Moral Critique of Breaking News
The Tale of Two Presidents at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, a Southern Baptist Convention seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, has relieved President Paige Patterson of his responsibilities.
Patterson's status has been in question for weeks after reports surfaced that years ago he advised an abused woman to remain with her husband and forgive him.
Although he initially stood by his actions, Patterson later issued an apology and SWBTS's Board of Trustees scheduled a special meeting after a letter, signed by thousands of Southern Baptists, was published that condemned Patterson's actions, comments and ideology.
On Tuesday, while SWBTS trustees were meeting, The Washington Post reported on allegations that Patterson, then serving as president at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, told a student who had informed SBTS administrators she had been raped not to report it to the police and to forgive the alleged assailant.
Early Wednesday morning, trustees officially removed Patterson from leadership and released a statement regarding his status.
Yet, according to The Washington Post, SWBTS has provided him with a lucrative compensation package that includes housing accommodation on campus and the titles "theologian-in-residence" and "president emeritus."
In the spring of 1994, I was on the campus of SWBTS as an aspiring student.
Growing up in very conservative churches in Oklahoma, I was astounded at the high level of education I was receiving from professors under the leadership of then president, Russell H. Dilday.
President Dilday was a well-respected leader and theologian that had a great rapport with students and admiration from the seminary faculty. Entering into my spring semester as a first-year seminary student, I was happy with my decision to attend Southwestern.
Then, everything changed when the trustees arrived on campus.
During their annual meeting, trustees gave Dilday a vote of confidence as seminary president. However, the next day those same trustees voted to fire Dilday for not offering enough support for a fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention.
As they voted to fire Dilday, they locked the doors of his office, escorted him to the president's house with armed guards, and prohibited him from walking anywhere on campus. They treated him as a criminal whose crime was not being conservative enough in their eyes.
For those still confused about what the Southern Baptist's wars were all about, you are now seeing first-hand the dark shadow moderate-conservatives, moderates and progressives saw rising from those who gained power in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Using the Bible as a tool to gain control over others, Patterson and other Southern Baptists leaders blatantly lied and misrepresented the truth about faithful Baptists in their quest for power and privilege. Nothing would stop their aspirations of reaching the highest levels of authority within the world's largest Protestant denomination.
Once the Southern Baptist Convention was taken over by right-wing conservatives, they quickly began to put their "theological" convictions into practice.
While numerous issues were touted - such as biblical inerrancy, marriage between a man and woman, pastoral authority, and breaking down the wall of separation between church and state - the one issue that seemed to be at the forefront of the SBC's predominately-male leadership was the submission of females to male authority.
Time and time again, Southern Baptist men passed motions and implemented policies that demeaned women and categorized them as second-class citizens in the kingdom of God.
From wives submitting to their husbands to women not being allowed to teach men, Southern Baptists leaders have waged war on women over the last four decades. In Southern Baptist seminaries, women professors have been fired and not granted tenure based merely on their gender and skewed interpretations of a few biblical texts.
Therefore, when the news broke about Patterson's departure at Southwestern, I could not help but think back to that spring semester when I witnessed the evils of right-wing conservative theology on display.
While one of the kindest and thoughtful Christian men to ever walk on the campus of Southwestern was treated as a criminal for not being "conservative" enough, Patterson was ushered out the door with a golden parachute. Apparently, for Southern Baptist leaders, it pays well to keep the party line and keep women in their place.
As an alumnus (MDivBL, '97) of SWBTS, I am appalled and ashamed of the actions the trustees took towards Patterson this week. While his removal as president was appropriate, the message trustees sent with the exit package they provided was crystal clear.
As far as Southern Baptist leaders are concerned, the reputation and well-being of their male leaders far outweigh the rights and lives of abused women everywhere, statements about condemning "all forms of abuse" notwithstanding.
Southern Baptists must correct this evil course they find themselves on today.
With stories like these, evil ideas and practices are warping the message of the gospel - the message of Jesus that seeks to liberate, protect and give salvation to every victim of sinful abuse.
When I read the Gospels, I am quite confident Jesus would have been ministering to the abused women and condemning the male leaders for their sinful behaviors.
For the sake of abused women everywhere - especially those suffering at the hands and oversight of Baptist leaders - I pray a groundswell of Baptists follow the words and actions of Jesus.
Faithful Baptists of all types - conservatives, moderates and progressives - need to rise-up, condemn these actions, and demand equality for all people.
Baptists can no longer let misogyny be an acceptable theological practice. We must demand more from our leaders and champion an egalitarian theology that empowers all Baptists.
You know all the people by name in your church. You know 95 percent of the people in town by name.
That is not braggadocios or arrogance. It is the truth of small-town living. I knew every football player. When the school district plays six-man football, that is not a big deal. It is just the way it is.
As I read about this latest mass shooting, I asked myself a question: Had a man walked in with an automatic gun, what would we have done?
The results would have been very similar to Sutherland Springs.
The pastor's grief of doing 26 funerals in a couple of weeks is compounded by the loss of his daughter. I have no idea how he survives this. He will likely have post-traumatic stress disorder even though he was not there.
What about those who escaped the building without injury? Stepping through those doors again will produce stress that will be off the charts.
Here are four ideas for small churches to consider putting into place this week to be able to calm parishioners who might be worried:
1. Invite your police department to make a threat assessment of your church. They will do this at no charge. Be ready to take their advice; if not, this is an effort in futility.
2. Come up with evacuation plans in case of emergencies. Practice those this Sunday. We practice them all of the time at my high school. It could save lives.
3. Hire security for this weekend at the very least. It may stretch your budget in the short-term, but it will save money in the long run.
4. Set up volunteers who can help with security once you have a plan. Make sure they are trained and equipped to do what you need them to do. This could include people posted in vehicles at major entrances with phones, or even strategically positioned peace officers, who are members of the congregation.
This is the warning that I must include: Do not count on members who have concealed weapons to be your first line of defense.
I can't even begin to imagine the tragedy of church members accidentally shooting fellow members, no matter what the intent.
Your church should have a no-weapons sign in plain view at all times. People should know that this is not the "wild west." We can't let fear override common sense.
I was a director of ministry in a megachurch. There was a small army of plainclothes officers and those in uniform. There was a plan that was well rehearsed.
If you are a large church, this should be put in place as soon possible if it is not already there. Local law enforcement should be fully aware of your plans and made a part of your team.
Policies, such as no backpacks in the auditorium, are the beginnings of easily achieved objectives.
Here is a plea to megachurch pastors: Small churches can't afford security; maybe you could adopt a small church and pay their security bill.
What if your church knew they were investing in securing the most vulnerable among us? Jesus spoke of that from time to time.
Small churches are vulnerable, and large churches can help their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Ed Hogan is a public high school teacher in Houston. He is an ordained Baptist minister and a Baptist Center for Ethics board member.
Blame Obama. Blame guns. Blame gun-rights advocates for blocking gun-control legislation. Blame evangelicals for opposing gay-rights legislation. Blame Muslims.
It's a well-worn pattern of finger pointing. We see it over and over. The rush to judgment - assigning blame for evil to those we oppose.
Rather than finger pointing, one Christian path forward is looking for the fingerprint of God in others.
"Your fingerprints can be seen on a million faces," sings Audrey Assad in "For Love of You."
Assad is a contemporary Christian singer and songwriter, who communicates in a deeply spiritual way the concept of Imago Dei - the image of God in humanity.
"You live in a million places. Your fingerprints can be seen on a million faces. There's a trace of You in every hallelujah. Every song that I sing," her song begins.
What if we looked for God's fingerprints in the faces of others?
That's a radically different way than pointing fingers.
Can we see the fingerprints of God in the faces of gays? What about Republicans or Democrats? And Muslims? The mentally ill?
We are so wired to finger pointing that we are missing the fingerprints of God.
The Christian path forward from the Pulse nightclub and the carnage in Orlando is to shift away from finger pointing to looking for God's fingerprints.
That's going to require a lot of personal and social reformation. We're going to have to break the chains of political ideology and loyalty, the prejudice of cultural heritage, the inherited list of church priorities.
We're going to need to recover a much more robust commitment to the biblical message which teaches us that we - and those we dislike - are created in the image of God.
A biblical reference point for Imago Dei is found in Genesis 1:26-28.
"Then God said, 'Let us make humankind in our image' ... So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
God created after his image and gave human beings responsibility for what he had created. The biblical word "dominion" is about our obligation for the created order.
Another reference point is James 3:9. Speaking of the taming of the tongue, James wrote: "With it we bless the Lord ... and curse those who are made in the likeness of God."
The moral implications of Imago Dei are profound - complicated and controversial. The moral implications are also immediately applicable.
After Orlando, here are three church-centric commitments and action steps:
First, praise God in worship and do the work of God in the public square. Let's pray and put feet to our prayers. Faith without works is dead (James 2:14).
Second, avoid the rush to judgment - the cursing of those in God's likeness. Let's catch our own temptations to finger point and to man the battlements of our own position. Christians need not join the dash to damn others.
Third, seek to advance the common good. That is, look for ways to ensure the welfare of others. Let's do the hard work of social analysis without getting paralyzed by indecision and insistence on "our way" as the only way.
No perfect solution exists to mass shootings. No quick fixes are available. No one political proposal is perfect. Compromise is core to advancing the common good in the public square.
We begin today with the challenge of finding God's fingerprints in the faces of others.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Through the actions of one reprehensible person, our nation has been reminded that evil is alive and well.
Understandably, this unconscionable act of killing nine people during a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has shaken many people. When senseless violence occurs, it's natural for us to respond with emotions that come from a place of deep hurt and legitimate confusion.
We mourn the victims who died while simultaneously struggling with questions that many of us have had to ask all too frequently. These questions include:
If God is so loving, why would something like this be allowed to happen? Why would God permit people who spent their lives in service to their faith and community die in such unnecessary ways? Why are people who have such immense hate in their hearts allowed to do the things that they do? Why are human hearts so evil in the first place?
Although we may not fully know or understand the motives of the man who shot and killed these innocent people, we are reminded of two truths that are relevant to the incident.
First, racism is still an ever-present cancer within our society. Second, sacred and holy spaces are not immune to acts of violence.
This incident ensures that our collective communities will engage in conversations around points that need to be addressed if our nation is to ever fully realize the collective potential that we have.
One of the obvious challenges continues to be making more significant progress related to race relations so that ethnic groups don't see each other as enemies simply because of skin color. Another challenge is the need to address the proliferation of groups that exist to maintain racial tensions and how they are able to operate freely and unfettered.
The fruits of these conversations may not be visible any time soon, but I believe that they will come.
In addition to adding a sense of urgency to our conversations about race, this tragedy reminds those of us in leadership within faith communities of our opportunities to participate in the process of protecting those that we serve.
As a former police officer, I have previously written about the potential for violence to occur within churches. In light of this week's shooting, I believe that it is appropriate to restate some of those ideas.
Leaders and congregations should be realistic about the fact that violence can occur at their properties, whether the church is located in an urban or suburban area.
Violence knows no boundaries. Therefore, leaders and congregations have to begin preparing for potential situations of violence by talking publicly about it. This can occur from the pulpit, the church website or Facebook page, and in church bulletins.
Also, a proactive plan of response has to be developed. The following points can be used as a foundation:
1. There should be a designated staff member or volunteer who helps to keep track of visitors when they are present in your facilities. Additionally, staff and volunteers should be equipped with means to communicate with each other in case an incident occurs.
2. Install and regularly use a video or intercom system to monitor who enters and exits the building.
3. Develop a firearm policy for your church that takes into account state and local laws. Post the policy to the church website, within bulletins, and in the church office.
This is not an attempt to advocate the use of a gun, but acknowledgement of the reality that some members may bring firearms with them on a regular basis and the church needs to be protected in the case that a member uses one on church property.
4. Engage local law enforcement with the intent of building an intentional relationship between them and your congregation. This can lead to them having a regular presence when you have service or events that can potentially deter someone from attempting to harm members.
None of these suggestions are a guarantee against something going wrong at your church. But, implementing these suggestions prayerfully will put congregations in a better position to protect themselves while still being salt and light to the world.
Terrell Carter is a staff member for Central Baptist Theological Seminary and an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. He is the author of "Walking the Blue Line: A Police Officer Turned Community Activist Provides Solutions to the Racial Divide" and the forthcoming book "Machiavellian Ministry: What Faith-Filled Leaders Can Learn from a Faithless Politician." His writings can be viewed at his website, and you can follow him on Twitter @tcarterstl.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, that offends us justifies murder. Admittedly that is a Western value, but it is one we would defend at all costs. Whether it's New York, Bali, Nairobi, London, Mumbai, Boston, Sydney or any other location where attacks have taken place, nothing justifies the murder of innocent people.
But as I've watched the news, not for the first time, a deep unease has come over me. In September 2012, after Charlie Hebdo published cartoons that were inflammatory and offensive to millions of Muslims, I wrote about the limits of freedom of speech.
I stand by what I wrote. Back then I believed innocent men and women would die because of their publications. What I didn't anticipate was that the victims would be the publishers themselves.
I deplore that they have been killed and the world is a poorer place because evil has again manifested itself. They had the right to publish. But freedom of speech has limits.
Some of this is enshrined in law. I don't have the right to be hateful, racist, sexist, libelous or homophobic. Nor can I disclose State secrets.
And apart from these legal limitations, there have to be self-imposed limitations. I can't speak offensively to my next door neighbor and expect them to remain friends, to be there when I need help, or for them to greet me cheerfully the following morning.
If I deliberately provoke my neighbor in ways that may not be illegal but are deeply offensive, and eventually they snap, is it not permissible to ask whether my actions were right? Further, what kind of neighbor does that make me? Am I a shining example of someone building up my community?
More than once I have heard it said that these cartoons were aimed at satirizing radical Islam. Maybe so, but they offended millions of "ordinary" Muslims too, many of whom cannot now say they are offensive because first they have to line up and be heard to condemn the killers.
If they even attempt to ask whether there are limits to free speech they risk being branded as the enemy within. Muslims are caught in "no-mans land" between allegiance to their faith, and their desire to live in Western society.
Of course they need to make accommodations for that, and they do. But is it not part of what it means to be a civilized society to do what we can to help them live here in peace.
The question I posed in 2012, and pose now in the wake of the Paris murders, is whether the freedom of speech that we claim we value, is best honored simply by being offensive?
I would rather we use our freedom of speech to challenge the tyranny of all that condemns millions to poverty, that constructs systems embodying injustice that blight the lives of whole generations, that prevents multitudes of people from accessing medical care and education and the freedom to live in peace. But too often we in the West are complicit in these injustices and so we look elsewhere for easier targets.
We are living in a generation when a cancerous corruption of Islam has emerged in the guise of fundamentalist or radical Islam. I want no accommodation to this vile perversion of so-called faith that has shown itself capable of no more than depraved violence.
But I believe we have been handed a most wonderful gift--its called freedom of speech.
It's ours. It's yours. Here, take it! Use it. But use it well for it is truly a precious thing.
David Kerrigan is general director of BMS World Mission. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, Thinking Mission, and is used by permission. You can follow him on Twitter @DavidKerrigan3.
The tectonic plates of politics shifted during the U.S. midterm elections. Republicans won decisive control of the U.S. Senate, winning states where only recently their prospects were doubtful. Republican control of the House of Representatives expanded. Republicans won governorships in unexpected places.
The tectonic plates of moral talk now need to shift before the partisan politics of division and confrontation set in.
Triumphant Republicans and bitter Democrats need to remember a word of wisdom from the Bible.
"A sensitive answer turns back wrath, but an offensive word stirs up anger," reads Proverbs 15:1.
Kind words dampen anger. Careful language restrains the temptation to demonize opponents and distort motives. Self-disciplined speech avoids the traps of unworkable confrontation and undeliverable threats.
Collaborative words build trust. Humble words ward off prideful, dishonoring agendas. Truthful words spoken in kindness heal wounds.
Political power has shifted. The shift can lead to more partisan fragmentation, public frustration and government failure. The shift can contribute to more anti-government anger and less shared commitment to meaningfully addressing urgent issues.
Or the political shift accompanied by a moral shift in language can begin to restore the nation's common good. Talk matters, especially humble talk.
Republican leaders must acknowledge that with power comes the responsibility to talk responsibly, not ideologically, not triumphantly. Democratic leaders must acknowledge that with the loss of power comes the responsibility to end threats of divisive executive action, accusations of racism and anti-feminism, claims that the midterm elections really aren't a reflection of where America is.
Both parties need to speak of collaborative efforts, seek the common good, find workable solutions where the pragmatism becomes more important than the perfectionism.
Political leaders will do better if pundits and preachers also remember the wisdom from Proverbs 15:1. Too many pundits and preachers seem to thrive on offensive words that stir up anger and fire up their followers.
The election is over. It's time to turn down the rhetoric and take a different path forward.
Pope Francis offers a constructive way to deal with disagreement. He advocates a culture of encounter.
"We need to get to know each other, listen to each other and improve our knowledge of the world around us. Sometimes after a meeting, I want to arrange another one because new ideas are born and I discover new needs," said Pope Francis a year ago.
He added, "This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good."
Let's hope, dare pray, that political leaders, pundits and preachers will take a page out of the pope's moral playbook for advancing civility and the common good.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Like most people who have seen, heard or read about the series of events that have occurred in Ferguson, Missouri, I have been frustrated and disheartened at the loss of a life, the unnecessary theft and destruction of property, and the weakening of trust between residents and government.
I have also struggled with how I should feel in response to such an emotion-evoking series of events.
I struggle because I view the events that have transpired from what I think is a unique lens.
I am African-American. I have lived the majority of my life in St. Louis and am familiar with most of the smaller municipalities outside St. Louis.
I have had regular, first-hand experience as a youth, and now a 40-year-old father of two, of being pulled over by police officers of various departments in the St. Louis region.
I regularly experience the fear of driving through certain areas knowing that I will be pulled over by police simply because they think I don't belong in the area.
These officers don't care, or take the time to find out, that I am a pastor, a college professor and the executive director of a community-based service agency that has sought to improve the lives of people in North St. Louis City for 21 years. None of this is important to them.
In defense of these officers, I understand why none of this is important. I was a St. Louis City police officer for five years and my main concern was staying safe and making it home to my family in one piece every day.
I patrolled one of the city's most dangerous neighborhoods. I also worked in a special undercover detail driving an unmarked car in order to execute search warrants for drugs and guns on a weekly basis.
During my tenure on the department, I learned that some citizens didn't necessarily care about me as an officer or person.
These people didn't care that I was the interim pastor of a church in the neighborhood, or a father, artist or mentor to urban youth.
They only saw the uniform and had a preconceived idea of who I was and what I should do for them.
On multiple occasions, I helped other officers defend themselves against people who attempted to take their lives.
I was also helped by multiple officers as I defended myself against people who attempted to take my life.
Because of these experiences, I will never second-guess the officer who is at the center of the firestorm.
Having been in what I perceived were life-or-death situations, with only a few seconds to respond, I can sympathize with the officer's actions to defend himself.
That doesn't mean that I agree with, or justify, his actions. It only means that, if he believed that his life was immediately threatened, I can understand why he responded with force.
What is important to me right now is how we respond to the fallout from this event.
What personal stance can we all take as we wait to find out what really happened on that fateful day?
I have three simple suggestions that I believe can help us all.
First, allow your perspective to be influenced by the whole of information and not just bits and pieces.
We all want to know what happened and why. Unfortunately, we will not receive all of the answers immediately.
Don't let your opinion be overly influenced by a lack of information and disinformation.
As much as we may want to trust news programs, bloggers and people that tweet, we have to remember that they all have their own agendas when writing.
Whether intentional or not, key information sometimes gets left out in order to influence our thinking.
Second, we have the opportunity to respond to all of this through a lens of love and compassion.
We don't have to hate those who don't think and feel like we do. We don't have to vilify one another because we hold differing opinions about all of the different social and economic aspects surrounding these circumstances.
We don't have to look for new enemies, especially during a time when unity and cooperation are needed more than ever.
Finally, as much as this event is about racial profiling, and about teaching our children the value of earning what they have instead of taking and stealing from someone else, and about respecting authority, this is also about the unseen spiritual fight that has been waging from the earliest times.
The fight between the forces of spiritual darkness that seek to control this world and have its inhabitants devour each other and the present yet coming Kingdom of God that seeks to shape all things into God's loving image.
What Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities and countries are experiencing is about more than just economic inclusion and racial equality. It's about who will control this world and our lives for time and eternity.
When we look at it that way, we can see who the real enemy is.
Terrell Carter is minister of administration at Third Baptist Church in St. Louis and director of the Foundations in Ministry program for Central Baptist Theological Seminary in St. Louis.
Editor's note: Brian Kaylor, contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com, reported on responses from other Baptists in the St. Louis area here.
Baptist World Alliance leader Olu Menjay issued today an urgent call for prayer about the spreading Ebola virus in West Africa, underscoring the deaths of more than 600 people mostly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
"The Ebola virus is serious! Our daily social and cultural practices make it so difficult to follow medical instructions to prevent the continuous spread of this lethal virus," said Menjay, president of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention and vice president of the Baptist World Alliance.
His letter noted that Liberia was still recovering from more than 20-years of armed conflict.
"We struggle each day for the very basic needs of life, clean water, food and opportunities for a better existence. As a nation recovering from war, we have an inadequate medical and social infrastructure to address this medical catastrophe," read the letter.
Days earlier, Emile D.E. Sam-Peal, superintendent/principal of the Lott Carey Baptist Mission School in Liberia, called the Ebola situation "frightening."
In an interview with QcityMetro, an African-American news provider in Charlotte, North Carolina, Sam-Peal said, "In the midst of a health crisis, no investor wants to go in and invest in the nation, so we're praying and looking for the international community to come to the aid of the country to help us contain this Ebola virus."
The New York Times editorial board addressed on Tuesday the epidemic.
"Doctors Without Borders has described the Ebola epidemic sweeping across West Africa as 'out of control.' The Ebola virus, which is fatal in 90 percent of cases, has killed more than 670 people in West Africa and spread to 60 locations in four countries. The obstacles to bringing the virus under control are formidable, among them a shortage of medical resources and resistance from local communities terrified by a disease they do not understand," said the Times.
"The current Ebola outbreak is more than a sum of national emergencies. It is now a regional crisis, and the whole of West Africa must act to contain it," read the editorial.
Ken Isaacs, vice president for government relations for Samaritan's Purse called on U.S. and European support in an earlier Times column.
"I call on the international community and the donor governments of the world, particularly in Europe and the United States, to step in and recognize the very limited capacities of the ministries of health in West Africa and to help them contain this disease, " he wrote.
"A disaster has descended upon West Africa, and it deserves the full attention of the international community. The world's deadliest and most contagious disease is on a collision course with millions in major population centers," said Isaacs. "The situation is urgent. There is no time to wait."
Urgent words from multiple sources underscore the magnitude of the spreading epidemic, one that challenges houses of faith to pray for West Africa and governments to act.
With so many pressing issues--the Middle East, Ukraine, the flood of undocumented children into the U.S.--American Christians might be tempted to turn away from Africa. Let's hope, instead, we find a way to cross the road to help our neighbors in urgent need.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. Follow him on Twitter at RobertParham1 and friend him on Facebook.
Comparing the Republican-controlled Tennessee legislature to the Taliban is morally shameful, factually untruthful, utterly poisonous. It has no place in the Tennessee public square.
A secretive, pro-abortion group purchased advertising in the four major newspapers in Tennessee--The Knoxville News Sentinel, The Chattanooga Times Free Press, The Tennessean and the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
Not all the papers ran the image of a man, whose face is covered with a turban atop which is written "Tennessee Legislature." The dark-skinned man wears an ammo belt. His foot presses down on a light-skinned woman, upon whose head is written "Tennessee Women."
The meaning of the image is clear--and its purpose is probably undeniable: Fear- mongering by playing to the anti-Muslim virus that runs through the state. It equates Muslims to the Taliban, a flawed equation.
The ad text opposes Amendment 1, which would allow lawmakers greater authority to restrict abortions.
The newly formed, anonymous group goes under the name Tennesseans for Preservation of Personal Privacy, hardly a transparent identification.
Its attorney is Michel Kaplan with the firm Sherrard & Roe. Kaplan lists one of his civic activities as "past president of Congregation Micah, Brentwood, Tennessee," the most liberal Jewish congregation in the city.
Nashville Islamic leader Remziya Suleyman said the image was "racist and bigoted."
"For anyone to compare the Tennessee legislature to the Taliban is absolutely absurd," she said. "You might not like our legislature...But comparing them to the Taliban? That's absolute nonsense."
Suleyman is right and spoke courageously.
Not only is the comparison nonsense, the anonymous group is cowardly. What are they hiding? Why the need to hide? Who are their secret donors?
Make no mistake: Liberals are as willing as conservatives to play the anti-Muslim card to scare people, to stir up hatefulness.
Such campaigns only increase the toxicity of American politics. It's morally wrong to poison the public square with attention-grabbing tactics.
One way to detoxify the public square is for faith leaders--and others--to challenge extremism, regardless of partisan affiliation and ideological loyalties.
Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), took the right course of action, albeit a highly controversial one, in admitting a Muslim student to the school's Ph.D. program.
According to Religion News Service, the Southern Baptist Convention's largest seminary admitted Ghassan Nagagreh, a Palestinian and Sunni Muslim, to the doctoral program last year.
Nagagreh seeks an advanced degree in archaeology and has been involved with the seminary's research digs for some six years.
Patterson said that admitting Nagagreh would provide "a chance for us to have an influence on his life."
In an SWBTS official statement, Patterson explained that both Israeli and Muslim students have joined with Christian students in the archaeological dig at Tel Gezer, located in Israel.
Nagagreh "accepted the necessity of abiding by our moral code of conduct. He is a man of peace," said Patterson.
"This man's progress has been good," said the seminary's president, "and we are especially grateful for the close relations that have been forged with peaceful Muslims and the opportunities that we have had to share biblical truths with them. In all of this there is not even a hint of compromise of our historic position."
Make no mistake, Baptists and Muslims have a different sacred book--the Bible and the Qur'an. We have much different doctrines. Yet we do share a common word to love our neighbor. Patterson is engaging in conversation because it is the right thing to do.
Regrettably, hardcore Christian fundamentalists think any meaningful interfaith dialogue with Muslims is wrong, and coreless Christian liberals think interfaith dialogue means watering down Christian orthodox beliefs for the sake of agreement.
I affirm the perspective of Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America, on interfaith dialogue.
Speaking about how pastors and imams fear interfaith dialogue because they think it leads to theological compromise, Magid told EthicsDaily.com in an interview in Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims: "People think that in order for Baptists and Muslims to agree in doing anything that I have to water down my religion."
He said the reverse is true for both faith groups: "By working with other people you assert your own belief...you dig deeper in the Scripture...loss of 'my own' religion comes from unfounded fear."
EthicsDaily.com is an imprimatur of the Baptist Center for Ethics. Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims aired on 130 ABC-TV stations.
Opportunities for interfaith dialogue help the world's two largest religions--Christianity and Islam--clarify their beliefs to one another, dispel false stereotypes, model trust-building and demonstrate courage.
At the heart of interfaith dialogue is a commitment to religious liberty, a Baptist hallmark.
The former president of the Baptist World Alliance, David Coffey, expressed this concern--as the first Baptist to respond to the groundbreaking, peacemaking initiative from Muslim scholars and leaders to Christian leaders known as A Common Word Between Us and You.
"Religious liberty includes the right for all persons to freely worship and live their faith without fear and prejudice," wrote Coffey.
Religious liberty includes the right for both Christians and Muslims to do mission work and to engage in evangelism--respectfully, without forced or manipulated conversion.
At a time when Christian persecution in much of the Islamic world is reaching a tipping point and some American Christians want to intensify Islamophobia, Patterson has rung the bell about religious liberty, one that I hope rings loudly. Christians and Muslims can respect one another and treat the other with dignity and opportunity.
As one who has disagreed
sharply with Patterson on numerous occasions over two decades, I think he has made a good decision, one that counters a negative narrative about conservative Baptists. Hopefully his action will foster goodwill among Baptists and Muslims as news of this decision spreads globally.
Editor's Note: To view a debate on Fox News between Parham and Patterson on the role of women, click here.
Yesterday in Overland Park, Kan., a rabid anti-Semite, white supremacist drove into the parking lot at the Jewish Community Center with the intent to kill. And he succeeded.
He shot a grandfather and grandson (thinking they were Jews, but actually Methodists), missed two others, and then drove to a nearby Jewish retirement center and killed a woman. The metro area of Kansas City and the wider Jewish and Christian communities are bowed down with grief.
This story line is both ancient and contemporary, and the horrific atrocities never are put to rest. On the eve of Passover and the beginning of Holy Week, this event requires better thinking about guns, religious liberty, and the propensity of humanity to scapegoat "others" for the ills of the world.
In earlier times, Christians persecuted Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus, and they read virulent parts of the New Testament as warrant for their action. The epithet "Christ killers" seemed to justify the targeted marginalization and wounding exploitation of Jewish communities.
Thankfully in recent scholarship, the broad-brush accusation of "the Jews" has been refined, although movies like Gibson's "The Passion of Christ" do not help. We have learned that a slender sector of Jewish persons, Temple authorities, colluding with Rome allowed the death of Jesus, and that his confrontation with the reigning powers precipitated his execution.
Yet the burden of election, "being chosen," clings to this historic people. Perhaps it is because of the unique identity God bestows on the Jewish people that others express the mimetic desire to displace and destroy them.
Over the past two summers studying with rabbis in Jerusalem, I have learned that God's project with Israel, calling them to a covenant relationship, was a test case to demonstrate how God desires intimacy with all humanity. Sadly, this experiment was more failure than success, in the words of my teachers.
In this week Christians call holy, we confront once again the blood thirst that characterizes sinful humanity. The "fall to violence," in the words of Marjorie Suchocki, is the primal expression of rebellion against God and the refusal to live in community with others.
A reading for Monday of Holy Week describes the peaceful ways of God's servant, whom Christians claim to be the Messiah. "He will not cry or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice" (Isaiah 42:2-3).
This faithful Jew shows us the way to live with others. I pray we will be renewed in this season as we consider his pathway.