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

BPFNA Statement Against the Escalation of Afghanistan War

The statement against the Afghanistan escalation by the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America can be found here.   The statement has also been endorsed by my denomination, The Alliance of Baptists.  I hope other Baptist bodies (denominations, conventions, agencies, congregations, seminaries, etc.) will endorse this statement and spread it widely. I also hope that other Christian and other faith groups will also speak out against the escalation and for just peacemaking  transforming initiative for longterm peace.

December 11, 2009 Posted by | Afghanistan, Baptists, peacemaking | Comments Off on BPFNA Statement Against the Escalation of Afghanistan War

Miguel de la Torre: A New(ish) Voice in baptist Theology

migueldelatorreMiguel de la Torre (left) is a friend of mine–and a rising voice in baptist theology in the 21st C.  He is one of the leading voices of Latino-American Liberation theology today–which is funny considering that he was once a staunch Republican who sold real estate in Miami.

Born in Cuba just months before the Castro revolution, Miguel’s family escaped to the U.S. when he was 6 months old.  For awhile, the U.S. government considered him to be an “illegal immigrant” (as they did the part of my family that came from Ireland during the late 19th C. and, finding the quota on Irish filled that year, stuck across the Canadian border).  He grew up in Queens, was baptized and confirmed into the Catholic Church while his parents became priest and priestess in the Caribbean religion of Santeria.  He left Queens and moved to Miami in his teens. 

At 19, Miguel formed his own real estate company, earned an M.P.A. from American University (Washington, D.C.), founded the West Dade Young Republicans, and eventually became president of the Miami Board of Realtors.  In 1988, he ran for Congress but lost in the Republican primary to Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL -115), who still holds that seat. 

In his early 20s, Miguel’s life took some dramatic turns.  He became a “born again” Christian and joined University Baptist Church by believers’ baptism.  Feeling called to gospel ministry, he dissolved his highly successful real estate company to finance his theological education, beginning at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY (where we met–Miguel helped me hone my mediocre Spanish enough that I could pass Theological Spanish for grad school and study Latin American liberation theologies in the original–except for the brothers Boff, who, being Brazilian, of course, wrote in Portuguese! ).  He was ordained to the gospel ministry and served as pastor of Goshen Baptist Church in Glen Dean, KY.

Like many of us, Miguel found his seminary experience transforming. Almost against his will, he changed from a social and political conservative to a proponent of liberation theology–who thinks most Democrats are far too tame.   When he completed his M.Div. at SBTS, he entered Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, earning a Ph.D. in Religious Studies, specializing in Christian Ethics and Sociology of Religion.  Miguel has applied social scientific models to study Latino/a religion in the U.S. as well as pioneering in theological ethics from a Latino/a liberationist perspective.

From 1993-2005, Miguel taught Christian Ethics at Hope College, Holland, MI. Hope College is a Christian liberal arts college associated with the Reformed Church of America, and a Latino Baptist somewhat stood out in an institution historically related to Dutch Calvinists–but both African-American and Latino/a students were a rising percentage of enrollment.  Things went mostly fine, Miguel earned tenure, until he wrote a column in the local newspaper that satirized James Dobson’s attacks on the supposed “homosexuality” of the cartoon Spongebob Squarepants. (The article was called, “When the Bible is Used for Hatred.”) Dobson and his supporters caused enough trouble for Miguel that he eventually resigned his tenure and moved to Denver, CO.  Since 2005, Miguel de la Torre has been Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology, an ecumenical and interfaith theological seminary connected to the United Methodist Church.  [Corrected slightly per comments from BDW] Formerly,  regular columnist for EthicsDaily, now more often for Associated Baptist Press, Miguel is a prolific author–so much so that I will only list below the books he has authored by himself. He also co-authored several books, edited others, and contributed articles to dictionaries, journals, chapters in books, and magazines and newspapers.  In all these ways, he is a powerful influence–a new voice and face to 21st C. Baptist (and baptist) theology in North America.

A partial bibliography of Miguel de la Torre’s works include:

Reading the Bible from the Margins. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2002. Personal note: This was a groundbreaking and very challenging work. I REALLY advise reading this–several times.

The Quest for the Cuban Christ:  A Historical Search. Gainesville, FL:  University Press of Florida, 2002.

La Lucha for Cuba:  Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami.  Berkeley, CA:  University of California Press, 2003.

Santeria:  The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2004.

Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2004. Not quite as ecclesiocentric as this Anabaptist-type would desire, there is still much that is essential in this fantastic book.

A Lily Among the Thorns:  Imagining a New Christian Sexuality.  Jossey-Bass, 2007. Haven’t had time to read this one, yet, but want to do so. Miguel goes where angels fear to tread.

Liberating Jonah:  Toward a Biblical Ethics of Reconciliation.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2007.  Excellent.

Trails of Hope and Terror:  Testimonies on the Current Immigration Debate.  Maryknoll, NY:  Orbis Books, 2009.  I have this one on order.

Social Justice from a Latina/o Perspective:  Constructing a Latina/o Ethics of Survival.  Waco, TX:  Baylor University Press, Forthcoming in 2010.

Genesis:  A Theological Commentary on the Bible.  Louisville, KY:  Westminster/John Knox Press, Forthcoming in 2011.

If I were to add all the co-authored and edited books or his chapter contributions, you’d wonder how Miguel de la Torre ever finds time to teach his class or be with his family! I envy his ability to write faster than I can read!  And I commend his works to you heartily. You will find his perspectives challenging, always.

September 27, 2009 Posted by | anabaptists, Baptists, theology | 17 Comments

C. Melissa Snarr: A New Voice in baptist Theology

SnarrMelissaUnlike the last entry in this series, I do not know Dr. Snarr personally: We’ve missed each other at meetings of the Society of Christian Ethics and the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion.  We’ve never met, though we have mutual friends.  But my encounter with her work leads me to believe she will soon be a very important voice in baptist life and thought.

Dr. Snarr’s areas of scholarship and teaching include:  Christian political thought; Christian theological ethics; Feminist theological ethics; Contemporary Islamic political thought; Ethics pedagogy; Sociology of Morality; Social Movement Theory; and Sociology of Religion.  She is an activist-scholar in the contemporary U.S. Living Wage struggle and in struggles for gender justice and equal  justice for all sexual orientations.

A 1992 graduate (B.A., Religious Studies and Philosophy, magna cum laude) of Furman University (a historic, very selective, private university in Greenville,  SC, rooted in the non-creedal, Free Church/Baptist tradition), Snarr was a scholar-athlete who won numerous awards and honors.  She earned her Master of Divinity degree at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (magna cum laude) in 1995.  After spending time working in church-related social work and social movement struggles, Snarr finished her Ph.D. from Emory University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Program in Religion (Ethics and Society) in 2004.  After working for Emory’s Servant Leadership School and Emory’s Center for Ethics, Dr. Snarr became Assistant Professor of Ethics and Society at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville, TN. She also serves as core faculty in Vanderbilt’s Graduate Department of Religion and is affiliate faculty in the undergraduate School of Arts and Sciences where she teaches Women and Gender Studies and Community Research and Action.

Dr. Snarr is an active member of Glendale Baptist Church in Nashville–a progressive congregation affiliated with the Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship , and American Baptist Churches, USA and is a partner congregation with the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America and a member of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.  It’s a great congregation, co-pastored by Dr. Amy Mears and Rev. April Baker.

Snarr’s doctoral work focused on differing Christian views of moral formation how that effects their political participation.  This has been recently published as Social Reforms and Political Selves:  Five Visions in Contemporary Christian Ethics.  London: T & T Clark/Continuum International, 2007.  Focusing on the differing views of social selves held by Christian social ethicists Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr, Stanley Hauerwas, Beverly Harrison, and Emily Townes, she identifies strengths and risks in their views and considers their adequacy for producing social reforms.  She concludes the book by arguing for six core convictions about the social self that might form a Christian social ethic capable of responding to our current crises.

Snarr’s sec0nd book(forthcoming), like the majority of her social activism, focuses on the role(s) religion and gender play in the U.S. movement for a living wage.  I look forward to All You Who Labor:  Religion and Ethics in the U.S. Living Wage Movement (New York: New York University Press, 2010).  She is teaching courses on religion and war in an age of terror (comparing Christian and Islamic views) that I hope will issue in another book.

It’s easy to see that Melissa Snarr is a figure to watch in baptist life and thought.

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, feminism, progressive faith, theology | 3 Comments

David Fillingim: A New Voice in baptist Theology

david_fillingimMy friend, David Fillingim, currently Associate Professor of Philosophy, Shorter College, Rome, GA, will be annoyed to find himself listed as a “new voice” in baptist theology because he has always insisted that he “doesn’t believe in theology.” If you press him hard, he’ll break down and admit that what he really means is that he doesn’t believe in systematic theology. A native born Georgian (with a soft drawl that was pleasantly out of place amidst the twangier sounds of Kentucky when I knew David as a fellow Ph.D. student of Glen Stassen at SBTS in the early ’90s) with a Southerner’s Faulknerian sense of narrative, and tragedy, and the giveness of place and people, David knows that theology, like life, is too messy to come in neat systems–and so is God.  To me, that makes him a perfect candidate for this series of brief profiles of “not-yet-famous” voices in baptist/Believers’ Church life.

First, the bare facts. Born and raised in the absolutely beautiful seaside city of Savannah, GA, the son of a family physician, Fillingim grew up in the same kind of conservative-but-non-fundamentalist Baptist life that produced former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. He was cross-pollinated by  the more radical stream represented by Clarence Jordan and Koinonia Partners (Americus, GA) and Black Baptist life–during a childhood that saw segregation end, and teen years and adult life that never quite saw racism healed. (Glimpses of healing occur across the South, and across the nation, daily, but there are always setbacks.) He was educated at Mercer University (Macon, GA),  Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Wake Forest, NC), finishing his Master of Divinity there just as the fundamentalists took over that institution. He pursued his Ph.D. in Christian Ethics (under my own Doktorvater, Glen H. Stassen) at SBTS in Louisville, KY–even as the fundamentalists closed in on it. (David said he felt like Jonah, bringing darkness whereever he went!) His major influence include Clarence Jordan, Will D. Campbell, Morris Ashcraft, Elizabeth Barnes, Glen H. Stassen, Paul D. Simmons, Henlee H. Barnette, H. Richard Niebuhr, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Of Bonhoeffer, Fillingim has said that he finds it impossible just to relate to him on an intellectual level, always responding to Bonhoeffer as a novice contemplative responds to a spiritual guide. (There is another set of influences to which we’ll attend in a moment.)

After finishing his academic work, Fillingim taught for several years at Chowan College in North Carolina before coming to Shorter College. He has returned  to his home state of GA, but lives now at the opposite end (NW instead of SE) from his childhood home.

Fillingim has written or edited 3 books.  Extreme Virtues:  Living at the Prophetic Edge with a foreword by Glen H. Stassen  (Herald Press, 2003) is a contribution to “virtue ethics” or the “ethics of character” rooted in a study of the biblical prophets.  Too much of the literature of virtue ethics, even when written by Christians, is more indebted to the writings of Aristotle (and modern Aristotelians like Alisdair McIntyre) than  to the biblical literature, but Fillingim’s contribution is a welcome exception.  According to Fillingim, the virtues extolled by the biblical prophets are:  self-sacrifice, personal responsibility, justice, steadfast love, hope, courage, and peace.  I expect more in this line to come, perhapps from the Gospels, which, following Jesus himself, were deeply informed by the prophets.

Fillingim’s other two books show a second side to his scholarship:  the relation of Southern religion to aspects of Southern popular culture,  especially musical culture.  A guitarist himself, Fillingim wrote Redneck Liberation:  Country Music as Theology, Music and the American South series (Mercer University Press, 2003).  Here Fillingim stands in company with Methodist theologian Tex Sample in studying blue-collar culture for clues to its religious life. (See Tex Sample, White Soul:  Country Music, the Church, and Working Americans [Abingdon Press, 1996], and Tex Sample, Blue Collar Resistance and the Politics of Jesus:  Doing Ministry with Working Class Whites [Abingdon Press, 2006].) But Fillingim’s initial inspiration, other than the music itself, and the love of Country music by his icon, the maverick Baptist minister,  Will D. Campbell,  was Black Liberation theologian James H. Cone’s The Spirituals and the Blues (Orbis Books, 1972, rev. ed., 1992).  Fillingim centers on the “hillbilly humanism” of Hank Williams (Sr.), the eschatological hope portrayed in strands of Country music, and the tension between subordinationist and feminist strands among female Country artists.  I would like to have seen a chapter on the tension between strands of Country which glorify nationalism, militarism and violence (e.g., Toby Keith or Lee Greenwood) and those which resist these features of Southern  culture (e.g, John Denver, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson).

Finally, to this point in the witness of this “new voice,” is More Than Precious Memories:  The Rhetoric of Southern Gospel Music, ed. Michael  P. Graves and David Fillingim (Mercer University Press, 2004).  This edited work is similar in genre to Redneck Liberation but concentrates on Southern Gospel– church approved Southern white music which stands in the same kind of tension with Country music as the Spirituals do with the Blues.  Graves and Fillingim co-wrote the introduction “More Than Precious Memories” and Fillingim’s chapters include “Oft Made to Wonder: Southern Gospel as Theodicy,” and Appendix: “Flight from Liminality: “Home” in Country and Gospel Music.”  In all these cases we see the recurring Fillingim theme that the distinctive music of Southern culture reflects and illuminates the best and worst of real lives of faith and doubt and brokeness and hope among working class white Southerners.

Fillingim clearly has a strong sense of place: These are my people, no matter what.  It is not uncritical and seeks change–away from the historic racism, sexism, heterosexism, militaristic nationalism, and violence of Southern culture.  But Fillingim’s loyalties to the South also lead him to see its best features and to feel that they are threatened by globalized mass market “culture” and the acids of both modernity and post-modernity.  His is a theology of resistance and hope–that speaks and sings with a soft patrician Georgian drawl. Like Hank Williams, sometimes Fillingim doubtless is “so lonesome [he] could cry,” but is sustained because he “saw the Light.”

Here is a baptist theological voice from the South to watch closely for more to come.

August 29, 2009 Posted by | anabaptists, Baptists, ethics, theology | 17 Comments

New Series: New Voices in baptist Theology

Starting this weekend, I’ll begin this series. Looking at the “not yet famous” important voices in the “baptist” or Believers’ Church tradition.  I may start another series looking at other important new voices, but I think it always important to know one’s own tradition, first.

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, theology | Comments Off on New Series: New Voices in baptist Theology

Mentors #7: Dan R. Stiver

stiver It’s been awhile since I last added to this series on Theological Mentors.  As usual, Danny cannot be held responsible for my theological errors–since that’s doubtless due to my being a poor student. 

Dan R. Stiver currently occupies the Cook-Derrick Chair of Theology at Logsdon School of Theology, Hardin-Simmons University, in Abilene, TX.  Logsdon and HSU are related to the Baptist General Convention of Texas and is a partner institution with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.  When I knew Danny, he was Professor of Christian Philosophy at my alma mater, The (old) Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY (before the fundamentalist takeover of the early ’90s).

Dan is a product of Midwestern American upbringing (Springfield, MO) and of the old “moderate” or non-fundamentalist stream of Southern Baptist life.  He was educated at William Jewell College in Missouri, an institution with both Southern Baptist and American Baptist ties. He then earned his Master of Divinity at Midwestern BTS in Kansas City, MO.  He earned his Ph.D. in theology at SBTS where he was the last doctoral student of the late Southern Baptist giant, Dale Moody.  He has held pastorates in Missouri and Indiana.  A theologian with a philosophical bent (not all that common for the Baptist tradition), Danny taught Christian philosophy at SBTS for 14 years, from 1984 to 1998. (I arrived in his classroom in 1986–he’d had enough teaching experience to be confident and still enough passion and experimentation to excite students who were often  unsure why they, as student ministers, had to study anything philosophical! In the last year of college, I had discovered Karl Barth and so came to seminary with a decidedly anti-philosophical bent!)

I was worred that theologies which rely over much on philosophy, whether the Platonic metaphysics that influenced the Church Fathers (didn’t know there were Church Mothers then), the Aristotelian thought behind Thomism, liberal process theology, Kantianism, etc. were always diluting the gospel and distorting it–either in conservative or liberal or some other direction.  I found that Danny was far from naive about these problems, but that he believed that all theology must interact with various philosophical currents (ancient, contemporary)–even if they are wary of substituting a philosophical “foundation.” or starting place for the Church’s One foundation, Jesus Christ the Lord. Theology is interacts with philosophy as part of its missionary nature.

It was Dan’s genius to mentor students who took VERY DIFFERENT approaches to theology and were attracted to different philosophical currents: From evangelical rationalists who were disciples of Carl Henry, to process theologians (either in the form of the evolutionary theology proposed by Dan’s own teacher, British Baptist Eric Charles Rust, or in the more dominant Whitehead-Hartshorne school), to Marxist-inclined liberation theologians, to “post-structualist” Deconstructionists.  After freeing myself from an inordinate fear of philosophy (while remaining alert for the subversion of the gospel by alien thought forms), I found that my own philosophical interests were quite  eclectic: My deep  respect for Martin Luther King, Jr. led me to read the Boston Personalists and my fascination with Dorothy Day led to the very different Catholic Personalists, especially Jacques Maritain. My attraction to liberation theology kept me critically engaged with Marx (and heterodox Marxists like Gramsci, Bloch, and Enrique Dussel) and my interest in Jewish thought led to Buber and Heschel.  Dan encouraged all of this and more.

It took awhile, then, to grap Danny’s own philosophical interests, except to think he’d read everything and everyone twice over! (He hadn’t, but it sure felt that way!) Dan has strong interests in philosophy of language, especially religious language and has been a major dialogue partner in the modern/post-modern divide, without being wholly in the “camp” of either the Deconstructionists and Post-Structuralists (Foucault, Levinas, Lyotard, etc.) or that of the “Anglo-American” post-modernists (influenced by J.L. Austin and the later Wittgenstein). His first book, The Philosophy of Religious Language: Sign, Symbol, and Story (1996) mapped the lay of the land and staked out some of his own ground.  It is clear that the Catholics Hans Kueng and David Tracy, as well as the Reformed Juergan Moltmann and the Baptist Langdon Gilkey, as well as Dan’s own teacher, Dale Moody, were large influences. 

   It was also clear that Dan was attracted to narrative theology (an interest I shared), but more from the perspective of Paul Ricoeur (1913-2005) than to Hans Frei or Hans Gadamer.  I had stumbled onto Ricoeur myself both because of my strong attraction to narrative theology (Ricoeur helps one weave together narrative and liberationist strains in a way that I think Frei does not) and my commitment to pacifism–Ricoeur himself was a Christian pacifist–although still drafted into the French army in WWII. (Ricoeur was quickly captured and spent the war in a German concentration camp, teaching philosophy!)  But Ricoeur’s work is so large and so wide-ranging that I never knew what I  thought of the project as a whole. Dan was a tremendous help with his second book, Theology After Ricoeur: New Directions in Hermeneutical Theology (2001).

Dan eventually came to be part of my doctoral dissertation committee and, although mine was a work on theological ethics, he kept me seeing how my project fit into larger conversations in philosophical theology.  I THINK it was Danny who  once told me that there was a large difference between Christian philosophers who were trained first as theologians and those who, however theologically well informed, only had philosophy degrees. (Surprisingly, the latter are often more conservative than the former, as a survey of the Society of Christian Philosophy will show!) That’s been Dan’s main influence: introducing me to conversations and dialogue partners rather than teaching me HIS views on everything.

In fact, I still don’t know Dan”s views on a great number of things. I’d love to see him write his own systematic theology! I don’t know if he shares my Christian commitment to pacifism, although I do know that he is deeply committed to Christian peacemaking and  human rights and is a member of the Baptist  Peace Fellowship of North America. (We have to get Danny to one of our summer conferences, peace camps, sometime.)  I know little about his politics except that he is a registered Democrat and, like all true Baptists, a STRONG advocate for church-state separation and for religious liberty for EVERYONE. 

If I am a provocateur, Dan is more of a mediator. He likes to get people of very diverse opinions engaged in real dialogue and see if new insights emerge.  There is something DEEPLY, profoundly Christian about that and I hope I learn more of it from my friend and teacher.

August 9, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, mentors, peacemaking, philosophy, theological education, theology | 2 Comments

Baptist Peacemaker Robert Broome Dies: R.I.P.

Robert Broome of Louisville, KY, a Baptist layperson and pioneer peacemaker died on 11 July ’09 while visiting family in Asheville, NC, ending a long battle with cancer.  Broome, 66, was a member of Deer Park Baptist Church and instrumental in launching The Baptist Peacemaker (now in its 29th year of publication) and in getting Deer Park BC to host the historic meeting in 1984 where scattered Southern Baptist peace activists met with leaders of the (American) Baptist Peace Fellowship and out of that conference forged the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America.

July 16, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, Obituaries | Comments Off on Baptist Peacemaker Robert Broome Dies: R.I.P.

Paul M. Martin Named President of ABSW

paulmmartinRev. Dr. Paul M. Martin, has been named the next President of American Baptist Seminary of the West (Berkeley, CA) on 23 March 2009.  He has been Interim President since the retirement of Pres. Keith Russell in July 2008 and will be installed as ABSW’s first African-American president on 1 July 2009.  With this election, Dr. Martin becomes the first African-American president of a Baptist-related seminary other than a historically black seminary.  (OOPS.  Until reminded by Dan Schweissing (Haitian Ministries), American Baptist missionary who blogs at Doing Theology from the Caribbean,  I’d forgotton that Dr. James Evans, who teaches theology at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School, was president there for about 10 years.)

Founded in 1871 as Berkeley Baptist Divinity School, American Baptist Seminary of the West is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches, USA and is a member institution of the Graduate Theological Union(Berkeley), an ecumenical consortium of 9 theological  seminaries which offers post-graduate theological degrees (Th.D., and Ph.D.) through the University of California at Berkeley.  Dr. Martin pursued his undergraduate work at Pepperdine University, his Master of Divinity at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Divinity, a historic Black seminary attached to the historic Black Virginia Union University, an institution related to both American Baptists and National Baptists.  Dr. Martin earned his Ph.D. at The California Graduate School of Theology.

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, theological education | 3 Comments

Book Review: We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land

peace-in-holy-land2Jimmy Carter, We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land:  A Plan That Will Work. Simon and Schuster, 2009.


Full disclosure: 1. Jimmy Carter is one of my heroes. I voted for him when I turned 18 and took his loss to a B-grade movie actor almost as hard as he did.  2. Like Carter, I have a deep passion for a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine–a just peace.

Those biases do not blind me, however.  I recognize that Carter was only an average president (you have to win reelection to have a chance at being a great president, even though second terms are usually much rougher than first ones).  Since his good diplomatic skills abroad were not matched with an ability to get even his own party to cooperate domestically, perhaps Carter would have made a better Secretary of State than president.  Even his human rights policy wasn’t perfect–if he hadn’t backed the Shah, perhaps the Iranian revolution would not have turned in an anti-Western direction and history would have been very different.  Carter’s great record in his post-presidency cannot make up for the average job he did as president.

I also know that the odds are stacked against a Middle East peace deal.  In fact, the odds have been getting worse since 2001:  After the collapse of the Clinton-backed talks, Ariel Sharon deliberately provoked the Second (more violent) Intifada and Arafat and the Palestinians played right into that.  Whereas the first Intifada had been led by a nonviolent wing (allthough the Western media focused on those, like the stone throwing youths, who broke nonviolent discipline), the 2nd Intifada centered on suicide bombers–many of them women!  Then came the Likud election of Netanyahu and then Sharon and things got continually bloodier while Bush didn’t care.  Then came the re-occupation of the West Bank, Arafat a prisoner in his own compound, civilian deaths skyrocketed and the suicide bombings increased.  Then Israel built its “security fence,” a huge wall that ate up miles of Palestinian land and turned large sections of the West Bank into giant  open air prisons.  Plus the constant bulldozing of Palestinian homes. Then, after Arafat’s death, the Palestinians became frustrated with a weakened Fatah in charge of the Palestinian Authority and elected Hamas–which led to an ever worse situation. Civil war broke out in the Territories and Fatah claimed the West Bank and Hamas got Gaza.  The Hamas rocket attacks (even if mostly missing any targets) were designed to provoke a disproportionate response and they succeeded–With the Israeli total war against Gaza.  Just when things seem like they can’t get any worse, Israeli politics takes a sharp turn to the FAR Right. For although the Kamida Party won the most votes, they don’t have enough to form a government, not even in coalition with Labor.  So, Netanyahu and Likud will return to power in coalition with rightwingers so extreme (like Avigdor Liebermann) that even the ISRAELI press likens them to “Jewish fascists.” In such a context, can any peace plan be realistic?

When Carter promoted his book and plan on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show (my favorite cable news program, hosted by the only out-lesbian in U.S. broadcast journalism–a young Rhodes scholar with a D.Phil. in political science from Oxford and a veteran of the liberal radio network, Air America–and a quirky sense of humor), Maddow asked him if the (then-upcoming) Israeli elections would make a difference in the chances for peace.  He said that the particular cabinet would mean more, although he was clear that a Likud victory would be a setback.  But Carter puts his hope in several facts which give us a window (but narrow one) for a lasting peace:

  • Despite all the negative events and crimes on both sides, vast majorities on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide (upward of 80%) still favor a two-state peace solution.  No matter who is in power in either side, those numbers MUST push them to peace–especially if the U.S. and Europe prods them.
  • The basic shape of a successful, lasting peace deal has been agreed to IN PRINCIPLE by all parties since the late ’70s:  The Israel-Palestine borders return to the pre-1967 ones (these are the only borders that have been recognized by international law); Israel removes the Jewish settlements from Palestine and either removes the wall or moves it BACK to the border, NOT cutting off any Palestinian land; Palestine is an unarmed state except for police/security forces; Palestine gets a seaport; Jerusalem is a shared city.  These are agreed to by ALL the major parties–the question is how to get there.
  • A major sticking point is the problem of the Jewish settlers in the West Bank.  Carter suggests removing only about 85% of them, leaving the settlements just outside Jerusalem. IN RETURN, Israel would trade Palestine an equal amount of land, acre by acre, to create a corridor that connects the West Bank and Gaza, making Palestine a far more viable nation state.
  • Another major sticking point is the “right of return.” When Israel was founded in 1948, and again during the 1967 war, thousands of Palestinians lost their homes–some of which had been owned for 2000 years. Under international law, such refugees and their descendants are entitled to return to those homes.  But if ALL the Palestinians returned to homes in Israel, they would outnumber Jewish Israelis, making a Jewish state impossible.  Carter suggests that Palestine could accept in its borders the majority of returnees. Others could be compensated monetarily for lost homes.
  • A solution of this kind has been proposed for years.  A few years  ago, the Arab League sweetened the deal for Israel:  IF they would agree to such a two-state peace, then EVERY MEMBER of the Arab League would not only recognize Israel’s right to exist, but cease harboring pro-Palestinian terrorist groups and open FULL DIPLOMATIC relations with Israel. This is something Israel has wanted for over 50 years: It would greatly strengthen its security and economy. To date, only Egypt and Jordan, out of the Arab League, recognize Israel–and the recent Gaza war has led many in their publics to call for cutting off these diplomatic ties.
  • There are Arabic citizens of Israel, not just in Palestine.  Because Israel’s birthrate is  low and Diaspora Jews no longer are moving to Israel, the high-birth Arab Israelis are threatening to soon outnumber the Jewish Israelis.  This would be sped up considerably if Israel simply tried to annex the Palestinian territories. This would mean the death of a Jewish state.  This demographic clock (which all in Israel know about) pushes even the most hawkish Israeli to try to find a peaceful two state solution before it runs out and demographics destroy the Israeli experiment as 50 plus years of war never could.
  • There is also a clock for Palestine: the desperation and despair of the youth.  The rise in suicide bombings  is a sign of a lack of hope for the future.  Between the settlements and the Israeli army, Palestine could soon find it impossible to HAVE a viable state.
  • The Obama administration, unlike the Bush administration, is very interested in a two-state peace.  Obama did not reveal just HOW MUCH he was interested in this until after the election. During the campaign he said far more about the imperative of U.S. protection of Israel than  he ever did about the rights of Palestinians.  It is now clear that he was keeping the pro-Israel Right from using his concern for a Middle East peace as a “wedge issue” to win the election and put the hawkish McCain in the White House.  But since the election, and even more since inauguration, Obama has signalled that U.S.-Israeli-Palestinian relations are changing:  He placed his first presidential overseas phone call to the head of the Palestinian Authority. He appointed George Mitchell as special envoy for Middle East peace. (Mitchell, a former U. S. Senator, was instrumental in negotiating peace in Northern Ireland. He also has street cred with both Palestinians and Israelis.) Obama has warned Israel against more Jewish settlements in the territories–even threatening to cut off U.S. military support.

So, while making peace in the Holy Land will be hard, it is not impossible.  Carter’s book is a step-by-step plan to get it done and he has been advising Obama on this since the election.  And Carter, we remember, negotiated the 1978 Camp David Accords which led directly to the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty– not one line of which has ever been violated. 

It seems to me that the level of distrust between Palestinians and Israelis is the major obstacle to peace–and requires outside intervention.  The U.S. must be a major player not because of any U.S. peace virtues (if we even HAVE any) but because we are the one nation Israel CANNOT ignore–they depend heavily upon us for economic and military support.  The European Union and the Arab League must be deeply involved because Palestinians need them.

Like Carter, I have deep faith-based reasons to care deeply about this: Christians are to be peacemakers; we have a sense of solidarity with Palestinian Christians–many of whose communities date back to the very first generation of Christians; we have a sense of solidarity with Jews  because our faith is the daughter of Judaism; we have (or should have) a sense of solidarity with mainstream Muslims because ours is a sister faith.  We want a peaceful land that is Holy to all  3 of the Abrahamic monotheistic faiths.  We won’t agree on whether Jesus is the Messiah or the Son of God (God has no children, say Muslims and the Trinity is disguised polytheism say Jews), but we have much else in common and deep reasons to see peace come to the Holy Land.  For Carter this is the cause of his life because he believes it is the very will of God.

But American citizens, whether or not they share anything like Carter’s religious reasons for working for Middle East peace, have deep reasons of self interest to push for success here.  1)The plight of the Palestinians is the NUMBER ONE recruiting tool  for extremist, anti-Western Islamist groups that promote  violence and terrorism.  Some of them, like Hezbollah, are sincere, but many are simply cynically using the Palestinians for their own ends.  In any case, a two-state peace robs these groups of their single biggest recruiting tool. It robs Hezbollah of a reason to exist!  As Arab League nations said to  then-Sec. of State Colin Powell in 2002 when he was trying to recruit allies for the invasion of Iraq–it would be better to make peace between Israel and Palestine. Such a peace is the single-biggest blow to Islamist terorists possible. 2) The U.S.’ apparent one-sided support for Israel channels this concern for the Palestinians into a hatred of America if such hatred were not there previously. 3) The Israel/Palestine fued and series of wars and crises is a drain on U.S. resources: in terms of the level of military support to Israel (our largest % of foreign aid, of all types, is military aid to Israel) and in terms of constant drain on our diplomatic resources. 4) The constant humanitarian crises in Palestine is also a drain on our resources–an economically stable and peaceful  Palestine would not need such support from either Europe or the U.S. 5) We get a constant influx of Palestinian refugees into the United States–it’s amazing that none of the anti-immigrant Lou Dobbs types don’t rail against this.  Our already over stressed social safety net (whose strength was eroded by GOP fiscal priorities long before the current economic crisis) doesn’t need the added burden–and it is inevitable that a few extremists come in with the legitimate refugees. 6) A prosperous and peaceful Israel and Palestine could import U.S. exports, helping us get out of recession.

So, there are many compelling pragmatic as well as moral reasons to invest heavily in Middle East peace.  It won’t be easy–and the recent Israeli elections are the biggest obstacle since the Palestinians elected Hamas!  But it CAN be done–and Jimmy Carter’s book outlines the way forward.

UPDATE:  Even as he is forming his government, new PM Netanyahu is telling reporters that he will work with Obama for peace with Palestine.  While his past record should make us skeptical, we should also see this as a hopeful sign that even Netanyahu realizes that the political context has changed.  Now, if only Obama will push all parties equally instead of returning to the usual U.S. carrot and stick policy:  all carrots for Israel and all sticks for Palestine.

February 22, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, books, foreign policy, Israel-Palestine, Jimmy Carter, just peacemaking, terrorism prevention | 13 Comments

New Proof that Richard Land is a Moron

Richard Land, head of the misnamed “Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission” of the Southern Baptist Convention is a moron.  Oh, he has a Ph.D. from Oxford in Church History–and is fairly competent in the area of his narrow specialization.  But they should never have given him a job where he has to speak regularly on things like ethics, faith and public policy, church-state matters, etc.  That’s his job and he sucks eggs at it.

Latest proof of this is found in this article in which Land claims that the recently expanded State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP) is a Trojan Horse for “socialized medicine.”  Only the UK really has “socialized medicine,” Mr. Land. Yes, in the British system doctors and health care workers work directly for the government–and the people LIKE it that way. (Don’t believe me: Ask yourself why even PM Maggie Thatcher didn’t DARE to privatize healthcare in the UK.  She would’ve lost an immediate vote of no confidence in Parliament and lost early elections–while protesters would have been at #10 Downing Street day and night until she was run out of town on a rail, “Iron Lady” or no!)  But Canada, France, New Zealand, Australia and most other Western democracies have “socialized health insurance” rather than socialized medicine.  Most doctors are still in private practice.  It’s just that everyone is covered by a single insurance program paid for by their federal taxes.

Land thinks S-CHIP will crowd out private health insurance.  I doubt it.  Not by itself.  We NEED universal, not-for-profit healthcare in a single-payer system like Canada’s.  The easiest way to get there would be to expand Medicare to cover everyone.  But this is a GOOD THING–not an evil.  No one would fall through the cracks.  EVERYONE could get help when sick. The poor could stop using emergency rooms for primary care.  The U.S. could stop having infant mortality rates that are as low as some Third World countries. 

Further, it would help in our current economic mess.  What is the largest labor cost for big businesses? Employee health benefits.  This makes U.S. firms less competitive with foreign companies.  If General Motors was a Canadian company, even with the same poor management and same bad business model, it would not have needed a government loan last December–because it would have saved approx. $22 billion (rough estimate from GM back in December–I no longer have the source) in labor costs per annum!  Think how much cheaper we could make U.S. products without such labor costs.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy.  Well, if entrepeneur Smith has a brand new idea  for a business in nation with socialized health insurance, Smith can quit his job without losing health benefits and open up his business without worrying about how he can either provide health insurance for employees (much harder for small businesses to do this ) or attract good employees without such a benefit. 

And small family farmers can also have an easier time–not having to worry about either doing without or buying expensive insurance individually.

Medical expenses would drop in a few years time for several reasons:  1. Much less paperwork. The scores of people needed to deal with the huge number of forms for various insurance companies would stop clogging the system.  2. People would go to  the doctor sooner and catch things early–which extends life and cuts costs.  3. Since hospitals and other institutions would not be motivated by profit (just not losing money),  we would see less inflated costs. 4. The latter would be helped by placing caps on the size profits that Big Pharma can make with its drugs.

If S-CHIP is a tiny step on this road, as Land thinks, then that’s a good thing.  I want to see much bigger steps, such as supporting Medicare for ALL Americans. (Did you know that currently the only Americans with a Constitutional right to healthcare are convicted criminals in prison? Otherwise it is a form of cruel and unusual punishment and banned by the 8th Amendment.  That’s good for the prisoners–and bad for the rest of us.)  But even then  it wouldn’t be “socialized medicine,” just “socialized health insurance.”

Now why would a Christian minister (follower of One who passed out free healthcare miraculously all the time!) be against healthcare for children?

February 11, 2009 Posted by | Baptists, economic justice, ethics, healthcare | 11 Comments