Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dignity Votes

Tuesday is Election Day here in the U.S., so that is surely something worth considering in this last blog article before then. 
First of all, I encourage you to vote. (I trust you are duly registered.)
This year I have been an active part of the Northland Justice Coalition (NJC). (Northland refers to the area in the greater Kansas City area that is north of the Missouri River.) For the past couple of months NJC has been making telephone calls and going to people’s homes urging them to vote.
This activity is being called the Dignity Votes Campaign. Part of the dignity referred to is that of the people we have been contacting. 
Here is part of what I wrote for a flyer for the canvassers to hand to people they talk to or to leave at places where no one was home:
You are important. Voting is important. And it is important for you to vote on Nov. 4. Unfortunately, some people don’t think they are important or that their voice matters. But they are important—you are important. And their voice matters—your voice matters. That is why we urge you to vote on Nov. 4.
The NJC is also encouraging people not just to vote but to be “dignity voters”; that is, people who, for example, cast their ballots for candidates who will support raising the minimum wage so everyone can earn enough to live on.
Dignity voters will vote for candidates who support universal health care so everyone can get needed medical treatment.
In Missouri and 22 other states that means raising the income bar so more low-income people can get Medicaid.
Dignity voters are for candidates who will seek to put limits on the exorbitant interest rates charged by payday lenders.
In short, a Dignity Voter is one who votes to enhance the dignity of everyone in our community, in our state, and across the country.
The NJC is affiliated with the Kansas City organization known as Communities Creating Opportunity, which is a 501(c)(3) organization. Consequently, those who work with NJC are required to be nonpartisan. That is, when we contact people we cannot mention any political party or any candidate’s name.
Largely for that reason, after canvassing on Oct. 18 I decided to stop working with NJC in their voter campaign. I still very much believe in Dignity Votes, but I am afraid many people don’t know who to vote for even if they want to be a dignity voter.
As I live in the 6th congressional district, my representative to the U.S. House of Representatives is Sam Graves, who is running for re-election. But it seems clear to me that a dignity voter would need to vote for Bill Hedge, his main opponent.
In the past Rep. Graves has voted against raising the minimum wage, and his present stance seems to be the same. He also has repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Mr. Hedge, however, is clearly for raising the minimum wage and for supporting and improving the ACA. So even though Sam will probably be re-elected, still I am going to cast a dignity vote for Bill Hedge.
Those of you who live in other congressional districts, or in other states, will need to determine which candidates would be most acceptable to dignity voters.
Please join me in seeking to be a dignity voter on Nov. 4. Let’s vote for those candidates who will do the most to help, and enhance the dignity of, the poor, the disadvantaged, and the most vulnerable persons in our society.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Moore of the Same

Back in August, “This is Moore Better” was the title of my blog article about Dr. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention. I meant the positive things I said about him then.
But now I’m afraid I can’t be so positive about him. The upcoming ERLC national conference looks as if it is going to be more of the same old anti-gay rhetoric that has been so prevalent in Southern Baptist and other conservative evangelical churches.
The title of the Oct. 27-29 conference is “The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Future of Marriage.” The website for this gathering lists the speakers, many of whom are known conservatives and opponents of same-sex marriage or acceptance of gays/lesbians.
Among the many speakers in addition to Moore, who is the person mainly responsible for planning the conference, are the following:
    Rosaria Butterfield, author of “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey into the Christian Faith,” in which she tells about her transformation from a postmodern lesbian professor to a pastor’s wife and homeschooling mother.
    Jim Daly, President and CEO of Focus on the Family; while not as strident as his predecessor, James Dobson, he is still a strong opponent of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
    Al Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and one of the best known and most outspoken opponents of same-sex marriage and acceptance of gays/lesbians.
    David Platt, recently elected president of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and as the others, strongly against gay/lesbian sexuality. His YouTube sermon “The Gospel and Homosexuality” has been accessed 37,300+ times, and many of the 450 comments are in agreement. But here is one of many negative comments: “Such hate in the name of Jesus, how many lives will be destroyed because of this preacher, how many will reject Jesus Christ, and His grace [because of his] hate.”
    Christopher Yuan, a pastor and co-author (with his mother) of “Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. A Broken Mother's Search for Hope” (2011); I have not read this book, but it seems to promote only celibacy for homosexuals.
While there are several other speakers, it seems quite clear that there will be little opportunity at Moore’s ERLC conference to hear from more than one side of the issue, which, of course, they see as the only correct position.
A promotional blurb for the conference includes this question, “Are you and your church prepared for the moral revolution surrounding homosexuality and same-sex marriage happening across America?”
In continues, “While human sexuality and social institutions are being redefined before our very eyes, the Bible presents marriage as an unchanging picture of the gospel through the union of one man and one woman.”
By contrast, there will be a “regional training conference” held in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 6-8. That gathering will be “a prime networking opportunity for all Christians who want to advance the dignity of LGBT people.”
One keynote speaker will be my friend Dr. David Gushee, Professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University and a lifelong Baptist. But his position on the gay/lesbian issue is quite different from that of Moore and the ERLC.
In addition, the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists want to have dialogue with the ERLC conference people.
I wish that Moore and the ERLC were open to Gushee’s position and the AWAB leaders’ request. But I am afraid all they will consider is more of the same: rejection of LBGT people. What a shame!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Thank God for Wise Teachers (and Workaholics)

Dr. Wayne E. Oates was probably the wisest teacher I ever sat under—and since I was a full time student for 22 years, from 1944 to 1966, I had a lot of teachers.
Oates was born into a poor South Carolina family in 1917, and he passed away 15 years ago tomorrow, on Oct. 21, 1999. Abandoned by his father in infancy, young Wayne was brought up by his grandmother and sister while his mother supported them by working in a cotton mill.
At the age of fourteen he was one of a small number of impoverished boys selected to serve as a page in the U.S. House of Representatives. Stimulated by that experience, he became the first of his family to go to college.
Oates went on to earn a doctor’s degree in the psychology of religion and then taught at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS) from 1947 to 1974 and at the University of Louisville Medical School after that.
When I was in his pastoral counseling class at SBTS, I made an appointment to talk with Dr. Oates about a troublesome matter in the church I was serving as pastor. After listening carefully to my explanation of the problem, he leaned toward me and said, “Brother Seat, there are some situations we just can’t change. All we can do is learn from them.”
Wise words!
Several years later, in 1971, Dr. Oates wrote a book titled “Confessions of a Workaholic.” He begins, “Workaholism is a word which I have invented. It is not in your dictionary.”
But now “workaholic” is in most dictionaries. In a brief article about his death, the New York Times reported that Oates’s 1971 book resulted in “workaholic” being added “to the American lexicon; the Oxford English Dictionary credits him with inventing it.”
At the age of 66, Dr. Oates wrote an autobiographical book titled “The Struggle to Be Free.” The first chapter is about his boyhood and the struggle to be free of poverty.

Next he writes about the struggle to be free from a feeling of inferiority. “Poverty,” he contends, “leaves you with wounds to your self-esteem” (p. 29).
“To Be Free from the Slavery of Overcommitment” is the title of the seventh chapter, and there Dr. Oates tells how he wrote the book about workaholism because of his own struggle with an overcommitment to work.”
He came to realize that part of the reason for that was due to the poverty he had experienced as a boy. He writes, “I do not think that economics determines our destiny. I do think that economics shapes our thoughts and decisions far more than the pious people of the earth know or are willing to admit” (p. 136).
Throughout his lifetime, Dr. Oates wrote 57 books—far more than he probably would have written if he had not been a workaholic. (In some cases we can thank God for workaholics!)
Those books have been greatly beneficial not only to his many students and to other teachers in the field of counseling, but also to many people in the general public who have been able to learn from the wisdom shared in his books.
Please join me in thanking God for wise teachers—and even for workaholics like Dr. Oates.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Was Freud a Fraud?

Great Books Kansas City is a book discussion group that has been meeting monthly since 2004 “to discuss great literature that has stood the test of time.”
Last month, for only the second time, I attended Great Books KC because of my interest in the book being discussed that evening: Sigmund Freud’s “The Future of an Illusion” (1927).
That book is largely an analysis, and denunciation, of religion and faith in God.
I do not have sufficient knowledge of psychology/psychiatry to critique Freud’s psychoanalytical thought. But I do have some expertise in the field of theology and philosophy.
As I was driving downtown to the meeting, I began to wonder, “Was Freud a Fraud?” It seems that at least in some ways he was.
In his 1927 book, he makes great emphasis on science and disses religion or faith in God for being unscientific.
But as I read many of Freud’s assertions, I kept asking myself, “How does he know that?” and “How can that statement possibly be proven scientifically?”
It seems clear that much of what he wrote is theory, and many of his ideas may or may not be true. But most are not amenable to scientific proof.
Some of what Freud wrote, such as his analysis of the human id, ego and superego, has undoubtedly helped to explain significant aspects of human behavior.
But it is his analysis of religious belief that is most questionable.
For example, in Future . . . Freud avers that religious ideas are “illusions, fulfilments of the oldest, strongest and most urgent wishes of mankind” (p. 30, 1961 trans.).
That may be true, especially for some people. But is it true for all?
Later in the same book, Freud asserts that religion is “the universal obsessional neurosis of humanity” (p. 43).
Really? Can you scientifically prove that, Dr. Freud?
Freud mainly dealt with mentally ill people, and that no doubt skewed his view of religion. Many sick people have sick religious beliefs and practices.
On the other hand, many healthy people have healthy, and socially beneficial, religious ideas.
Freud didn’t consider the great prophets or social activists whose religious faith was not for their own personal comfort but rather was impetus for challenging the ills of society.
Freud didn’t consider the great intellectuals whose religious faith was not neurotic but the spur to lofty and creative thinking.
Freud didn’t consider the great missionaries who at great personal discomfort went to lands of danger, disease, and often disappointment for the sake of the Good News that they felt compelled to share.
From a different standpoint, some who do have knowledge of psychiatry have criticized Freud severely.
For example, a clinical and research psychiatrist named E. Fuller Torrey tore into Freud, or at least the use of Freudian ideas, in his 1992 book titled “Freudian Fraud: The Malignant Effect of Freud’s Theory on American Thought and Culture.”
According to Torrey, Vladimir Nabokov, the widely-known Russian-American novelist, called Freud a “Viennese quack” and deemed psychoanalysis “one of the vilest deceits practiced by people on themselves and on others.”
Nabokov (1899-1977) also contended that “the difference between the rapist and therapist is but a matter of spacing” (Torrey, pp. 200-1).
In veiled criticism of Freudian psychoanalysis, Humbert Humbert, one of Nabokov’s characters wrote about “pseudoliberation of pseudolibidoes.”
In case you don’t recognize who Humbert is, he is the protagonist in Nabokov’s best-known book “Lolita,” which, it so happens, is the book to be discussed at this month’s Great Books KC meeting.
Great Books Kansas City is open to anyone who wants to attend. The October meeting is from 7:00 to 8:00 p.m. on Friday the 31st at the Plaza Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. The last meeting of the year is Dec. 5, and the discussion will be of “Snow Country” by the Nobel Prize winning novelist Yasunari Kawabata. I am looking forward to both of these meetings.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Can We Trust Muslims?

Recently I have had some dialogue (via email) about Muslims with a Thinking Friend who is a retired Baptist pastor.
Responding to a questionable email he had forwarded to me, among several others, I wrote, “I think we (Americans and/or Christians) must be careful not to consider many if not most Muslims to be radicals. Islam should not be judged by looking at the radical Islamists any more than Christianity should be judged by looking at the KKK.”
In response, my TF wrote, “The credibility of separating radical from moderate Muslims lies in the fact that Moderate Muslims, who are the majority, do little or nothing to denounce the radical movement. Christians make no bones about denouncing the KKK, the Jim Jones radicals and others under the rubric of Christianity who deny the basic ideals set forth by Jesus.”
He went on to say, “I personally believe Islam is evil to the core based upon the nature of Allah and the teachings of the Koran. It is a religion of war and conquest rather than love and acceptance (grace).”
My response to that was to send him several recent articles about moderate Muslims speaking out clearly in opposition to ISIS and radical Islam: articles, for example, that you can read here and here.

In this same vein, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, the World Council of Churches general secretary, recently welcomed publication of an open letter by 126 Muslim scholars to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State,” condemning the atrocities committed by ISIS. (Here is that link.)
In the most recent email received about this issue from my TF, he wrote about recently seeing on Fox News an interview with an anonymous Muslim who “specifically referred to the speeches of [moderate] Muslim scholars . . . as a way to deceive Americans to get in their good graces, thus working their way into business, government, education and even religion.”
That was a rather scary interview, which you can see here.
So my TF concluded, “I'm just not convinced of the good intentions of the ‘moderate’ Muslim community. [It is] all deceitful talk.”
But is it?
My TF failed to mention that the same Fox News program, to their credit, also had an interview with Qanta Ahmed (M.D.), associate professor of medicine at SUNY. She spoke out in no uncertain terms against ISIS.
Last month Dr. Ahmed wrote a piece in the Washington Post titled, “My beautiful faith is being overtaken by the beheaders I’ve studied.”
Further, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, in August reiterated its condemnation of the “un-Islamic and morally repugnant” violence and religious extremism of the ISIS.
CAIR rallies against ISIS have recently been held in Tulsa (9/19) and in Houston (10/3). The leader of the former rally was quoted as saying, “ISIS not only represents the worst of humanity, but their actions are without a doubt the antithesis of Islam’s teachings.”
Of course, it is possible that Dr. Ahmed and especially CAIR are being deceptive and that we American Christians (and others) should not take seriously what they say. But that seems like a cynical and, most probably, unnecessary stance.
It is not good to be gullible. But neither is extreme suspicion and rejection of statements made in good faith a commendable position.
Even though there are, no doubt, some Muslims whom we cannot and should not trust, most Muslims in this country are probably as trustworthy as most of the people of other religions.