GOP candidates under fire for signing family pledge

I can see why too.
Here are the first two bullet points which are designed to make the case for the pledge that Michele Bachman and Rick Santorum signed (Pawlenty, please, step away from the pledge):

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA?s first African-American President.
LBJ? 1965 War on Poverty was triggered in part by the famous “Moynihan Report” finding that the black out-of-wedlock birthrate had hit 26%; today, the white rate exceeds that, the overall rate is 41%, and over 70% of African-American babies are born to single parents – a prime sociological indicator for poverty, pathology and prison regardless of race or ethnicity.

The first bullet point is causing all kinds of trouble for the pledge, as it should. What is with the word, “yet?” Do you really want to compare days when masters physically and sexually degraded parents of children; when masters owned families and separated children from them, two parents or not, to now? Any point that might be made about the advantages of two parent families is lost. I’ll take the single-parent version now if my  alternative is the two-parent type under slavery.
I am aware that the writers of the pledge probably meant that both slavery and the decline of the two-parent home are bad. However, the juxtaposition is insensitive and misleading to the max.   
There are other problems with the pledge, namely the clause which insinuates sexual orientation is a choice and changeable. Overall, this is the kind of thing that should be ignored by any candidate who wants to appeal to the rest of the country and GOP, outside of a small group in Iowa.

Reports: Bachmann & Associates provides change therapy

So says The Nation and Truth Wins Out.
The Nation found a former patient and TWO sent a person in undercover to look for evidence of change therapy. The material seems pretty tame — the therapist involved indicated that change might not happen — but there is evidence here that Marcus Bachmann was either unaware that his therapists did not seek orientation changes or candid when he said his clinic did not provide the therapy. 
No comment from Michele Bachmann’s campaign as yet.
There are many issues raised by these reports; let’s make this an open forum about the statements of the Bachmanns, about the undercover nature of the revelations, or anything else on the current report. I don’t want to rehash whether change is possible; we have been over and over that here. Please stick to this report and possible political implications.

Williams v. Barton

Somebody gets it.
Writer Becky Garrison’s piece at Patheos today, titled Roger Williams Takes on the Tea Party, covers some of the same ground I cover here. Related to the Rhode Island and Baptist founded, Roger Williams, Garrison has adopted his strong view of “soul liberty,” a term I learned at Baptist Cedarville College in Baptist History class.
Alas, soul liberty is history among many Baptist churches today. Baptists in the Williams tradition (e.g., Leland) promoted freedom of religion as a civil right and liberty of conscience as a way of life. It is ironic that Baptists today(e.g., Libery U.) are in the forefront of the Christian nation movement.

One more reason to just say no to The Response

Of late, left leaning groups have raised concerns about a prayer meeting convened by Texas Governor Rick Perry and hosted by the American Family Association. Called “The Response,” the event bills itself as a religiously motivated solemn assembly. To me, it seems like a political statement. About his work, National Finance Chair for the event and uber-organizer, David Lane says, “What I do is spiritual. The by-product is political.”
One of the major problems with the event as raised by critics is the involvement of the American Family Association. Even though I am an evangelical, I agree. In my view, the AFA has earned their designation as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Critics point to outrageous statements from the AFA’s Bryan Fischer regarding gays, Muslims and African-Americans as reason to question why a prominent elected official would partner with the AFA.
While all of the insults and stereotypes identified by critics are serious and disqualifying, I don’t want us to forget Bryan Fischer’s views of Native Americans. Early in 2011, Fischer wrote that “Native Americans morally disqualified themselves from the land,” saying that Native Americans were so savage and immoral that they were displaced for their evil. In other words, they got what was coming to them. Even though that article was removed from the AFA website, the AFA was silent on the issue, allowing Fischer to remove it without an apology saying he removed it because his critics were not “mature enough” for the subject. Then Fischer followed up that article with one that stated Native American assimilation into the new America would have been “seamless and bloodless” if only they had converted to Christianity. One Native American writer called Fischer’s articles “ugly” and said he advocated “thinly veiled race-purity arguments.”
A few evangelicals spoke out. Two Southern Baptist leaders criticized Ficher’s views as being “a barrier” to efforts to bridge gaps between evangelicals and Native communities. Native American Southern Baptist pastor, Emerson Falls, said about Fischer and the AFA, “This kind of stereotyping has traditionally been used to de-humanize people so they can be treated differently. I believe Native Americans are no different than any other people created in the image of God.”
That Rev. Falls would need to repeat the obvious is an indicator of the offense caused by the AFA. Despite calls for a redemptive response, the AFA refused repeated requests for comment on the matter. A couple of AFA staffers said they disagreed with Fischer but even they stressed that they were not speaking for the organization. In short, the AFA has done nothing to distance the group from Fischer’s racial stereotyping.
In my view, the AFA should not be leading a prayer event claiming to call America to their view of righteousness. I am surprised and sad that Governor Perry would partner with them.
I was even more surprised that Governor Sam Brownback (R-KS) would agree to take part. Brownback was a prime mover of the Native American Apology Resolution which I called the AFA in March to endorse. I do agree that at times it can be productive to join together with various groups to accomplish an objective. However, it is beyond me how these two Governors can partner with a organization that regularly slanders and maligns entire groups of people, not individuals mind you, entire groups. In the case of Brownback, he once stood for confession of wrongs in apology to Native Americans, but now he stands with a group which openly rejects the need for that apology.
My response to The Response is no.

David Barton on America's Founders (Video)

I posted a transcript of a speech by David Barton and broadcast last week by Focus on the Family. I did not know it at the time but the speech is not a new one. Perhaps he is still delivering the same one he did 4 years ago. I found video of that speech on Google and here it is:

This is a little over an hour long. The transcript referred to by Focus fits right along with this speech.
Barton confuses me at times. He said in a radio message that Jefferson said he was a Christian and looked like a “Bible thumping evangelical.” Here in this speech, he admits that Jefferson was not a Christian.

Now I will quickly acknowledge that neither Jefferson, nor Franklin, neither one of these two guys right here is a Christian. Now Jefferson’s gonna fight me on this, because in his own writings on several occasions he says, “I am a Christian; I am a true Christian; I am a true follower of Jesus.” I’ve got to disagree with him, because, you see, by any orthodox definition, he doesn’t fit.
Now he thought that Jesus was a great prophet sent by God, just like Moses or David or Samuel. And you better pay attention to the teachings of Jesus, just like any other prophet. But was Jesus divine? Oh no, He wasn’t divine. He wasn’t the Son of God or the Savior of the world. So, by an orthodox definition, despite what Jefferson calls himself, I’ve got to say that today we would not qualify his definition as Christian. So, let’s say that Jefferson and Franklin are not Christians. Beyond those two, you prove to me that anyone else up on that screen is not a Christian, much less that he’s an atheist or an agnostic or a deist and you [sic] got your work cut out for you.

Barton is quite defensive of the idea that John Adams was an evangelical. Given Adams’ rejection of the Trinity and his horror at the thought of Jesus dying for the sins of the world, I would not be able to call him an evangelical.

Ugandan MP says new anti-gay bill could be law soon

After a tumultuous end to business in the last session involving the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, the current Ninth Parliament of Uganda continues to organize itself for business. Last week, committees were formed and rules or order are being devised.  Jockeying for power and influence occupy the efforts of those in the ruling party and those in the opposition.
Lawmaking is probably a month away but one legislator is predicting that a re-introduced Anti-Homosexuality Bill will be law within two months. Otto Odonga, a member of the committee which Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee in the 8th and now again in the 9th Parliament told me via Skype that he expects David Bahati to reintroduce the bill as soon as possible. He predicted that the bill will come to the floor of Parliament as soon as rules allow.
“It will be expedited this time around and passed within one, maybe two months time,” the MP said. Odonga also told me that Stephen Tashobya, the chair of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee, was re-appointed to that same post in the new Parliament. While Bahati will need to start from scratch on the bill, the committee will be able to use the report issued last session as a basis for their work this time around. That report called for minimal changes and retained the death penalty for certain offenses. Odonga said the bill has wide support in the Parliament.
As a follow up on a prior story, Odonga also said that David Bahati was selected to be the coordinator of the Parliamentary Prayer Fellowship.

David Barton misleads Focus on the Family on death penalty case

Last week, Focus on the Family produced a series of broadcasts titled the Founding of America, featuring David Barton. In one of them, Barton told the audience that the Supreme Court overturned a murder conviction because the prosecutor used a Bible verse in his closing arguments. Here is Barton’s version of the case:

I mean, you do something religious in the courtroom and you’re in a lot of trouble, as evidenced by the case that we had at the Supreme Court not long ago, called Commonwealth v. Chambers. And that case came out of Pennsylvania. A man named Carl Chambers was convicted by a jury for taking an axe handle and brutally clubbing to death a 71-year-old woman to steal her Social Security check.
Not only was he convicted by the jury, he was sentenced to death by that jury. And yet, the Court overturned his conviction, because they pointed out that despite all the evidence and all the witnesses and all the testimony, something terrible had happened in the courtroom. They said that in a statement of less than five seconds, the prosecuting attorney had mentioned seven words out loud from the Bible. And the Court said, “We can’t have that. So, despite the evidence, despite the brutal nature of this crime, you mentioned a Bible verse, now we’ve got to reverse the murder sentence of this brutal murderer, because you mentioned a Bible verse in the courtroom.”
You see, today law and religion are enemies. They don’t get along, but back then, they were like two yoke of oxen, pulling in the same direction, never to be separated.

This description is quite misleading. Barton makes it seem as though a brutal murder went unpunished because the Supreme Court (Pennsylvania’s) penalized the prosecutor for citing the Bible. The facts of the case paint a completely different picture.
First, here are the facts Barton got right. In 1987, Karl Stephenson Chambers was convicted of robbing and killing Anna Mae Morris in 1986. The evidence was circumstantial but convincing to the jury and they found Chambers guilty of robbery and murder. During the sentencing phase, the prosecutor referred briefly to the Bible. The jury then rendered a sentence of death. Chambers appealed and based on the Bible reference, the PA Supreme Court vacated the death sentence.
At this point, the facts diverge from Barton’s rendition. Barton says the “Court overturned his conviction,” leaving the clear impression that the court let a guilty man go free. However, the conviction, or as Barton also framed it — “murder sentence” — was not overturned. The initial sentence of the death penalty was set aside so that a new sentencing hearing could be held. That hearing was held and that jury came back with the same sentence of death. So Barton’s contention that “the Court overturned his conviction, because they pointed out that despite all the evidence and all the witnesses and all the testimony, something terrible had happened in the courtroom” is simply not true.
Eventually, Chambers death sentence was set aside in favor of life in prison, but this change had nothing to do with the use of the biblical reference. In 2005, attorney William Hangley argued before a York (PA) County judge that Chambers could not be executed because Chambers is mentally retarded. In 2002, the US Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia that executing a mentally impaired person was “cruel and usual punishment.” Chambers scored a 60 as a middle school student and 74 as an adult inmate leading the Court to convert his death row fate to life in prison. The federal court agreed which took Chambers off death row. Attorney Bill Hangley confirmed to me in an email that Chambers is still serving his life sentence.
Having established that Barton embellished the situation to make it seem as though the PA Supreme Court was prejudiced in the extreme against religion, let me come back to what the prosecutor said and the rationale of the Court for their ruling. In making a case for the death penalty, York County prosecutor Stan Rebert told the jury, “Karl Chambers has taken a life. As the Bible says, `and the murderer shall be put to death.'”
Why did the PA Supreme Court have a problem with that? Essentially, they argued that the prosecutor improperly appealed to a law other than civil law. Note that the Supreme Court allows some references to the Bible in court but they objected to this one for specific reasons. Here is the section on point from Commonwealth v. Chambers:

Finally, Appellant [Chambers] argues that the prosecutor overstepped the permissible bounds of oratorical flair in his closing argument by referring to the Bible. The record shows that the prosecutor stated, “Karl Chambers has taken a life.” (R., p. 1201). “As the Bible says, `and the murderer shall be put to death.'” (R., p. 1201). Defense counsel objected. The trial court immediately noted this objection and gave a curative instruction to the jury…
Here, the prosecutor argued, “As the Bible says, `and the murderer shall be put to death.'” This reference is substantially different than the references tolerated in Henry and Whitney where the prosecutor allegorically likened the Defendant to the Prince of Darkness mentioned in the Bible to establish that he was an evil person. More than allegorical reference, this argument by the prosecutor advocates to the jury that an independent source of law exists for the conclusion that the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for Appellant. By arguing that the Bible dogmatically commands that “the murderer shall be put to death,” the prosecutor interjected religious law as an additional factor for the jury’s consideration which neither flows from the evidence or any legitimate inference to be drawn therefrom. We believe that such an argument is a deliberate attempt to destroy the objectivity and impartiality of the jury which cannot be cured and which we will not countenance. Our courts are not ecclesiastical courts and, therefore, there is no reason to refer to religious rules or commandments to support the imposition of a death penalty.
Our Legislature has enacted a Death Penalty Statute which carefully categorizes all the factors that a jury should consider in determining whether the death penalty is an appropriate punishment and, if a penalty of death is meted out by a jury, it must be because the jury was satisfied that the substantive law of the Commonwealth requires its imposition, not because of some other source of law.
Because the prosecutor’s argument in favor of the death penalty reached outside of the evidence of the case and the law of this Commonwealth, we are not convinced that the penalty was not the product of passion, prejudice or an arbitrary factor and, therefore, pursuant to our Death Penalty Statute, we must vacate the sentence of death and remand this matter for a new sentencing hearing. 42 Pa.C.S. § 9711(h)(4).
Accordingly, the conviction of murder of the first degree and the conviction and sentence imposed for robbery are affirmed, the sentence of death is vacated and the matter is remanded to the Court of Common Pleas of York County for a new sentencing hearing.

I think the reasoning of the PA court does not indicate hostility toward religion per se. On point, the money quote from the Commonwealth v. Chambers is this:

Our courts are not ecclesiastical courts and, therefore, there is no reason to refer to religious rules or commandments to support the imposition of a death penalty.

This was not a situation where the Court discriminated against religious speech. The prosecutor invoked Mosaic law instead of the governing statute – the laws of PA. In conservatively religious York County, PA, I can understand why such directions may generate biased responding by a jury. Furthermore, there are many outcomes envisioned by various religions about what would be proper in cases of murder. The courts cannot include persuasion which appeals to authority other than the statutes which cover all citizens.
David Barton offers this case as evidence that “if you do something religious in the court room,” “you’re in a lot of trouble.” That may or may not be true in certain situations, but, in this case, it seems to me that his concern could be stated more accurately, “if you attempt to implement a pro-death penalty interpretation of Christianity in court as a means of deciding a case, then you are in trouble.”
There are religious traditions that oppose the death penalty on religious grounds. Some of those people might argue the fact that Karl Chambers is alive but in prison today is the best religious outcome. It is certainly possible that those opposed to the death penalty on religious grounds are glad that the PA Supreme Court restricts religious speech calling for the death penalty based on the Old Testament. By inaccurately citing the Chambers case, it seems to me that Barton is not complaining that the PA Court disrespected religion in some general way, he is troubled that the court failed to privilege his religion.
Note: The entire legal history of the Chambers case is available in this District Court decision.

Happy Independence Day – 2011

Over at Crosswalk, I posted the full text of the Declaration of Independence. Yesterday, my rising 5th grader and I read and discussed it, and I asked him if he had read it before in school. He said — to my and the school’s shame — he didn’t remember ever reading it before.
David Barton says that the schools today teach that the American Revolution was only about “taxation without representation.” I don’t know if that is true, but he says that the Declaration was about much more than that, citing religious freedom, judicial activism and slavery as principle reasons.

An obvious example of the secularization of history occurs each year around the Fourth of July. Americans are taught that “taxation without representation” was the reason America separated from Great Britain; yet “taxation without representation” was only reason number seventeen out of the twenty-seven reasons given in the Declaration of Independence – it was not even in the top half, yet it’s all that most ever hear. Never mentioned today are the numerous grievances condemning judicial activism – or those addressing moral or religious or other issues.

Barton says that Samuel Adams and Charles Carroll got involved in the revolution to seek religious freedom and that the

…desire to end slavery in America was a significant motivation not only for Franklin and Rush but also for a number of others; but the end of slavery in America could be achieved only if they separated from Great Britain – which they were willing to do (and six of the thirteen colonies began abolishing slavery following the separation).

I have no doubt that some signers of the Declaration opposed slavery but I think it would not be accurate to say that ending the practice was a motivation for all of them. Great Britain outlawed the practice before we did and we fought a horrible war to decide the issue.
Barton recently told Focus on the Family that

As a matter of fact, of the 56 individuals who signed the Declaration of Independence, 27 had seminary degrees. That’s not bad for a bunch of atheists to have seminary degrees. (Laughter) That’s fairly impressive. I mean, that’s like saying the U.S. Congress today is made up of half pastors.

If you count Harvard, Yale and the College of William and Mary, you might get close to those numbers but it is misleading to say that these were seminaries in the theological sense. These schools were founded to help seek religious aims, in addition to providing a well rounded education. By the 1700s, these schools were liberal arts institutions and those who attended were not of necessity studying to be pastors. Only one signer — John Witherspoon — held that vocation. Calling the degrees “seminary degrees” is surely misleading since the first theological seminary in the United States was not formed until 1808 at Andover, MA.
And so, it seems good, to offset neglect from some and zeal from others, to read the Declaration, especially today. Here again is the link at Crosswalk, and then to the government source as well.