Brian McLaren weighs in on the Dobson vs. Obama debacle

Chances are you’ve heard about James Dobson‘s recent comments about a speech that Barack Obama made a little while back.

If you haven’t, then great, don’t bother looking into it.  It’s the same old, same old, stuff that people like Dobson have been saying for a long time.  Stop reading this post now and go do something else.

But, if you did already hear about, then you should read this blog post from Brian McLaren where he weighs in on some of the issues with what Dobson said, and (equally as important) how he said it.  Here are a few choice quotes:

This week’s “Beloved Christian Broadcaster Attacks Beloved Christian Presidential Candidate” headline reflects at least seven patterns of unhelpful discourse I frequently see among the religiously vocal, whatever their political persuasion.

First, this Christian leader didn’t restrict himself to making judgments on Barack Obama’s statements; he inferred the candidate’s motives and judged them as well. Consider his use of the word “deliberately” in this sentence:
“I think he’s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own worldview, his own confused theology.”

The Evangelical leader in question – whose attempts at persuasion I would judge as average or slightly above average in the world of religious broadcasting – displays the common religious tendency to lapse into name-calling, which has predictable and unhelpful results. For example, he referred to Obama’s approach as “a fruitcake interpretation of the Constitution.” This tendency to mock the opposition might be deemed excusable if it were a rhetorical icing on the cake of solid analysis, but lacking that analysis, it can hardly be called an improvement over the thoughtful speech by Senator Obama, given at an event at which I was present in 2006, which was being criticized by the respected Evangelical speaker.

Unless this leader and his political and religious allies can lift their level of discourse, their shared good ideas will be discredited along with their bad ones. The same goes for all of us. And unless more of us become more scrupulous regarding how arguments are made – even if we agree with the point they’re trying to prove – we will become less able to tell the bad ideas from the good ones.

Read the whole thing here.

Thoughts?  Is Brian off base in his critique?  Was Dobson off-base?  Do you agree that HOW something is said is equally as important as WHAT is said?

UPDATE 7/2/08:

Scot McKnight weighed in on this as well. It’s a lot more concise than McLaren’s, however, he does come to some of the same conclusions.  For those people who have a tough time hearing from McLaren, maybe this other take on it would be beneficial to check out?  Just a thought…  (HT: David Swanson)

UPDATE 7/3/08:

In the comments, John pointed us to a site with more info on what went down.  It’s clearly Pro-Obama, but I still think it’s worth checking out because it doesn’t inject much opinion, it merely compares their statements side by side.  The fact that, when presented in this way, Obama comes out “on top” should say something to us…

Oh very cool. Take a look at this website: http://www.jamesdobsondoesntspeakforme.com/

It does a good side-by-side comparison of Dobson’s skewed characterizations and Obama’s actual words.

NT Wright on dropping African debt

Interesting piece by NT Wright (as usual), defending his opinion that the massive debts that many African countires owe to Western countries and banks should be canceled.  Here’s a few quotes to whet your appetite:

In the 1970s, for example, Western financial institutions loaned the best part of a billion dollars to Idi Amin of Uganda – a vicious psychopath and known to be such. By doing so, they not only saddled that impoverished country with a millstone of debt, but financed the dictator’s reign of terror. These actions were both financially irresponsible and morally reprehensible. After Amin’s fall, the debts were inflated by massive rates of compound interest (up to 20% p.a.!) resulting mainly from economic policies pursued by the developed world, not least as long-term results of the Bretton Woods agreement. At the same time, the bottom fell out of the market for Uganda’s main exports.

Here in North East England, Christian Aid received an unsolicited email from Dr Simon Challand, when he was working in southern Uganda with the Church Mission Society. He wrote that: “Debt relief means money stays in the country instead of pouring out to Europe and the US and there have been huge improvements in health and education… The Ministry of Health has just increased the grant to all the health centres by 85%… four years ago they got nothing. Many health centres are able to provide immunisation, growth monitoring, health education and antenatal care to remote rural areas… Everywhere you go you can see new classrooms going up to support the Universal Primary Education programme which gives every child 7 years of free schooling.” [Uganda used its first tranche of debt relief to improve basic medical provision and to abolish fees for primary school.]

Read the whole thing here.

(HT: Emergent Village blog)

Israel vs Palestine: Is there a “third way”?

Fantastic article called Israel/Palestine: Which Side Are You On?

Here are a few good quotes, but you should definitely read the whole thing:

Every time I read the two sides on the Middle East conflict, I can’t help but notice a strange resemblance in their narratives. There is the common sense of gloom, for one. There is, of course, the mutual finger-pointing. And there is the insistence that the core identity of the other is inherently violent, that the people over there are simply dominating by nature – and therefore must be stopped at all costs

Most Sundays, I would have just shook my head and flipped the page. I’ve heard it all before. We all have. Each side has a library full of facts and stories championing their cause, and demonizing the other side.

But on Saturday, at the Pangea Day Film Festival in Los Angeles, I saw things that flipped the script. I watched a segment of Encounter Point, a film about Israelis and Palestinians who are part of the Bereaved Families Forum. Each lost an immediate relative in the conflict, but they had decided that forgiveness was the weapon they would wield instead of revenge.

Robi Damelin, an Israeli mother read a letter she had sent to the family of the man who murdered her son: “Nothing for me is more sacred than human life. No revenge or hatred can ever bring my child back … We are looking for ways to create a dialogue, with a long-term vision of reconciliation.”

(HT: Brian McLaren)

Homelessnes in Troy, NY: “It Should be Zero”

I just found out about this site called It Should be Zero. Here’s some info from the main site:

So far in March, 39 homeless men, women, and children have been turned away from services. They aren’t asking for much — a simple meal and a warm place to stay for the night.

While some may disagree, the homeless situation isn’t getting any better. Individuals and families are routinely being turned away from much-needed help because of a lack of resources.

While there are many organizations and agencies in place to assist our citizens, more is needed.

The number shouldn’t be 39 — it should be zero.

Scot McKnight: The 8 Marks of a Robust Gospel

This one’s just a quick head’s up about a great article from Scot McKnight:

The 8 Marks of a Robust Gospel

Our problems are not small. The most cursory glance at the newspaper will remind us of global crises like AIDS, local catastrophes of senseless violence, family failures, ecological threats, and church skirmishes. These problems resist easy solutions. They are robust—powerful, pervasive, and systemic.

I sometimes worry we have settled for a little gospel, a miniaturized version that cannot address the robust problems of our world. But as close to us as the pages of a nearby Bible, we can find the Bible’s robust gospel, a gospel that is much bigger than many of us have dared to believe:

The gospel is the story of the work of the triune God (Father, Son, and Spirit) to completely restore broken image-bearers (Gen. 1:26–27) in the context of the community of faith (Israel, Kingdom, and Church) through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gift of the Pentecostal Spirit, to union with God and communion with others for the good of the world.

The gospel may be bigger than this description, but it is certainly not smaller. And as we declare this robust gospel in the face of our real, robust problems, we will rediscover just how different it is from the small gospel we sometimes have believed and proclaimed.

(HT: Emergent Village)

NT Wright – What political party/platform would Jesus run on?

When asked a question about Jesus, and what political platform or party he would run on, the oh-so-fabulous NT Wright had the following to say:

This is of course an impossible question, like ‘If the sun were to rise in the west, would it be green or blue?’ In other words, by agreeing to the terms of the question you make it impossible to give an answer based on anything other than highly distorted speculation.

Jesus didn’t run for anything. He acted as if he were a different kind of ruler altogether, with a ‘kingdom’ that didn’t originate from the present world (otherwise, he said, his servants would fight to rescue him) but instead was meant FOR this present world, to transform and heal it. The present way we do politics and government is, alas, part of the problem, and he would have challenged it (its huge cost, its pretense of participation which is shamelessly manipulated by the media, its cult of personality, its ignoring, all too often, of the actual needs of the poor, etc. etc.) just as he challenged the power structures of his day.

The real question is, what sort of a cross would today’s system be intent on using to kill him?

(HT: Matt @ Running with the Lion)

Bright Eyes – Four Winds

A little while back, my super-hip-sister Nicole sent me a track by Bright Eyes, called “Four Winds”, from the new-ish album called Cassadaga.

Aside from this being a musically fantastic song (a little folk, a little rock, a little bluegrass/country fiddle), the lyrics are continually bowling me over with layers and layers of interesting themes. Here’s the part that hit me the most:

The Bible’s blind, the Torah’s deaf, the Qur’an is mute
If you burned them all together you’d be close to the truth still
They’re poring over Sanskrit under Ivy League moons
While shadows lengthen in the sun
Cast on a school of meditation built to soften the times
And hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds
It’s knocking over fences, crossing property lines
Four winds cry until it come

Setting aside Conor Oberst’s (the singer/songwriter) obvious disdain for religions and their texts… I think he makes some really profound points, if I’m understanding him correctly.

He’s pointing out that all our studying and searching of ancient texts is causing us to ignore the increasing problems that are all around us (the shadows lengthening).

While I would disagree with him a bit, and say that I personally believe that the Bible is life-changing and life-giving (when read properly, as a narrative of the history of God’s involvement with man and not a science textbook), I absolutely agree with him on this point. We’re stuck in our religions while everything is unwinding around us (“And hold us at the center while the spiral unwinds”).

God wants to bring his Kingdom/Heaven to Earth, here-and-now, and start making the world more like it was intended to be. We can’t do that if we’ve got our heads stuck in the sand.

Here’s another quote with a similar theme, it’s the opening of the song:

Your class, your caste, your country, sect, your name or your tribe
There’s people always dying trying to keep them alive
There are bodies decomposing in containers tonight
In an abandoned building where
A squatter’s made a mural of a Mexican girl

This seems to be an indictment on the fact that we’re fighting/killing over stuff that doesn’t matter (class, caste, country, etc.) while there are people dying simply because they’re trying to get to America to start a better life (people from Asia dying inside shipping containers as they’ve traveled on a boat across the Pacific, Central/South Americans coming up to America and squatting in abandoned buildings, etc.). Regardless of what you think about illegal immigration, I think (hope?) that we can all agree that people dying for any reason is a problem…

You can check out the rest of the lyrics here, along with a lot of people’s thoughts and ideas about what else the song might mean. Also, you can watch the music video for the song below, if you’d like to hear the whole thing. Really cool idea for the video, by the way. Since he’s (obviously) saying some fairly inflammatory things in this song, the video is staged as a live performance somewhere, and people gradually get more and more mad at him as he’s singing, and they start booing and throwing stuff at the band while they’re playing. It’s pretty cool.