Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Veiled Tell: Nil Soli - 2/23/2008

American Gangster(2007)

Last night a group and I watched American Gangster. The movie has received great critical success, having been nominated for two Oscars. We watched the 176-minute unrated version, which adds nineteen minutes to the theatrical version.

The film juxtaposes the true stories of heroine mogul Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and Detective Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe), who pursued him. As one falls, the other rises. It is the third film that Crowe has done with director Ridley Scott (most notably, Gladiator), with two more already being signed.

The film is set primarily from 1968-1973. The essential premise is that Lucas is an unassuming drug lord as he is African-American, has no mafia ties, and has discovered how to cut out the middle man in narcotics by securing his own agreement in Southeast Asia. I suppose he was like the Wal-Mart of drug dealers.

The movie has no connection to the Jay-Z album of the same name, but is rather based upon an article in New York Magazine called “The Return of Superfly.” The original article can be found online here. It is worth reading just for the grocery list of drug names used in the period. The most interesting tidbit as a Knoxville native, was that Frank Lucas was incarcerated in Knoxville as a youth.

To be completely honest, I did not enjoy the film all that much. Do not get me wrong - for what the film hoping to accomplish, it was superb. I struggle with the fact that in the age of the anti-hero, there was no one I could identify with, and not just because there were no middle class Caucasians to be found.

There was simply no character in the film that embodied any of the values that I would root for. Crowe’s character, Roberts, is maligned by his police department for returning one million dollars in unmarked bills, clearly the right action. This sets the backdrop for the corrupt system for which he is apart. Still, Roberts is an adulterer, and neglectful father with criminal ties.

His wife, Laurie (Carla Gugino), is used as the mirror by which he sees himself as he truly is. Wives are good for this. In a custody hearing, Roberts accuses his wife of resenting his returning the money. He pleads, “Don’t punish me for being honest.” She responds in a telling tirade:

“You don’t take money for one reason - to buy being dishonest about everything else. And that’s worse than taking money nobody gives a shit about...You think you are going to heaven because you’re honest, but you’re not. You’re going to the same hell as the crooked cops you can’t stand.”

In his most redemptive act in the film, Crowe concedes custody and walks out of the courtroom. His most righteous moment comes at the moment he realizes that his righteousness was “filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6, KJV) This appealed to the preacher in me as the best scene in the movie.

In contrast, Denzel’s charm is such that the viewer almost forgets he is a cold-blooded killer, willing to violent reprimand even his own family for seemingly small infractions. He even takes his mother to church every Sunday and that is the scene of his ultimate arrest.

Where was God in all of this? Do you think that the characters or producers ever even considered this aspect? (I realize that is not their job.)

Some completely random thoughts: I cannot see Cuba Gooding as a gangster after his Hanes commercials, not to mention Snowdogs. The rapper, Common, plays one of Frank Lucas’ brothers. “Common,”once “Common Sense” is one of the worst rap names ever! Does Denzel ever use an accent?

In short, the film’s lack of endearing character and anticlimactic ending merit it only a 6/10 for me, but I feel most of my friends, especially men, would enjoy the film.

Current IMDB rating: 8.1/10. Chanalysis: 6/10

Friday, February 22, 2008

Bible Trivia - 2/22/2008

Question: Which book originated and stressed the expression “Lord willing”?

Answer: James (4:15).

Comments: James 4:15 asserts that we should always preface our comments with the expression “Lord willing” as acknowledgment of humanity’s total dependence upon God regarding the future. We simply cannot be sure of anything.

Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that." (James 4:15, NASB)

From this verse also comes the popular colloquialism, “The good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.” The addition of “and the creek don’t rise” has come to be associated with the body of water, but this was not its original intent.

The phrase originates with U.S. Agent Benjamin Hawkins (1754-1816), who oversaw the longest era of peace with the Creek Confederacy, a group of Native Americans. It is implausible that the college educated and well-written Hawkins would have made a grammatical error, so the capitalization of Creek is the only way the phrase makes sense. He wrote it in response to a request from the President to return to our Nation's Capital and the reference is not to a creek, but The Creek Indian Nation. If the Creek “rose”, Hawkins would have to be present to quell the rebellion.

Word of the Day - 2/22/2008

Lugubrious

Lugubrious is an adjective meaning mournful, dismal, or gloomy, esp. in an affected, exaggerated, or unrelieved manner.

Jacob was lugubrious at the presumed death of his beloved son Joseph. He vowed to mourn his son until his death - “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” (Genesis 37:35, NASB)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/22/2008

Still debilitated by illness, I spent most of yesterday sleeping. I still made all of my previously scheduled appointments. I am not alone in my sickness. Knox County schools were closed yesterday (as well as today) as infirmity has produced a teacher shortage.

During the morning, I led Bible Study with MLM and CMU. MLM has the same symptoms as me. I taught on Matthew 5:13. This is the excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus refers to the “the salt of the earth.” This prompted MLM to sing a chorus from the musical, Godspell. I am not sure if it was his medication or not.

You are the salt of the earth
You are the salt of the earth
But if that salt has lost it's flavor
It ain't got much in its favor
You can't have that fault and be the salt of the earth!

Though, I was well prepared for the study, having researched the passage and translated it from the Greek, I was very slow mentally and spoke very little. Still, many notes were taken and MLM received the inspiration for his upcoming devotion at staff meeting. Come to think of it, they seemed to enjoy this lesson where I was largely silent more than most. Hmmm...

Abbreviated notes of the study will be posted (God willing) on Sunday.

After Bible Study, I hung out with JTH, shopping at McKay’s and eating at Wishbones. Evidently, one can never be too sick to shop for books.

Last night, I went to the Silver Spoon CafĂ© with my parents and my “aunt” CTL, her children CAL, WML, and HAL and her beautiful soon to be five-year old granddaughter, OSL. We were redoing our recent dinner from as CAL had not been there for most of it. Silver Spoon was selected because it is my favorite restaurant. Unfortunately, I ate less than half of my meal. The evening was still wonderful as the company was superb.

OSL was recovering from flu-like symptoms and CAL informed her parents that the child needed to see a doctor. She based her expertise on the fact that she is now a lawyer. In fact, everything she said the entire evening was supported by the fact that she is now a lawyer. Even sedated, CAL amuses me.

CAL’s young legal career is going well. She told us that she asked a recent client if he had ever suffered from any mental illness. His response was that he had been enraged once and shot three people. A follow up question led to his confession that he had shot two other people. He was in jail on an unrelated crime. I honestly hope he has a mental illness. I just hope that CAL will not always have such classy clientele.

Afterwards, I went to bed before 9 pm for the first time in years. I knew that I needed to be as healthy as possible for the hectic Friday ahead.

Before closing I have one mild complaint to make. I highly endorse Comtrex as an antihistamine. What I do not like is the way it is packaged. A consumer has to buy the drug in increments of 30, with fifteen nighttime and daytime pills respectively. This is ridiculous as clearly there are far more hours in the day. Further, the dosage is in increments of two and they give you an odd number of pills. I realize this encourages people to buy two boxes instead of one, but this is ridiculous. I feel far better having gotten this off my chest.

Associated Baptist Press - 2/21/2008

Associated Baptist Press
February 21, 2008 (8-21)
IN THIS ISSUE:
Will 'evangelical center' emerge to rival waning Christian Right?
Fort Worth congregation subject of latest Internet-fueled struggle
Baptists provide opportunities to oft-shunned Roma people
Pastor points to Muslims as source of Kenya violence; experts disagree
Guest opinion: New Covenant may come in old wineskins
Correction
Will 'evangelical center' emerge to rival waning Christian Right?
By Greg Warner
(ABP) -- If the Religious Right is losing its influence, as many pundits predict, will it be replaced by the "other" evangelicals -- a center-and-left coalition with a broader social agenda and a kinder, gentler brand of cultural engagement?
Advocates say centrist evangelicals are a bona fide constituency that is re-emerging after three decades spent underground -- or at least ignored by the media and society at large. Though these other evangelicals have no dominant spokespersons and no representative organization, at least not yet, they say they are every bit as worthy of the "evangelical" label as their counterparts on the right -- and every bit as numerous.
In fact, Christians can "be more evangelical by being less conservative," argues Baptist theologian and author Roger Olson. And he's written a book to tell them how.
"Evangelicals are leaving the Religious Right in droves!" added Christian activist Jim Wallis, for three decades the social conscience of the evangelical left. "This evangelical center is getting so big."
So how many evangelical centrists are out there?
Political scientist John Green, the preeminent researcher on evangelical politics, concluded that 10.8 percent of American voters in 2004 were in the evangelical center, compared to 12.6 percent of voters on both the evangelical left and evangelical right. But that doesn't include African-American and Latino evangelicals, about half of whom are centrists. And those numbers likely have swelled in recent years if Wallis and others are correct about the exodus on the right.
Driving the shift among evangelicals is "the refusal of the center or the left to confine moral values to abortion and homosexuality," said ethicist David Gushee, who insists researchers and reporters err by grouping evangelicals into "bipolar" camps of left and right.
That shift is sped by the "generational transition" also taking place in society, said Gushee, a centrist Baptist who teaches at Mercer University and its seminary, both located in Georgia. The students he meets today, even at conservative Christian colleges, are more likely to campaign against sex trafficking, torture and environmental abuse than abortion or gay rights, Gushee said. And they're fed up with the right's "slash and burn" approach.
"The younger generation is definitely turned off to the culture-war mentality and all the anger," he said. "They believe it violates the Spirit of Christ."
Gushee, Wallis and Olson all have new books coming out about the emerging evangelical center and its broadened social agenda.
All three say faith steers the political views of moderate and progressive evangelicals -- particularly young adults -- to include a varied pallet of issues: poverty, war and peace, care of the environment, immigration reform, AIDS, lingering racism, torture, support for human rights, genocide in Darfur, and other social issues the Religious Right has largely avoided.
In a January poll by Beliefnet.com, self-described evangelicals ranked poverty, the environment, health care, education, the economy, governmental reform, and ending torture and the Iraq war as more important issues than abortion or gay marriage, the right's two hot-button issues. And, perhaps most surprising, a majority of survey respondents were conservative.
A similar result came from a 2006 Zogby International poll of voters in the mid-term elections. Those voters said "kitchen table" issues -- the economy, Iraq, poverty and greed -- mattered more than abortion or gay marriage. Fewer than 9 percent of voters named abortion or gay marriage as the top moral issue. And the number of religious Americans who voted Democratic in 2006 increased significantly over 2004.
"If Christians are still reading the Bible seriously, and they're reading it from Genesis to Revelation, then it's impossible to ignore the broader issues," said Gushee, who says the evangelical center is growing and will set the tone for Christian cultural engagement in the future.
"A historic shift is occurring," Richard Cizik, vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said in a Scripps-Howard interview. "It is equivalent to an earthquake in slow motion -- people aren't sensing it."
Cizik, the NAE's progressive VP for governmental affairs, has himself been the target of evangelicalism's old guard -- such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson -- who accuse him of distracting evangelicals' attention from the bread-and-butter issues of abortion and homosexuality.
The 2008 presidential election is demonstrating that religious voters are anything but monolithic. New surveys from the Pew Forum and the Barna Group suggest evangelical voters are in play for Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom are professing Christians with social agendas mirroring the new, broader evangelical definition of public morality.
Conservative evangelicals insist their obituary is premature. While they remain uneasy with their presidential options, they still carry weight in the electorate -- particularly in the Republican Party -- and they expect to have an impact on the presidential election.
But clearly the landscape has changed since the early days, when Jerry Falwell prayed publicly for God to speed the death of "liberal" Supreme Court justices.
"The Christian Right has made some mistakes and has been declining and is losing its market," said Gushee, the author of The Future of Faith in American Politics. "The classic sex-and-abortion agenda is not resonating in this election season. And their ability to direct foot soldiers is declining."
The shift to the center, if indeed it is one, is not entirely new, Olson said. In How to Be Evangelical Without Being Conservative, due out in March, he argues that historically evangelicals -- rather than being dependable stalwarts of the conservative status quo -- have often been radicals on doctrinal and social issues like worship and slavery.
A professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary at Baylor University in Texas, Olson is a "Northern evangelical" transplanted to the South. He calls himself a "post-conservative evangelical" and staunchly refuses to surrender the term "evangelical" to the right wing.
"We are evangelical, and we have every right to be called that," he said. But he admits he and his cohorts have a public-relations problem. "Those of us who are not conservative need someone who is famous who can come on radio and TV and nuance things."
It is possible to be evangelical and be liberal socially, Olson maintains. For instance, he argues, a Christian can be patriotic without succumbing to nationalism, can favor the redistribution of wealth without being a socialist, and can innovate in worship without trivializing it.
The term "evangelical" has a rich history that predates the Religious Right, Olson says, but "it is a very problematic term right now" for those who don’t consider themselves fundamentalist or conservative.
"Many 'former' fundamentalists are calling themselves theological evangelicals," he said, citing Jerry Falwell Jr., the 47-year-old chancellor of Liberty University, founded by his fundamentalist father.
And he concedes that centrists may lose the battle over language: "I don't want to say that conservatives will win, but they are winning."
Besides the often-times pejorative nature of the term, Olson and Wallis say they also have a problem with the political language of right, left and center. "They are so tied to the Enlightenment," Olson said. "'Post-conservative' means I want to be off that spectrum."
In his new book, The Great Awakening, Wallis, founder of a faith and justice network called Sojourners, prefers the terms "moral center" and "gospel center," trying to lift Christians above the political fray.
The three authors also use different criteria to define "evangelicals." Wallis and Gushee employ theological definitions of evangelicals that focus on core beliefs. Olson prefers an "experiential" definition -- evangelicals are "God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving" Christians, he says.
Many historians don't use “evangelical” to describe Baptists because their history did not intersect with American evangelicals, who grew as a moderate response to early-20th century fundamentalism. But Olson and Gushee embrace it.
They are both Baptist, but they come from different historical streams. Olson grew up in a Pentecostal family and later became a Baptist in the North. Gushee is a former Roman Catholic. Both work for progressive universities with Southern Baptist roots.
"Most moderate Baptists are center or center-left evangelicals, they just don't know it," Gushee said. "I want to help moderate Baptists reclaim the term 'evangelical' and re-associate with other evangelicals who are kindred spirits, if they only knew it."
Evangelicals in the northern United States are willing to work across denominational lines, Olson added. "In the North, we evangelicals get together with anyone who looks fondly upon the Cross."
Sharp theological lines are less important in the North because Christians are a minority, he said. A "Jesus-centered piety" is common-enough ground for fellowship. "I think most Baptists in the town I grew up in would be part of that. But Baptists in the North are so fragmented, it's hard to classify them."
Gushee said the recent New Baptist Covenant meeting, which drew an estimated 15,000 moderate-leaning Baptists of different races and traditions to Atlanta, is a healthy sign of the growing strength of centrists.
But Covenant organizers say their movement will not become a denomination or institution. Likewise, other centrist evangelicals -- scattered in dozens of denominations -- have no organizational identity or rallying point. The National Association of Evangelicals currently is fragmented over its identity and focus.
"What's needed is a new national organization that is truly centrist and truly viable," Olson said. "The NAE could be that, but it has lost some steam. … I'm still hopeful about the NAE."
Will evangelicalism's new "middle" hold without some structure? There's more hope than certainty among its advocates.
One observer, historian Bill Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest Divinity School, is skeptical a middle can emerge within evangelicalism because the movement is already so divided, pitting one vision of "orthodoxy" against another. "'Middle ways' may not be a luxury that evangelicalism can afford in the years ahead," he said.
Meanwhile, don't look for the Religious Right to collect its marbles and go home quietly. While conservatives remain uneasy with their '08 presidential options, they still carry weight in the electorate, particularly in the Republican Party.
Their numbers may be dwindling, "but the commitments of many in the movement have not waned -- hence, [Republican Mike] Huckabee's dramatic Southern victories on Super Tuesday," Leonard said. "But the movement is certainly aging, and many of its leaders are dead or less active."
"The real test of the Religious Right and its political influence is in the 2008 election and its dominance in one particular party," he concluded. "We'll see.”
-30-

Beliefnet poll: Evangelicals still conservative, but defy issue stereotypes
Poll shows voters care more about Iraq, poverty than abortion, gays
Evangelicals ‘caught in the middle’ of debate over identity, direction
Born-again and Democratic? -- An interview with George Barna
Evangelicals call for a non-partisan political agenda
Fort Worth congregation subject of latest Internet-fueled struggle
By Robert Marus
FORT WORTH, Texas (ABP) -- The latest prominent Baptist church caught in a highly publicized, Internet-fueled controversy is a historically moderate one -- and similar struggles may await other moderate congregations.
Members of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, will vote Feb. 24 on a compromise proposal for a new pictorial directory to mark the congregation’s 125th anniversary. Last year, a dispute erupted over whether to include photos of coupled gay members alongside other couples and families. The congregation attempted to resolve the situation last December and ultimately gave it over to the board of deacons.
But a disgruntled group of more than 150 members has signed petitions calling for the congregation to vote on whether to oust Pastor Brett Younger. The group, calling itself Friends for the Future of Broadway, says the handling of the directory and other issues has proven that Younger’s leadership is divisive and that he has led the church away from its “historical moderate Baptist theological heritage.”
A larger group has signed a counter-petition calling for continued dialogue over sexuality and other divisive issues within the congregation.
Younger, in Feb. 19 comments that constituted his first on-the-record interview about the controversy, said determining Broadway’s true identity is the biggest question.
“People on both sides agree that the question here -- it’s more than just about the pastor. It’s about the kind of church that Broadway wants to be,” he said. “And so my hope is that we will find a process by which we will understand more fully what kind of church we want to be, and if it’s not the kind of church that … needs me to be the pastor, then that will be obvious.
“Broadway has long had the reputation outside the church of being inclusive and creative and an alternative to most Baptist churches. But there were many good members of Broadway who came here for other reasons and who have been a wonderful part of the church, so we have this tension between being an alternative and being traditional.”
The congregation, founded in 1882, has been one of the most prominent churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and in national Baptist life. Its pastors have included Cecil Sherman, the founding coordinator of the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. And generations of students, professors and administrators at nearby Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary have been active members.
While it always has been different in its theological approach and worship style from many Southern Baptist congregations, Broadway has since 1979 increasingly charted a direction away from its historic denomination. That year, fundamentalists began taking over the Southern Baptist Convention’s governing structure.
But Younger’s leadership has taken the church beyond where many members are comfortable going, according to a manifesto from the group opposed to the pastor.
“The pastor has taken Broadway, without authorization from the deacons or the congregation, far away from its own historical moderate Baptist heritage based on timeless core foundational doctrines of the Christian faith,” said a statement, titled “Reasons to ‘Vacate the Pulpit,’” circulated among those who signed the anti-Younger petition.
The spokesman for that group, Robert Saul, said Feb. 20 the sexuality issue isn’t the only or even the primary reason the group opposes his leadership.
“I don’t know of a single person in our group that is against gay and lesbian people being members of our church,” he said in a telephone interview. “Now, I do believe that not only in our group but many, many in the church feel that we should be a welcoming church but not an affirming church.”
The broader issue, Saul said, is Younger’s leadership style. “My concern is that the church is so divided and has been for months under Dr. Younger’s divisive leadership, and it’s just become more divided.”
Saul’s group faulted Younger for mishandling the directory issue as well as several other recent church controversies. Other supposed mishaps include the development of a policy for registered sex offenders within the church and Younger inviting controversial theologian Marcus Borg to preach.
Younger said that the congregation has had a long tradition of inviting thought-provoking speakers like Borg, that the church approved the sex-offender policy by a two-thirds vote, and that the policy “incorporated both the need to protect children and to be as inclusive as the gospel” when dealing with those who have committed sex crimes.
On the directory issue, the compromise proposal to be presented by the deacons involves featuring as many members as possible in candid and group photos, but without photos of family groupings. The proposal, according to a statement from deacon chair Kathy Madeja, respects the diversity of opinions within the congregation on what constitutes a family: It neither endangers the church’s standing in the Baptist General Convention of Texas -- which has expelled pro-gay churches -- nor violates its governing documents. Broadway’s bylaws, she said, “state all members are equal in rank and privilege.”
The controversy has been publicized on several blogs, including two run by Broadway members. Those led to news stories in at least two secular news agencies -- the Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram -- and conservative Christian outlets, such as the SBC’s Baptist Press.
Both Younger and Saul agree the outside attention has not helped the situation.
“I think the presence of the Internet and private blogs make it even more imperative that the church be open in its discussions,” Younger said. “It’s impossible to chase down all the misstatements that are made, and so it becomes more important that the church address the questions facing the church in church settings.”
Saul said the publicity has taught him one important lesson in dealing with church fights. “Do not go to the open Web,” he said. “After it gets out there on the Web like that, then the press starts calling.”
Younger also said churches will inevitably have to deal with issues surrounding their views on homosexuality. “I think the best advice I could give is to start talking about it before you have to start voting,” he said, noting that Broadway has hosted lectures and studies on ways to interpret passages in Scripture that deal with sexuality.
The church also invited prominent Baptist sociologist Tony Campolo and his wife, Peggy, to discuss how to maintain Christian fellowship despite such differences. The couple disagrees over how to understand the Bible’s view of homosexuality.
“I think an awful lot more people in the church have the sense that we can be the kind of church that continues to struggle with this issue just like you struggle with a lot of issues,” Younger said. “We have people with different opinions on the war [in Iraq] … but they still share [the] church.”
-30-
Baptists provide opportunities to oft-shunned Roma people
By Carla Wynn Davis
ATLANTA (ABP) -- Susan and Wes Craig learned early during their three-year assignment to Romania that most locals are disgusted by the minority Roma people, who are often called “gypsies.”
And that’s what made a particular church meeting so powerful.
While talking about his work at the Gypsy Smith School, which provides education and training to Roma church leaders and evangelists, Wes Craig noticed a Romanian man with his hand on the shoulder of a Roma boy. Their relationship seemed like that of a father and son -- something that flies in the face of Romanian social norms. Craig said he saw, in that simple act, Christianity at work.
“A Romanian treating a Roma like family is a demonstration of the power of the gospel and a testimony to how God can change [a] heart,” the Texas native said.
Supported by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, the Craigs have worked with the Roma people since 2006. They are part of Project Ruth, a Bucharest-based charity established in 1992 to help Roma children, who often drop out or fall inescapably behind in school. The organization’s Ruth School helps children re-start and finish their education.
“At Ruth School, [the children] all are given the opportunity to receive a school education through grade eight,” Susan Craig, a Houston native, said. “At the end of the eighth grade they take a national exam, and if they pass, then they can continue their education at an academic high school.”
Susan Craig works in the Project Ruth office as a coordinator of activities, volunteer trips and day-to-day logistics.
Wes Craig works in theological and leadership education with Roma pastors at the Gypsy Smith School. The school helps Roma like Sandu, a friend of the Craigs who continues to serve as the administrator of his church even though his non-Christian parents harass him for his faith.
The school gives Sandu the support he needs to grow as a Christian, Wes Craig explained.
“At the school, Roma church leaders are encouraged and further equipped for the ministry [to which] God has called them,” he said. “For the Roma of Romania to be reached with the gospel, it really must come through Roma reaching Roma, and this is one way we can encourage and support this.”
Project Ruth survives on donations and involvement from churches in the United States. The Craigs’ church, DaySpring Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, provides prayer and encouragement. And a group from the church will visit them this spring.
Boulevard Baptist Church in Anderson, S.C., has also long helped the ministry by sponsoring children at Ruth School, raising financial support for specific projects and sending teams of church members to help in tangible ways.
It’s just a simple example of how a local church can make a lasting and meaningful impact in the world, both Wes and Susan Craig agreed.
-30-
Pastor points to Muslims as source of Kenya violence; experts disagree
By Greg Warner
DALLAS (ABP) -- Religious extremism prompted much of the violence surrounding Kenya's disputed presidential elections, according to a Kenyan expatriate and Baptist pastor who lost a bid for a seat in parliament. But international experts with contacts in the region point to ethnic and political divisions -- not religion -- as precipitating the bloodshed.
International media reported widespread violence erupted throughout Kenya's rural areas after the nation's electoral commission declared incumbent President Mwai Kibaki defeated challenger Raila Odinga, and Odinga's supporters claimed the voting was rigged.
But Solomon Kimuyu, a Dallas resident who has maintained his Kenyan citizenship, said he saw televised images of the violence long before the polls closed, just prior to a media blackout in Kenya. And he asserted members of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement with close ties to the National Muslim Leaders Forum orchestrated much of the rioting.
Muslim extremists tied to the opposition party pledged long before the election that if certain conditions were not met prior to the Dec. 27 voting, violence would result, he insisted.
But Joel Barkin, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Iowa and senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said his sources in Kenya reported no involvement by Muslim extremists in orchestrated violent demonstrations.
"The violence has been interethnic, not religious," he said.
Barkin pointed to different types of violence surrounding the elections. Some violence was organized, but he insisted it was generated by rival political factions who seized on tribal differences, not fomented by Muslim extremists.
Some violence was spontaneous, breaking out in reaction to the allegations of rigged elections. And some of the violence was caused by police who were "overly aggressive and who killed more than 100 people," he said.
William Zartman, director of the conflict management program at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, agreed some violence was planned well in advance of the election.
"Militias were prepared and ready to move," he said.
But like Barkin, he saw the differences in Kenya in terms of ethnic groups and political parties, not along lines of religion.
"I've heard nothing about Muslim involvement," he said. "Of course, that's not proof to the contrary. But I don't see religion as a major element in this conflict."
Kimuyu, however, insisted he had a one-of-a-kind vantage point for observing the developments surrounding Kenya's election.
"I was in a unique position as both a pastor and a politician. I was in meetings where I heard what the politicians were saying, and I was in meetings where I heard what the bishops were saying," he said.
Kimuyu participated in interfaith meetings with religious leaders as a representative of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya, he explained. And he joined political strategy meetings as a candidate for parliament.
Before moving to Texas, he served as pastor of Athi River First Baptist Church in Kenya, general secretary of the Baptist Convention of Kenya and vice president for the All-Africa Baptist Union.
In early fall, Kimuyu appeared almost certainly headed to a parliamentary seat to represent Machakos township, about 35 miles east of Nairobi. He had received the nomination by the Kenya African National Union. He represented the Akamba tribe, which dominates the area. And polls showed him receiving 80 percent of the expected vote. He was the first Kenyan in the United States -- living in what his countrymen call "the diaspora" -- to be nominated by a major political party.
But when the party that nominated him was folded into a coalition Party of National Unity, another candidate was given the new party's endorsement. Kimuyu ran as the United Democratic Party of Kenya candidate, but he was soundly defeated.
While violence in Kenya has been portrayed as a spontaneous reaction to injustice and vote fraud, Muslim radicals planned much of it in advance, Kimuyu insisted.
And while "we will never know" if the election was rigged by the party in control, he maintains voters unquestionably were threatened and harassed by Muslim supporters of the opposition party.
"People were prevented from going to the polls, and people were prevented from counting votes," he said.
Kimuyu has lived in the United States more than two decades, earning degrees from Howard Payne University, Dallas Baptist University and the University of North Texas and launching several homes for children and youth.
When he ran for office, Kimuyu made the Micah Challenge a centerpiece of his platform. The Micah Challenge is a church-based campaign in developing nations of the Southern Hemisphere to achieve the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals-cutting global poverty in half by 2015, reducing child morality and fighting HIV/AIDS, malaria and other preventable diseases.
Kimuyu remains committed to those goals. And while he is concerned about the "loss of moral authority" by multiple parties both inside and outside Kenya, he wants to stay engaged in both political and religious reform in his homeland.
"I will be back," he said.
-30-
Guest opinion: New Covenant may come in old wineskins
By Todd Thomason
(ABP) -- Many of my friends and ministerial colleagues recently returned from the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant in Atlanta full of enthusiasm. I myself have yet to feel much excitement.
Not that I’m not happy to see African-American Baptists and Anglo Baptists coming together and standing together; I certainly am. Such a reunion is long overdue. Not that I object to the Covenant’s platform of “seeking peace with justice, bringing good news to the poor, respecting diversity, welcoming the stranger, and setting the captive free,” because I wholeheartedly believe in those biblical imperatives.
I’m just not convinced there is much that is new about the Baptist dimension of this Covenant (at least not yet).
The event’s website billed it as “an unprecedented demonstration of Baptist unity” to reaffirm traditional Baptist values. Jimmy Carter and other organizers have also expressed a desire for the Covenant to provide an alternative Baptist witness to the theological and political agenda of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has come to define Baptists’ public image. Heaven knows we Baptists need another voice in the public square loud enough to demonstrate that not all of us take our cues from the Jerry Falwells and James Dobsons of the world.
Nonetheless, distinctions are made by practice more than by rhetoric -- and so far the New Baptist Covenant has been largely about rhetoric.
Two groups were notably absent from the event’s official roster: the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Both organizations accept homosexuals and advocate for gay rights within Baptist life. As Associated Baptist Press reported, in July 2007 Alan Stanford, the general secretary of the North American Baptist Fellowship, forbade both gay-friendly groups from participating in the Covenant celebration in an official capacity. He said the decision was made out of concern that their presence would “change the terms of the meeting [and] that might cause an already fragile coalition to unravel.”
Lest we forget, this sort of top-down exclusionary action is precisely why many of the ex-Southern Baptists who are championing the New Baptist Covenant are ex-Southern Baptists. They cried “foul!” when the leaders of the so-called “conservative resurgence” seized the reins of power within the SBC and then circled the wagons, forcing out all who wouldn’t accept their narrow ideology.
For these same Baptists to turn around now and disenfranchise other Baptists in much the same way (if not on the same scale) is the height of biblical hypocrisy. How can we say with any integrity that we’re coming together to take a stand for social justice when, as Ken Pennings of the AWAB correctly observed, “the very people in American society being scapegoated and marginalized the most … are not invited to participate?”
Two of the historic Baptist principles that the New Baptist Covenant should reaffirm are liberty of conscience and the freedom to interpret Scripture for oneself under the direction of the Holy Spirit. Members of AWAB and the Peace Fellowship believe, based on their reading of Scripture and the guidance of their consciences, that homosexuals can and should be accepted fully as disciples of Christ.
Other Baptists, also based on their reading of Scripture and the guidance of their consciences, do not. If the architects of the New Baptist Covenant truly believe in freedom, then all that should matter is whether or not AWAB and the Peace Fellowship can affirm the platform of the Covenant itself.
If homosexuality is not part of the Covenant agenda, then positions on homosexuality ought to be irrelevant to anyone’s ability to participate in Covenant activities. Otherwise, what we’re left with is yet another gathering of Baptists defined more by partisan politics than unity in Christ -- and we’ve already seen what that yields. Jesus warned his disciples about putting new wine in old wineskins.
The predominance of politicians taking part in the Covenant celebration also calls the exclusion of AWAB and the Peace Fellowship into question -- especially in an election year, especially when one of the keynote speakers is the husband of a presidential candidate, especially since civil rights for homosexuals was a contentious and pivotal issue in 2004.
I don’t often agree with Richard Land (in fact, this is almost certainly the first time), but he is right in asserting that the political affiliations of the Covenant’s chief standard-bearers are not beyond suspicion. If we non-/ex-Southern Baptists are going to faithfully challenge those who have given their riches to the worship of a golden elephant, setting up a golden donkey is not the answer. Becoming an alternative witness involves more than recasting and repackaging what the other side has to offer.
Jimmy Allen asked NBC attendees whether the event would be “a moment” or become “a movement.” I think the answer to that question will be determined by how much sway old models and old temptations are allowed to have. Covenants are not “fragile coalitions.” They are tenacious relationships rooted in our life with God. When we Baptists arrive at a place where we can commit ourselves to “seeking peace with justice, bringing good news to the poor, respecting diversity, welcoming the stranger, and setting the captive free,” without exception and regardless of what else we might agree or disagree about, that will be a truly “unprecedented demonstration of Baptist unity” and something worth celebrating.
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-- Todd Thomason is pastor of Baptist Temple Church in Alexandria, Va.
Correction
By ABP staff
There was an error in the 10 paragraph of the Feb. 13 ABP story, “Religious voters in ‘Potomac Primary’ boost Obama, protest McCain.” Please replace the second sentence of that paragraph with the following: “Virginia GOP voters who said they rarely attend church supported the senator 59-29 percent over his chief rival.”
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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Prayer Blog - 2/21/2008

Last night, WRK ended her six-year relationship with PAT. I have not talked to PAT but plan on seeing him this weekend. Obviously, this is a potentially life-changing event, especially for PAT. In the last two months he has lost his beloved grandfather, moved away from Knoxville for the first time, and now this.

There has not been time for any of us to fully process this situation and the days and months ahead will be challenging. Please keep all involved in this situation in your prayers - especially pray for understanding, God's wisdom and guidance, and that God minimize the pain as only God can in times like these.

View from 315A

The Vols' win over Auburn on Wednesday night coupled with a Memphis 97-71 road victory over Tulane sets the stage for an in-state #1 vs. #2 game. The game will be played Saturday night at 9 pm in Memphis. This would have been unfathomable just a few years ago. I am not overly confident, but I am hopeful.

The Auburn game was an onslaught almost from the get go. Tennessee jumped out to a 26-point half-time lead and cruised through the second half. The only lull came when Auburn made a late 15-0 run against UT's s(cr)ubs. After watching a 29-point lead dissipate to 83-69 with 2:06 to play, Bruce Pearl sent the starters back on the floor. Note to Bruce: Never have three of our white guys on the court at the same time (Childress, Howell, Pearl).

Steven Pearl, whom I really like, played very much like me. He played two minutes, missed two shots, and committed three fouls. I love his intensity, but he is probably not going to get the charge called with a 20-point lead and under three minutes to play.

Our scoring was balanced as UT had six players score 8 or more points. Ramar Smith led with 19 points and Tyler Smith had his fifth double-double of the year (13,13). JaJuan Smith had 12. Auburn has a junior guard named Drew Smith who did not play so we totally dominated the battle of the Smiths.

The game marked Tennessee’s 30th straight home win and Chris Lofton became only the seventh player in NCAA history to hit 400 three-point shots.

Bible Trivia - 2/21/2008

Question: Why did Moses think he was incapable of organizing the Jews to leave Egypt?

Answer: Because he didn’t feel eloquent enough.(Exodus 4:10)

Comments: Moses’ claim that he was “slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exodus 4:10) is probably more an excuse to evade the responsibility of leading God’s people than a fact. Exodus 4 begins with Moses’ concern that the people will not believe his mission has a divine origin. To assure him, God gives him three visible signs to attest to this fact. It is then that Moses claims his own inarticulateness. Ironically, his argument for being poor with words is quite eloquent.

“Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." (Exodus 4:10, NASB)

Moses’ claim angers God, who then gives him his brother Aaron as his mouthpiece. When it is time to speak, with the exception of the initial charge to the people (4:30) it is almost always Moses, not his brother Aaron who fulfills the task.

The fact that Moses’ assertion is made in the context of another excuse, that God is angered (4:14), and that Moses proves himself quite well spoken all indicate that Moses is copping out more than accurately assessing his verbal abilities.

Word of the Day - 2/21/2008

Conflagration

A conflagration is a destructive fire, usually an extensive one.

The LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with a conflagration from heaven. (Genesis 19:24) Two less notorious cities of the plain were extinguished as well, Admah and Zeboiim. (Deuteronomy 29:23, Hosea 11:8)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/21/2008

Last night, MPW and I returned to our seats in 315A to watch our Vols annihilate Auburn. I was very pleased with the result as I had driven all the way to Auburn last year only to watch us lose.

We corrected two mistakes from our previous trip and I made another huge one. On the plus side, we did not “upgrade” our seats for this game and I actually wore a hoodie to combat the cold weather. Believe it or not, people were actually in our seats when we got there. I guess they realized that we have the best seats in the house.

The dumb thing I did was go to the game. I had been bedridden all day with a flu-like symptoms. I really wanted to go though as this was the last game of the season that was untelevised. So I took enough medication to numb Secretariat and we were on our way. I actually felt okay except for the hike up to our seats. I really thought I might collapse right there in front of God and everybody.

Tennessee dominated on the court. My analysis is filed under the “View from 315A.”

The only downside was that in a year of sub-par halftime programs, Tennessee hit an all-time low. A so-called band called the Sons of Bruce performed a song called “The Bruce is Loose.” Their video introduction was longer than the performance itself. The only time I have ever heard of anyone flopping that bad was in a Sunday School performance in which SMA, CEH, and I performed a self written song about LEJ. I know good and well the look on someone’s face when they are simply embarrassed for you as you do something and that was the gaze plastered across 20,000 faces last night. You can check out the video at http://www.bruceisloose.com/.

You will notice on their web site, that CBC-Bearden member Chase Pattison is in the group. Sorry, Chase. You are very talented and a redhead on top of that but this was a debacle.

If I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times, just bring out little kids playing basketball or a geriatric chiropractor shooting three-pointers.

Amazingly, just after they performed, senior point guard Jordan Howell did a recorded performance of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Let’s Get in On” on the big screen. He sang and played the piano. He was surprisingly good. Still, MPW and I could not help but think about the fact that this crooning little man gave 6'9" Wayne Chism a concussion earlier in the season.

After the game, and with me getting increasingly congested, we went to Applebees for half priced appetizers in a never ending meal as our waitress “did not see” us at first and then must have forgotten our existence entirely. While there I ran into my old high school buddy, MLW. More importantly, I get numerous phone calls relating to the breakup of the six-year relationship of PAT and WRK. Please keep all involved in this relationship in your prayers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Prayer Blog - 2/20/2008

RP aka "Elvis" is very ill. You know it is serious when a grown man voluntarily consults a doctor. I pray for a speedy recovery.

Bible Trivia - 2/20/2008

Question: What did the first recorded woman thief in the Bible (other than Eve) steal?

Answer: Household idols (Genesis 31:19).

Comments: Rachel, daughter of Laban and wife of Jacob, steals her father's household gods (teraphim) as she and her family are fleeing her father’s household.. When her father corrales the escapees searching for the goods, Rachel avoids interrogation as she shrewdly informs her father that "the manner of women is upon me." (Genesis 31:35)

On the surface it appears that Rachel is hedging her bets in regards to her devotion and she seems to suffer no consequences for her theft.

Rabbis offer two suggestions as to her motivation, both presenting the matriarch in a positive light. Some contend that she was attempting to conceal residue of her and her family's escape route. Others claim she was simply trying to end her father's pagan ways the best way she knew how and in her presumably last opportunity to do so.

She may have suffered some consequences for this indiscretion as her husband put a curse on the perpetrator not kniwng his beloved wife was the culprit. Rachel is the only one of four Jewish matriarchs not buried in the family's burial plot in the Cave of Machpelah. Further her descendant Saul has only a brief reign as ruler over Israel whereas her sister Leah's descendants, David, Solomon, etc. maintained the throne.

Word of the Day - 2/20/2008

Degust

To degust is to taste or savor carefully or appreciatively.

Before administering his blessing, Isaac wished to first degust a fresh, home cooked meal(Genesis 27:3-5).It appears a preoccupation with food ran in the patriarchal family as Esau was rooked first out of his birthright by his own appetite (Genesis 25) and then his blessing by his father’s (Genesis 27). His brother Jacob’s duplicity did not help the cause either.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/20/2008

Tuesday night was spent celebrating the end of WAM’s convalescence. He had been quite ill and, in my estimation, his recuperation was means for revelry. (As I get older, the cause that necessitates celebration diminishes.) So WAM, KLTW, KJW, RAW, and myself gathered at RAW’s home. KLTW cooked us a large breakfast for dinner, even cooking WAM French toast at his request. Her cooking was wonderful as usual.

While KLTW cooked, I undertook the futile task of cleaning KJW’s room. I estimate that she will have the room back to its typical state of disarray in fifteen minutes or less. I later learned not to place the noisy toys near the door as her mother tripped on a singing vacuum cleaner after finally getting KJW to sleep. Lesson learned.

Who on earth developed the concept of a singing vacuum cleaner?


KJW’s fascination with fashion is evident as she tends to try on any accessory that happens to be within her grasp. On this night, she modeled her own shades (left) as well as her mother’s (right). Heidi Klum’s got nothing on KJW!

I am thisclose to convincing her mother into entering KJW into a baby contest at Wal-Mart, solely to merit the gift card awarded the winner. I confess, that I had also thought about rooking her out of the title by not telling her, scavenging the web for Jessica Alba’s baby pictures, and winning by virtue of them. Nowhere in the contest rules does it say that I ever have to produce the child in the photo. I am sure other ministers had the same idea when seeing the contest...

Little did we know that the night would represent a major milestone in the life of KJW. It was the day that she discovered the "duh-dun-duh-dun!" At the dinner table we exhausted the supply of paper towels, leaving only the cardboard tube. It was then that she learned she could use the tube to amplify her voice. The "duh-dun-duh-dun!" was named by her cousin, CJT, because of the sound he made when he used it. I am honored to have been there for KJW’s first ultrasound, her birth, her first birthday, etc. but this was an especially significant turning point in her life.

We let WAM, as the guest of honor, select the night’s entertainment and he picked the movie 300. I did not make it through the film as when KJW went to bed, I took advantage of the pause to call it a night as well. I was so tired from an exhausting day. It reminded me of a 1965 episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" in which he is unjustly arrested and his only alibi is that he implausibly slept through The Guns of Navarone at the time of the crime. For my pride’s sake, I did want to stay up later than the toddler.

I will say, I had already seen 300 and enjoyed it. I would recommend "The History Channel Presents Last Stand of the 300 - The Legendary Battle at Thermopylae", now available on DVD. As a self respecting nerd, I am totally biased towards the History Channel’s version. Besides, fact is usually better than fiction.

Yestertday also marked the 30th birthday of my high school friend CAR. I did not forget!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Associated Baptist Press - 2/19/2008

Associated Baptist Press
February 19, 2008 (8-20)

IN THIS ISSUE:
Post-Covenant criticism comes from left, right
Ed Young says he didn’t argue with Clinton about Bible literality
Opinion: Emerging evangelical center may decide 2008 election

Post-Covenant criticism comes from left, right
By Hannah Elliott
NEW YORK (ABP) -- Although organizers hailed a recent pan-Baptist gathering as a success, a handful of critics have leveled a wide array of charges against the Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant.
The critics of the event, held in Atlanta in late January and early February, include conservatives who continue to accuse it of having a thinly veiled liberal political agenda. But they also include moderates and liberals who say the gathering was not inclusive enough of ethnic and sexual minorities.
The Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant drew an estimated 15,000 Baptists to discuss working together despite denominational, ethnic, political and economic differences. Its headline organizers were the two living Baptists who have held the presidency: Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.
Many observers praised the event as a momentous occasion that generated new unity, energy and focus for Baptists across North America. It earned rave reviews from secular and religious media outlets alike as a crucial first step in the walk toward racial reconciliation in the Baptist faith.
Covenant leaders like Leo Thorne, associate general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, even said the diversity of political opinion actually adds quality to the discussion.
“It doesn’t make any difference what decision you make or action you take, there are always people who use their freedoms to express disagreement,” Thorne said. “That’s rich. That’s energizing. That’s wonderful that we can have a diversity of opinions of issues.... If there are those who disagree, that is okay with me.”
But Carter and Clinton’s involvement in the event and the lack of official participation by the Southern Baptist Convention on a denominational level led many conservatives to criticize the celebration soon after it was announced in 2007. Although organizers made an effort to include prominent Baptist Republicans in the program, some conservatives have continued to criticize it. Paul Proctor, in a Feb. 11 column for the Nashville Tennessean, said the celebration achieved only an “image of unity,” which validated conservatives’ critique that liberals tend to promote “symbolism over substance.”
“As far as I'm concerned, outgoing SBC president Frank Page, who incidentally declined the invitation to attend, was right on calling the meeting a ‘smoke-screen left-wing liberal agenda,’” Proctor wrote. “Carter can preach Christian unity all he wants, but he was the one who spurned the Southern Baptist Convention back in 2000. If anyone is guilty of promoting division among Baptists, it is the presidential peanut farmer from Georgia.”
More progressive Baptists also criticized the event for insufficiently displaying unity amid diversity.
Laura Cadena, a graduate of George W. Truett Theological Seminary and a member of Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta, said the meeting’s rhetoric of Baptist unity appealed to her, and she attended to observe it as well as see friends from her Texas seminary days. But, she added in a Feb. 7 opinion column for EthicsDaily.com, the meeting proved to be a letdown when it came to representing all Baptist groups.
“I think that we could have done better, but it’s a beginning,” Cadena, 33, said. “I think that if the planning committee could have been more diverse -- and by that I mean including more women, more young people, more Asian Baptists, maybe more Ghanaian Baptists -- that would have been good.”
On the other hand, in a Feb. 8 Wall Street Journal column, Naomi Schaefer Riley described the event as a “liberal answer to the Southern Baptist Convention.” She said it showed how difficult it is for progressive evangelicals “to unite, let alone get under the same tent with secular liberals and become a political force….
“The New Baptist Covenant is supposed to be more ‘inclusive’ than the SBC. It's OK to rail against abortion, as long as you mention the problem of uninsured children in the same breath,” she said. “The group also wanted to distinguish itself from the SBC on the issue of homosexuality. But to get all of these church groups to sign on, the language of the agreement had to be chosen very carefully.”
Todd Thomason, pastor of Baptist Temple Church in Alexandria, Va., wrote in a column to be published by Associated Baptist Press that he’s not convinced there is much new about the covenant celebrated at the meeting, especially when it comes to the issue of homosexuality.
Organizers decided not to allow the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists or the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America -- two pro-gay groups -- to participate in the event in an official manner. That decision, Thomason said, smacks of the “top-down exclusionary action” used by Southern Baptist leaders during the narrowing of the group’s policies in the last 20 years.
Champions of the New Baptist Covenant “cried foul when the leaders of the so-called ‘conservative resurgence’ seized the reins of power within the SBC and then circled the wagons, forcing out all who wouldn’t accept their narrow ideology or who dared to ask questions,” he wrote. “For these same Baptists to turn around now and disenfranchise other Baptists in much the same way (if not on the same scale) is the height of biblical hypocrisy.”
Covenant leaders “didn't think they could hold together the large coalition of Baptists needed to create a new Baptist voice in North America while addressing the issue of sexual orientation at the same time,” wrote Ken Pennings, director of the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Event organizers have said homosexuality is to be “tolerated,” though not necessarily “affirmed.” While the pro-gay groups were not involved on an official level, many of their members attended, and they used exhibit-booth space provided by the Alliance of Baptists -- another pro-gay group -- to display materials at the meeting.
Cadena -- a fifth-generation Texan of Hispanic background – also wondered why participants from her ethnic group were not better represented at the meeting. She asked whether there is “room in the family photo for Latino Baptists?”
“Where do we fit? Here in the South, Latinos are relatively new … there are not enough people that speak Spanish, there are not enough doctors that speak Spanish, there are not enough teachers that speak Spanish,” she said. “So what does a Hispanic church look like? I don’t know.” Cadena said the meeting should have included specified time for networking between people from the same region or affinity group. That way, Latinos could have seen more clearly whether they should wait to be included in leadership of the larger Baptist family or create their own group.
Schaefer Riley, for her part, pointed out that one thing attendees did have in common was their age, which skewed to the older end of the spectrum. And that doesn’t bode well for the movement, she said.
“The reason for the overrepresentation of seniors may be that young people have increasingly been moving to non-denominational churches or because they are often more conservative than their parents on issues like abortion,” she wrote. “Either way, it doesn't bode well for the Covenant. Or for the left.”
Thorne said Covenant leaders will continue to address such concerns, especially through the efforts of the North American Baptist Fellowship, which played a large role in organizing the meeting. The body is the umbrella group for all North American Baptist bodies that belong to the Baptist World Alliance.
Leaders at NABF “are serous about continuing to strengthen relationships and efforts in networking for missions,” Thorne said. “They are committed to that. So this event … is not going to be a program that is a be-all and end-all.”
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--Robert Marus contributed to this story.

Gay-friendly Baptist groups excluded from New Baptist Covenant event (7/24/2007)
SBC officials reject Carter, unity talk, but not all Southern Baptists join chorus (1/12/2007)
Ed Young says he didn’t argue with Clinton about Bible literality
By Hannah Elliott
NEW YORK (ABP) -- Bill Clinton may have had Ed Young confused with another Southern Baptist pastor or may simply have chosen to remember a 1993 encounter falsely when he spoke to a group of Baptists several weeks ago, according to the Houston pastor.
Young, pastor of Houston’s Second Baptist Church, sent a letter to Clinton’s foundation disputing the former president’s recollection, which he mentioned during the recent Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant meeting in Atlanta. It concerned a meeting between the two that Clinton said involved a morning run and a White House breakfast.
Young, a former Southern Baptist Convention president, said he greatly enjoyed the time with Clinton, former vice president Al Gore and several other pastors. But it simply was nothing like Clinton described in the speech.
“I just think he pulled it out of the fantasy file. I really do,” he said.
In a keynote address Feb. 1, Clinton told the crowd that in 1993, Young, then-president of the SBC, had requested a meeting with Clinton and Gore. After a 40-minute run on the National Mall and breakfast on the White House’s Truman Balcony, Clinton said, Young asked him, “Do you believe the Bible is literally true?”
Clinton told the crowd he said, “Reverend Young, I think that it is completely true, but I do not believe that you or I or any other living person is wise enough to understand it completely. He said, ‘that’s a political answer,’ and I said, ‘No it’s not. You asked a political question.’”
Young said he was shocked when one of his aides showed him the transcript from Clinton’s speech.
“I was stunned. I said, ‘You’re kidding me.’ I thought they set me up,” Young said. “The point is, I don’t go to the White House every day. That’s a big thing for me. [The conversation] didn’t happen. So many of the things he said weren’t true.”
The former president also told the crowd that the men had “a remarkable breakfast” while they debated several issues. Gore allegedly told Young, “You know I love my Baptist roots, but I have three daughters and a son, and I don't think it’s right that only my son can become a minister.” Clinton said Young and Gore then “argued” about the subject of women in ministry.
But Young said Feb. 14 that he never solicited a meeting with Clinton. Rather, he contended, a Clinton aide invited him to Washington.
“For the record, we did not have a meal together,” Young wrote in the Feb. 8 letter, sent to Clinton’s New York-based foundation office. “The next morning after our meeting on the Truman Balcony, we did jog the Washington Mall. … Vice President Gore did ask about women in the ministry. Your account of his question was right on target. But there was absolutely no argument. There was nothing to argue about.”
Young said he told Gore and Clinton he opposed women serving in pastoral roles, but respected the autonomy of local Baptist churches to ordain women if they so chose.
Young said the most egregious of Clinton’s errors in his speech regarded the question of whether the Bible is literally true.
“I do not believe the Bible is literally, in the normal definition of the word, true,” Young wrote to Clinton. “Jesus said, ‘I am the door.’ No one takes that ‘literally.’ As you know, sir, in the Bible there are metaphors, parables, hyperbole, poetry, apocalyptic language, etc., and the Bible cannot be understood by anyone who would be foolish enough to think that you can take the Word of God literally. Also, at no time during our visit did I use the pejorative phrase, ‘slick political answer.’”
Representatives from the William J. Clinton Foundation did not respond to requests from an Associated Baptist Press reporter for a response to Young’s contentions.
Young, for his part, said the exchange with Clinton has not soured his take on the New Baptist Covenant event, which he had not followed closely prior to its meeting. Several of his conservative Southern Baptist colleagues had decried the historic meeting of several different Baptist groups. They alleged that it was a narrowly-veiled attempt to rally support for a liberal political agenda, even though prominent Baptist Republicans participated.
“I think there is a tendency from all around the whole controversy in Baptist life to take the right wing or the left wing or the moderate wing and try to put [words] into their mouths and interpret what they believe in a pejorative way,” he said. “That is a tendency of all of us.
“My philosophy and theology can be summed up very simply: In essentials unity; in nonessentials diversity; in all things love. In all things there are non-essentials, and that’s where the controversy lies.”
As a member of the board of directors of the Greater Houston Partnership, which hosts a presidential debate prior to the Texas primary, Young in his letter invited the former president to meet with him in Texas, should Clinton accompany Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) to the debate.
He does not expect to receive a response to the invitation, he said.
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Respond to critics with 'spirit of love,' Clinton tells Baptists (2/2)
Opinion: Emerging evangelical center may decide 2008 election
By David Gushee
Last summer I completed a book arguing that an evangelical center is emerging in American life and that it shows signs of displacing the vaunted but fading “Christian right” in the hearts and minds of American evangelicals--especially among younger and non-white Christian believers. Events occurring during this presidential campaign demonstrate this is happening already.
The factual argument of my book, The Future of Faith in American Politics, is that the American evangelical community shares core Christian beliefs but does not (and never did) exhibit political consensus. I argue that besides the widely recognized evangelical right, symbolized by figures such as James Dobson and the late Jerry Falwell, and the evangelical left, symbolized by activists such as Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, today there is emerging a visible and increasingly powerful evangelical center, whose most influential figures are probably the megachurch pastor Rick Warren and the lobbyist Richard Cizik of the National Association of Evangelicals. My book names dozens of figures who can be placed in the various camps.
The evangelical center shares with the right its deep opposition to abortion, concern about the decline of marriage and the eroding well-being of children in our society, worries about the moral content of mass media, and rejection of the morality of sex outside of heterosexual marriage. It rejects, however, the right’s entanglement with and loyalty to the Republican Party, its relatively narrow focus on issues primarily related to sexuality, and its mood of angry nostalgia and aggrieved entitlement about the Christian role in American society.
The evangelical center, in turn, shares with the evangelical left a strong emphasis on the plight of the poor, attention to racism as a moral and policy issue, opposition to the routine resort to war by the United States, a high priority to creation care and acceptance of the seriousness of climate change, commitment to finding a humane solution to the immigration issue, and conviction that human-rights commitments require wholehearted opposition to torture in the U.S. war on terror. It tends to differ from the left in its more careful commitment to political independence, its stronger and more thorough attention to issues of abortion, family, and sexuality, and its willingness to support the moral legitimacy of some (though not all) U.S. military actions.
In some ways the towering presence of the evangelical right has made it difficult until recently for any kind of alternative voices to gain a broad cultural hearing. For many, the word “evangelical” has equaled “Christian right.” For just as long as there has been an evangelical right (about 35 years), a small and largely ignored evangelical left has sought to carve out an alternative. Now it is time for all cultural observers to acknowledge that the evangelical political landscape is fragmented along right/center/left lines -- just like, for example, Catholics, females and Hispanics.
Polling data already available when I wrote the book led me to argue that non-white evangelicals and younger evangelicals definitely skewed in a centrist or more liberal direction overall than did older white evangelicals. This led me to project that generational change and increasing demographic diversity among the evangelical population in the United States would lead to the emergence of a strong and visible evangelical center, a more muscular evangelical left, and in some cases a center-left coalition representing half or more of American evangelicals.
These days everyone is talking about the presidential campaign and especially how evangelical voting behavior has been evolving. Though there is a long journey awaiting us between now and November, outcomes so far seem to confirm at least parts of the argument I am proposing.
On the Republican side, the evangelical right was unable to coalesce around a candidate who reflected their classic positions. Perhaps the closest ones were the long-forgotten Sam Brownback and Alan Keyes. Only now is the evangelical right showing signs of closing rank around Mike Huckabee as an alternative to John McCain. But it was a long time coming, and this was no doubt because the pre-2008 Huckabee record exhibited centrist or progressive strains on such issues as immigration, the death penalty, and economic inequality. Even during the campaign he has made what are to centrists promising comments about issues such as climate change and ending torture. As it stands, the two remaining Republican candidates reflect at least a number of commitments that point toward the center rather than the right, much to the frustration of the right.
Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both offer policy stances rooted in moral commitments sometimes openly traced to Christian values. Their positions on such issues as torture, poverty, health care, immigration, war and climate reflect stances held by both the evangelical center and left. To the extent that either or both offer clear statements on the moral tragedy of abortion and concrete policies to reduce the number of abortions, they may well succeed in gaining the support of many centrist evangelical voters who are genuine independents and could consider supporting a candidate of either party. It is not clear whether the homosexuality issue will prove as salient to evangelicals, especially centrists, as it did in 2004.
It is quite possible that the votes of centrist evangelicals—perhaps representing as many as one-third of our nation’s massive evangelical community—will decide the election this fall.
I believe that the emerging evangelical center represents a maturing of the Christian public voice in American life. This is a more peaceable, forward-looking, holistic and independent approach to politics than what has come to carry the evangelical label. Its emergence is good for our nation and for evangelicals. Centrist evangelicals bear watching in this election and beyond.
-30-
-- David Gushee is distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University. http://www.davidpgushee.com/

Separated at Birth?



Current University of Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl (left) and WWE Hall of Fame wrestler Don Muraco (right).

Prayer Blog - 2/19/2008

KLTW's niece, SM, is pregnant. At age 21, this is the eighth child she has carried. None of the children have been carried to term, and only two have survived thus far. Earlier in the year, she lost twins. She seeks a large family to compensate for the lack of her own growing up.

Let her body endure another pregnancy. Grant her Your wisdom concerning future pregnancies. Provide something to fill the space of family in her life.

Bible Trivia - 2/19/2008

Question: To which tribe of Israel did Paul belong?

Answer: Benjamin (Philippians 3:5).

Comments: Paul was originally known as Saul, the name of the first king of Israel. Both Sauls were from the tribe of Israel.

The only other Biblical Saul is a king of Edom referenced in Genesis 36:37, 38. The King James Version and its successor (NKJV) render his name Saul while most other modern translations call him “Shaul” (CEV, ESV, NASB, NIV, NLT, NRSV, RSV).

Word of the Day - 2/19/2008

Dissolute

Dissolute means indifferent to moral restraints; given to immoral or improper conduct; licentious; dissipated.

Members from the church at Corinth informed Paul that some of its members were dissolute (I Corinthians 5:1). From the tone of I Corinthians, that may have been an understatement.

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/19/2008

Monday went by quickly. After a smash and grab breakfast with SMA at Shoney’s, I set out to purchase Built to Spill’s 1994 CD “There’s Nothing Wrong With Love.” This is newsworthy as I rarely buy new CDs (or anything else new for that matter). This is the first of many times I will lament the Disc Exchange West’s closing as Borders was sold out and I was forced to make the trip to South Knoxville to the original Disc Exchange to purchase the album. Several of the employees from the West Store have relocated there, so at least I had the same feeling of musical ignorance that engulfed me at the old store.

I spent Monday night eating with my parents at a very crowded Calhoun’s (it’s Burger Monday, man!) and after stopping to see JTH, I spent the evening with RAW, KLTW, and KJW. They had asked me over for tacos but I already had dinner plans with my family. It is a good thing to as the girls far exceeded their usual taco intake and there would not have been enough for me anyway. They both need to put on some weight. Problems I wish I had...

We just hung out, or as we Baptists say had fellowship. We did not watch any television or movies, play games, etc. It was nice. We did have great entertainment in the form of KJW.

My mother loves KJW as much as I do so I asked KJW if she wanted to call her. Since she loves my cell phone, she said, “Oday” (her standard form of consent). When I got my mother on the line, KJW got shy. She rapidly and definitively said “No!” to anything I would ask her. I thought I would play this to my advantage, so after a dozen negatives, I asked her, “Do you want your Uncle Chan to change your diaper?” She responded, “Oday.” Comedic timing like that cannot be taught.

We also found great amusement when RAW clipped her Valentine’s Day balloon to the back of her shirt. It is a large (relative to her) mylar balloon. We convinced her that the balloon was chasing her and she ran for minutes around the house looking back, batting at it, etc. trying to evade it as RAW and laughed. Though as I type this it sounds strangely like torture, all we could think was - “why have we not thought of this before?”

The floor show also included dancing, her staple Fast Feet™, and several costume changes (some unplanned and in front of the audience). The highlight of the impromptu wardrobe switches was her deciding to wear her favorite hat, a Winnie the Pooh bucket hat. I could go on and on and bout that kid, and in fact I have.

Despite KJW’s precociousness, the best news of the day is that BCA secured tickets for the SEC basketball tournament in March for SMA and me. She was worried that we would be disappointed that the seats were in the rafters. Was she kidding? I have always wanted to go. The Vols have never done well in the tournament and I am hoping our presence will break the trend.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Bible Trivia - 2/18/2008

Question: How did Rahab make a living?

Answer: As a prostitute. (Joshua 2:1)

Comments: Rahab was a prostitute who housed Israelite spies on a reconnaissance mission to Jericho, prior to the conquest of the Promised Land. Her house provided a strategic location as it was built into the city wall, giving the investigators a bird’s eye view fo the city.

So it can be said that the spies stayed at a prostitute’s home to get the lay of the land.

Word of the Day - 2/18/2008

Impuissance

Impuissance is feebleness, weakness.

Paul said that he would boast of his impuissance so that the power of Christ might dwell in him. (II Corinthians 12:9)

In Eckleburg's Eyes - 2/18/2008

My weekend activities centered around another road trip following Tennessee basketball, this time to Athens, GA. Our last trip was to Starville, MS. Either I am a big fan of the Vol basketball team or I just like looking at people in Bulldog costumes. You be the judge.

The fact that I intended to go to the game on Saturday was the extent of my planning. I assumed I would meet my friends, SMA and MPW, who were each driving separately, perhaps in Atlanta. This all changed Friday morning when SMA, who lives in Birmingham, made an unexpected visit to my house, choosing to ride together. The fact that this was unplanned is evidenced by his going commando. This fact unnerved me and I wanted to spread that sentiment.

On Friday morning we left Knoxville with no map, no hotel reservation, and no tickets to the sold out game. You may hear this and think that this is a recipe for disaster. We prefer to regard it as a blueprint for adventure.

We broke the trip up by first stopping in Chattanooga. This allowed me to make my obligatory stop at McKay Used Books and CDs as well as a jaunt to Wal-Mart for SMA to purchase underwear. I am not sure which was a bigger concern - for me.

I nixed SMA’s suggestion of eating at Five Guys in Chattanooga as I like to eat in places I cannot at home while on road trips. After scavenging a crowded sector of Chattanooga and getting back on the interstate, we ultimately ate at the Cracker Barrel in Dalton, GA. I suppose my hunger outweighed my desire for adventure.

We next stopped in Atlanta for a Horseman Reunion with MHD and his wife LD. It was the first time we have gotten together since their wedding last April. MHD is one of our all-time favorite people and we were a little concerned that our married comrade with a corporate job had outgrown us. When we arrived we soon learned that the couple had celebrated Valentine’s Day by attending Step Up 2 the Streets as a humorous endeavor and their plans for St. Patrick’s Day were to throw a Protestant party to rebel against LD’s job at a Catholic school. Our fears were clearly unwarranted.

We toured their home, near their alma mater, Oglethorpe. MHD was especially proud of his basement, which we are pretty sure was the basis for the Saw movie series. We discussed all of the important issues - professional wrestlers (real and fake), crazy story concepts (featuring obelisks, zombies, his basement, etc.), and the once unfathomable concept that my hair is longer than MHD’s. LD was so understanding as we laughed, reminisced and talked of nothingness. The visit was great and I had already decided that if Athens was a bust, the trip had already been a success.

I had hoped to see my seminary friend CAB on Friday night, but she was in South Carolina celebrating her mother’s birthday. So, after a brief nostalgic look at my seminary’s campus, we decided to spend the night in Athens.

I have been to Athens several times, most notably for two football games and chauffeuring PRJ throughout the city, but this is one of the first times I really had time to tour it.

Our first stop in Athens was the 40 Watt Club. It is a historic venue that launched many careers, including numerous "Athens bands" such as R.E.M., Drivin' and Cryin', and the Indigo Girls. The Krush Girls were performing on this night. Disinterested in their act, we opted to view the building from the outside. The structure itself is not overly impressive, situated in an average corner building, but a great venue’s magic is not in the brick and mortar. Despite its unimpressive exterior, we were glad we saw it.

We then got our hotel room at a Howard Johnson Express. It was my choice as, to my knowledge, I had never stayed at a HoJos and I liked the 1980's baseball player of the same name. Unbeknownst to us, we were staying at a modern marvel. I have no idea how such thin walls were structurally sound. Our “neighbors” were a young family. This was probably the second worst scenario behind a newlywed couple, as at least children have bedtimes. Then again, I would really have pity on anyone honeymooning at the Howard Johnson Express in Athens. The hotel served its purpose though and we were pleased enough that it strangely resembled the hotel featured in the movie Bottle Rocket

After checking in, we ate at a nearby Applebees, primarily out of convenience and to a lesser degree my affinity for their appetizers. Unfortunately, in Georgia, Applebees franchises do not carry potato skins. Why!?!?!

My only other complaint regarding Friday was the fact that I missed a party held every February in Knoxville of our old friends from Newport. I missed you guys.



On Saturday, we ate at a small restaurant called the the Basil Press. It was very nice, lodged in an old downtown building with stained glass windows. We liked everything about it. Upon the recommendation of the server, I had the mutton French dip. It was one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten. The service was wonderful as well. The manager’s brother actually manages the Tomato Head restaurant in Knoxville.

After lunch, we went about the task of securing tickets. We quickly learned that the box office would be of no use to us, so we went to an ATM. Before processing his request, the ATM machine asked us if a $2 service charge was going to be acceptable for the withdrawal. We thought about cancelling the transaction and just driving back to Knoxville at that very moment.

Unlike any game we have been to in some time, we could not find a scalper anywhere near Stegeman Coliseum. It was about an hour and a half before tip-off and we were getting a little concerned. Then, by chance, we met a nice couple who had season tickets. Seeing me enquiring about tickets from a passerby, they offered us to sit with them in their season tickets at a very reasonable price. We wound up sitting in the eleventh row. I honestly think we reminded them of their children. Dumbstruck by our good fortune, at that moment, I decided not to be obnoxious during the game. I tried. Honestly, I did. As the intensity of the game escalated, so did my obnoxiousness. I am not sure they did not regret their decision to sit by us.

There is a natural tendency to want to compensate for the home fans by being louder. It is a license to be obnoxious, if you will. The problem is, when you are already obnoxious to begin with, it can become excessive. We did have fun though.

A chance encounter with a former president of Tennessee’s Atlanta Alumni Association gave me a new perspective on the ticket situation. It seems she tried to order tickets for her group, but a Knoxville group had already bought up four hundred seats. The ticket office would not sell her any. The game was “sold out” but a good portion of the stadium was empty. Tennessee had a huge throng of fans and at times, it seemed like a home game. I suppose Georgia would rather have empty seats than Vol fans.

Before the game, Tennessee sophomore J.P. Prince’s father talked to us. He actually initiated the encounter. Camaraderie at road games never ceases to amaze me. I was also agape that I actually knew what our player’s father looked like. I really am a groupie...

My thoughts on the game were posted in the “View from 315A.”

After the game, we met up with MPW and JeML for the Bruce Pearl Show. This was largely to cheer the Vols as they came out because we had no audio connection. At one point in time, 107.7's speakers were brought to road games so that the fans in attendance could follow the program. Bob Kesling told the large group of supporters that we could blame Vanderbilt for our predicament as they had lodged a formal protest and the WIVK speakers were now banned on the road. He was cheered loudly as he lamented, “...another reason I hate Vanderbilt.”

The highlight of the post-game show came when Chris Lofton arrived to be interviewed by Kesling, as he had been awarded player of the game honors. Lofton was inundated with a wide range of objects to sign. Amidst the deluge, a woman emerged and handed her baby, adorned in a UT hat, to Lofton so that she could get a photo. An obliging, but uncomfortable Lofton posed for a picture with the child. Somewhere in the sea of Tennessee fans, someone yelled out “Shoot it!” That could be interpreted many ways, none of which would be in the baby’s best interests.

No, the fan was not one of us!

We then embarked on the ride home. Thankfully, the trip was completely uneventful. The time flew by as SMA’s iPod played a steady stream of Built to Spill, The Decemberists, and The Pogues. We both sang the entire “Picaresque” album, which is one of my all-time favorites.

The only regret I had about the trip, was that I missed a photo op with JuJuan Smith and his mother. The thought of taking this picture gives me great amusement and I hope I will get another opportunity.



On Sunday, I visited with JCN and KFN and met their newborn baby, DTN. The trip was delayed as I had forgotten that they had moved from Deane Hill to Rocky Hill. They were, however, pleased to know that their old home was being well kept.

He is an extremely beautiful boy. He is also a big boy - weighing nine pounds, eleven ounces at birth! I did not think babies came that big outside of Texas. For whatever reason, they both acknowledged that in his entire life (all 17 days of it), he had never cried as much as when I visited. I sometimes have that effect on people so I will not hold it against him.

JCN has been keeping a blog since last June, chronicling the pregnancy through the present. More importantly it has great photos of his beautiful child. Check it out at http://babyneely.blogspot.com/.

Sunday night was spent watching the movie Speak with JTH. JTH has been on a real Kristen Stewart kick of late, repeatedly watching In the Land of Women. While I probably should not encourage his fascination with a seventeen-year old, I had read good reviews of the film and thoroughly enjoyed it. My review is posted under “A Veiled Tell: Nil Soli.”

After eating at Applebees the third straight night (by choice), we called it a night. Can you say “addictive personality?”

I hope all of you had great weekends too.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Separated at Birth?



Is it just me or does Kristen Stewart look like a young Nicole Eggert?

If you know my opinion of Eggert, you know that is high praise.

A Veiled Tell: Nil Soli - 2/17/2008

Speak (2004)

JTH and I watched the movie Speak tonight. The film, an adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s book of the same name, originally aired as a television movie in 2004. It stars Kristen Stewart, who has starred in the more recently released In the Land of Women and The Messengers. JTH was drawn to the film by Stewart and I was drawn to its having been featured at the Sundance Film Festival.

The premise of the film is a look at the freshman year of a girl named Melinda Sordino (Stewart) after a traumatic, misunderstood experience over the summer. Watching the character gradually regain her voice throughout the film is powerful.

Kristen Stewart carries the film wonderfully. The script is structured in such a way that it lives and dies with her and she thrives. This is especially impressive considering how much she must convey without the benefit of dialogue and the fact that she was thirteen years old when the movie was filmed. The supporting cast is also good. Steve Zahn is especially endearing as Stewart’s concerned art teacher.

Much like In the Land of Women Kristen Stewart’s character has great artistic ability. Is there a real life interest there?

Both JTH and I loved the film and when two opinions as diverse as ours agree on a film, it is quite the endorsement.

Current IMDB rating: 8.0/10. Chanalysis: 8/10