Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Coming Soon: Reflections on the Water

Tonight, along with 3 others, my 12 year old daughter, Molly, was baptized.  In the coming days, I shall use this happy event as an excuse for some theological reflections on baptism. If she gives permission, I shall even post images and words from her baptism–as public testimony. 

September 30, 2007 Posted by | baptism | 2 Comments

McCain: Constitution Establishes America as “Christian Nation!”

In an interview for Belief.net, Sen. John McCain (R-NV), a candidate for U.S. president, claims that the Constitution of the United States establishes the country as a “Christian nation!”  Needless to say, most Constitutional scholars would disagree with this and church-state separationists should worry about a McCain presidency.  In the same interview, McCain says that Mitt Romney’s Mormonism is a “non-issue” (though most mainline and evangelical Christians consider Mormanism to be a cult), but that he would object to a Muslim president (not that any Muslims are currently running).  That seems to violate Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution which forbids any religious tests for public office!

It’s hard to tell how serious McCain is about this.  The man who castigated Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in 2000 as “agents of intolerance” has tried to reinvent himself for this campaign as someone more acceptable to the Religious Right.  Whereas previously, he had emphasized lifelong membership in the Episcopal Church (the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion), he has recently been claiming membership in a Baptist church–though never baptized as an adult, which is usually a prerequisite for church membership for Baptists.  This Belief.net interview seems to be more of the same re-packaging.

But constituencies such as the Religious Right do not merely have to be wooed in campaigning, once in office, they must see evidence that their trust in you was justified.  So those of us who believe for theological reasons that the very idea of a “Christian nation” is unbiblical have reason to be worried.  So do those who are members of other faiths (e.g., Jews, Muslims, Buddhists) or no faith (agnostics, atheists).  What violations of the First Amendment’s ban on laws “respecting an establishment of religion” could we expect in a McCain presidency?  Continuation of Bush’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives wherein tax dollars are used for religious purposes? Probably.  But what else?  And would non-Christian believers find McCain violating the First Amendment by restricting their “free exercise” of religious faith and practice?

In the Belief.net interview, McCain’s views on Islam seem to reinforce the view that the so-called “war on terror” is actually a religious war on Islam–a view that makes it harder for us to get cooperation with Muslims in tackling terrorist groups.

A McCain presidency seems risky, to say the least, to this Leveller–for whom church-state separation is a religious imperative.

September 30, 2007 Posted by | church-state separation, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Rant of a Frustrated Democrat

I have consistently said that Christians’ first loyalty should not be to any nation, political party, or cause, but to God and the Rule of God.  I am a registered member of the Democratic Party by default: my political philosophy is closer to the Greens, but we need real electoral reform before 3rd parties can be effective in the U.S. system.  But I am a frustrated Democrat.  In the past week, I have gone from moments of pride in my Party to moments of profound embarrassment and shame–often on the same day.

Reasons for Democrats to hold our heads high:

  • WE have consistently attended all minority fora and have tried to give more than lip service to racial/ethnic diversity in the party and to working for racial/ethnic equality in the country.  You haven’t seen Univision forced to cancel any Democratic debates before a Latino audience. (Univision had to cancel such a forum for the GOP because only John McCain showed up.) You haven’t seen 4 empty podiums at any Democratic forum at a historic black university as happened this week for the GOP since the 4 GOP frontrunners (Giuilani, Romney, McCain, and Thompson) all had “scheduling conflicts.” Fmr. Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR) had it right when he said, that he was embarrassed for the nation, his party, and for the 4 no-shows.  Question: If Republican voters nominate one of those no-shows, does this mean they believe they can ignore non-white voters?
  • At the New Hampshire Democratic debate earlier this week, I was thrilled that when Tim Russert gave the standard “ticking time bomb” scenario (so beloved by Jack Bauer fans), NONE of the Eight Democratic Presidential candidates would use that scenario to justify torture.  What a contrast: When that same question was handed to the Republican candidates earlier in the year, only John McCain–once tortured as a POW–refused to justify torture.  What a great contrast!
  • Only 4 House Democrats voted against the expansion of S-CHIP. Every Senate Democrat voted to expand S-CHIP.   This was a bi-partisan bill (indeed, the program was started by Republicans during the Clinton era!), but enough Republicans in the House voted with Bush’s compassionless conservatism to keep it from being vulnerable to Bush’s veto.

Reasons to be embarrassed to be a Democrat:

  • The Democratic leadership in Congress has not used its full muscle to end the war in Iraq.  It could refuse to pass any appropriations bill that doesn’t include a rapid timetable for withdrawal. Without appropriations, one has to bring the troops home anyway.  The Senate could make the GOP really filibuster and thus have to defend their votes against ending the war –as they are caught on camera.  They could impeach Bush and Cheney.  They could subpoena records on all war contracts and investigate and prosecute the war profiteers, beginning with Blackwater and Haliburton.  They could stop this war if they were serious.
  • That the leadership of the Senate and House even allowed the stupid “let’s condemn a newspaper ad” resolutions even get to the floor shows an inability to play hardball on things that matter.
  • Passage of the Kyl-Liebermann amendment, even after it was stripped of its most egregious language, still marches us closer to war with Iran.  Congressional Democrats are not showing much more resistance to this push toward war with Iran than they did to the similar 2002 propaganda blitz that got us into the Iraq quagmire.
  • At the same Democratic presidential debate that showed all 8 candidates stand up to torture, the 3 “top tier” candidates, those with the best chances of winning the nomination and the White House, would not commit to having all U.S. troops out of Iraq by 2013! What the !@#$% Yes, that’s right: When asked directly, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, and even John Edwards failed to promise to have all U.S. troops out in FIVE MORE YEARS! Unless we citizens work to turn this around, Bush’s dream of a perpetual occupation of Iraq no matter who is in the White House will be a reality!  I am writing each of these “frontrunners” and telling them that this is not acceptable.

So, you see why I am frustrated.  The only Democratic candidates who are really for peace, Kucinich and Richardson, seem to have no chance of getting elected.  The “electable” 3 promise change in one sentence and give us more of the same old !@#%% in the next.

Concluding Unscientific Postscript: Military types like to talk about “battles for the hearts and minds” of a civilian populace.  In the same way, I have talked about the struggles within the Church(es) for the heart and soul of faith–between fundamentalism and prophetic faith.  In the U.S., there is also a struggle for the soul of our nation (nation does not equal either government or state)–about what kind of people we will be.  The same is true within both of the major political parties.  We who are Democrats are struggling over our very identity:  Are we cynics–corporate “pragmatists” who are sold out to big business globalism, lobbyists, and militarists– who struggle only for a “kinder, gentler” corporatism? I submit that is the vision of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), the people who brought us the first Clinton admin.–the James Carvilles, George Stephonopolises, Rahm Emmanuels, Thomas Friedmans, Joe Bidens, and, of course, both Clintons. These are the triangulators.  The alternative vision, long in eclipse in the Democratic Party, but struggling to be resurgent is the vision of social equality and community, of power harnessed only for the common good.  This is the vision that incorporates the best of the New Deal, the evolving Bobby Kennedy at the time of his assassination , Jimmy Carter’s serious commitment to human rights and Al Gore’s to stopping catastrophic climate change.  This is the vision of a Democratic Party that wants to wipe out poverty. 

I want to belong to this second vision, but it is frustrating because the struggle goes on within Party leaders as well as between them–One sees both in both Obama and Edwards, for instance, and one never knows which will gain the upper hand. Is the secret of Hillary Clinton’s double digit lead in the polls that we already know what we get with her (the DLC, corporate clone Democrat), so we can’t be disappointed? (Depressing thought.) The second vision will succeed only if it lives most among the people–and we push whatever leaders we get to be more progressive, less corporate controlled, than they would be without that pressure.

We are the people for whom we’ve been waiting. It’s up to us.

September 28, 2007 Posted by | U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Defending the Poor–And the Prisoner

That’s the title of an excellent article by Aidsand Wright-Riggins, Exec. Director of National Ministries, American Baptist Churches, USA.  It focuses on the rampant racial injustice still in the U.S. legal system–well beyond the case of the Jena 6.

September 28, 2007 Posted by | human rights., poverty, race | Comments Off on Defending the Poor–And the Prisoner

Standing with the People of Burma (Myanmar)

There are thousands of struggles for justice and peace around the world.  One cannot focus on all of them, all of the time.  But I have always had a strong sense of connection to the struggles of the people of Burma.  Maybe it’s because I am Baptist.  Baptists have been in Burma since pioneer missionaries Adonirom and Ann Judson arrived in 1814.  Because of this history, the hill peoples of Burma, the Karins and Kachins, are mostly Christian whereas the Burmese of the lowlands are mostly Buddhist–except for a Muslim minority near the border with Bangladesh. 

That Baptist-Burma connection is evident currently in the efforts of the American Baptist Churches, USA to resettle Burmese refugees.  To learn more or even participate, click here.

The current military junta, with the Orwellian name of SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Committee), has been in control since 1988 when it cancelled the results of a democratic election and proceeded to kill and jail thousands.  The symbol of the struggle, Aung San Suu Kyi (pronounced Ong Sawn Sue Chee), has not been killed because she is the daughter of Burma’s equivalent of George Washington, the national hero Aung San who led the revolution for Burma’s independence after WWII. Educated in Britain and once having worked with the U.N., Suu Kyi’s character has been shaped by her father’s fierce belief in a free, democratic Burma, and by the nonviolence of Gandhi. (She got to know Gandhi’s story intimately when her mother was Burmese ambassador to India.)

The current crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations demands solidarity.  It will be difficult for governments to put pressure on the military unless China can be persuaded to threaten to cut off their lucrative natural gas contracts with Burma. (Since it was the military government which renamed the country, Myanmar, I continue to use the older name.) One way they could do that would be if the U.S. and the E.U. both threatened to pull out of the Olympic Games–which would cost China billions–unless China pressured Burma to stop the killings and jailings.

But what can we do as ordinary people do to help the Burmese?  The Buddhist Peace Fellowship (the OTHER BPF, not the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America) has a list of vigils one can attend here.  Or you can organize your own.  Find the embassy of Myanmar in your country and organize vigils or protests there.

Sign the petition of the U.S. Campaign for Burma.  Pray for the Burmese people.  Urge your government officials to pressure Burma with diplomatic and economic tools.  Especially encourage your government to make it illegal for any company operating in your nation to sell weapons or ammunitions to Burma.  Create citizens’ boycotts of Burmese goods.  Let the military government of Burma know in every way that the whole world is watching. They cannot repress democracy forever and we will not treat their actions as “purely an internal matter.”

September 28, 2007 Posted by | nonviolence | 6 Comments

Upcoming Peace & Justice Events

4-13 October 2007 is the Annual “Keep Space for Peace Week” co-hosted by the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). There will be events in the U.K., India, Poland, the Czech Republic, the U.S.A. and probably many other locations.  For a list of local events, see here. 

 19-21 October Shalom 2007, Reconciliation:  Message, Ministry, and Movement.  This is the annual conference of the Pentecostal Charismatic Peace Fellowship.  If you are a Pentecostal or Charismatic Christian (or are interested), register to go to the Providence Christian Center (known as The Hot Dog Church) in San Francisco, CA for a weekend of Spirit-filled speakers, inspiring worship, interactive workshops, and a chance at bearing witness through nonviolent direct action.

26-27 October, Building the Beloved Community, the annual Gandhi-King Conference on Peacemaking will be held at Christian Brothers’ University, Memphis, TN.  Speakers include Naomi Tutu, Rosa Clemente, Simon Harak, S.J., Gwendoly Zahora Simmons, and Barry Gan.

That same weekend, 26-27 October, at Boston’s historic Old South Church, Boston, MA is the Sabeel Conference  with a special guest appearance by retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Work nonviolently for an independent Palestine and peace in Palestine-Israel.

26 Oct.-04 Nov. 2007, Christian Peacemaker Teams will have a nonviolent delegation to Tennessee to halt the production of Depleted Uranium (DU) weapons.  For a list of CPT delegations to Colombia, Israel-Palestine, and the Philippines, see their website.

Would you like to help shut down a terrorist training camp? This one is supported by U.S. taxes and located in Ft. Benning, GA. Yes, it’s the infamous School of the Americas (School of Assassins), renamed WHINSEC (Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation). This is the school whose graduates include the worst human rights abusers in Latin America, including those responsible for the assassination of Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero and of the mass murder of Salvadoran Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter–among many other atrocities throughout Central and South America from the mid-’70s to today.   If stopping this kind of state-supported terrorism is for you, go to the annual vigil/protest (with opportunities for nonviolent civil disobedience) at Ft. Benning, GA sponsored by School of the Americas Watch on 14-18 November 2007.  For more information, click here.

7-10 March 2008 is the Ecumenical Advocacy Days in Washington, D.C.  This year’s theme will be “Claiming a Vision of True Security” and will include training in “citizen lobbying” of lawmakers–and a chance to put that training into practice on Capitol Hill.

11-13 April 2008 is the annual organizing conference of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space.  This one will be held in Omaha, Nebraska, USA (home of StratCom, the U.S. Strategic Command and Response Center) and there will be opportunity to bear nonviolent witness at StratCom.

Click here for a list of upcoming delegations by Witness for Peace.

I have doubtless missed many, around the world.  Send me events happening your area?  Are you doing creative things to stand in solidarity with the people of Burma, or Darfur, or the Democratic Republic of Congo or Palestine-Israel?  Are you working to stop handgun violence in your neighborhood?  Working for pro-life alternatives to abortion?  Standing up against torture?  Fighting the sexual exploitation of women and children?  Hosting dialogues between persons of different faiths?  Whatever it is, send it here and I will publicize it more widely.

September 27, 2007 Posted by | nonviolence, peacemaking | 1 Comment

Urgent Action: Stop the March Toward War with Iran

Sen. Joe Liebermann (I-CT) is trying to push the U.S. toward war with Iran.  For nearly 2 years, there have been reports about the Bush administration’s push toward war with Iran.  Now, Liebermann, a Bush sycophant and Republican in all but name, is trying to sneak in an authorization for that war–even as he questioned Gen. Petraeus about the willingness to go to war with Iran.  The Kyl-Liebermann Amendment to FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill (which he is pressing for a vote on, today!) uses language that amounts to a declaration of war against Iran–and will certainly be interpreted as authorizing such by this president:

(3) that it should be the policy of the United States to combat,
contain, and roll back the violent activities and destabilizing
influence inside Iraq of the Government of the Islamic Republic of
Iran, its foreign facilitators such as Lebanese Hezbollah, and its
indigenous Iraqi proxies

(4) to support the prudent and calibrated use of all instruments of
United States national power in Iraq, including diplomatic, economic,
intelligence, and military instruments, in support of the policy
described in paragraph (3) with respect to the Government of the
Islamic Republic of Iran and its proxies.

Call your Senators NOW and demand that they vote NO on this amendment.  The Capitol Switchboard number is 202-224-3121

If your Senators are hawkish, as mine are, don’t sound too dovish.  Emphasize that our troops are overextended in Afghanistan and Iraq and that we cannot afford a third war.  If your Senators are Democrats (or less hawkish Republicans than mine), remind them that Iran’s growing influence in Iraq is largely due to the Bush invasion of Iraq. Tell them to use aggressive diplomacy to end any nuclear program that Iran may have–as finally seems to be working with North Korea.

We must act now, friends, to avoid the authorization of another war.

UPDATE:  Strong opposition by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), Sen. Dick Durbin(D-IL) resulted in the removal of the worst language of that amendment. But it passed and is possibly still broad enough to be considered (at least by THIS administration) as authorization for war with Iran. Webb rightly called it a “wet dream” for Dick Cheney.  See here.

Even if Webb’s view is wrong, we still seem to be moving toward a war with Iran.  We went to war with Iraq when the administration first warned about WMDs (now we are warning about Iran’s nuclear program which may or may not be intended to produce weapons), then we demonized Iraq’s president, comparing him to Hitler.  We are doing the same with Iran’s Pres. Ahmadinejad–who IS a petty dictator and a kook, but we have to ask if the hatred being stirred in this country is a way of selling us on an upcoming war.  This is, after all, a nation Bush has called part of the Axis of Evil.  If we invade or bomb Iran, I’d bet real money that Bush and Cheney cite this Senate resolution as authorization.

September 27, 2007 Posted by | Iran, peacemaking | Comments Off on Urgent Action: Stop the March Toward War with Iran

Worst Company Website URLs

Tip of the hat to Texas in Africa for this one.  It seems that companies, businesses and others are not always as careful as they need to be in creating the URLs for their websites.  The basic problem is that there is no spacing between words with web addresses.  So, a URL that is fine with said spaces can take on a different look when the words are run together. Independent Sources lists the 10  worst blunders here.  I’ll list a few to give you the idea. See the whole list at the above link.

Take the website for programmers sharing information called “Experts Exchange.”  Their URL is http://www.expertsexchange.com .

First Cumming Methodist Church actually created their website at http://www.cummingfirst.com/ I would hate to be the one to have to explain that, er, “screw up” to the church.

If you need a therapist, the folks at Therapist Finder can help you:  http://www.therapistfinder.com Wait, that makes it look like you’re tracking something besides therapists, doesn’t it?

The whole list is hilarious.  Yes, boys and girls, proofreading really IS important.

September 27, 2007 Posted by | humor | 2 Comments

Peace History Society

I’d like to introduce readers to the Peace History Society, founded in 1964 to encourage, and coordinate national and international scholarly work to explore and articulate the conditions and causes of peace and war, and to communicate the findings of scholarly work to the public. 

Members of PHS seek to broaden the understanding of and possibilities for world peace. The membership includes anthropologists, economists, historians, political scientists, sociologists, and other scholars and students of movements for peace and social justice, international and military affairs, transnational and cross-cultural analyses, and literary studies. Many members teach related course in colleges, universities, or secondary schools; others are students, peace activists, and the interested public. Drawn not only from North America but from around the world, members are concerned with making peace research relevant to the scholarly disciplines, policy makers, and to their own societies.

The 2007 Peace History Conference will be held 19-20 October at Georgian Court University in Lakewood, NJ, USA.  The theme will be “Historical Perspectives on Engendering War, Peace, and Justice.”

A related conference (co-hosted by Historians Against the War) will be held 11-13 April 2008 in Atlanta, GA on “War and its Discontents:  Understanding Iraq and the U.S. Empire.” 

If you are a historian or part of a related field (church historians are welcome as are activist-scholars) or seek to use the tools of historical analysis in opposing war(s) and working for peace, check the PHS out.  Maybe it is for you.

September 25, 2007 Posted by | education, peace, professional societies | Comments Off on Peace History Society

Never Judge By Appearances

Thanks to Kevin Borders of Connecting the Dots for this one. 

September 23, 2007 Posted by | arts, prejudice | 2 Comments