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

Huckabee, Obama, & Edwards

My church, Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty, had a great service, yesterday, which found that our “Reclaiming Christmas” project of not spending much on ourselves and family at Christmas and using savings for the poor had raised over $5,000 and looks to top $6,000 before our finish in early January. (Not bad for a small congregation with less than 100 adult members-most of whom are middle class, lower-middle class or working poor. Some are homeless.)  We wrote a $2,500 check yesterday for one of our two projects: heating elementary schools near Ifrane, Morocco. The money will return with Rev. Karen Thomas Smith, Alliance of Baptists sponsored Chaplain to Christians at the University, pastor of a small church there, and Protestant representative to the Morocco Council of Churches.  We will write a similar check to our project in Nicaragua for clean drinking water.

But before leaving for church, I used my digital video recorder to record “Meet the Press” at 10:30 a.m. EDT  On that program, Tim Russert interviewed first former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR), an ordained Southern Baptist minister and a Republican candidate for U.S. president and Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), a Democratic candidate for U.S. president.  The Iowa Caucuses are on Thursday and the New Hampshire Primary is 5 days later, so I am following these political campaigns closely.

I thought Huckabee sounded more reasonable than he has in some other venues. I am convinced that he is, unlike George W. Bush, an authentic “compassionate conservative.” Despite his expressed doubts about global warming, he is willing to break with his party in taking a more proactive approach toward the environment. He also bucks the GOP standard line in important ways on taxation (generally low-tax, but not agreeing that all taxes are evil or should not be used for important social needs), immigration, education, and poverty. I did not find him entirely consistent on these views–his explanations for contradictory statements that Russert rightly highlighted were more convincing in some areas than others, but no one is entirely consistent. I was more impressed that he seemed open and flexible enough in mind (unlike G.W. Bush!) to admit to error and seek correction. 

I am still worried about a Huckabee presidency because of several matters, however: 1) Some of his answers on church-state matters seemed on track to me, but other statements seem more problematic. Further, he has not adequately explained to me his apparent ties with “Reconstructionists” or Dominion Theology folks–and these nutcases are hardcore theocrats that make “Christian nationalists” like D. James Kennedy and the late Jerry Falwell seem harmless by comarison! 2) He does a good job of explaining how his faith impacts his policy views, as all our faiths or philosophies will. But he doesn’t seem consistent in understanding a need to argue for policies in ways which make sense to a pluralistic society–which reach beyond the convictions of any particular faith group. E.g., Huckabee may believe that Christian faith rules out abortion, but not even all Christians agree. If he wants a Constitutional amendment to ban all abortions, as he says, he doesn’t seem to understand the need to have an argument that would persuade non-Christians. 3) Like Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA), his chief rival among Republicans in Iowa, Huckabee seems completely naive in foreign policy matters and to simply have bought hook, line, and sinker, the Bush line that we are involved in a global war against “Islamic Jihadism,” rather than involved in a struggle against terrorism, an ancient tactic used by many groups for many ideological reasons.  This past week, he did not even know that Afghanistan is on the Western border of Pakistan, not the Eastern border!   In short, I would find a Huckabee presidency more tolerable than the past 7 years or than some of his GOP rivals–but that’s not good enough for our times.

The interview with Obama was, as usual, inspiring. And, as usual, I wonder about the details.  Especially on healthcare in which his plan is actually worse than Hillary’s.

Later last night, I watched former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) on C-Span in Iowa, at a last campaign stop. Edwards is in a virtual tie with Obama and Clinton for 1st place in the Iowa Democratic polls. (Who is 1st, 2nd, or 3rd, depends on the poll–and the differences between the 3 remain within the margin of error.) Edwards is not quite the powerful speaker that Obama is–but he’s close. And, I loved the passion with which he is willing to fight the monied special interests who are destroying our democracy.  He has been called a class warrior. Well, the upper 1% declared class war on all the rest of us long ago; it’s time someone is willing to fight back! He has been called an ‘economic populist.’ To me, that’s a good thing.  Edwards also scored huge points with me this past Thurs. when Pakistani opposition leader (and former PM) Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. Other candidates in both parties rushed to microphones (except Huckabee, who seemed as initially clueless as he had about the changed NIE report on Iran!). Edwards, instead, made phone calls and actually got Pakistani Pres. Musharraf on the phone–urging an international investigation of Bhutto’s death (a call Hillary Clinton echoed–but not to Musharraf–24 hours later!) and insisting that Musharraf not use this tragedy as an excuse to reimpose martial law or delay the transition back to democracy.  Whether or not Musharraf listens, I was impressed that in an unexpected crisis, Edwards could respond decisively, firmly, yet calmly. There was no stunned reading of My Pet Duck while time crept by–and no rash actions, either.  Frankly, Edwards acted in ways I would hope a U.S. president would act in a crisis.

Kentucky’s primary is in May. So, I’ll probably have the nominees chosen for me.  But if I lived in Iowa, NH, or South Carolina (the 3 earliest states) right now, I’d probably be voting/caucusing for Edwards. And I still think that an Edwards/Obama ticket would be an excellent outlook for the nation.  2008 looks very interesting from here.

December 31, 2007 Posted by | U.S. politics | Comments Off on Huckabee, Obama, & Edwards

Creation and Evolution 6: The Nature of Scientific Inquiry

Opponents of evolution often try to say that it is “only a theory.”  By this they mean that it is not proven or demonstrable.  In ordinary speech we use “theory” interchangeably with “guess,” and we can spin theories with little or no evidence–as with most conspiracy theories.  But that is not how scientists use the term “theory.” For working scientists, a successful theory, one that has been tested over time by a variety of methods, is far more secure than facts–they constantly find new facts that cause them to revise what they previously believed old facts are. And facts in isolation don’t tell scientists much, but in the context of scientific theories, they say volumes.

Modern science is a product of the Enlightenment, specifically the 17th C. Scientific Revolution.  People have been investigating things, trying to find out about causes and processes, about how the world works, from time immemorial–probably since we first began to use tools. But before the 17th C., many of these investigations lacked orderly procedures and explanations that considered proximate, this world causes, were considered right along with supernatural causes.  The “science” of the European Middle Ages followed Aristotle in considering “Final Cause” a part of scientific explanation.

That all changed with the scientific revolution. In modern science, the scientist can only consider proximate or natural causes in seeking explanations for phenomena.  The possibility that God or a demon or a witch was behind some phenomenon X had to be bracketed out of consideration–it may be an explanation, but it isn’t a scientific explanation. This limitation (avoiding the supernatural or any Final Cause) is what allowed such great progress in understanding natural, this-worldly processes, phenomena, etc.  It was a trade-off–similar to the trade-off that stripped numbers of mystical meanings and symbolisms, but gave us the huge gains of modern mathematics.

Because all this has been said by others who are smarter than me, I am going to finish this post with a series of quotations by some of the expert witnesses in the Kitzmiller v. Dover (PA) case against giving “Intelligent Design” “equal time” in high school biology classes. This will all be extremely relevant later in the series when show why neither “creation science” nor “intelligent design” are scientific theories–why they fail to be science.  So, save this post for later discussion. (And, once more, I recommend the excellent program on PBS’ NOVA (which you can watch online), Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial which covers the Dover case in full and is an incredible education in both Constitutional law and contemporary evolutionary science.


There are a lot of ways to define science. But I think the best definition is one that I’ve actually seen several states adopt for their K-12 educational programs, and that is that science is the human activity of seeking natural explanations for what we see in the natural world. What science isn’t very good at is answering questions that also matter to us in a big way, such as the meaning and purpose of things. And what that means for the ordinary person is that there are a whole host of philosophical and moral questions that are important to us as human beings, but about which science cannot do anything more than inform us, and for which we have to make up our minds using a method outside of science.

Now, religion can also be defined in a whole variety of ways. What religion, I think, is, in a certain sense, is the attempt to account for the world which we see in terms that transcend the natural. In other words, in terms that include the natural world, but enclose it in a kind of spiritual worldview. This makes religion, I think, fundamentally a different kind of intellectual exercise from science.

There is absolutely no problem to a person of faith—and I’ll include myself in this—for positing God as a cause of certain things. For all I know, my own ability to overcome a crisis in my life when I was 24 years old was due to the support that I prayed for from God. God could be responsible, no question about it, for the first living cell, or for certain animals that appeared in the Cambrian Explosion, or for the ’69 Mets, which I’ve never been able to explain any other way. And I say that not to trivialize the idea, but to point out that supernatural causes for natural phenomena are always possible.

What’s different, however, in the scientific view of this, is the acknowledgment, by scientists such as myself, even scientists who are people of faith, that if supernatural causes are there and are active, they are above our capacity to analyze and interpret. Saying that something has a supernatural cause is always possible. But saying that the supernatural can be investigated by science, which always has to work by natural tools and mechanisms, that’s simply incorrect. So, by placing the supernatural as a cause in science, you effectively have what you might call a science-stopper. If you attribute an event to the supernatural, you can by definition investigate it no further.  —Ken Miller, Professor of Biology at Brown University, author of the standard high school text, Biology,–and a practicing Catholic Christian.

One of the core features of science for hundreds of years has been the reliance on natural explanations. And while it’s true that there’s various gray areas in defining the edges of science, in distinguishing science from pseudoscience, the issue of the supernatural is not one of those gray areas.

If you really look at the history of science, many scientific fields really didn’t get started until supernatural explanations were discarded and natural explanations were adopted. Before evolution, this happened in geology, it happened in physics. A famous example is Benjamin Franklin, who in the 1700s proposed that lightning and electricity were the same thing, and proposed that lightning rods could stop lightning bolts from hitting church steeples and burning down churches. Some people accused Franklin of thwarting the will of God by doing this, but most people said Franklin had proposed a useful, natural explanation for a natural phenomenon and come up with a solution to a natural problem.

This is really fundamental to the history of science, the reliance on natural explanations. And it’s not a trivial thing to just toss that out, particularly when the proponents of supernaturalism in science have nothing to propose except a miracle, except God did it or an intelligent designer did it, end of story, stop the investigation.  –Nick Matzke, Public Information Project Director, National Center for Science Education.

Creationists often reject evolution by saying that evolution is, quote, “only a theory.” And that betrays either a deliberate or an unintentional misunderstanding of what a scientific theory is. Gravity is a theory—gravitational theory. Cell theory—all living things are constructed of cells. Electromagnetic theory, right? Germ theory? Germs make people sick. I mean, when you call evolution a theory, when you use the term “evolutionary theory,” that’s a very, very strong thing to say.

A theory in science is an explanation. It’s a large system which has withstood some very, very rigorous testing, literally attempts to debunk it, and has survived all of those attempts. So when creationists try to dismiss evolution as “only a theory,” they are misusing the word theory. They are using it in the ordinary sense, the non-scientific sense, of a hunch or a guess, and that’s not what it means at all.

If you have a scientific theory, you have already done years, decades, of scientific work, hard scientific research that you have offered to the scientific community for their evaluation. But never a single time has any intelligent-design creationist ever done that. Yet they’ve created a public relations concoction that they present to the public and to the media that they have some cutting-edge science that really needs to be taught to children—that there is another side to this issue and it’s only fair to tell it to the kids.

Well, there aren’t two scientific sides to this issue, because there aren’t two scientific theories. There’s only one. And if you believe that children should be told the truth, you have to tell them that the only scientific theory which explains the shape of life on Earth is evolutionary theory. And if you tell them anything other than that, you’re not telling them the truth, and that’s hardly fair. —Barbara Forest, Professor of Philosophy at Southeastern Louisiana University with degrees in both biochemistry and philosophy. Her Ph.D. and her personal philosophical concentration is on the Philosophy of Science and epistemology (how we know what we know).

I don’t know where people get the idea that evolution is a theory in crisis. It is a theory in the sense that we use the word in science; that is, it is the strongest construct that we use.

The difference between what a theory means to the average person and what it means to a scientist is really completely opposite, because theories are very strong concepts in science. A theory is something that has been tested and tested over and over again, built on, revised. It continues to be reworked and revised.

The theory of evolution today is not like it was a hundred years ago. We have molecular genetics. We have developmental evolutionary biology. We have far more fossils than we had before. We have better kinds of phylogenetic techniques. Everything is improving through science. All of these things are becoming much better and better known.

And, so there’s no crisis in evolution. It’s healthier than ever. Do we have controversies? Sure, we do. Sure, we do. But, they’re not about whether evolution occurred, or whether you can possibly see a unity to the ancestry of life. Those issues were settled. They were settled a century and a half ago. —Kevin Padian, Paleontologist and Professor of Biology, University of California at Berkeley.

Science is characterized, if nothing else, by its methods. It’s not just the discoveries that we’ve made. It’s characterized by the way of thinking—a way of providing answers in terms of empirical evidence. And it limits itself in its explanations to those sorts of things.

There’s a big fancy term for this, it’s methodological naturalism … scientific naturalism. And it says we can’t appeal to the transcendent; we can’t appeal to the divine. Probably the simplest way to explain this is in terms of a nice cartoon that Sidney Harris did in American Scientist a long time ago. It’s got a scientist standing in front of a blackboard, and he’s obviously been working at his series of equations and it covers the blackboard, but there’s a gap in the middle. It’s been too hard; he can’t figure it out. And he’s written in there, “Then a miracle occurs.” And his colleague is looking at this and says, “I think you need to be a little more explicit there in step two.”

And that, in sort of a cartoon version, is what methodological naturalism is. It says you can’t have gaps that you fill in by appeal to miracles. That essentially stops scientific inquiry. Because if we could always appeal to the transcendent whenever we had an explanatory problem, it would make science too easy. You can’t test that. You could always give as an explanation “God did it.” Science says no, you’ve got to fill in the steps with things that we can actually test. God may have done it. God may have set the world in motion. God may have set the laws in place. God may intervene in ways that we can’t detect. That’s a metaphysical notion, though … that’s a religious notion. And that’s something that science just can’t get at. And that’s really the difference here. Science has to constrain itself in this way; those are the ground rules. And what creationists hope to do is to change the ground rules of science and to reintroduce supernatural explanations into science. That’s the thing that disqualifies it right off the board.
Creation scientists and intelligent-design creationists have always had the same kind of rhetorical strategy. One is to put themselves forward as science, the other is to say science itself is a religion. And the terminology that would be used would be to liken scientists to the priests—to say that evolution is dogma, to say that scientific materialism is the established religion of the 20th century. This is just a false charge. If you understand the difference between science as a way of knowing—science as a methodology—it doesn’t make dogmatic claims, either theistic or atheistic. It sets those aside.

Evolution is portrayed by creationists as being equivalent to atheism. But that’s not part of the definition of evolution. Evolution is just what we have discovered empirically using the normal scientific approach. One can set aside the question theologically about what that means; that’s to depart from science itself. That’s to bring in religion, to bring in philosophy—I’m certainly not opposed to any of that as a philosopher of science. But it’s important for us to keep those things distinct conceptually. Science itself, when done properly, isn’t dogmatic, isn’t religious. It’s just a way of investigating the natural world, in the best way that we natural beings are able to do it. —Robert T. Pennock, Evolutionary biologist and Professor of Philosophy of Science, Michigan State University.

Basically, what intelligent design is, is a claim that evolution can’t explain things, therefore they win by default. That’s not a scientific view. Science makes its decisions by testing its claims, not just by accepting them because they sound good. So, because we have to test our claims, we can only use natural claims, because natural claims are the only ones we can test. Natural claims are the only ones that we can hold constant variables for. They are the only claims that we can control variables for. You can’t control for the effects of God.

If you teach intelligent design as a science, you are confusing students about the nature of science, about science as a way of knowing, the scientific method. You’re also confusing students and miseducating students about the position of evolution within science.

Evolution is no more controversial in modern-day science than heliocentrism—that the planets go around the sun. There are individuals out there advocating geocentrism—that the sun goes around the Earth. But we don’t give them equal time in the high school science class just because it’s fair.–Eugenie Scott, Executive Director, National Center for Science Education.

I live in the realm of testability and prediction. If I can’t make a prediction based on an idea, or if I can’t falsify a theory based with that, it doesn’t exist to me as a scientist. What makes a scientific idea special is that they’re continually tested against the real world. And not every idea can do that. Not every idea, no matter how beautiful, qualifies as science.

It’s really important to me that the public understand evolution, because there’s great power in scientific knowledge. Evolution is the centrally unifying concept for all of biology. It unifies observations as different as genetics and ecology and so forth. Evolution is not a theory in crisis by any stretch of the imagination. But, that being said, do we disagree about how evolution acts, even some of the mechanisms? Absolutely. That’s the sign of a vital and successful theory. But does it mean we throw away scientific understanding altogether? No way, that would be a tragic mistake.

Scientific knowledge has a special place in our world because it’s testable. It’s something we always have to compare against the real world. And many of the great breakthroughs in our world are coming from science. Not only technology, but new understandings about ourselves, our bodies, our climate, our world, are coming from scientific information. If children are somehow shielded from all that, we’re doing them a great disservice.Neil Shubin, Paleontologist, University of Chicago and the Field Museum.

Sometimes ID proponents try to bring in the supernatural in science by pointing to the faith of great scientists like Isaac Newton. But no one claims that a scientist can’t be a person of faith (many are), but only that they must concentrate on natural causes in their work.  Ken Miller, the author of Biology, and a practicing Christian, addresses this issue head on:

I think it’s a gross mischaracterization to take scientists in the past who were people of faith—and Isaac Newton is a good example—and say that Newton worked on the basis of a hypothesis of design. Well, it’s true that he certainly believed in a creator, and he believed that that creator was the architect of the universe he investigated. But here’s the key difference. Newton never proposed God as a cause in any of his theories. In other words, he didn’t seek to explain the way in which the prism broke light into many different colors by saying, “Well, it happens that way because it is God’s will, and I will stop investigating.” He sought a physical explanation, and his explanation was that light, white light, is composed of many colors, and what the prism does is to bend each color by a different amount. That’s not a divine explanation. That doesn’t use intelligent design. That’s an explanation based on the principles of physics.

The point here is that what Newton and other scientists did was to assume that the universe made sense because it had a designer, and then to use what we would call ordinary material scientific methods to investigate that universe. That’s just what science does today. What intelligent design pretends to do is to be in the tradition of Newton. What intelligent design actually is, to be perfectly honest, is they’re in the tradition of the Middle Ages, where they stop investigation by saying, “We cannot answer this mystery; it is the work of God, the designer.” This is a science-stopper.Ken Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University, author of the standard high school textbook, Biology.


How do new, originally controversial, theories become accepted into the scientific community? By doing original research and publishing the results in peer-reviewed scientific journals, debating findings at official meetings of professional societies, etc.  This is how Darwin won acceptance for evolutionary biology.  Neither Creation Science nor Intelligent Design have even attempted this. They publish only in-house, do no original research, etc. They are not persecuted geniuses having revolutionary discoveries that are being suppressed by the scientific establishment–they have waged a media campaign for public opinion (particularly in ultra-conservative Christian circles) in lieu of scientific debate with peers. Further, a valid scientific theory allows scientists to make predictions that cannot be immediately proved. When these are proved or refuted by further research, experiments, new instruments, etc., the theory is confirmed, refuted, or modified. But, as even some of the proponents of ID admit, it has not generated any such testable predictions or new insights–and evolutionary theory has done this continually.

Our next step in this series (I don’t yet know how many posts that step will take) will be to examine evolution itself:  prior to Darwin, Darwin’s breakthrough, Darwin’s “forgotten Christian defenders,” the evidence of the fossil record, the evidence of modern genetics, etc.  After that, the series will continue by comparing and contrasting the various theological positions: Young Earth Creationism, Old-Earth/Age-Day Creationism, Intelligent Design, and Theistic Evolution (my own view)–including a discussion of why all of these are rival theological positions and NONE of them are scientific theories.  Then I will take ID apart more thoroughly and explain why it would be perfectly valid to discuss in a philosophy class or a comparative religion class, but not a science class. I will conclude the series by exploring whether or not there is a political agenda behind the ID movement and why it might matter to Christians and others.

Happy New Year!

December 31, 2007 Posted by | science & faith | 3 Comments

Al Gore: Baptist of the Year

algore.pngThe Baptist Center for Ethics has chosen fmr. U.S. Vice President R. Albert Gore, Jr. (Al Gore) as “Baptist of the Year.”  I try to take a global view of my Baptist family and so I wondered whether or not this was a U.S.-centered choice. [Update: This is the first year BCE has chosen a Baptist from North America. They began this award in 2004, selecting several people from around the globe. In 2005, they chose Paul Montacute, a British Baptist and head of Baptist World Aid, for his quick humanitarian responses to the tsunami and to the earthquake in Pakistan. In 2006, BCE chose collectively the Baptists in Lebanon for their grace and courage during the war which put them literally in the line of fire between Hezbollah and Israel. So, this wasn’t as U.S.-centered as I wondered.]  But in a year in which the former Vice President (who, at the most charitable reading of the Supreme Court’s 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, at least won the popular vote for U.S. President in 2000), won an Academy Award for the film version of An Inconvenient Truth and, together with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his attempts to end the carbon-based war on the planet, this decision by BCE seems perfectly justified.  I am not sure that we have enough time or the political will, even now, to take effective action against global warming before major and irreversible damage is done all across the globe. It may well be too late to do more than limit the damage and save what we can and whom we can.  But if we do have enough time and political will, even here in the United States, then Al Gore will deserve much of the credit as a modern day Paul Revere warning “The HEAT is Coming!”

Congratulations, Mr. Gore. I only hope your efforts have paid off in time.  Keep up the good work.

Update: I have not always been impressed with Mr. Gore’s skills in political oratory. But a major exception is his Nobel Prize Lecture.  It is well worth reading.  Unless you are in delusional denial about climate change (like Fred Thompson or Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) ), you should find it very inspiring.  I know I did.

December 28, 2007 Posted by | Baptists, ecology, global warming, heroes | 36 Comments

Prayers for the Pakistani People

Former Prime Minister and current opposition leader Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan has been assassinated by a suicide bomber.  At least 20 others were killed in the attack.  While Ms. Bhutto was not without flaws (she had been accused of corruption before the coup which brought Bush’s friend Musharraf to power and sent her into 8 years of exile), she represented the best hope for change–for a return to democracy and the rule of law. She threatened both the secular dictatorship of Musharraf and the Islamist (not Islamic, Bhutto was a faithful Muslim) extremists and Taliban supporters in Pakistan.  Someone found her too threatening and eliminated her.  Pray for her family and for the Pakistani people.

I have further reflections on Ms. Bhutto’s death and what it means that so few in North America are willing to take such risks in democratic struggles for justice here.  The struggle may have a setback in Pakistan, but ultimately that struggle will continue. I worry more about our society where people would rather watch “Dancing with the Stars” or “WWF Raw,” etc. than follow the issues in an electoral campaign.

December 27, 2007 Posted by | assassination, democracy, elections, human rights. | 1 Comment

Happy Boxing Day!

We in the U.S. don’t celebrate this holiday, but I want to wish all my readers in the U.K., Canada, Australia, New Zealand,–and throughout the Commonwealth of Nations a very Happy Boxing Day!

December 26, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

A Desmond M. Tutu Bibliography

To supplement yesterday’s profile of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, I am offering today a bibliography of his major writings and a few excellent secondary sources on this major prophet and theologian.

I. Primary

1982     Desmond M. Tutu, Crying in the Wilderness: The Struggle for Justice in South Africa. (Eerdmans, 1982). This collection of Tutu’s sermons from the late 1970s and early 1980s was my first introduction to the man–and my first in-depth introduction to the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa.  It was reissued in 1990 in a new edition edited by the contemporary Barthian theologian John Webster.

1984     Desmond M. Tutu, Hope and Suffering: Sermons and Speeches (Eerdmans, 1984).  Published just before Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

1984      Desmond M. Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Lecture.  Reprinted in Tutu’s later book, The Rainbow People of God (below) as “Apartheid’s ‘Final Solution.'”

1994      Desmond M. Tutu, The Rainbow People of God: The Making of a Powerful Revolution (Doubleday).

1995      Desmond M. Tutu, An African Prayer Book (Doubleday).

1999a    Desmond M. Tutu, et. al., Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Final Report.

1999     Desmond M. Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (Eerdmans). This is Tutu’s reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which he chaired in the aftermath of apartheid.

2004    Desmond M. Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time (Doubleday).

II. Edited works:

Tutu has edited a series of brief collections of the words and ideals of major global faith leaders for peace and justice. The series is put out in the U.S. , the Philippines, and Canada by Blue Mountain Arts, Inc. and in South Africa, the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand by Blackwell, Ltd. (I do not know if the series is complete or if other volumes are planned.)

Believe: The Words and Inspiration of Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu. 2007.

Dream: The Words and Inspiration of Martin Luther King, Jr. 2007.

Love: The Words and Inspiration of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. 2007.

Peace: The Words and Inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi. 2007.

Naomi Tutu, one of the Archbishop’s daughters, has edited a Tutu reader:

The Words of Desmond Tutu, selected and introduced by Naomi Tutu (Newmarket, 2007).

Battle, Michael, ed. The Wisdom of Desmond Tutu (Westminster/John Knox Press, 2000).

III. Secondary Works:

Allen, John. Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu (The Free Press,          2006).

Battle, Michael. Reconciliation: The Ubuntu Theology of Desmond Tutu (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 1997).  Written by an African-American Episcopal priest who traveled to South Africa to study with Tutu. Tutu ordained him to the priesthood and officiated at his wedding.  This intimate and in-depth study now needs balance by someone with more critical distance.

Gish, Steven. Desmond Tutu: A Biography. Greenwood Biography Series (Greenwood Press, 2004). Written for young adult readers.

December 24, 2007 Posted by | books, heroes | Comments Off on A Desmond M. Tutu Bibliography

Advent Week IV: Joy


First of all, gentle readers, I apologize for apparently getting my advent weeks out of order. There are at least 2 historic Advent calendars, but I apparently conflated them and put Hope, Joy, Peace, and Love in an order no one uses. This is what happens when a Baptist (not a tradition known for liturgical correctness) tries to reflect on the ecumenical Christian calendar. I’ll work at doing better next year. 🙂

But I am very happy to have Desmond Mpilo Tutu, retired Archbishop of Capetown in the Anglican Church of the Province of Southern Africa, as my witness to the Incarnation who represents Joy–even if I put Joy in the wrong week. 🙂 From the time I first became aware of Tutu (c. 1982), I noticed in him the great joy of Christian faith–even in the midst of nonviolent struggle against great oppression; even as the recipient of so much hate.  When the late (and, by me, unlamented) Jerry Falwell, acting at the prompting of the Reagan admin., denounced Tutu as a Communist and phony Christian, I was so horrified that I dared something I had never done: I wrote to both of them.  At the time, I was an unknown student at an unknown, small, conservative, Christian college–recently out of the U.S. Army with a conscientious objector discharge and trying to follow my calling to serve God wherever that might lead.  I didn’t know, then, that there were Baptists in South Africa and that Tutu, with his broad ecumenical experience, would know enough about Baptist polity to realize that Falwell was not–could not–speak for other Baptists. I knew that, often enough, Christians in other, more heirarchical traditions, did think that famous (or infamous) Baptist preachers could speak for other Baptists and give official pronouncements of doctrine, ethics, public policy, etc.  I could not let this brave Christian leader think that Falwell’s horrific and bigoted pronouncement represented some general feeling of Baptists. I wrote Rev. Falwell and was polite as I knew how to be, but basically called on him to repent for his obvious racism. I never received a reply.  I also wrote Tutu, then the Bishop of Johannesburg, in care of the South African Council of Churches. To my surprise, I received a personal reply–which remains one of my fondest possessions. As he thanked me for my prayers and support, joy and Christian love leaped off the handwritten pages of stationary.  That was May, 1985 and my involvement in the U.S. “Free South Africa” movement dates from that moment. I have since read most of Tutu’s writings and a few secondary sources, although I cannot be counted a Tutu scholar.  What follows is a bare bones account of his life and work–with an emphasis on how he witnesses to the joy of Incarnation.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in Klersksdorp in the Republic of South Africa in 1931–a time when South Africa was ruled by whites for whites, but prior to the Nazi-like racism of the Afrikaaner policy of “apartheid.” When he was 12, the Tutu family moved to Johannesburg where he was educated in segregated schools (Bantu schools). The young Tutu wanted to become a physician, but the family could not afford the education and so he decided to follow his father in becoming a schoolteacher. He underwent teacher training at Pretoria Bantu Normal College (1951-1953) and then taught at the Johannesburg Bantu High School and then Muncieville High School (where he met his wife, Leah) until 1957 when he resigned in protest of the Bantu Education Act–an act which would consign poor South Africans (especially non-whites) to inferior education.  In 1958, he followed a vocational leading into the Anglican priesthood, studying as a candidate for ordination at St. Peter’s Theological College, Rosettenville, receiving his Licentiate in Theology in 1960 (the year of the Sharpeville Massacre–when white South African police fired live ammunition on black schoolchildren who were unarmed and nonviolently protesting the conditions of their schools!) and becoming an ordained Anglican priest in 1961.  He was chaplain at the University of Fort Hare (one of the places where Africans could get quality education in Southern Africa) which was a hotbed of dissent and anti-apartheid resistance at the time.  Tutu’s superiors thought that he was becoming “too political” in his involvement with those committed to the struggle.  They suggested he resign as chaplain and sent him to London to pursue further studies while things cooled off.

 Tutu matriculated at King’s College, University of London from 1962-1966, earning a Bachelor of Divinity degree (with highest honors) and Master of Theology degree while serving as a part-time curate or pastor. In 1967, Tutu returned to South Africa and became once more the Chaplain a the University of Fort Hare and a member of the faculty of the Federal Theological Seminary in Alice–and used his lectures to highlight the circumstances of the African population. In 1970, Tutu became Lecturer in the Department of Theology of the University of Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, continuing his policy of relating his theological lectures to the circumstances of the South African struggle.  He wrote a letter to the Prime Minister (Voerster) and described the situation in South Africa as “a powder barrel which can explode at any time.” He was not answered.

In 1972, Tutu returned to Britain as Director of the World Council of Churches’ Education Fund, based in Bromley, Kent.  He used his position to highlight the sufferings and injustices of his homeland. (This was not an easy time to be associated with the WCC for many.  In the U.S., South Africa, and elsewhere conservative Christians denounced the WCC as “subversive” and made wild accusations that its Programme for Overcoming Racism was using money from churches to finance armed revolutions in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.  Although the WCC showed solidarity with struggles against oppression, it is a conservative myth that it ever used money to buy weapons or otherwise support armed guerillas. I can’t speak for other places in the world, but I think one can trace the decline in prestige of both the National and World Councils of Churches in the U.S. to this myth–and the corresponding campaign to defund the councils.)

Tutu returned to South Africa in 1975 and was appointed the Anglican Dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral,  Johannesburg–the first African to hold such a post.  The very next year, 1976, was the year of the Soweto Uprising.  Students and others in Soweto (a segregated non-white “township” next to Johannesburg) protested the government’s rule that Afrikaans be the only language in education. The government responded with deadly force and the nonviolent protest became a riot. As a result of this,Tutu called for a worldwide boycott of South African products.  It took years and was full of holes, but international sanctions and citizen boycotts of South African goods, entertainment and sports boycotts of South African venues did slowly put increasing pressure on the white government to end apartheid. (Ronald Reagan reversed the sanctions of the Carter years, themselves incomplete, and preferred a policy of “constructive engagement” which amounted to turning a blind eye to South African injustices because South Africa claimed that all the movements for non-racial democracy in Africa were fronts for Communism! It was in this context that Falwell’s “phony” remark was made.)  In 1976, Tutu was consecrated Bishop of Lesotho.

As the South African government kept banning the political parties and organizations of protest and struggle, including the African National Congress, many unions, etc., the struggle against apartheid became more and more a struggle led by the black and “colored” or mixed-race churches (with a few valiant white Christians, too). The World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) suspended two Afrikaaner Reformed denominations for the heresy of theologically justifying racial apartheid.  Other global pressures were increased, too.  Meanwhile, the vehicle for the church struggle against apartheid in South Africa was the South African Council of Churches, to which Desmond Tutu was elected General Secretary in 1978.

Tutu led nonviolent marches, gave speeches and sermons (which were collected and republished here in the U.S., where I began to read them) that related faith to the struggle against apartheid. But he also was highly critical of those who would use violence or preach hatred against whites. He was repeatedly arrested. The government blamed him for everything–such as when he risked his life to stop the “necklacing” of an informant (this was a horrible practice wherein a mob would surround someone who cooperated with the apartheid regime, stick a rubber tire filled with gasoline/petrol around said collaborator’s neck, and set it on fire) and then was blamed for the attempted murder!

In 1984, in recognition for his leadership in the nonviolent struggle (and in honor of all the thousands who participated in it), Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. (He was the 2nd leader of the anti-apartheid struggle to receive the Nobel: the first was Chief Albert Luthuli in 1960–the Zulu Chieftain who founded the African National Congress and set it on its early path of Gandhian nonviolence.  The 3rd Nobel for the anti-apartheid struggle would go to Nelson Mandela, sharing it with F.W. de Klerk, the white president, for their mutual work to end apartheid and introduce multi-racial democracy without further violence.) He has received numerous other awards and honors for his work for peace and justice.

In 1985, Tutu was elected the Bishop of Johannesburg and in 1986 became Archbishop of Capetown–each time becoming the first black African to hold the post. 

After the fall of apartheid and the institution of multi-racial democracy in 1989, Tutu began a new role–now, not as one of the leaders of nonviolent struggle for justice, but as a healer of a strife-torn nation. In 1995, Tutu was asked to head South Africa’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” which, in place of war crimes trials or cycles of revenge, asked oppressors and victims to tell publicly the crimes they had committed and receive pardons. The cycle of violence had to be broken, not by hiding but by telling the truth and allowing people to begin anew.  This has now become a model for similar truth and reconciliation commissions in other war torn or strife torn situations. (I often wonder if the history of my nation would have been different if we had held such commissions after the Civil War or, again, in the wake of the Civil Rights movement and the fall of legal segregation.) For this work, Tutu received the Sydney Peace Prize in 1999.

Since retiring as Archbishop, Tutu has worked with the PeaceJam movement to inspire youth around the world to work for peace and justice. He has also worked to end the plague of AIDS (and its stigma), championed the ordination of women, and called for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people in church and society, called for Middle East Peace (and worked to get Nobel Peace Laureates to mediate between Palestinians and Israelis) and much else.

Joy has permeated his entire life and work–the joy of a witness to the Word Made Flesh.

December 23, 2007 Posted by | Christian calendar, heroes, love of enemies, peacemaking | Comments Off on Advent Week IV: Joy

Christmas Reflections: Re-Runs

Last year I wrote a brief series of Christmas reflections: an historical-critical affirmation of the virgin birth and 2 posts on the theological emphases of Matthew and Luke’s birth & infancy narratives.  These proved very popular and more than one person urged me to run them again.  I had thought that I would update and improve them, but I am not prepared to do so at this time. So, comment away and maybe by next year I’ll be ready to give a 2.0 version of these posts.  Thanks for your continued interest.




December 22, 2007 Posted by | Christmas, Jesus, virgin birth | Comments Off on Christmas Reflections: Re-Runs

Gifts of Music & Justice

I have probably waited too long to recommend Christmas gifts for the social-justice minded music lovers, but I will anyway.  Putting close friends first, I must recommend Fiercer Love($15 U.S. per copy)  the long-awaited, first CD of the husband-wife musical duo, Down to Earth.  “Down to Earth” is known to my family as Paul Whitely, Jr. and Kate Sanders. In addition to being a union organizer, Paul is the seminary-trained volunteer minister of music at my church, Jeff Street Baptist Community at Liberty. He has also worked for Jobs with Justice. Kate is an award-winning poet and songwriter who has played with the Louisville Orchestra, and was the hammered dulcimer champion in Kentucky for 2006.  This first CD combines their own original music with struggle songs from many cultures.  The title comes from a line in their single, “Your Heart is a Muscle as Big as Your Fist,” which you can hear on the website and which contains the great line, “You can be loving and still be pissed!” It rails against the culture of nice and, in a way reminiscent of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call for “creatively maladjusted” people (because “adjusting” to an unjust system is horrible), “transformed noncomformists,” Down to Earth calls for us to “Keep on Loving, keep on Fighting! Stick together and we just might win. Shout freedom’s name to the heavens above–and start each day with a fiercer love!” Amen.  Other tracks on this first CD include Kate’s haunting rendition of the Virgin Mary’s Magnificat, a tribute to Harriet Tubman, Paul’s tribute to his grandfather called “Old Reliable,” “Maquiladora,” and the painfully funny “Talking Health Insurance Blues.”  I hope a second CD soon follows with Kate’s haunting tribute to the late Archbishop Oscar Romero (written soon after his assassination in 1980) and their tribute to the marchers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott (especially Rosa Parks), “My Soul is Rested.”  You can also book Down to Earth on this website.

I have highlighted before the fantastic music of Mike Sterns, composer, folksinger, and inspirational leader (for both children and adults) who is the current Artist-in-Residence at the Rauschenbusch Center for Social Justice at University Baptist Church, Seattle, WA. Mike’s music and presence have been utilized powerfully by Habitat for Humanity, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Hiroshim to Hope, Witness our Welcome, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists (AWAB), the American Civil Liberties Union, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Witness for Peace, and Physicians for Social Responsibility.  I love all Mike’s songs, but especially “Love Makes a Family.”

Another favorite of mine who combines great music with a peace and justice vision is the incredible Kate Campbell, rooted in the Southern literary tradition of Faulkner and Flannery O’Conner, the spirituality of Baptist churches (white and black), and a musical style that combines ’60s Soul with the Southern Rock sound made famouse by Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  Her latest CD, For the Living of These Days, takes its title from a line in Harry Emerson Fosdick’s famous hymn, “God of Grace and God of Glory,” and includes both old hymns done in a new style, and the “Prayer of Thomas Merton” which Merton wrote in 1958 and which Kate has set to music.

People often ask whatever happened to musicians making great music for social struggles. There is as much out there now as when Pete Seeger, Guy Carawan, Woody Guthrie, and Joan Baez were in their hey-day–but you have to hunt for it. Few radio stations will play such music, now.  Mass produced music is not interested in music that helps with liberation. The musicians who empower today usually have day jobs–as union organizers (Paul Whitely, Jr.), or nurses (Mike Sterns), etc. and have to sell their music outside of the major markets.  It can be a struggle to find it–but it is worth the effort–and makes for great Christmas gifts. (One place to look is here.)

December 21, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Huckabee Lied About His Credentials–Or Did He?

Not that I ever understood why anyone would consider a theology degree useful for a presidential candidate (I have 2 such degrees, but if I were running for any elected political office in a secular state, would not think them at all relevant), but apparantly Mike Huckabee, fmr. Arkansas Governor and currently a candidate for the Republican nomination for U.S. president, lied about having one.  The former Baptist pastor had one year of seminary at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Ft. Worth, TX, but never finished his degree. So much for him being “uniquely qualified” to understand the threat of “Islamofascism.” And we now get why he seems completely ignorant of Mormonism, too. (I do not consider Mormons to be Christians, but I also think the question is irrelevant in a presidential election. Huckabee’s little digs at Romney’s religion are in bad taste, to say the least. ) Hat tip to Big Daddy Weave for this newsflash.

While the possession or lack of a theology degree is irrelevant to one’s qualifications to be president, LYING about having said degree says quite a bit about one’s character. That IS relevant to the quest for elected office.   Many in this country wanted Bill Clinton to be impeached and removed from office for lying about having sex with an intern, Monica Lewinsky. [To be clear: I did not think the charges rose to the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” needed for impeachment, but I did think that Clinton should have resigned to spare the nation and allow the government to get work done. If he had, Al Gore would have had 2 years to work on the nation’s problems, and, with Lewinsky not an issue in the 2000 election, would have won handily and saved us the many ills of G.W. Bush.]  Many voters are uneasy about Rudy Guiliani as a presidential candidate because he is now on his third marriage–and both his divorces stemmed from adulterous affairs. His current wife, former mistress, was apparently given New City police protection and much else via shady finances.  I have thought the current resident of the White House should be impeached for his many lies and crimes.  Character matters in elected officials, especially in one who heads a nation-state and whose power will affect the lives of  thousands of people.

Huckabee’s lie about his education seems minor compared to some of these other cases–especially the murderous lies of George W. Bush which have resulted in so much pain, suffering, and death for so many.  But if Huckabee would lie about something so minor–and so easily checked–it makes one wonder about his overall honesty.  Compare this with Barack Obama’s candid admissions that as a teen he used drugs–pot and some coke. No hedging and saying he didn’t inhale.  Talking with regret for the lost boy he was trying to find himself and finally coming out of it in college.   Yes, Obama’s presidential hopes could be ruined by such admissions–but I think the public prefers candor. We don’t expect perfection–we just don’t want to be deceived.

Character includes moral maturity–and that includes being able to speak about our shortcomings–whether past misbehavior or never finishing an educational degree to which one aspired.  Honesty and integrity must start with self-candor.  It’s clear that Huckabee regrets never finishing his seminary education before becoming an assistant to an evangelist.  But he can’t turn that regret into the fantasy that he did complete it–nor project that fantasy onto us.  A national president must be able to see things clearly, too. But if Huckabee cannot even be honest with himself about his educational achievements, can we trust him to decide matters of life and death with clarity and sound judgment?

Update: Just before reading today’s comments, I heard a response from the Huckabee camp.  Supposedly, the “theology degree” to which he was referring was his B.A. in religion at Ouchita Baptist University.  If that’s what he meant, then he didn’t exactly lie. (Except that the New York Times reports that his B.A. at OBU was in Communications. Religion was his minor.  A MINOR is not a “theology degree” under any stretch.) But he had to know that most people would think he was referring to a degree from an accredited theological seminary. So, the statement was at least misleading.  Perhaps I am too skeptical, but this seems to me to be typical political “spin” after being caught in misstatement. It is what conservatives have taught us to call “Clintonian parsing,” as when fmr. president Bill Clinton claimed “not to have inhaled” when reports came out that he tried pot in college (strange how conservatives have never been interested in G. W. Bush’s cocaine use at Yale, as well as his binge drinking into his 40s!), or when he said in response to charges of perjury about not having had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, “it all depends on the definition of “‘is’.”

I can’t see into either Clinton or Huckabee’s heart (or anyone else’s). So, maybe he was referring to his OBU B.A. when he claimed a “degree in theology.” One of my faithful readers (and persistent critics) claims that he refers to his own undergraduate degree in that way. Well, I went to a conservative Christian college (as well as a major state university, a large denominational seminary, and many other educational experiences) and my degree was a double-major in religious studies and political science.  But I have never referred to it as a “theology degree.” When I use that term, I always have in mind a degree from a seminary or divinity school. I have never heard of another use–but my experience is limited. So, I have added this update and a change in title for this blog post as a partial retraction.

I have no desire to slander Huckabee. I haven’t seen his OBU transcript to know whether the “paper of record” (which has certainly been wrong on other occasions!) got it right about his B.A. being in communications.  (And I should have waited before breaking this story to see the Huckabee response.) I hope I was wrong and his answer is truthful (if weird). But I also hope he learns to be more precise and less misleading in off the cuff remarks. Because constant “further statements with more precision” is precisely how politicians get reputations for being less than honest.

Update II: The Christian Science Monitor (a great newspaper whatever one’s view of the Church of Christ, Scientist!) has been doing a series on presidential candidates’ faith and values.  In their Nov. 7th article on Huckabee, they quoted him at the October Values Voters’ Summit.  There Huckabee said concerning the tensions between being an ordained minister and a presidential candidate (James Garfield was our only minister president–and he was one of our worst presidents!), “Anytime you have been a person who was identified as a pastor and you’ve got a seminary education and a theology degree, people tend to worry about you.” (My emphasis.) Now that phrasing, while perhaps not technically lying, is certainly misleading–maybe even bearing false witness. Anyone at that meeting or who heard that statement would assume (a) that Huckabee had finished his seminary education rather than dropping out after a year, and (b) that the “theology degree” was a degree earned at an accredited seminary or divinity school–not an undergraduate B.A., whether in religion or “pastoral ministries” as the spokesperson from Ouchita Baptist University described Huckabee’s degree. That B.A. is his only earned degree. He has 2 honorary doctorates which, in the U.S., are a cheap way of honoring commencement speakers. (In the U.K. and Europe, this is different. An honorary doctorate is usually given only to someone who has made tremendous contributions to a given field.)   Again, the Constitution does not require any particular educational background for presidents: Our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, never finished high school and became an attorney not from attending law school, but from private reading and then passing the bar exam. We have only had one president with a Ph.D. (Woodrow Wilson) and, although many came from legal backgrounds, we have had enormous variety in educational and vocational background in our presidents. So, Huckabee’s possession (or not) of a “theology degree” is not relevant. But his misleading statements and later spin ARE. They go to the issue of character and do not reflect well on the second “man from Hope.”

December 19, 2007 Posted by | U.S. politics | 13 Comments