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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Jewish Prayer

A few things to share tonight. A Jewish friend of ours shared on facebook that she had prayed a beautiful prayer at synagogue at a special service Sunday in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. I asked her about it and she sent it to me. What an expression of memory and spirituality:

At the rising of the sun and at its going down We remember them.
At the blowing of the wind and the chill of winter We remember them.
At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring We remember them.
At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer We remember them.
At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn We remember them.
At the beginning of the year and when it ends We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.
When we are weary and in need of strength
We remember them.
When we are lost and sick at heart We remember them.
When we have joy we crave to share We remember them.
When we have decisions that are difficult to make We remember them.
When we have achievements that are based on theirs We remember them.
As long as we live, they too will live; for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.

Obama’s “Preaching”

I had heard that the president had given quite a rousing speech in the tradition of the black church at a gathering of the Congressional Black Caucus this weekend. He speaks so differently in that setting and at least one African American leader doesn’t appreciate it:

"I want to believe President Obama is better, I really do. These speeches that trade in the tropes and imagery from African American life, while fussing at all of "us" to get to work, are wearing my patience thin. I realize there is a speechwriter behind them, but damn…If this is his idea of being a prophetic voice, I’ll take his boring professorial voice any day. Stop pandering, Mr. President. You can't play Church if you don't know what it really is about."

Suskind’s Obama

I have not read it yet, but I can already see that Ron Suskind’s new book has served a useful purpose: by refocusing on the president’s response to the initial economic crisis of 2008 he reminds us of how much his presidency was shaped by events that occurred before he was sworn in. By saying that I don’t mean to push away his responsibility for his decisions, but rather to refocus on how crucial the decision to lead on TARP even before he was president was to his political future. His uncanny leadership in August of 2008 was a big reason why the country rallied behind him—he was by all accounts the definitive leader behind closed doors when official Washington met at Bush’s invitation at the White House. McCain and Bush are uniformly described in accounts I have read as being indecisive and dependent on Obama’s and Paulson’s leadership (remember the story of Paulson on his knee beseeching Pelosi to support TARP?) Obama’s decisive leadership on TARP may very well have been the right thing for the economy and his campaign, but it locked him into a type of economic team littered with people who had been part of the decade-long lead up to the crisis. The one person he tried to involve in the early stages of his presidency whom I really admired was Paul Volcker. His assessment of Obama in the book is not encouraging: “Obama is smart, but smart is not enough. Leadership is another thing entirely, about knowing your mind enough to make real decisions, ones that last.”

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tabachnick’s Plea to Evangelical Leaders

 As I have said repeatedly publicly and in private correspondence, Rachel Tabachnick is a voice that evangelicals need to listen to. Although I thought she and Talk to Action overstated some of their points, the more I study and the more that they address my concerns with overwhelming evidence, the more credible their charges appear. What continues to trouble me is that there is still relative silence from mainstream evangelical publications and blogs about the substance of her work on the New Apostolic Reformation, dominionism, spiritual mapping, C. Peter Wagner, Governor Perry’s Response prayer rally, etc. The article I wrote for Patheos on how all of this applied to a very significant evangelical Pentecostal leader, the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, has gotten some attention, but none of it from bloggers or publications of the evangelical mainstream. So I want to join my voice with Rachel’s and agree wholeheartedly with this statement of hers:
“It is time for those evangelicals who do not want others to lump them together with the NAR and their activities, to quit attacking the messengers who are warning of this threat to religious pluralism and separation of church and state. Attacking the messengers will only add to the perception that other evangelicals support the Dominionist agenda of the NAR. Denials and suppression of this information will only help advance the steady march of the NAR into more communities, churches, and denominations.”

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Tabachnick was Right, I was Wrong and Why it Matters

It is late on a Saturday night, but I have to write up this blog because Rachel Tabachnick has an important new post up that deserves my immediate response as it directly challenges things Rev. Rodriguez said to me and it refutes questionsI have raised about Truth to Action's reporting.

If you are a regular reader of this blog and my other writings you will by now have read my praise for Tabachnick and the Talk to Action website team that she reports with. More than any other single source, they have shaped the national conversation on the Religious Right over the last two months. At a crucial point this summer, when important questions about the troubling links between Governor Perry, Michelle Bachmann and the New Apostolic Reformation threatened to be derailed by shallow reporting in the mainstream media and a defensive posture from conservative and Christian journalists, Tabachnick gave an extraordinary interview with Tery Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air. Suddenly to any one who had ears to hear it became clear that Perry and Bachmann did not represent “more of the same” evangelical conservatism, and criticism of them was not “more of the same” secular paranoia. Gross’s interview with Tabachnick led me and countless others to the mountain of solid research that Tabachnick, Frederick Clarkson and Bruce Wilson have been doing for years on the New Apostolic Reformation’s frightening ideology and growing influence.

In the course of my reading I was particularly struck by Tabachnick’s reporting on Rev. Samuel Rodriguez. This led to a series of conversations and emails that I reported on in my Patheos article on Rev. Rodriguez’s decision to resign from the controversial Oak Initiative. In the course of that reporting I became troubled by Tabachnick’s assertions that Rodriguez was also a member of the New Apostolic Reformation. My discussions with him, and phone calls that I made to the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA) had led me to the conclusion that although Rodriguez had at one time been a part of the ICA that involvement was peripheral to his ministry and was, at any rate, not the same as being a part of the New Apostolic Reformation. To be honest, I felt like Talk to Action was overstating the case in a way that was unfairly damaging to Rodriguez. In a blog piece I did at this blog, I went so far as to say that I felt like there was a touch of MacCarthyism in these charges.

This is where I was wrong. I underestimated Tabachnick’s reporting and she and her colleagues have now made a clear and compelling case that Rev. Rodriguez had, to be perfectly blunt, been deceiving me in two significant ways: 1) He was much more involved in the Oak Initiative then his statements to me indicated and 2) He has, in substantive and demonstrable ways, spoken and acted in ways that make the charge of his embrace of New Apostolic Reformation practices and ideology legitimate.

Why should you care? Well, first of all because I did something that I regularly criticize others for doing—I used language to describe someone when I had not done the homework necessary to justify the charge. Before accusing someone of McCarthyism, I should have been more certain of Rodriguez’s claims and my own suspicions. In fairness to myself, some of the facts had not been as clearly stated when I wrote the charge as they have been now, but truthful witness is vital to a healthy citizenry and Church, and I now see that my accusation was wrong. But you should also care because what Tabachnick is saying about Rodriguez is significant. It challenges the assumption held by many in the evangelical community that the New Apostolic Reformation is a fringe group with little genuine appeal and success. When you read her most recent reports you can’t help but conclude that the evidence of radicalization of the evangelical movement is stronger than even I have been reporting.

All of which is to say: 

“Rachel, you are an even stronger reporter than I realized and your determined reporting deserves even greater respect than I had shown. You have opened my eyes and expanded my vision. I’m sure I will have my disagreements with you and Talk to Action in the future, but I will be more thorough in my own reporting even when challenging you all to do the same. I hope more and more people encounter your work and call individuals and institutions to account for their words and actions.”

“Rev. Rodriguez, I still hope that you are committed to the ideals that I quoted you saying at the start of my Patheos article. You are a gifted man with much good to share. But you have to be honest and transparent about your associations and alliances, and you have to stop saying one thing to one audience and another thing to another audience. I appreciate your decision to resign from the Oak Initiative, but there is much more to be done if you are to justify the trust and praise that so many have given you.”

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Rodriguez fallout and my hopes for the future

The article I did for Patheos on Rev. Samuel Rodriguez and the subsequent post I did here at my blog have brought me into an important conversation that I hope to see extended between Christian leaders and the Internet research group called Talk to Action. I am neither a formal Christian leader nor a part of Talk to Action, but I am a concerned Christian citizen who is convinced that Talk to Action is presenting to Christians in America important but uncomfortable truths. I would like to see Talk to Action knowledge and insights become a resource for serious self-examination by American Christians. I see my recent writing as a bridge between critics of the Religious Right like Talk to Action and Christian leaders who are often unaware of or unwilling to confront dangerous ideologies that are steadily moving from the fringe of the Religious Right and neo-Pentecostalism to the center of evangelicalism. As a bridge between these two groups I feel a particular burden to see that each group understand and appreciate the other, even when they disagree. That is what led me to write a number of pieces recently, and to engage in numerous private conversations, urging Christian and conservative media to take seriously the disturbing alliances and ideologies in both the Perry and Bachmann campaigns even if some of the secular media was misrepresenting certain things in their reporting on those campaigns. If Christians refuse to face certain truths because the messengers of those truths are deemed “enemies” then they will only encourage increased radicalism within Christianity. We must find a way to take seriously, because of the threat to the integrity of the Church’s voice in the world, the legitimate points of criticism and concern being raised by groups like Truth to Action. But to my friends at Talk to Action and others of like mind I also have to name concerns that I have about some of the tone and content I see in some of the reporting because I believe it lessens the chance that your reporting will make a difference in the Christian community. I am sure there will be times that I get things wrong or frustrate Christian leaders and watchdog groups like Talk to Action, but my intent is to present in private and public forums “truth in love” for the benefit of the Christian community and the broader common good. I do this not with the hope of “catching” someone or silencing religion in public life, but with the goal of more truthful speech and action on the part of Christians and the media. Keep me accountable as I seek to keep others accountable to our vocations to truly “speak truth to power.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tabachnick Challenges Rodriguez

Rachel Tabachnick, whose reporting led to my conversations with Rev. Samuel Rodriguez that I wrote about at Patheos and this blog, has written a very helpful response to the news of Samuel’s resignation from the Oak Initiative. Her research is strong and I think raises three important questions that Rev. Rodriguez is going to have to answer moving forward from here:

1)    Was Rev. Rodriguez being truthful to me when he claimed to have had minimal involvement in the Oak Initiative? The picture he painted for me and others was of having been involved at the beginning of the Initiative not very involved since. Her reporting seems to indicate that he was hardly an innocent bystander to the Oak Initiative’s increasingly radical purpose.
2)    Does Rev. Rodriguez support The Call Detroit as clearly as Tabachnik says? If so, does he still welcome the Oak Initiative’s participation in The Call Detroit?
3)    Does Rev. Rodriguez stand by his descriptions of a “government take over of the auto industry, the banking industry, the health industry, soon the energy industry…big government on steroids”. If so, how does that square with this section in Tabachnik’s article:

In a CNN interview Rodriguez describes Hispanic voters as split in their partisan political support because they have a "very strong faith ethos" but support "justice in education and healthcare reform."  The NHCLC over which Rodriguez presides, lobbied against "anti-immigrant sentiment in the healthcare reform debate."  The chairman of the NHCLC, Gilbert Velez, was quoted in the Christian Post in September, 2009. "Health Care reform is a matter of Social Justice driven by a moral imperative that is undeniable. The fact that millions of Americans lack health care coverage is unacceptable."

Monday, September 19, 2011

Obama Awakening?

I have been discouraged about President Obama in recent months and I recognize that one speech does not make for a changed presidency, but this morning’s speech was a continuation of a new tone and vision that has marked recent proposals and speeches. It gives hope to progressives that the President might yet have a chance to not only restore his political prospects but to more importantly take aim at the true causes of our economic plight. The only hope for victory and a victory worth having is to see the President spend the next 15 months with the kind of spirited determination to take the argument to the extreme economic agenda of today’s Republican party that marked today’s speech. 15 months of this cannot erase the tragic economic decisions that Obama and his team have made during this first term, but it does clarify what is at stake in the coming election. Here were key lines that I hope he will be consistent in stating and explaining and defending in the week's to come:

“This is not class warfare, this is math”

“I reject the idea that asking a hedge-fund manager to pay the same tax rate as a plumber or teacher is class warfare. I think it’s just the right thing to do.”

“Warren Buffett’s secretary should not pay a higher tax rate than Warren Buffett”

“I will not support any plan that puts all the burden…on ordinary Americans”

“Anyone who assigns some pledge to protect every single tax loophole so long as they live, they should be called out, they should have to defend that unfairness, explain why somebody who is making $50,000,000 a year in the financial market should be paying 15% on their taxes when a teacher making $50,000 a year is paying a higher rate.”

“We are not going to have a one-sided deal that hurts the folks most vulnerable”

“Towards the payments of debts there must be revenue, that to have revenue there must be taxes and no taxes can be devised which are not more or less inconvenient and unpleasant” Quoting George Washington

“Our responsibility to put country before party”

This is “about fairness, about whether we are in fact in this together and we are looking out for one another”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

"Guilt by Associations"--A Concern and an Excuse

 My article on Rev. Samuel Rodriguez is up at Patheos. This is a story that I expect will continue to grow because of Rev. Rodriguez’s significance to both religion in America and the politics of immigration. As I was working on this story and in the days since I turned it in for publication the phrase “guilt by association” has been on my mind. I want to explain how I see it as both a genuine concern and a troubling excuse in debates over the role of religion in public life.

Genuine Concern

I am convinced that in the case of Rev. Rodriguez there is some “guilt by association” going on in the reporting of his story that is unfair. As I say in the article, Rodriguez’s links to the Oak Initiative were genuinely troubling because he was listed as Vice President of the group at their website and because both the Oak Initiative and Rodriguez’s National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) share Cindy Jacobs as a part of their broad leadership team. Both of those things indicated a level of connection that made for a substantive story worthy of concern and coverage. I am grateful to Rachel Tabachnik and Talk to Action to bringing it to my attention. I do not think, however, that there is substance to the charge that Rev. Rodriguez is deeply tied to the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), an accusation that is regularly brought against him on anti-Religious Right websites. My reporting led me to the conclusion that this is the kind of “guilt by association” charge that can not stand up to serious examination and serves to damage the credibility of the person charged and ultimately of the people making the charge. First of all, the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA), which Rodriguez was briefly a member of, is not the same thing as the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). Secondly, Rodriguez claimed in an interview with me that he has not been a part of the ICA for two years and that his participation in it was minimal. I spoke with ICA today and they confirmed Rodriguez’s story. Furthermore, the effort to make ICA membership or tangential connections to NAR a permanent stain upon a leader’s character, while never allowing the leader a chance to defend against the charge, is a type of McCarthyism that I would want nothing to do with. There is a real and profound difference between someone currently and clearly being identified as a Vice President of a group with a troubling extremist agenda, and his having been at one time a part of a large group that for all its controversial doctrinal beliefs does not have the clear track record of the Oak Initiative or NAR. We have to leave space for such distinctions or else our reporting will no longer serve the common good, but rather serve an uncompromising understanding of complicity that does not even allow for discussion and moral complexity.

A Troubling Excuse

As equally problematic as shallow guilt by association reporting is the nonchalant response you can easily find in evangelical circles to charges from media sources outside the evangelical tent. This attitude often prevents evangelical institutions and individuals from taking steps to assure that marginal/extremist institutions and individuals are monitored and where necessary challenged. I have written about this extensively at this blog and elsewhere, but it bears repeating—the interplay of ideas and ideologies between evangelicalism, Pentecostalism and the Religious Right is not being adequately covered and discussed by mainstream evangelical media outlets, and in some cases those outlets are themselves becoming conduits for theological radicalism breathtaking in its scope. Serious theological and political questions are not being raised as a result of this neglect, and agendas light years from the centrist “John Stott” evangelicalism that many hold dear are being allowed to pose as mainstream evangelical.

In the gap between guilt by association reporting and lazy denial lie the kind of thoughtful, reflective reporting we desperately need if the varieties of ways in which religion interacts with public life is to be genuinely understood and engaged.

Friday, September 9, 2011

From one Republican to Another

A Plea From the GOP to the GOP

When I speak to friends and family about my concerns about the radicalization of the Republican Party I am often met with skepticism by moderate/centrist folk who imply that I am naïve about how the real nature of politics as practiced by everyone and outright hostility by conservatives who think that I am a partisan hack just trying to score points. While I admit to idealism, I do not think I am naïve and I have written about liberal political assaults in the past (part of the reason I supported Obama over Clinton in primary was lasting disgust over the Clinton’s own role in “the politics of personal destruction”). But it is partly that experience in politics that causes me to see genuine changes in political discourse—new lines being crossed, new tactics being deployed. So, for instance, I have written about how in the 1980s the Democratic Party and liberal interest groups injected something new and destructive into our politics when they “borked” Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court. And while I am now an Obama supporter, I have in the past supported Republicans, having twice voted for George W. Bush (one of the few Americans who liked his father less than him). My pro-life beliefs are strong and my revulsion at John Edwards’ character/demagoguery way before his sex scandal kept me voting for Bush even in 2004. I know many doubt it, but I am deep at heart a Lincoln Republican.

But if you do think that I am too naïve or biased, I have a new source for you to consider when thinking about whether or not the Republican Party of today is substantively different from politics of recent times. This man is neither naïve—he was a political operative for nearly thirty years and has scalding things to say about the Democratic Party—nor Democratic—he worked for the GOP for years and maintains serious reservations about Obama. So when Mike Lofgren writes about the uniqueness of the current Republican Party, he deserves a hearing. His article “Goobye to All That” is making waves and for good reason. The story of his decision to give up on the GOP deserves consideration from people of all political stripes. Here is a taste:

both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP…It is not clear to me how many GOP officeholders believe this reactionary and paranoid claptrap. I would bet that most do not. But they cynically feed the worst instincts of their fearful and angry low-information political base with a nod and a wink. During the disgraceful circus of the "birther" issue, Republican politicians subtly stoked the fires of paranoia by being suggestively equivocal - "I take the president at his word" - while never unambiguously slapping down the myth. John Huntsman was the first major GOP figure forthrightly to refute the birther calumny - albeit after release of the birth certificate.

Sarah "TR" Palin? A welcome shift in her rhetoric

The New York Times has a fascinating piece detailing a significant new addition to the Palin stump speech and opening a window onto someting significant. According to the report, Palin had a very new line of reasoning in a speech this week, much different than what other Republicans are saying in the primary, and more Progressive in its bent. She is evoking the Reformer, anti-corporate side of the Teddy Roosevelt wing of the party and she is saying things that would be surely be said if there were an opponent of Obama in a Democratic primary. This is more in keeping with the Sarah Palin that had originally interested Ross Douthat back when she was governor of Alaska and is the Palin that Joshua Green has been writing about for months at The Atlantic. Of course, what is still missing from her critique is an explicit linking of the military industrial complex to the broader point about "unaccountable institutions"--that is what you would be hearing more of it were Bernie Sanders instead of Palin making the argument, but this is nonetheless significant. Here is the key part of the Times' article:

Ms. Palin’s third point was more striking still: in contrast to the sweeping paeans to capitalism and the free market delivered by the Republican presidential candidates whose ranks she has yet to join, she sought to make a distinction between good capitalists and bad ones. The good ones, in her telling, are those small businesses that take risks and sink and swim in the churning market; the bad ones are well-connected megacorporations that live off bailouts, dodge taxes and profit terrifically while creating no jobs.
Strangely, she was saying things that liberals might like, if not for Ms. Palin’s having said them.
“This is not the capitalism of free men and free markets, of innovation and hard work and ethics, of sacrifice and of risk,” she said of the crony variety. She added: “It’s the collusion of big government and big business and big finance to the detriment of all the rest — to the little guys. It’s a slap in the face to our small business owners — the true entrepreneurs, the job creators accounting for 70 percent of the jobs in America.”

Andrew Sullivan's take on this new Palin is here.

Jeffrey Goldberg and Recognition of Israel

The debate over Palestinian statehood brings to mind this post that I did during Netanyahu's memorable visit to Washington last spring. I repost it at my new blog because of it's continued relevance to the latest chapter of America's role in the Middle East and Netanyahu's respect (?) for it.

Jeffrey Goldberg is without question a leading Jewish American commentator in the secular media on all things relevant to the security of Israel and the United States’ role in that security. I follow his blog at The Atlantic regularly. He is anything but “opposed to Israel” or "an enemy from within" (as a reader described the Israeli ex-military men who signed the letter supporting 1967 borders). He is regularly criticized throughout the blogosphere for his strong support for the State of Israel. He has had a lot to say this week and we should all be listening.

On Obama’s speech today at the most important Anerican lobbyist for Israel, AIPAC:

[Obama] understands Israel's dilemma in the same way Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin understood their country's dilemma.

On why Netanyahu was “shockingly” misguided in his attitude to Obama this week.

It wasn't the content of Netanyahu's lecture that I found so shocking -- Jews, over a few thousand years, have earned a great deal of our paranoia -- but that he chose to hector the American president, an American president who, the day before, gave Netanyahu two enormous gifts -- a denunciation of the radical Islamist terror group Hamas, and a promise to fight unilateral Palestinian efforts to seek United Nations recognition as an independent state -- in public, in the White House, in a tone that suggested he thought he was speaking to an ignoramus. 

On the importance of Abe Foxman’s praise of Obama’s speech:

I know of no one on this planet who loves the Jewish people, and the Jewish state, more than Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League. I'm not exaggerating; I quite literally can't name anyone who has a love of his people as profound as Abe's… the man has devoted his life to Jewish survival, and to Israel's defense. So when he declares that President Obama isn't anti-Israel, it's safe to believe him. 

On the fact that the predecessor to Netanyahu as the leader of Israel said the same thing as Obama:

Mitt Romney stated yesterday that Barack Obama threw Israel under a bus by calling for Israel's borders to be based on the pre-Six Day War lines. Does Romney know that Benjamin Netanyahu's predecessor, Ehud Olmert, did the same thing? That's a busy bus.

On why Netanyahu should have been happy with the president’s speech: He "got everything he could have hoped to get. If he's not happy with Obama, then he's kidding himself. I know this is a Twitter-length post, but it sums up the Israeli-Palestinian portion of the speech nicely, IMHO."

On the reality of the Obama administrations support for Israel the last two years: "Top officials of the Israeli defense ministry have been telling me, and other reporters, for a couple of years now that military cooperation between their country and America has never been better. Some bus. There are a lot of countries out there that would like to be thrown under simliar buses."

This is not to say that Goldberg has had no criticisms to offer of the president this week. In two separate posts he referred to thoughtful critiques of the President’s initial speech by serious thinkers. That is as it should be. The president’s speeches were not inspired by God and like any statement of policy goals they call for honest, careful engagement. That is what Goldberg has provided in spades this week and deserves our highest praise. In a week in which in many lost their minds and perspectives, Goldberg kept his and we are the better for it.

How Anne Graham Lotz Changed from 9/11

Evangelicals and the end-times (Part One)

I have been away from the blog for a few days working on a lengthy story about Rev. Samuel Rodriguez based in part on an article he has in the new issue of Christianity Today. Samuel is one of eleven Christian leaders asked to “describe how that fateful day [9/11] transformed their lives and ministries”. Another of the eleven writers is Anne Graham Lotz. Not simply because she is the daughter of Billy Graham, her article is worth careful consideration. It is important to keep in mind that Lotz's words were written, considered reflections on the single most important event in the collective life of America over the last decade, not quick responses to an interview question (no Franklin Graham excuses allowed). I would add that her comments reflect what I see as a troubling trend among evangelical leaders to speak with certainty about the end times. I am not referring to Harold Camping-style specific date guessing, which even the likes of Tim Lahaye condemn, but something nearly as disturbing, namely a line of thinking that speaks with certainty about recent events pointing to our being very close to the end. Here is how Lotz puts it:

September 11 was an alarm that penetrated my daily responsibilities and my busy ministry schedule, warning me…of what (ellipsis and italics in original)…the alarm did not fade away. Instead I have heard it reverberating throughout the past 10 years: from Hurricane Katrina to the record-breaking floods, forest fires, tornadoes, droughts, and snow storms; to the collapse of our financial institutions; to the economic recession; to the inability to win the war in Afghanistan. The alarm keeps resounding because so many people have not heeded, or even heard, the warning. And what is the warning? Simply this: It is five minutes to midnight on the clock of human history. Judgment is at the door. Jesus is coming! It’s time to wake up and get right with God! Are you listening? (emphasis in original)

Anne, I am listening. And what I am hearing from you and countless other evangelicals who cannot be safely confined to the margins of our community is as disturbing to me as the “inability to win the war in Afghanistan” that you view as a herald of the end times. What I hear raises three questions for me:

1) How is speaking with certainty about our particular location on the clock of history, and using that certainty to justify telling people to “get right with God”, different from speaking with certainty about the particular day we are at on the clock of history and using that certainty to justify telling people to “get right with God” (a la Harold Camping)? Aren’t they both contradicting the clear teaching of Jesus that he “did not know the day or hour of his coming” (Matthew 24:36)?

2) The likely response to the first question from Lotz or others will be that Jesus did tell his disciples to “read the signs of the times” (Matthew 16:3), which invites another question for Anne: What careful research did you do that led you to the conclusion that the list of events that you gave are more worthy of being considered harbingers of Jesus’ coming than, say, the time of the Black Plague of the 1300s “killing an estimated 25 million people” in Europe and coinciding with the 100 Years War in Europe? Don't you think that other Christians, not to mention people outside of the Christian faith, deserve more explanation for a startling assertion about the end-times than a list of events the seriousness of which have been in countless decades throughout human history?

3) Flippant announcements in four paragraph essays that the world is “five minutes to midnight” have become so common in the evangelical mainstream that it is very unlikely that Anne’s words will generate much discussion. Which leads to my final question: How much discussion would Anne’s comments have caused if she had said the following?

9/11 caused me take a hard look at global issues and awakened me to a more significant calamity that is upon us: global warming. The record-breaking floods, forest fires, hurricanes, shrinking ozone layer, depleted rain forests and melting icebergs have gotten my attention, but more alarming is the fact that “the global concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere today far exceeds the natural range over the last 650,000 years." I wonder if this is an environmental effect of rampant materialism and consumerism in the Christian West?

Is there any question but that a statement like that from the daughter of the father of modern evangelicalism in the magazine that is the living testament to said movement would have caused more comment and condemnation than Anne’s shallow interpretation of how America’s weather patterns, economic troubles and military quagmires point to the imminent return of Christ?

4) Are Anne’s comments evidence of the continued radicalization of the evangelical center and the implacable presence of the “scandal of the evangelical mind”?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

American Conservative Editor on Perry/ Republican Debate

 I missed the debate tonight, but had a chance to read Twitter, where I follow the always thoughtful (even when I disagree!) Daniel McCarthy. His tweets bring to mind a comment I received recently on the piece I did on Perry in which the reader said assumed I was a “leftist” based on my article. Well, Daniel McCarthy is no leftist, that’s for sure. He is an editor at American Conservative, for crying out loud, and here is what he tweeted while watching the debate. It is a sharp reminder that disillusionment with the Republican Party’s embrace of militarism and anti intellectualism can be a result of conservative reflection not merely partisan passion. And it is a lot of fun to read!!

Tweet #1: Vote Newt off the island. He's not there to debate, he's there to sell books.

Tweet #2: They're playing "Bitter Sweet Symphony" at the debate? Backhanded? Or just schmalz?

Tweet #3: Good for Huntsman saying bring the troops home.

Tweet #6: Rick Perry loves Gitmo and can't pronounce "Keynesian." He's also dodging the interventionism question with abstractions.

Tweet #7: Good question for Bachmann on support for Bush doctrine. She's dodging too. No surprise: she presents suriprsingly well, but she's a Bushie.

Tweet #8: What does Bachmann think was America's national interest in Iraq?

Tweet #9: Santorum is not pro-life, he's pro-war.

Tweet #10: Nation-building is Santorum favorite issue.

Tweet # 11 (retweeting Ryan Lizza): Bizarre how isolationism now means "pulling troops out."

Tweet #12: Next question for the GOP candidates should be how old is the earth.

Tweet #13: I'm genuinely ignorant: nitrous oxide -- laughing gas -- is a major pollutant? If so, I've learned from Perry. Not many people can say that.

Tweet #14: I have indeed learned something about nitrous oxide. The evening is not a complete waste.

Tweet #15: Perry gets applause for his executions. He's never struggled with the idea that he's probably executed innocent people.

Tweet #17: This is the part of the debate where Ron Paul is put down the memory hole.

Tweet #18: That was a depressing two hours.

Tweet #19: It's one thing to support the death penalty. To applaud it -- especially Perry's abundant use of it -- is sick.

Tweet #20: This was a different Ron Paul from 2008 -- still uncompromising, but more eager to take on the other candidates. He knows Perry's a horror.

Tweet #21: (retweeting @PatriotsUSA )I wonder if abortion-rights supporters would actually cheer for abortion. We'll find out in 2016 Dem debates.

Tweet #22: Rick Perry, and those who applaud him, should read George Orwell

Sunday, September 4, 2011

C. Peter Wagner's NAR--a Reading List

NAR Reading List

As word about C. Peter Wagner’s disturbing New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) spreads across the religious and political spectrum I am receiving questions about where to turn for good analysis of this movement. Sadly, there is not now a full-length book treating the NAR from a critical perspective, but there are numerous articles that give a good picture of what C. Peter Wagner is up to with NAR and how NAR is beginning to effect American politics as well as religion. There is no single web site that I can recommend without reservations, but there are numerous articles that I do strongly recommend for their reliance on NAR’s own statements in their reporting and for their keen observations of how NAR relates to broader issues within evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Dominionism and the religious right. The best reporter I have come across is Rachel Tabachnick and I have found these articles and interviews by her to be particularly helpful:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Economics, Libya and Religion and International Diplomacy

 I am taking a break this morning from reading about the New Apostolic Reformation and the Religious Right debates. Here are a few things I have read that will be of interest to many.

Commonweal has the best article I have yet seen on the entire deficit debate and its implications for the common good. It reflects the frustration of many that President Obama has allowed the debate to run towards an effect—high deficits, rather than the cause—economic recession, while at the same time laying bare the folly of Boehner’s analysis of the economy. This is particularly important reading for those Christians on both sides of the debate. A serious piece for serious questions.

The biggest economic problems the United States now faces are unemployment, income inequality, and the fact that much of the financial sector still operates like a casino. If the country could solve these problems, the gap between government outlays and government spending would immediately shrink, if not disappear. By instead focusing attention on the country’s debt, politicians are getting it backwards. Contrary to the claim of many leading Republicans on Capitol Hill, there is no reason to think that immediate cuts to government spending will help the economy—or that spending cuts can’t wait until the economy improves. Behind the confusion on these points are four myths about national debt that have somehow become conventional wisdom in Washington and in most of the media.

 The International Center on Religion and Diplomacy is a great group with a great mission—“to address identity-based conflicts that exceed the reach of traditional diplomacy by incorporating religion as part of the solution.” Their director, an evangelical Protestant named Douglas Johnston, has recently published a book that is garnering significant attention: Religion, Terror, and Error: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Challenge of Spiritual Engagement.

"I consider this to be the best book that has yet been published on how religion can be deployed to improve U.S.-Muslim World relations.” Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf

“From my two decades of experience in the Islamic world, I am convinced that the vast majority of Muslims would embrace this approach as a means of clearly expressing their beliefs and enabling them to understand ours.” General Anthony Zinni

The New York Times has a lead story on the interesting journey of one of the Libyan rebel commanders—from former CIA prisoner and torture victim, to NATO and U.S. ally.

As the United States and other Western powers embrace and help finance the new government taking shape in Libya, they could face a particularly awkward relationship with Islamists like Mr. Belhaj. Once considered enemies in the war on terror, they suddenly have been thrust into positions of authority — with American and NATO blessing.”