Category: The Nature of God

Dobson and Huckabee go over to the dark side

By Alan Bean

The Sandy Hook tragedy has sparked deep reflection nationwide.  President Obama served as Pastor in Chief when he prefaced his remarks in Newtown with a quotation from 2 Corinthians 4:

. . . do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away . . . inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

The president knew he couldn’t fix what happened last Friday, and he didn’t try.  But he spoke the words of comfort that were his to speak.  That is all any of us can do.

And then there are all those other guys.

If this was just about the latest outrage from the twisted souls at Westboro Baptist Church (must they call themselves Baptists?) I would let it slide.  By now, we are agonizingly familiar with their shtick.  “God hates fags and everybody who doesn’t hate fags as much as he does.”  Yeah, we get it.  The church has decided to picket the funerals in Newtown . . . a new low, I suppose, but not by much.

But it isn’t just folks on the fringe who feel honor-bound to make nasty at such a time as this.

Governor Mike Huckabee, preacher, Fox News celebrity and perennial presidential hopeful, just opined that God declined to stay the hand of Adam Lanza because “we’ve systematically removed God from our schools.”

Not to be outdone, James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame, gave us his take on “what’s going on.”  America has been complicit in the murder of 54 million babies since Roe v. Wade, and “the institution of marriage is right on the verge of a complete redefinition”, “so I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us.”

Huckabee, Dobson et al aren’t sure exactly what pushed God’s buttons.  It might have been gay marriage.  It might have been abortion.  Or maybe it was the 1963 Supreme Court decision making school prayer was unconstitutional.  Most likely it was a combination of all three–the trifecta of evil.  But at some point God decided to punish America by ordering the slaying of twenty innocent first-graders.

Really, guys!  That’s the God you worship.  Herod the Great slaughters innocents; the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ weeps for them.  Jesus doesn’t have much to say about hell except when he’s talking about those who mess with his “little ones.”

Of course, these guys aren’t saying that God was directly responsible for the death of school children.  It’s just that he could have stopped it and declined to do so.  The Creator could be charged with being an accessory after the fact, but not with murder.

That’s comforting.  God tells the lost soul with the assault weapon, “Normally I’d put a stop to this, but these people need a wake up call, so, do your worst.”

That is precisely what the preachers are alleging.  So let’s get one thing straight: That is not God.  God is not that.  In the First John we learn that God is love . . . full stop.  Or, if we wish to quibble,  “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.”

The God of Huckabee and Dobson would be familiar to Darth Vader and his legions.  The preachers appear to have slipped over to The Dark Side.

How do we explain such strange talk from esteemed holy men?  The Apostles of the Religious Right have so consistently equated gay bashing, opposition to abortion, and school prayer with holiness that God has been subsumed under these headings.  For four decades, the culture war has reshaped American evangelicalism so successfully that abortion, gay bashing and school prayer have consumed all other concerns.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Sandy Hook tragedy should provoke serious moral reflection.  Violence works for the entertainment industry just like culture war wedge issues work for the Religious Right.  In both cases, an ugly product is hawked in the market place because it sells.  We have been raised on a steady diet of violence.  We love the stuff.  It shapes our culture, our national identity, and all too often our foreign policy.  We’ve got a problem.  We need help.  Badly.

But God is not responsible, directly or indirectly, for the slaughter of innocents.  That’s on us.  God is Love.  God is Light and in him there is no darkness at all.  None, whatsoever!

Why Paul Ryan doesn’t have an Ayn Rand problem

By Alan Bean

Now that Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney’s choice for VP, you will be hearing a lot about Ayn Rand, probably not enough to impact the election, but a lot.  Many will ask how a devout Catholic and family man can lionize a woman who despised God, rejected the “altruistic” teaching of Jesus, and called the family an artificial and unnecessary creation.

The easy answer is that Paul Ryan doesn’t really like Ayn Rand at all.  In fact, he is now saying that he rejects her atheistic philosophy without reservation.

For the tiny handful of Christian conservatives who may have been concerned about a potential VP embracing the religion of Antichrist, that should suffice.  There simply aren’t enough voters in our brave new America who know enough about Ayn Rand’s glorification of reason and selfishness, Roman Catholic ethics, or the teaching of Jesus to see a problem.

Ryan’s recent protestations of love for Rand’s economic philosophy were the stuff of romance.  In 2005, Ryan told the Atlas Society:

There is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works . . . I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are.  It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff . . . The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.

It’s hard to disavow an endorsement like that.  Either he was lying in 2005, or he is lying now.  Fortunately for Ryan, it doesn’t matter.


Immigration and the Heart of God

This presentation was part of a People of Faith and Immigration gathering, July 24, 2012 at the First Spanish Assembly of God in Waco, Texas.

Immigration and the Heart of God

By Alan Bean

Why are our churches so silent on the immigration issue?    Is it because a range of opinion exists within our congregations on the immigration issue and pastors fear they might spark a civil war if they touch on the subject?

Or do we fear that if we approached the immigration issue from a biblical perspective, or viewed the subject through the lens of Jesus Christ, we might arrive at mushy, impractical conclusions that don’t wear well in the real world?

The biblical narrative begins as Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden.  Next we meet Abraham, Sarah and their descendants.  These people are sojourners, undocumented aliens.  They wander the Promised Land as exiles, never finding a true home.  Eventually, the sons of Jacob show up in Egypt with a message for Pharaoh: “We have come to reside as aliens in the land; for there is no pasture for your servants’ flocks because the famine is severe in the land of Canaan.”

God’s children move from being undocumented aliens in Canaan to being undocumented aliens in Egypt.  They were driven by hardship, by the need for food, work and the means of survival.  They have come to be reunited with their brother Joseph.

Which is why the oldest confession of faith in the Bible begins:

A wandering Aramean was my father; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous.  When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our fathers; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression.  (more…)

Zimmerman blames God for Trayvon Martin’s death

By Alan Bean

I almost hate to share this bizarre snapshot from the George Zimmerman reality TV show.  Zimmerman is an idiot, and it’s not fair to exploit the feeble-minded, even when they request an interview with Sean Hannity.

On the other hand, Zimmerman’s statement that he doesn’t regret what transpired the night Trayvon Martin died reflects a uniquely American heresy: the idea that everything “happens for a reason” and is therefore the direct will of God.

George, God did not pull the trigger, you did.  God did not want you to pull the trigger.  God did not want you to leave your vehicle.  God did not want you to resort to vigilante justice.  God didn’t even want you to buy that gun.  This is all on you, my brother, every last, tragic bit of it.

Zimmerman should ‘regret’ Hannity interview

There were many contradictions in George Zimmerman’s softball and leading interviewwith Fox News’s Sean Hannity last night. But none was more revealing and disturbing than the killer of Trayvon Martin’s response to being asked if he had any regrets.


HANNITY: Is there anything you regret? Do you regret getting out of the car to follow Trayvon that night?


HANNITY: Do you regret that you had a gun that night?


HANNITY: Do you feel you wouldn’t be here for this interview if you didn’t have that gun?


HANNITY: You feel you would not be here?

ZIMMERMAN: I feel it was all God’s plan, and for me to second guess it or judge it —

Folks understandably have zeroed in on Zimmerman’s “God’s plan”remark. But if you read the transcript carefully — and honestly — you’ll see that he was responding to Hannity’s question about whether he thought he would not be alive today if he didn’t have his gun that night. Still, what he said immediately before that stood out as particularly callous.

No regrets about getting out of his car? No regrets at all? Not even of taking another life? In the capias request written by Sanford Police Detective Christopher Serino on March 13, which sought to have Zimmerman arrested for manslaughter — a request that was denied — he noted, “The encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin was ultimately avoidable by Zimmerman if Zimmerman had remained in his vehicle and awaited the arrival of law enforcement.” There’s no arguing with that assessment.

Asked by Hannity at the end of the interview to turn to the camera and address America and Trayvon’s parents, the man who said he had no regrets getting out of his car, no regrets following Trayvon, no regrets carrying a gun, sought to clarify his remarks.

First, I would like to readdress your question when you asked if I would have done anything differently. When you asked that, I thought you were referring to if I would not have talked to the police, if I would have maybe have gotten an attorney, if I wouldn’t have taken the CVSA and that I stand by, I would not have done anything differently.

But I do wish that there was something, anything I could have done that wouldn’t have put me in the position where I had to take his life. And I do want to tell everyone, my wife, my family, my parents, my grandmother, the Martins, the city of Stanford, and America that I am sorry that this happened.

I hate to think that because of this incident, because of my actions, it’s polarized and divided America, and I’m truly sorry.

On the “Today” show this morning, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, was having none of it. Asked by Matt Lauer if she would be open to meeting with Zimmerman one day, the still grieving and visibly angry mother said forcefully, “Absolutely not.” And after last night’s interview, I don’t blame her.

Franklin Graham and the black-white gap in American evangelicalism

Franklin Graham impersonates his famous father

By Alan Bean

I have never met Lisa Sharon Harper, but she’s been reading my mail.

Why, she asks, was Franklin Graham unwilling to apply the term “Christian” to president Obama?

Graham has trouble seeing the president as a fellow believer, Sharon Harper argues, because white Christians are rarely forced to wrestle with systemic injustice and are therefore uncomfortable with Christians who make this issue front and center.

I have a few minor quibbles with the argument below.

Many, perhaps most, black evangelical churches are just as fixated on personal salvation as white evangelicals.  Martin Luther King didn’t enjoy the enthusiastic support of most black Baptist churches in the South, and his social gospel remains suspect in many corners of the black church.

Secondly, Franklin Graham’s daddy, the iconic American evangelist Billy Graham, wasn’t quite as racially advanced as this post suggests.  True, he did open his crusades to black worshippers before most white evangelicals were comfortable with integrated evangelism, but as Darren Dochuk points out in his excellent study of California evangelicalism, Graham realized that segregation was becoming an embarrassment in America and thus an impediment to evangelism.  (more…)

A white preacher celebrates the black church

By Alan Bean

Eddie Glaude, a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton, set off a fire storm last year when he performed last rites over the black church.  “The Black Church is dead,” Dr. Glaude announced.  I didn’t notice it at the time, but Joel Gregory, the dean of Texas Baptist preachers, wrote a spirited rebuttal to Eddie Glaude for the Huffington Post.

In the course of a post-worship lunch this Sunday at Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church, Joel Gregory’s name came up.  I learned that he was teaching a Sunday School class at Broadway a few years back but was forced to withdraw (the story went) when the congregation decided to publish pictures of gay couples in the church directory. 

The repercussions of that decision were immediate.  The congregational infighting became so intense that the Rev. Brett Younger (a fine preacher in his own right), was forced to submit his resignation.  Broadway had already been expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention and withdrew from the Baptist General Conference of Texas to spare everyone an ugly fire fight on the convention floor.  Finally, I was told, Joel Gregory was asked to withdraw his membership at Broadway.  He was teaching homiletics at Truett Theological Seminary on the campus of Baylor University at the time and pressure was applied in high places.

Dr. Gregory is full of surprises.  I was surprised to learn that he had been a member at Broadway, one of the flagship “moderate” churches in Texas Baptist life.  There was a time when Gregory was the fundamentalist camp’s most articulate frontman.  I’m not sure his core theology has changed much over the years, but his spirit has softened considerably. (more…)

Why Al Mohler rejects the non-violence of Jesus

Albert Mohler

By Alan Bean

I was driving home to Arlington from Cleveland, MS when I noticed that the Associated Baptist Press had used my theological reflections on the execution of Troy Davis as a modest counter weight to Albert Mohler, an evangelical theologian who claims that capital punishment is pro-life. 

They called him “The Boy King” when he first ascended to the presidency of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, but that was back in 1989.   Now Time Magazine is calling Dr. Mohler the  “reigning intellectual in the evangelical movement”.  So, whatever complaints his doubters may have had back in the day when The Boy King was ripping the scepter from the hands of an irenic Roy Lee Honeycutt, Mohler has made a name for himself in the decades since. (more…)

Gay at Baylor: A Christian Challenge

This piece originally appeared in the Huffington Post

By Mark Osler

This past October, I wrote a piece in the Huffington Post entitled “Repentance of an Anti-Gay Bigot.”  Among the dozens of responses I received were many from my former law students at Baylor University, where I taught for ten years.  They were heart-wrenching, revealing the pain of attending Baylor in fear of being found out and expelled; of isolating themselves from their classmates; and ultimately their alienation from Baylor and even Christianity.  Baylor bars gays and lesbians from the faculty, and has fought hard to keep any gay student support groups from gaining recognition.  It has done this in the name of Jesus Christ, claiming the authority of the Bible.

I don’t teach at Baylor anymore.  This week I am starting my second year as a professor of law at a Catholic school, St. Thomas, in Minneapolis.  Though smaller than Baylor, it is similar in many ways.  It is strong in its faith identity, and the majority of faculty (at least in my department) and students are more conservative than you would find at most other schools.  Yet, there are differences, and at least one may be crucial to Baylor’s future.

 After a few weeks of teaching sentencing at St. Thomas, one of my students stopped by to see me right before lunch, so I invited him to join me.  He had a genuine interest in criminal law, and in particular wanted to work for the U.S. Department of Justice, my former employer.  I love talking about the DOJ, and asked him which division he would like to work in.

 He immediately told me he wanted to work in the Civil Rights Division in Washington, an important and often controversial office.  Looking over my sandwich at this middle-aged white male, I asked “Why Civil Rights?”

Mark Osler

He immediately responded, “Well, I’m gay.”  He then began to describe some of the work he had already done in the area, but I barely knew he was talking—after ten years at Baylor, I was in a state of shock to hear a student openly admit this to a professor in a public place.  I looked behind me to see if anyone we might know was around, and felt relieved when there were only strangers.

I need not have worried.  St. Thomas has a gay and lesbian student organization, my administrative assistant is openly gay, and two of my colleagues who are full professors are also openly gay and are welcome to (and do) bring their partners to law school events.  Yet, not only does the school survive, but the fact that we are welcoming to gays and lesbians does not in the least seem to be read as any kind of statement on the part of our sponsoring body, the Archdiocese of Minnesota.  We are a community that includes gay men and lesbians as faculty, staff, and students, and stand proudly together as Christians.

Baylor can accept gays and lesbians without sacrificing anything.  Yes, the student code of conduct bars pre-marital sex, but gays and straights are equally susceptible to breaking that rule; if potential for sexual relations is a reason to bar anyone, it is a reason to bar everyone.   That rule should be enforced evenly.  All evidence now is that it is enforced in the dorms, but not elsewhere.  If that is the case, then enforcement should be consistent, gay or straight.

Former Baylor President Abner McCall once told a good friend of mine that “Baylor can’t be a Christian.  Only people can be Christian.”  As Christian people we must be both honest and loving.  Honesty tells us that there have been, are now, and will be gays and lesbians at Baylor.  If the plan has been to exclude them, Baylor has done a lousy job.   Given that gay men and lesbians are and will be students at Baylor, love instructs us to help them grow in faith and to welcome them, rather than exclude or demean them.

 The time has come for Baylor to hire gays and lesbians who meet all other requirements; to lift the veil of fear from student life; and to allow gay and lesbian groups to establish themselves on campus.  Baylor is strong, proud, and Christian, and all of those qualities make such a change possible without a loss of identity.

 To remain an engaged and relevant institution, Baylor must change.  Its message to gays and lesbians has to be something other than what is perceived on campus now:  That if you are gay, there is no love for you, on Earth or in Heaven.  Christ promises more, and so should Baylor.

Rachel Tabachnick talks dominionism on Fresh Air (and why you should be paying attention)

By Alan Bean

Are Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann part of a movement determined to forcibly Christianize every aspect of American culture?

If so, why does a blog dedicated to ending mass incarceration care one way or the other?

If Rachel Tabachnick is anything to go by, the answer to the first question is ‘yes’.  Tabachnick knows more about the dominionist strain within contemporary evangelicalism than just about anybody and you simply must check out her recent interview with Terry Gross of Fresh Air.)

I am still thinking through my answer to the “so what” question (and will have more to say on the subject as my thinking clarifies); but the rough outline of an answer came to me yesterday when a reporter asked me why Louisiana (unlike Texas and Mississippi) has done nothing to reform its criminal justice system.

The avuncular visage of Burl Cain sprang to mind.  Cain is slowly transforming the Angola prison plantation into a spiritual rehabilitation center.  Inmates (90% of them in for life) are repeatedly invited to get right with Jesus.  Life becomes a whole lot easier if they take the offer.

Then I thought of Ann Richards, the progressive Texas Governor who, during her ill-fated re-election campaign against George W. Bush, told the voters that she wanted to build more prisons so folks with addiction issues could get rehabilitated.

Burl Cain and his Louisiana fan club want to lock up more people every year so earnest evangelists can have a captive audience.

Friends of Justice works in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, three states that are gradually backing away from the punitive consensus that has controlled the American judicial system for more than three decades.  Texas was embarrassed into rethinking mass incarceration through a series of scandals: Tulia (the bizarre drug bust that gave birth to Friends of Justice), Hearne (the American Violet story), the Dallas Sheetrock scandal, the Houston crime lab, the Texas Youth Commission fiasco, an incredible string of DNA exonerations in Dallas County and Governor Perry’s botched attempt to silence the Texas Forensic Science Commission.  Thanks to a series of modest reforms, the Texas prison population has now plateaued in the 160,000 range (it was 40,000 in 1980) and will likely stay there for the foreseeable future.

Mississippi experienced a 3.5% drop in its prison population in a single year by deciding that inmates must only serve 25% of sentences before being eligible for parole (it had been 85%).

The old “lock ’em up” mentality is beginning to soften even in the state that boasts the highest incarceration rate in the free world.  Folks in Louisiana want to lock up as many people as possible out of a misdirected sense of compassion.  After all, isn’t it better to find Jesus in jail than to live an unregenerate life in the free world?  We don’t hate criminals in Louisiana; we just want what’s best for them.

This is precisely the kind of theocratic logic that politicians like Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann have embraced.  They want to Christianize the nation (by force if necessary) the way Burl Cain has Christianized the Angola plantation.  And if the liberals presently controlling Hollywood, the recording industry, the public school system, the evening news and the political life of the nation don’t want to be Christianized, that’s just too bad.  Michelle, Sarah, Rick et al are God’s anointed apostles.  At Angola, to oppose Burl Cain is to oppose God; the New Apostolic Reformation wants to extend this kind of thinking to every aspect of our national life.

Do the politicians currently feeding at the trough of radical religion really believe that the eclectic vitality of a diverse nation can be homogenized by the blood of the Lamb?  Maybe not.  But they want to push the political envelope as far in that direction as the public will allow.  In these strange times, it’s smart politics.

If you think I’m overstating the case, please read Ms. Tabachnick’s conversation with Terry Gross.

The Evangelicals Engaged In Spiritual Warfare

August 24, 2011 – TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross. (more…)

My Kind of Patriotic Sermon

Brent Beasley
Brent Beasley

I didn’t go to church this July 4th weekend.  I couldn’t bear the thought of singing odes to American Exceptionalism.   America is exceptional, of course, but our national history is such a mix of glory and gloom, triumph and tragedy, that flag waving triumphalism is rarely appropriate–especially in a Christian sanctuary.

Mercifully, not all patriotic sermons are created equal.  Brent Beasley, pastor of Fort Worth’s Broadway Baptist Church, loves America.  He doesn’t love everything the American people have done or everything we presently represent in the eyes of the world; but he loves our better angels; he loves our dreams.  

In this sermon, Dr. Beasley contemplates the familiar words “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, and is reminded of the words of our Savior, “Come unto me, all ye who are weary and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

It doesn’t always get ugly when patriotic longing and religious aspiration join hands; sometimes it can be beautiful.

The political implications of this message are obvious and unstated–that too is a splendid combination. AGB (more…)