Monday, March 28, 2011

Conviction and Freedom, by David Gushee

(from the Web site of Associated Baptist Press, March 28, 2011)

by David Gushee
Distinguished Professor of Christian Ethics, Mercer University

What is the proper relationship between conviction and freedom? By "conviction," I simply mean clear theological and ethical beliefs and the willingness to communicate such beliefs just as clearly, one goal of such communication being to persuade others to share those beliefs. By "freedom," I mean a commitment to valuing and respecting personal liberty, especially liberty of religious conscience.

My experience of conservative Baptists in the South has been that conviction is very highly valued. Those considered leaders are often elevated to their status because of their perceived clarity of conviction and their willingness to communicate such convictions resolutely and passionately. To be called "convictional" in that sector of the Baptist world is a high compliment.

The potential downside of being "convictional" is obvious, of course. Clarity of conviction can easily shade over into intolerance of other convictions, loss of nuance, and an apparent unwillingness to ever consider modifying one's convictions on the basis of new evidence. Often, though not always, such "convictional" leaders tend to focus little on the freedom of other Christians to believe differently and, at least on debatable matters, still be found pleasing in the sight of God.

My experience of the moderate Baptist world has, in general, been that the freedom/conviction polarity is reversed. Freedom is highly valued. Everyone bends over backward to respect personal liberty and freedom of conscience. This is elevated as among the highest of Christian values.

It is harder to find resolute and passionate expression of clear convictions on this side of the Baptist fence, other than perhaps the expression of a commitment to individual liberty of conscience.

Example 1: Talking with a member of a moderate Baptist church struggling to meet its budget, I asked what the pastor taught about the responsibilities of members . . .

To read the entire article, click here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Separate and Unequal, by Bob Herbert

Separate and Unequal
by Bob Herbert, New York Times columnist

(from the New York Times online, March 21, 2011)

One of the most powerful tools for improving the educational achievement of poor black and Hispanic public school students is, regrettably, seldom even considered. It has become a political no-no.

Educators know that it is very difficult to get consistently good results in schools characterized by high concentrations of poverty. The best teachers tend to avoid such schools. Expectations regarding student achievement are frequently much lower, and there are lower levels of parental involvement. These, of course, are the very schools in which so many black and Hispanic children are enrolled.

Breaking up these toxic concentrations of poverty would seem to be a logical and worthy goal. Long years of evidence show that poor kids of all ethnic backgrounds do better academically when they go to school with their more affluent — that is, middle class — peers. But when the poor kids are black or Hispanic, that means racial and ethnic integration in the schools. Despite all the babble about a postracial America, that has been off the table for a long time.

More than a half-century after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation ruling, we are still trying as a country to validate and justify the discredited concept of separate but equal schools — the very idea supposedly overturned by Brown v. Board when it declared, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

(To read the entire article, click here.)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Three Reasons Why One Pastor Advocates for the Poor

(from the Web site of Ethics Daily; written by Jim Evans, pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn, Alabama)

I have been an advocate for the poor, both the relatively poor of our nation and the desperately poor in the rest of the world, for my entire ministry. There are several reasons why this is so.

First of all, I grew up near poverty. My immediate family was not poor primarily because my dad was in the military. The Navy always provided us with housing, free health care, affordable food and access to decent public schools.

But there were members of my extended family that lived in dire circumstances. I was able to see firsthand the effects of poverty on the human spirit. It does something to a person to have to ask for help from other family members.

It became even worse when government assistance programs put the poor through all kind of humiliating bureaucratic hoops – not to mention the community stigma that attaches itself to public assistance.

But it wasn't just personal experience that delivered me to this position. My theological training convinced me that God has a bias toward the poor. It's as if God knows that the cards of social resources are stacked against the weak and the vulnerable.

So God tries to balance the scales by being on the side of the most vulnerable – the biblical widow and orphan. God takes their side. That is one reason Jesus said, "Blessed are the poor," because he knew God had a special place for them.

I remember reading about a skilled carpenter in the New York area who lost his job during a massive downturn in construction. He lived as long as he could on savings; then he sold his tools in order to live.

Eventually he lost his house and everything else he owned and was forced to live on the streets with his family.

This was a skilled carpenter who wanted to work. But when he would apply for a job, he would often be turned away because he didn't have an address – and he didn't have any tools.

To read the entire article, click here.