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

A Shameful Anniversary

Sunday 13 January ’08 was a glorious anniversary: My wife and I have now been married for 18 years.  Great cheers.

But Friday 11 January’08 was a much more shameful anniversary: The Gitmo Gulag Turned Six.  Today, the Director of National Intelligence, while still staying mum on whether waterboarding is torture, said it would be torture–if done to HIM. The Congressional and criminal investigation of the destroyed CIA tapes supposedly showing tortured detainees continues–but with the focus still on obstruction of justice (itself a felony) and not on the underlying war crime of torture.

To date, none of the presidential debates, between Republicans or Democrats, has had a single question specifically on torture or on the Gitmo Gulag.  Stopping this is up to us.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | human rights., torture, U.S. politics | 2 Comments

Mercer Ethicist Dave Gushee on U.S. Evangelicals in Politics

David P. Gushee is a friend of mine who is somewhat more conservative than I am theologically and politically–but not in any extreme sense. We are almost the same age (I’m slightly younger) and Dave is, like me, a former student of Glen Stassen.  Dave then did a Ph.D. at Union Theological Seminary under Larry Rasmussen, a Lutheran expert on Reinhold Niebuhr and Dietrich Bonhoeffer–as well as ecological ethics and the role of Scripture in Ethics.  Dave tried to work with the fundamentalist Mohler administration at post-takeover SBTS before needing to leave for several years at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.  Now, he has recently joined the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University– a context in which I am sure he’ll thrive.

Dave shares my commitment to gender equality, but does not share my views on GLBT inclusion. (I’ll keep working on him.) He shares my strong commitment to Jewish-Christian dialogue and is beginning to add Christian-Muslim dialogue to that. He is deeply committed to a 2-state solution in Palestine-Israel for Middle East peace although I sometimes think he is too trusting of the Israeli government’s view of things. But Dave is definitely NOT one of those knee-jerk evangelicals who think the gov. of Israel can do no wrong and who support wiping out Palestinians or permanent occupation of the territories.

Dave is a Just War Theorist, unfortunately, but he is an honest and strict JWTer who opposed the Iraq war and opposes the Bush doctrine of preemption.

Dave is deeply committed to human rights, and started Evangelicals for Human Rights to work on abolitioning torture, beginning with the U.S. 

Dave and I mostly agree on church-state matters, although I think I am slightly more of a separationist than he is.  But in a very important article in USA Today, Dave takes most U.S. evangelicals to task for the way they have turned the majority of U.S. evangelicalism into a religious wing of the Republican Party–something that should not be done with ANY Party or ideology.  Read Dave and show this to other U.S. evangelicals.  It’s that important. The integrity of the church in these United States is at stake.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, church-state separation, citizenship, evangelicals, U.S. politics | 5 Comments

War Against Women in the (DR) Congo

Last night CBS’ famed 60 Minutes weekly newsmagazine aired an excellent segment by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, “War Against Women in the Congo.” It concerns the systematic use of rape against women and children in the Eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The tragedy of the Darfur region of the Sudan is horrid and should not be underplayed, but it gets far more coverage in the U.S. than the horrors in the DRC–even though both the United Nations and Human Rights Watch conclude that what is happening in the DRC is the worst human rights tragedy in the world, currently. Further, although women have been raped in all wars, this is the most systematic use of rape as a weapon of war anywhere–making even the rape camps during the Balkans civil war which broke up Yugoslavia in the ’90s or the rapes in the Darfur refugee camps now look small in comparison. DAILY GANG RAPE is now the norm–and reaches children as young as 3 and women in their ’90s–and is leaving entire villages traumatized.

The video is disturbing and not for the squeamish. We need to make ending this a high priority of the U.S. State Dept. and the U.S. and international human rights groups and campaigns.

The blog, Texas in Africa, run by a Texas poli-sci grad student whose dissertation is on Congo’s health system and who has spent considerable time in Africa, has regular updates on all matters African, especially Congo related. Texas in Africa is a pseudonymn for a young Baptist woman (a graduate of Baylor University, Yale, University and now finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Texas, Austin) who also lived for some time in Kenya.  One can also find good information on the crisis in Kenya by regularly reading her blog.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | Africa, Baptists, blogs, human rights., torture, war, women | Comments Off on War Against Women in the (DR) Congo

Baptist College President Promoting On-Campus Racial Diversity

Because of the long, tortured, history of my tradition, the Baptists, with racism (Baptists have often been pioneers in racial justice and reconciliation globally, but in the Southern U.S., white Baptists have been mostly known for defending slavery and segregation), I am always delighted to publicize those efforts by Baptists to “get it right” on racial justice and reconciliation.  One current effort right here in the Commonwealth of Kentucky was noticed just this morning in the Louisville Courier-Journal, the newspaper with the highest circulation in the state.  William Crouch, President of Georgetown College outside of Lexington, KY, is working to increase racial diversity on campus among students and faculty, with a specific goal of increasing African-American enrollment from 6% to 17%.

Let’s put this in context:  Although living in Louisville, I tend to forget how “white” Kentucky is, the Commonwealth is 90% “white non-Hispanic” on the latest census report.  Most African-Americans in this former slave state live in just 3 counties, with the largest concentration here in Louisville (Jefferson County).  Unless one is on the campus of Berea College, which was founded by abolitionist Christians, one can literally travel miles throughout Eastern Kentucky (either North or South of Lexington) without meeting an African-American. (I almost wrote “a non-white” but recent immigrant labor patterns have been increasing Hispanic populations throughout the Commonwealth.)

Georgetown College, the first Baptist school of higher education west of the Allegheny Mountains was founded in 1798 by Rev. Elijah Craig, a white Baptist minister who is also generally credited with the invention of bourbon whiskey! (Since most Baptists in the U.S.A. have been, at least “officially,” teetotalers since the rise of the 19th C. Temperance Movement, there is no mention of Rev. Craig’s ties to bourbon on Georgetown College website. No alcohol is allowed on the college campus, even though the initial school endowment is built on Craig’s bourbon patents. For non-U.S. and non-Baptist readers, the ironies will increase. Bourbon County, Kentucky, named for the Bourbon French that first emigrated to that area of Kentucky in the 18th C., and the county where Craig invented bourbon, has been a “dry” county since before Prohibition.  That is, bourbon is manufactured and exported from Bourbon County, but it is illegal to consume any inside the county limits. Only transplanted outsiders like myself much remark on the ironies. Indigenous Kentuckians take this as “normal.” 🙂 ) Slave labor in tobacco production was another early source of revenue and endowment for this college, as with many another Southern college or university–regardless of state or religious ties.

GC has historic ties to the (white) Kentucky Baptist Convention and the (white) Southern Baptist Convention.  Because Georgetown College (which should never be confused with the Catholic-founded Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.) is a “moderate” school theologically, it has weakened ties with the SBC since the takeover in the 1980s and early ’90s of the SBC by far-right, highly politicized, fundamentalism.  Georgetown has formed ties with the moderate breakaway groups known as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and it’s statewide affiliation, the Kentucky Baptist Fellowship.  Many of the older leaders of the CBF are among those few white Baptists in the South (then Southern Baptists) who were at least moderately active in supporting the goals of the Civil Rights Movement during the ’50s and ’60s.  Georgetown President William Crouch comes out of that mileau–his father was one of the handful of white Baptist ministers fighting segregation during the ’60s.  But the KBF/CBF crowd is still largely white and most have great difficulty learning to travel in the circles of black Baptists.  Like most “white liberals,” they talk a better game than they place when it comes to racial justice.

But Crouch and Georgetown are trying to go beyond the usual cosmetic efforts.  As the Courier-Journal reports, Crouch has taken several courses in African-American culture in order to break down barriers and end miscommunications.  He has established formal relationships between Georgetown College and several historically black Baptist denominations. (We Baptists multiply by dividing–over theology, race, language, politics, gender matters, heck–sometimes we divide over what side of the church to put the organ on!) The education branches of those Black Baptist groups now have representation on Georgetown’s trustee board.  He is recruiting African-American faculty (although only has one “catch,” so far).  He is trying to lure historic African-American fraternities and sororities to establish chapters in the “Greek” culture at Georgetown College. (I’ve never understood the attraction of fraternities and sororities, myself, but I do recognize it.) And, most controversially, Crouch is trying to get Georgetown College to “adopt” the legacy of Bishop College near Dallas, TX.

Bishop College was a historic Black Baptist College that, like many historic black colleges and universities, has fallen on hard times since the end of segregation–unintentional victims of greater choices by African-Americans coupled with ever-rising educational costs. Bishop College went bankrupt in the 1980s, so Crouch is trying to get Georgetown to be host to reunions for Bishop faculty and alumni/ae, to hold the archives of the school and preserve its history, etc. In return, he hopes that Bishop alumni/ae will promote Georgetown to new generations of African-Americans with excellent academic records and potential.  He is increasing the financial aid offered to non-white students, though he has to combat rumors among white students and alumni/ae that he is lowering admissions standards for non-white students and that all incoming black students are on full scholarship–neither of which is true.

There have been missteps along the way, as any such ambitious effort must expect to encounter.  But Crouch is surely right that the 21st C. will be increasingly diverse and that education in a racially/ethnically and culturally diverse environment will better prepare people to live and work in this increasingly global community.  And, although I would want to caution Crouch not to undermine the efforts of historic black colleges and universities to survive and thrive amidst all their challenges, it sure is great to see at least one historically white Baptist insitution of higher education evolve past a history based on slavery, segregation, and racism.

Three cheers for President William Crouch and Georgetown College.

January 14, 2008 Posted by | Baptists, race, social history, theological education | 5 Comments