Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Eagleton's Honesty is Scary

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read former Senator Eagleton’s op-ed piece in Sunday’s edition of the Southeast Missourian. After muddling through this former politician’s attempt to be a (Catholic) theologian, making a veiled attempt to link Pope John XXIII and even Thomas Aquinas with supporting Missouri’s clone-and-kill proposal, I encountered the most remarkable statement. Eagleton wrote:

"When the right to life of the fertilized egg is invoked in this debate, a counter right must also be recognized, and that is the right to health of persons who suffer from such diseases as mentioned above."

This is the debate in Missouri, but Eagleton evidently didn’t get the talking points from the leadership at the Missouri Coalition for Lifesaving Cures. The pro-cloners aren’t suppose to be talking about the truth, they are suppose to be mesmerizing Missourians with promises of cures. Eagleton correctly framed the issue before us, and he isn’t even a religious zealot. This was a refreshing alternative to the Coalition for Lifesaving Cures heretofore flawless propaganda. It is all about the right to life vs. the right to health. Eagleton called it “a counter right.” He meant “an equal right.”

This is the battle. The amendment is framed to deny the right to life to cloned humans embryos by giving the right to health to more fully developed (and thus “more worthy”) children and adults. But no just society can allow the right to life to be subjugated to any other right.

This was the essence of the Nuremburg codes (gasp…I’m making a connection with Nazism!). Jewish persons became research commodities because they were deemed inferior to the German people. The right to life of Jews became subservient to the right to health of Germans. Granted, some Nazi experiments were simply insane and cruel and masochistic. But some were done with a legitimate motive to advance science and health discoveries. The world, fortunately, refused to use beneficial studies and research because of how that research was obtained.

Mr. Eagleton apparently understands the issue and stands ready to deprive human embryos of their right to life by focusing on the right to health for others. His morality is chilling. Missourians must reject this proposal to maintain any resemblance of a just and moral state.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

A Strategy Against the Cloning Initiative

I just returned from a meeting with some Missouri Baptist staff members, strategizing about what we can do to help Missouri Baptists understand the coming constitutional amendment, which will legalize cloning by making cloning illegal (yes, you read that correctly). That’s all predicated on the anticipated unfavorable outcome of next Thursday’s legal challenge to the Court of Appeals.

First, there is a slim chance that the Court of Appeals will agree with the legal arguments advanced by our (Missourians Against Human Cloning) lawyers. The operative word is “slim” because the legal argument centers on whether Missouri’s Secretary of State (Robin Carnahan) is fairly representing the initiative petition. The petition is deceptive and misleading which means Ms. Carnahan’s summation of the bill for the ballot in necessarily deceptive and misleading. So, there’s been a legal complaint by us that Missourians are being deceived and mislead. If the Court of Appeals would agree that a deceptive ballot summary based on a deceptive initiative petition is legally impermissible for Missouri voters, we will prevail and the Coalition for Lifesaving Cures, the sponsor of this initiative would have to cease collecting signatures, re-write and re-submit their initiative or they would have to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court. Either option is time consuming and could potentially create difficult obstacles for this well-funded biotech get-out-the-vote-at-any-cost group.

At any rate, the group I’ve met with this morning is comprised of regular folks. None of them is making much money and none of them will benefit financially based on the outcome of the proposed constitutional amendment. I thought how unlike the folks on the other side. They make big dollars (BIG, BIG dollars), are well financed and well connected. They can re-package the semantics of this issue by manipulating science and the dictionary, but they can’t avoid the truth. Much like the gamblers could not prevail in Missouri by making a case for gambling so they legally renamed gambling by calling it “gaming”, the Coalition for Lifesaving Cures cannot prevail in Missouri by making a case for cloning. So, they’ve elected to make cloning (SCNT) legal by forwarding a document to outlaw cloning. But they’ll be met by common, ordinary Missourians who know truth.

The group I was with are amazing folks. They love Jesus and care about His Kingdom and our society. They gave a part of their day and their brain power and pulled away from their normal responsibilities to help craft a way to reach the minds and hearts of other Missouri Baptists with the truth about this initiative. With folks like this, the Coalition's deceptive strategy will soon be slowed. Common, plain thinking Missourians. That will be a formidable obstacle to overcome; and it may be the very thing that stops the Coalition for Lifesaving Cure’s deceptive initiative dead in its tracks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

What's the President Thinking?

Our President is leading a valiant effort against terrorism in foreign lands. But when it comes to America’s own borders, President Bush’s leadership is depressingly dismal. In addition to the negligent care of our southern border with Mexico, the Administration is now planning to turn over security of several ports to Dubai Ports World, a company based in Saudi Arabia.

"We make sure there are assurances in place in general sufficient to satisfy us the deal is appropriate from a national security standpoint," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week with George Stephanopoulos."

Whew! I’m breathing easier. I guess Homeland Security made no assurances of safety for the New Orleans evacuation, and I suppose the Intelligence Community that pre-dated the creation of Homeland Security Department had no assurances that America was safe prior to 9-11.

All sarcasm aside, these good folks did their best in those situations and failed. Trusting a non-American entity for the security of America is negligent, short-sighted and downright stupid.

Thankfully, the Washington beltway is waking up to this danger. With Congress and the press clamoring over this story, perhaps America will be well served by a united Congress thwarting a poorly conceived idea by our otherwise very stalwart President.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Is the Southern Baptist Convention Disintegrating?

I’m sure if I were a better student of history, I’d have a better grasp on whether my denomination is really living in troubled times. History has a way of giving comfort by showing we’ve been down this road before…and survived. Conversely, history can be a clarion alarm by documenting certain variables from which there is no recovery. I remember reading about the missions controversies of the early to mid 1800s. And I helped fight the inerrancy controversy in the 1980s. It seems there’s always been a schism around and I know we can face certain threats. But there are several factors that cause me alarm.

The present IMB trustee controversy.

Most of you are already aware of the details. From my perspective, this controversy could really be cataclysmic. My thoughts are that this all boils down to power. A trustee went outside normal and traditional channels and publicized a) what the trustees of an institution had done, and b) his concerns against it. If Burleson survives the ouster recommendation, there will be growing momentum to share power (information) with grassroots Southern Baptists. This could lead to the disenfranchisement of older, established Southern Baptists who feel they have little to contribute to a changing way of doing business or that ‘their’ denomination is changing or being re-shaped without their input. If Burleson does not survive, there will be growing detachment and disillusionment among many, especially that younger generation of Southern Baptists. The convention already recognizes a problem here. Many younger leaders already have little or no connection to the annual meeting. I remember Jimmy Draper’s concern and his attempts to address this issue. The convention may alienate those younger leaders who are connected to the convention’s annual meeting.

The continued renewal of Calvinism.

I guess the way I phrased this one shows my bias. ‘Renewal’ is a nice word compared to what some say about Calvinism. I’ve become convinced that the 5 points have Biblical merit and that the Southern Baptist founding was by Calvinistic theologians. There is a growing rub here. I was recently in a meeting with several other Southern Baptist leaders because of a shared purpose, when an agency head addressed the issue of Calvinism (with some degree of disparagement). This wasn’t even on our agenda or a part of our purpose. Yet this agency leader obviously thought the issue so important that it was worth addressing. This leader had some strong beliefs one way and I had some strong beliefs another way. The subject was becoming divisive to our unity on another issue. Calvinism is an issue becoming a divisive point. From my perspective it is from critics of the system, many of whom demonstrate no real grasp of the tenants. We aren’t discussing Calvinism, we are arguing it, and losing civility and unity in the process. Perhaps the Mohler-Patterson breakout session at the annual meeting will help move the issue back into the realm of civil discussion and foster mutual respect.

The church growth movement.

I’m lumping a lot of things into this one area. Churches driven by pragmatism, “worship wars” that have never really been settled, and the newest kid on the block…the revival of the social gospel. For instance, several key Southern Baptists signed a document about global warming, while the traditional agency heads did not. I’m not sure of a clearer example of schism than that.

The common denominator in all of these issues is the lack of communication. Our denomination is doing nothing to bridge the gaps of these rifts. Ignoring them will only add to further the divide. Unless leaders of all sides begin civil and honest dialogue on these issues of disagreement, we will see a weakening of our denomination at least, or perhaps witness its collapse.

Friday, February 10, 2006

IMB's Baptism Policy At Variance With Local Churches

I just had lunch with a Southern Baptist church-planting friend. He was saved some years ago and was baptized in a Christian church (that’s Christian as in the denomination, the heirs of Alexander Campbell). He did not believe his baptism was a saving act…not then and not now. He has attended and graduated from a Southern Baptist seminary. He was recommended to that seminary by a Southern Baptist church. He was ordained by a different Southern Baptist church (with two very notable Southern Baptist seminary professors on his ordination council). His church planting work is supported by the Missouri Baptist Convention and several different Southern Baptist churches. And he is viewed as the pastor by folks attending his new church plant. None of these (churches, people or seminary) has asked him to be re-baptized. Yet, should God call him into international missions, the current IMB policy would demand that he be re-baptized.

The new IMB baptism policy is not in harmony with other Southern Baptist entities and certainly is at variance with the policies of the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches. The IMB trustees should rescind this new policy on baptism.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

President Bush Is Wrong About Islam

This past week, we have seen an eruption of violence throughout Europe and the Middle East by Muslims objecting to a Danish newspaper’s portrayal of Mohammed in a comic strip. Our President has been telling us since 9-11 that Islam is a peaceful, noble religion.

In remarks at the Isalmic Center in Washington D.C. just six days after terrorists attacked America, President Bush said:

“These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. And it's important for my fellow Americans to understand that…The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That's not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace.”

And in his State of the Union speech last Tuesday, the President again stated:

“No one can deny the success of freedom, but some men rage and fight against it. And one of the main sources of reaction and opposition is radical Islam -- the perversion by a few of a noble faith into an ideology of terror and death.”

If Islam is such a “noble faith” why has there been such violence? Maybe Islam isn’t quite as noble of a religion as our President would have us believe.

P.S. John Piper makes a great point about the differences between Jesus and Mohammed in this week’s edition of “Fresh Words” .

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Georgia's IMB Trustee Speaks Out

I'm sure a hyper-critical analysis of IMB trustee John Schaefer's comments to the Georgia Christian Index (http://www.christianindex.org/1922.article) isn't totally fair, but his interview does bolster my perception of the unfair treatment of Wade Burleson.

I’ve listed his statements in the interview below with a few comments. I ought to be quiet but Martin Luther King Jr. said "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." I’m not ready for my life to be over and I think this issue matters. So…my musings:

“It is unfortunate that Wade did not choose to follow established procedure to voice his concern,”

Unfortunate for whom? Why is the IMB's response to Burleson's response of the policy changes not "unfortunate"? Doesn’t “established procedure” maintain the status quo?

“I believe his heart is in the right place but trying to shape board policy by Internet postings is not the way to go.

There was no IMB trustee policy that stated internet postings were not the way to go. This is simple trustee bias against blogging. Also, if Burleson's heart is in the right place, why was his ousting handled within three days (apparently), maybe even less? Mr. Schaefer uses the present tense verb "is" so I assume he still believes Burleson's heart is pure. Yet, the trustee action is extreme and is an action that should be taken only against a "bad-hearted" trustee.

"Board deliberations should remain in the committees where they were discussed; that’s why committees are established, so all sides can engage in the discussion and come to a consensus.”

This is a very powerful statement, because on the surface of it, it denies any accountability to the members of the Southern Baptist Convention. Keep in mind that Schaefer is giving an interview, not postulating a paper. But if he would think through this issue a bit, and conclude that board deliberations belong to Southern Baptists as a whole, he might reconsider his actions. But the heart of this matter lies with how much knowledge the broader Southern Baptist family should have of trustee matters.

“Everything is done by committee and the discussions generated a lot of controversy, but it was a healthy exchange. If you are on the losing side of a vote you go back to the committee and try to bring clarity to an issue and change it. These committees change every year and there are opportunities to be heard.”

Had this strategy been followed, would the conservative resurgence have taken place? Wasn’t it fueled by trustees and other agency personnel letting the broader Southern Baptist family know what was taking place? Wouldn’t have “working within the system” slowed or stopped the theological conservative movement? And don’t trustees owe their conscience to the Southern Baptist polity.

Consider this ridiculous hypothetical. Trustees change the missionary policy to allow homosexuals to serve. A trustee, joined with a minority, unsuccessfully lobbies against the change. Should that trustee “go back to the committee and try to bring clarity…”? I would hope that trustee would not work within the system, but take his case to the broader body and I would think Mr. Schaefer would agree.

I am not contending the policy changes are on the same level as homosexuality, only that Mr. Burleson has the right to take his case to the broader community of Southern Baptists. I would further argue he has a moral duty to do so if his conscience is grieved by the change. He would be morally culpable if he stayed silent if he felt we were making a serious departure from established and/or commonly held beliefs and practices.

“Wade wasn’t happy with the vote on those issues and, not liking the results, went public with his views by expressing them in his blog.”

That’s the heart of the matter. Is it appropriate, wise, ethical and proper for a trustee of a Southern Baptist entity to communicate directly to Southern Baptists? An interesting research project would be to document how many trustees have spoken to Southern Baptists through the years. I would contend that it has occurred many times, albeit typically through the medium of state Baptist newspapers. I think the blogger culture has changed the dynamic of trustees communicating to the Southern Baptist constituency in at least two ways. First, blogging is interactive. The reader can engage, improve upon, challenge, refute, ignore and do a host of other things to the journal entry. Secondly, denominational leaders cannot exert as much influence on bloggers as they can on state Baptist newspaper editors. I think the sparse coverage by Baptist Press on this particular issue is a good case in point.

Had Wade Burleson stated his objections to the Oklahoma Baptist newspaper only and had not blogged his insights, would we be in this crisis?

“We run enormous risk in society if we begin using blogs to shape policy. There is great potential to destroy an organized, orderly process for governance, regardless if you are serving in the secular or denominational world.”

I think Mr. Schaefer raises a valid point here, at least for consideration. I’m not conceding he’s right, but I do think we’ve not adequately addressed whether blogs do have a down side that can harm our denomination. I don’t think they do, but there are some issues to consider to reflect upon. Having said that, I believe the issue boils down to whether having an informed and active Southern Baptist constituency is helpful. I suppose the harm could be micro-management. But all the blog did was get some Southern Baptists talking. How can that be harmful? I suppose some members contacted the IMB trustees to give their two cents. How can an IMB trustee object to that?

Had Burleson advocated some ridiculous notion that had virtually no support among Southern Baptists, would we be where we are today? Had he advocated wine drinking missionaries be approved, wouldn’t the trustees have blown him off as some quack from Oklahoma? And had he blogged about it (I’m assuming there’s some policy somewhere about alcohol consumption) wouldn’t most Southern Baptists have blown Wade Burleson off as well? I suggest if that scenario would have occurred there would have been no trustee motion to recall him. Didn’t this current situation get exacerbated because so many were resonating with Burleson’s blogs, particularly over the change in the baptism policy? And could that be what is at the heart of some trustees anger at Burleson’s blogging?

“Because his blog is mixed with truth and heresay [sic], people now don’t know what to believe.”

Mr. Burleson has stated he has never been confronted with specific charges. Mr. Schaefer (and IMB trustee leadership) needs to step forward immediately and present Burleson with his written un-truths! Perhaps Burleson will then repent and Schaefer will have gained a brother. If Mr. Schaefer cannot present such writings “mixed with truth and heresay [sic]” he owes Burleson and readers of the Christian Index an apology.

I would like to know whether the trustees had specific charges at their January business meeting when they voted on the recall motion. They should answer this question immediately and let Southern Baptists know whether Wade Burleson’s assertion that he was not presented with specific offenses is true or contested.

If no such list of specific offenses existed (verbal or written) and trustees later compile a written list they should 1) apologize to Wade Burleson for not handling his discipline in a Biblical matter; 2) confront Wade Burleson with the newly compiled list to allow him to address and/or repent of the listed offenses and 3) trustees should always note the date the charges were compiled along with the notation “(# of days) after trustees voted to recall Burleson” or some similar notation.

"He seems to be comfortable with the idea of making public what is said at trustee meetings, but I think there is basically a great spirit at the IMB and I can’t think of a trustee who is not supportive of President Jerry Rankin.”

I’ve already said that’s the heart of the issue. Should any trustee be “comfortable” with sharing trustee matters with the public? I am glad Wade Burleson is comfortable with making things public and I am very sad that Mr. Schaefer (and other trustees) appears to resent me and other Southern Baptist knowing about IMB policy changes approved by the trustees. Burleson has shown trustworthiness and discretion in not posting about “Executive Session” business.

Schaefer is, to some degree, making things public. He is speaking to Georgia Baptists through the Christian Index. Is it ok to do that since this Burleson controversy is already public? Is using traditional journalism (state Baptist newspapers) to be accepted and using modern journalism (blogging) to be forbidden? I’m confused. Will Mr. Schaefer now be recalled for violating the moratorium of silence?

The issue of Jerry Rankin is related somewhat, though it can be a distraction from the issues at hand. But the trustees do have an opportunity to put this matter to rest. They should adopt a resolution of support that strongly praises Rankin’s leadership. It should be phrased in such a way that Rankin critics could not in good conscience support. Then IMB trustees should publicize the vote and Southern Baptists will know whether there is an anti-Rankin faction on the IMB or whether Mr. Schaefer exaggerates the support of Jerry Rankin.

The trustee response of silence is not appropriate. There is a public controversy at hand, and as servants of our denomination, they owe Southern Baptists some answers. If IMB trustee leadership intends to give Southern Baptists their perspective of this situation ten minutes before messengers in Greensboro are to decide the guilt or innocence of Wade Burleson, they need to say it. But a situation of this magnitude is deserving of much prayer and deliberation by Southern Baptists who will be deciding upon the future direction of the International Mission Board. IMB trustee silence prevents us from praying informatively and is a barrier to a God-honoring resolution to this matter.