Thursday, August 16, 2012

That Good Old Baylor Line That Led Me Back to Catholicism

That's the title of my latest entry over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
"That good old Baylor line!
That good old Baylor line!
We'll march forever down the years,
As long as stars shall shine.
We'll fling our green and gold afar
To light the ways of time,
And guide us as we onward go;
That good old Baylor line!"
(Eaid Eastland Markham ,“That Good Old Baylor Line,” 1931)

Next week I begin my tenth year as a faculty member at Baylor University. When I arrived in July 2003, I found myself smack dab in the middle of an old-fashioned Texas shoot out.

In one corner were the advocates of Vision 2012, a ten-year plan for the university proposed by then-President Robert Sloan. It was an ambitious vision with the goal of elevating Baylor to tier-one research university status while maintaining its Christian identity. It included a commitment to increased scholarship, better teaching, a truly residential campus, and outstanding athletic programs.

In the other corner were those who represented what is called “old Baylor.” Many of them were self-described “moderate Baptists.” Having survived the Southern Baptist wars of the 1980s and 1990s, they had valiantly fought the fundamentalist take-over of their most cherished and beloved institutions. So they were understandably suspicious of any transformative agenda that seemed to echo the fundamentalists, who had accused their moderate brethren of not taking their Christian faith seriously.

The Baptist moderates were certainly not opponents of excellence. I have come to know many of them over the years, some of whom strongly opposed my hiring.  They are decent people for whom I have developed a great respect, even though we may part ways on certain theological and political questions.

I am proud to say that I now count a few of them as friends. What they feared was that Baylor University, the most impressive monument of their tradition and its accomplishments, would be appropriated to advance an understanding of the Christian life and its connection to the academy that is antithetical to authentic Baptist principles.

This feud is now, thankfully, ancient history. But unlike real Texas shoot outs, where the two sides eventually run out ammunition, the divisions in this gun battle eventually ran out of targets.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Vice President Biden and Mr. Magoo

Eerie parallels:

David Crowder and Cornel West: Separated at Second Birth?

Christian music artist, David Crowder (Baylor alum, by the way) and philosopher Cornel West bear a striking resemblance to each other.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Strengthen the Things That Remain (Thoughts on Chick-Fil-A and Religious Liberty)

"Strengthen the Things That Remain" is the title of my most recent entry over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
"Counterfeit philosophies have polluted all of your thoughts
Karl Marx has got ya by the throat, Henry Kissinger’s got you tied up in knots
When you gonna wake up, when you gonna wake up
When you gonna wake up and strengthen the things that remain?"
-Bob Dylan  (“When You Gonna Wake Up?,” 1979)

Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee dubbed Wednesday August 1, “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day,” encouraging his fellow citizens to patronize the establishment in order to show support for the ownership, which had recently come under fire by several local governments. It seems to have been a rousing success.

What precipitated this unusual event were threats by government officials in several major American cities in response to comments by Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy. In an interview with Baptist Press, he said, “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.”

And more provocatively on a radio program, he asserted, “I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ and I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is about.”

It’s clear that Chick-fil-A, as a corporation, supports a view of marriage tightly tethered to its ownership’s theological beliefs, anchored as they are in Evangelical Christianity. They are, of course, beliefs shared by a wide diversity of believers outside that tradition including Catholics, Orthodox, Muslims, Hindus, and Jews. It should go without saying that under the U.S. Constitution a citizen (or a collection of citizens – e.g., church, mosque, synagogue, eatery), who harbors these sorts of beliefs cannot be punished by the government for holding them.

In the words of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Nevertheless, this did not deter officials of several major American cities (including Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York) from issuing a series of secular fatwas, announcing that they would in effect include a religious test for holding business licenses.

Boston mayor Thomas Menino, for instance, said, “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston. You can’t have a business in the city of Boston that discriminates against a population. We’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.” Well, in that case, the mayor’s office should be shut down, since while doing the business of city government it seems intent on discriminating against devout Christians and their businesses based on the degree to which their devotion offends secular sensibilities.

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The Sun's Not Yellow, It's Chicken: An Analogy for Chick-Fil-A Skeptics

I came cross this blog post last night via the Facebook wall of Hunter Baker. On that blog, called "The American Jesus," a young Christian man named Zack Hunt explains why he did not participate in "Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day." (For some reason, "The American Jesus"  cannot be accessed right now. Hopefully, it is only a temporary glitch).

Although I very much appreciate the thought that went into Zack's post, I want to focus on one claim he makes: "Regardless, for me, dedicating a day to shove a chicken sandwich in the face of your `enemies' just doesn’t seem like a very Jesus-like thing to do." I don't see it that way. Consider this analogy.

Imagine that Chick-Fil-A were owned by Muslims and the mayor of "We Love Jesus, Texas," Billy Bob Cinderblock, announces that he "don't want no crazy Muslims preaching their Sharia Law in these parts," and thus suggests that his office will not allow Chick-Fil-A to build and open up a store in his city.  Hearing of this,  I and several friends, including Hunter, conclude: "You know, let's show our support for the religious liberty of our Muslim neighbors and eat at Chick-Fil-A on August 1." As Christians, we see this as an act of neighbor-love, consistent with the teachings of Christ. We then post our plan on the internet, and it goes viral. On August 1 hundreds of thousands of Americans eat at Chick-Fil-A restaurants throughout the United States  in order to show solidarity with their Muslim neighbors.

How is this not "Jesus-like"?

In fact, it seems to be quintessentially Jesus-like, since in both the real and Muslim cases, government officials, harboring anti-religious prejudices, were trying to harm--either by word, deed, or both--productive citizens who merely want to conduct business. When the mayors of three major cities (Boston, Chicago, and San Francisco) start issuing such secular fatwas, people of good will, regardless of political or religious differences, must do what we can to support our fellow citizens.