Fundagelical Watch

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Rest in Peace

Bob passed away in his sleep the morning of March 1st. He was the love of my life and I mourn the days we no longer have and the work left undone. Although this blog was his, looking fundagelicalism square in the eye and standing up to it is something we have done jointly. I will continue to do so in some format.

Bob, I love you!

For, though you die, La Resistance lives on


Friday, February 29, 2008

John Hagee Endorses McCain and William Donohue is Outraged

Don't you just love it when bigots collide? On Wednesday, Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio's huge Cornerstone Church (and a daily staple on the Trinity Broadcasting Network) endorsed John McCain, and William Donohue, President of the Catholic League, is beside himself. Hagee has a long history of anti-Catholic remarks, like calling the Catholic Church "The Great Whore," an "apostate church," and "The anti-Christ."

Problem is, Donohue himself has a history of anti-Semitism. I'll never forget watching him on MSNBC in December, 2004, complaining that Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" wasn't going to get any Oscar recognition because "Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular....Hollywood likes anal sex."

Wow, can these two ever be reconciled? Yes, as a matter of fact, I think they can. Hagee has had a penchant over the years for injecting references to The Illuminati/Jewish Bankers Conspiracy into his sermons. I've seen him do it. In fact, the very first item I ever posted on this blog back on September 9, 2005, was shortly after watching Hagee on TBN explaining how the Seder is really a Christian ritual (although the Jews apparently don't know it) celebrating the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. (Pastor Hagee has always denied any charges of anti-Semitism because he is such a big supporter of Israel.)

I do really think these two should get together and resolve their differences. They seem to have a lot in common and could become good friends.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Did IRS Target Obama's Church Because of Peace Petition and Arrest of UCC President outside White House?

You have to ask the question. Last October, UCC President Rev. John Thomas attempted to deliver an anti-war petition with 60,000 signatures to President Bush. He and a colleague were denied access, and, when they refused to leave, they were arrested for remaining in a "no protest" zone. Earlier this week the IRS notified the national UCC that they had begun an investigation into the church's tax exempt status because the UCC General Synod invited Senator Barack Obama, a UCC member, to speak at its convention in Hartford, Connecticut last June. Every precaution was taken at the General Synod Convention to obey the law. Attending pastors were told not to wear anything other than celebratory clothing and buttons that pertained to the 50th anniversary of the UCC. One Obama supporter managed to get into the upper lobby, far away from the hall, and was promptly ushered out. Delegates were told that Obama was there only to speak on how his faith inspired him in his work.

Is this investigation just a coincidence? Ask Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

IRS Investigates United Church of Christ for Obama Speech

The Bush Internal Revenue Service has opened an investigation into the tax exempt status of the United Church of Christ for hosting a speech by Senator Barack Obama at its General Synod in Hartford, Connecticut last June. The story has already hit major news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Miami Herald, ABC News, and MSNBC.

This is yet another outrageous abuse of power by a government agency under the Bush/Cheney administration. As a press release issued today by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State makes clear, there is no merit to this investigation because there was no endorsement of the senator's presidential candidacy. Obama is simply a high ranking public official who happens to be a member of a UCC congregation in Chicago.

The IRS under the current admiinistration seems to be highly selective in which complaints about church involvement in politics it chooses to investigate. Even though I've searched and searched, I can find no evidence, for example, that the IRS has actually pursued an investigation into Columbus' World Harvest Church Pastor Rod Parsley's questionable activities during the 2004 Ohio election campaign. This despite a complaint filed over two years ago by 31 Ohio clergy. I posted a story on Parsley's reaction to the complaint on March 8, 2006. It doesn't seem as funny now as it did then.

I say that because, in the interest of full disclosure, my wife and I are also members of a UCC congregation, and, while our church has certainly never endorsed a candidate, we do, well within the law, take positions on public issues based on scriptural principles.

Meanwhile, Pastor Parsley is still at it. I invite you to see and hear him in all his glorious sophistry right here.

Meet Howard Ahmanson, Jr., the Money behind the Fundagelical Movement

Just as you often hear on PBS, "Major funding for this program is provided by....," if you look at a plethora of extremist Christian Right organizations, you'll find that major funding was provided by Howard Ahmanson, Jr., the reclusive heir to the Home Savings and Loan fortune (now Washington Mutual). Those organizations include the Discovery Institute, the subject of Monday's post, the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a Washington think tank devoted to creating schisms within mainline churches and eventually rooting out the liberal apostates, the movement to limit gay rights and especially to prohibit gay marriage, and the Chalcedon Foundation, the intellectual home of the late Rousas John (R.J.) Rushdoony (1916-2001), founder of the Christian Reconstruction movement and for years Ahmanson's spiritual adviser.

The most complete summary of Ahmanson's activities, at least up to 2004, is an article on by Max Blumenthal, for my money the most aggressive and thorough journalist covering the Christian Right.

Christian Reconstruction, a tiny but very influential movement at the fringe of Calvinism, is based on Rushdoony's 1973 c. 800-page tome, Institutes of Biblical Law (the title a play on John Calvin's Institutes of Christian Religion). His basic argument is that we should scrap the Constitution and put the country under Levitical law and from there conquer the world for Jesus so that He can return. In theological terms, this notion of having to Christianize the world and starting the thousand-year reign of Christ over the earth before the Second Coming is called Postmillennialism, as opposed to Premillennialism, where Christ returns at any moment now and, after 7 years of Tribulation, wins the Battle of Armageddon and puts everything right. I won't get into the arguments among Premillennialists about whether the Rapture of the True Church happens before, during, or after the Tribulation. This stuff can drive you crazy.

Most American fundagelicals claim to be Premillennialists, but their rhetoric often reveals that in many ways they are really Reconstructionist Postmillennialists. Every time you hear televangelists talk about "dominion" or winning souls for Jesus around the world so that Our Lord can come back, they betray the Reconstructionist point of view. Many observers of the Christian Right call this tendency "Dominionism," a watered down version of Rushdoony's Christian Reconstruction. I have to say that I have my doubts about how diluted Dominionism really is compared to Reconstructionism. It seems to me that Dominionist rhetoric is simply a tactic to make the real thing more palatable to Americans.

Gary North, Rushdoony's son-in-law, still runs an operation in Tyler, Texas called the Institute for Christian Economics, which, not surprisingly, puts out tracts arguing that scripture dictates a purely free market economy. It has attracted the support of a lot of fundagelicals who call themselves "libertarians." For how grateful real libertarians are to be endorsed by North's supporters, take a look at a 1998 article on reasononline. As the last paragraph demonstrates, there ain't much liberty in North's "Christian Libertarian" vision:

We must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constituting a Bible-based social, political and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

Can we say Regent University? Can we say Bush Justice Department?

Monday, February 25, 2008

Discovery Institute "Discovers" Inconsistent Use of Establishment Clause

Yesterday morning I was up early savoring my first cup of coffee and looking forward to Sunday School and church when I turned on C-SPAN-2's BookTV and saw an event hosted by the Discovery Institute in Seattle. The Discovery Institute, as you may know, is dedicated to getting intelligent design into public school biology classrooms as an alternative to the "theory" of evolution. The speaker was Dr. John West, a Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute, who was discussing his new book, Darwin Day in America.

I immediately googled Dr. West and found that he has impeccable scientific credentials to be discussing Darwinism. He holds a Ph.D. in Government from The Claremont Graduate School and has taught history and politics at various colleges and universities. I thought, good gosh, I have almost identical credentials, a Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago with a doctorate orals field in political sociology, and I have taught history and politics at various colleges and universities. Maybe I should come out of retirement, move to Seattle, and get a job writing books about Darwinism and discussing them on the Tv. Anyway, I was intrigued, so I watched Dr. West's presentation.

At first I was outraged at what he was telling me--things the "mainstream media" never report. Apparently our tax dollars are going to support liberal religion in schools but not conservative religion. That's just not right. Whether it's Southern Baptist theology or Unitarian-Universalist theology, it has no place in the public classroom. Either way, that's a clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Then I began to calm down as I heard him recite his evidence. It seems there's an organization called The National Center for Science Education (NCSE) headed up by some woman named Eugenie Scott, a physical anthropologist who happens to be president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (the very name is suspect). Worse, Dr. Scott and the NCSE website, said Dr. West, are promoting the idea that religion and evolution are compatible, even going so far as to encourage science teachers to bring liberal clergy into the classroom and send students out into the community to interview liberal clergy who have no problem with evolution.

To top it all off, the National Center for Science Education receives money from the National Science Foundation. Our tax dollars are going to promote liberal religion in the public classroom. As Dr. West put it, "The ACLU would immediately be on the scene" if a teacher brought in a Southern Baptist preacher as a guest speaker. I spent about 2 hours on the NCSE website yesterday, and yes, they do receive NSF funding, but I saw no indication that they were encouraging science teachers to bring in liberal clergy or send students out to interview liberal clergy. Maybe it's there, but I missed it. I did see a list of churches that seem to think evolution and Christianity are compatible, including my own denomination. Maybe that by itself is a violation of the Establishment Clause. I don't know.

I do know (again from Dr. West) that Eugenie Scott is a Humanist, who a few years ago signed something called the Humanist Manifesto III along with such other unsavory characters as Stephen Jay Gould, Katha Pollitt (columnist for The Nation), Michael Shermer (Editor of Skeptic Magazine), Oliver Stone, and Kurt Vonnegut. It was also signed by 22 Nobel Laureates, including Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA.

Then Dr. West lambasted Judge John E. Jones III (a George W. Bush appointee) who ruled in 2005 that the Dover, Pennsylvania School District couldn't include intelligent design in its high school biology classes. Judge Jones' ruling, argued Dr. West, was logically inconsistent because it wouldn't allow conservative religionists to introduce intelligent design because that would violate the Establishment Clause, but he would allow the introduction of liberal religious views that supported evolution.

Now I read Judge Jones' entire decision in Kitzmiller, et al. v. Dover Area School District, et al. the day he issued it in December, 2005, and I read it again yesterday--all 139 pages in pdf format. Nowhere in those 139 pages does Judge Jones say anything about allowing liberal religion into the public classroom. Why should he have? It was never at issue in the trial. (You can google the case, download it and read the full decision, if you like.)

Well, then Dr. West's talk ended and BookTV moved on to something else. I was still looking forward to church because two weeks ago we celebrated Evolution Sunday by asking the Holy Spirit to work within us, praying as Jesus taught us to pray, singing "O Mighty God" (our version of the English Calivinist "How Great Thou Art") and marveling at how God actually did it.

Friday, February 22, 2008

From Rural Kansas to Holocaust Denial

Sometimes when you delve into the background of an obscure local story, you find all sorts of international implications. Take the case of little St. Mary's Academy located in St. Mary's, Kansas (pop. 2198), about 25 miles northwest of Topeka.

On February 13, Sports Illustrated posted an article about how St. Mary's Academy had refused to let a woman referee a boy's basketball game. To their eternal credit, the man who had been scheduled to officiate the game with her and the guy they tried to get as a substitute refused to cooperate and left the gym. Said the latter gentleman, Fred Shockey, a 12-year veteran of the United States Army, "I have been led by some of the finest women this nation has to offer, and there was no way I was going to go along with that."

As it turns out, St. Mary's Academy is owned and operated by the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), an organization founded by French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (1905-1991), who was excommunicated in 1988 by Pope John Paul II (hardly a flaming liberal) for consecrating four priests as bishops without Vatican approval. The SSPX is the world's largest Traditionalist Catholic Society.

Lefebvre became famous for opposing Vatican II. OK, fair enough. That's a theological dispute within the Catholic Church. It's his political views which are truly disturbing. He supported collaboration with the Nazi Vichy regime in France during World War II and publicly praised Spanish dictators Francisco Franco of Spain and Chile's Augusto Pinochet. He also endorsed French right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the neo-fascist Front National.

The Traditionalist Catholic Society is the movement to which actor Mel Gibson and his father, Hutton Gibson, belong. Hutton is an outspoken Holocaust denier. If you can control your gag reflex, check out some selected quotes from the senior Gibson on the Adelaide Institute website under the United States bold heading.

What was it the Kansas Populist orator Mary Lease said? "You farmers need to raise less corn and more hell?" Maybe St. Mary's Academy needs to raise less hell and more corn.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Barna Group Reports Distaste for Fundagelicals among Young Non-Christians and Christians Alike

The Barna Group, a sort of Gallup organization for the Christian Right, published a study last fall that reported disillusionment about fundagelical churches among 16-29 year olds, both non-Christian and Christian. Only 16% of non-Christians have a favorable impression of Christianity in general and only 3% have a favorable impressions of evangelicals. Young non-Christians saw Christianity as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), and too involved in politics (75%).

Even more striking were the opinions of churchgoers in the same age group. To quote the Barna study, "Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political." Young Christians also tend to see evangelicals as expressing "excessive contempt and unloving attitudes toward gays and lesbians."

This feeds into a growing trend among observers of the Christian Right to see a liberalizing movement developing among fundagelicals. See, for example, David Kirkpatrick's influential piece in the New York Times Magazine last October.

I'm skeptical.

First, fundagelical groups have in the past used Barna Group studies to re-double their efforts to proselytize and to sell expensive materials. James Dobson made a mint off of an earlier Barna finding that only 9% of born again Christians had a "biblical world view." I commented on this two years ago, suggesting that the finding ought to prompt sane, honest people to rethink their whole enterprise.

Second, near as I can tell, all the "new" evangelicals have done is add some trendy issues like AIDS, poverty and the environment to their poltical agenda, and it remains unclear what they actually intend to do about them. When I hear that megachurch pastors like Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in California and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church in Illinois are openly welcoming gay people into their congregations as gay people and not as candidates for re-programming, when I hear them supporting a new war on poverty, when I hear them call for stricter regulations and severe penalties for polluting industries, when I hear them advocate something other than abstinence only education and support distributing condoms to people in Africa who are at high risk for contracting the HIV virus, then I'll rethink my position.

Until then, I'll just wait and see.