Category: Faith

Right-winger + hard time = compassion

prisonBy Alan Bean

Why are so many right-wingers suddenly arguing the case for criminal justice reform?  In this fascinating piece in Salon, Justin Elliot of Salon directs this question to Doug Berman, author of the influential Sentencing Law and Policy blog

Here are the highlights:

1. Prison is far more brutal than most people believe it to be

2. Most of the conservatives currently leading the smart on crime crusade have been locked up: Duke Cunningham, Charles Colson, Pat Nolan, Conrad Black

3. The religious concept of redemption generally plays a large role in these conversions.

4. Historically, mass incarceration required the enthusiastic cooperation of the political left

5. When you do hard time you realize that harsh penalties are typically applied to crimes disproportionately committed by minorities

6. Busting budgets and historically low crime rates make this a good time for reform, but . . .

7. The political forces that drove mass incarceration are always lurking. (more…)

Caring for the stranger

By Alan Bean

Deuteronomy 10: 12-19

“So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being.  Although heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to the LORD your God, the earth with all that is in it, yet the LORD set his heart in love on your ancestors alone and chose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is today.

Circumcise, then, the foreskin of your heart, and do not be stubborn any longer. For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Why must we love strangers?  Because we are all strange in one way or another.  With the exception of Native Americans, there are no homegrown Americans; we all came here from somewhere else. (more…)

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

This article requires no introduction or explanation, so I’ll shut up and let you read.  Comments welcome.  AGB

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

Phil Zuckerman. Professor of Sociology, Pitzer College in Claremont, CA.  Dan Cady, assistant professor of history at California State University, Fresno.

The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life ( reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture. Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message. (more…)

Is prison a down payment on hell?

By Alan Bean

Megachurch pastor, Rob Bell has a new book coming out that claims hell is freezing over.  “Eternal life doesn’t start when we die;” Rev. Bell asserts, “it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.”

Not surprisingly, Pastor Bell is being trashed by the evangelical establishment . . . and the book hasn’t even come out.

Have you ever noticed the strong correlation between a stout belief in hell and support for mass incarceration? I doubt anyone has done any polling on this, but there is a powerful narrative connection between hell and prison.  If God plans to toss the miscreant into the lake of fire at judgment day, why should we be concerned about rehabilitation here below?  God gives up on people; why shouldn’t we? (more…)

Stories we believe in: learning from Walter Fisher’s narrative paradigm

By Alan Bean

American liberals can’t fathom the appeal of the Tea Party phenomenon.  Here we are, struggling to recover from a recession created by massive tax cuts, military adventurism, and an under-regulated financial sector and what are they asking for: more tax cuts, even less government regulation, and more military spending.

Moreover, this message sells in the heartland, big-time.

By every standard of rationality, progressive politics should be enjoying a renaissance.  The alternative has been weighed in the balance and found wanting.  And yet politicians aligned with Tea Party rhetoric are winning elections and shaping the political agenda.  How can these things be? (more…)

Campolo: Why the Christian Right will Dominate

As an evangelical Christian with a progressive social agenda, Tony Campolo has occupied and defended an uncomfortable patch of territory in the American religious world.

I’m not sure how much of the horror story Tony relates in this article is autobiographical, but we can be sure the Eastern University sociologist and American Baptist preacher knows whereof he speaks.  This frank discussion of a painful subject was written for Christian Ethics Today, a publication sponsored by moderate evangelicals seeking to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with their God.

Have you ever wondered why there are so few progressive religious voices in the popular media?  Dr. Campolo tells us exactly why that is, leaving little to the imagination.  As we seek to forge a new moral consensus for ending mass incarceration, we need to know what we’re up against.  Alan Bean

Why The Religious Right Will Dominate

By Tony Campolo

Eastern University

There are reasons why Religious Right Evangelicals will continue to dominate religious discourse, not only in their own sector of the Christian community, but also in what transpires in mainline denominations. Moderate voices, for the most part, are being sidelined and those with liberal views will find fewer and fewer means to express their opinions or gain an audience for their convictions. (more…)

Texas history texts ripped by conservative group

By Alan Bean

“If all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'”  – George Orwell, 1984

George Orwell learned how easily the past is misremembered as a combatant in the Spanish Civil War and during his years with the BBC in WWII.  Orwell is a hero to both the left and the right because he believed in relating historical fact as objectively and honestly as fallible flesh is able. 

As the culture wars rage, it is incumbent upon partisans on the left and right to police their own side of the conflict.  When 57% of Republicans believe the president is a Muslim, 45% believe he was born outside the United States, and 24% believe Mr. Obama may be the antiChrist, we’ve got a problem that only Republican leaders can effectively address.  We aren’t selling out when we critique our own people; we’re ensuring that the game is fairly played.

That is precisely what the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute has done in its report on the historical curricula taught in American schools.  Their dissection of the Texas State Board of Education’s distorted historical vision is utterly devastating.  I have pasted some of the pithy highlights below, but I urge you to read the entire report. (more…)

Jesus, Ayn Rand and the art of the impossible

Maybe Jesus didn't really mean it

By Alan Bean

My wife Nancy and I are teaching a confirmation class at our Methodist church in Arlington, Texas.  While we are stuffing our students’ heads with information about the Bible, God, Jesus, the Church and Christian discipleship, we thought we should also let the Bible speak on its own terms.  We decided to work through an entire book of the Bible in the course of nine months and settled on the Gospel of Mark; it’s the shortest and most succinct of the Gospels. 

Mark is also the most brutal document in the Christian New Testament, in the sense of assaulting modern sensibilities.  It isn’t just that Jesus performs miracles of healing every time he turns around (we moderns could attribute that to the power of suggestion); it’s the bits about money and power that sting the most. (more…)

Why the Arizona Murders Should Trouble Christians

By Mark Osler*

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post

A troubled loner with a gun decided to kill his Democratic Congresswoman outside a Tucson grocery store, and now six people are dead. As a former prosecutor who now trains future prosecutors, I grieve with a heavy heart. As a Christian, I am troubled. The blood in the desert will re-open two debates in which we Christians have strayed too far from the very teachings of Christ.

First, I am troubled because I know that this will re-open the discussion over whether incendiary political rhetoric, mere words, can inspire such violent acts. For Christians, there should be no debate on this subject. Our faith, like so many others, is built on the thesis that words do inspire action. (more…)