever observed. Those with resources... and power... wouldn't allow it to happen and those who would have benefited from the observance had no power to make it happen.

It continues to be a legitimate function of government to re-allocate resources so that those in need have enough. The estate tax, which should be called the Paris Hilton Tax, is one example. Those who have benefited from generations of consolidated wealth and from a system that enabled them to become so wealthy owe a significant portion to the society they live in. Some of that wealth needs to get spread around. Yet, some 16 of the nations 18 wealthiest families are fighting hard to have the tax repealed... (latest word is that the folk gathered in Washington DC for Pentecost 2006 where able to convince Frist to remove the bill from consideration at this time).

Another example of Jubilee at work today is affirmative action. It represents one more legitimate government attempt to break the patterns of consolidation of wealth and power by presenting those without some of the same opportunities and education enjoyed by the haves.

On an international scale, Jubilee might take the shape of forgiveness of debt to developing nations so their resources might be freed for actual development.

The list could go on... but it is critical that as a society we find ways to spread the wealth around and work to ensure that opportunity and resources are "distributed to all, as any have need" (Acts 2:45)