Wednesday, May 27, 2009

WSJ: An Upstart Church Movement Wrestles With Growing Older

From the Wall Street Journal.

GREENWICH, Conn. -- On a recent Saturday morning, musician Rob Mathes was in London's Abbey Road Studios, where the Beatles recorded, working with rock band Dashboard Confessional. But he rushed back to the U.S. for what he sees as an equally important gig: playing Sunday morning services at Trinity Church in Greenwich, Conn.

The 44-year-old Mr. Mathes helped found the church to draw in young people with a new kind of service -- hipper, less formal, trying to reach people who had drifted away from church but still felt a spiritual need.

Last weekend, Trinity celebrated its 10th anniversary. Its parishioners, numbering 500 to 700 every Sunday, attend prayer groups and take communion. But they do so while a band plays original works as well as contemporary songs based on traditional hymns.

Now, Trinity is at a crossroads. Mr. Mathes's bandmate, Ian Cron, 48, is stepping down as lead pastor. At the same time, Mr. Mathes's outside career is growing -- he was the musical director for President Barack Obama's pre-inaugural celebration. The church hired recruiters to search for a new pastor. Neither of the two leading candidates is a musician.

Trinity's "season of change," as Mr. Mathes describes it, is emblematic of the struggle that many religious institutions face as they reach a certain age: how to reach a new generation while remaining relevant to the needs of the congregation. But at churches like Trinity, which identify as Christian but deliberately choose not to connect with any denomination, the transition is especially challenging. These churches were founded by people in rebellion against established institutions. Ten years down the road, they have become the establishment.

Messrs. Mathes and Cron played a role in a theological conversation broadly characterized as the "emerging church" movement. The concept started in Europe and then took off in the U.S. in the late 1990s. The churches were typically driven by people in their 20s and 30s, committed to social justice, questioning of traditional dogma and eager to embrace modern culture.

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Service at Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT. Female lead singer is Lynn Witty and the male lead singer is Ian Crohn also the founder of the church.
Joe Deruvo

Rob Mathes, left, and Lynn Witty sing at a service at Trinity Church.
Service at Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT. Female lead singer is Lynn Witty and the male lead singer is Ian Crohn also the founder of the church.
Service at Trinity Church in Greenwich, CT. Female lead singer is Lynn Witty and the male lead singer is Ian Crohn also the founder of the church.

The ideas had an outsize impact on mainline churches, says Ryan Bolger, an associate professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., who has co-written a book about emerging churches. "I am at an aging Presbyterian church and we're rethinking our worship service," says Mr. Bolger. "This questioning is because of this renewal movement."

Yet despite their influence on mainstream affiliations, emerging churches are struggling with questions about their own role.

Brian D. McLaren, founding pastor of Cedar Ridge Community Church in Maryland and one of the leaders in the emerging church movement, says he stepped down as church pastor three years ago to write books, travel and lecture to other churches. "We see Christian faith as less of an institution and more of a kind of quest," he says.

Tony Jones, who until recently was the national coordinator for Emergent Village, a loose affiliation of emerging churches, says the restlessness comes from being "spiritual entrepreneurs," people who don't want "a big bureaucracy, a big organization or a big budget."

Trinity's founding in 1999 grew out of a spiritual crisis experienced by the two founders, friends since childhood. Mr. Cron came from an evangelical background but says he became increasingly disillusioned with the movement's alignment with the political right. Mr. Mathes grew up in Greenwich attending church but stopped in college because "church didn't speak to me," he says. He played in nightclubs with his band, Rob Mathes and His Boy Elroy. But he says he realized that his most powerful songs were about a constant wrestling with "faith and doubt."

In 1997, Messrs. Mathes and Cron ended up at Stanwich Congregational Church in Greenwich, an independent Protestant church. "We were losing young people," says Neely Towe, who stepped down as pastor in 2007 after 20 years. "We wanted to find a way to reach them in their own medium." The men set traditional hymns to contemporary beats and also wrote original songs. They began playing at a special evening worship service. As their following grew, the group decided to leave Stanwich and found Trinity in 1999.

There are no hymnals or religious books at Trinity, which meets in a drab middle-school auditorium. Scripture, prayers and lyrics to the songs flash on three big screens.

Rick Lyons, who heads Trinity's pastor search committee, says the search process forced the church to wrestle with its identity. One outcome has been a greater focus on issues that dominate the congregation's daily lives, such as marriage and employment.

At this year's Palm Sunday service, Trinity member Christopher Morin, 38, told the congregation he had lost his job. He urged people to join a support group he was starting at the church to pray, swap leads and share résumés.

Mr. Cron says Trinity was at a size and an age where "it needed a new set of eyes," to see new things. "You don't want to become ossified," he says. "You have to keep thinking freshly on how to do church."

Friday, May 22, 2009

WSJ: In France, Immigrant Offspring Return to Ancestral Homelands

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting report on job discrimination, racism and emigration in France.

PARIS -- Nawal El Kahlaoui grew up near Paris as the daughter of a mechanic who left Morocco to seek a better life in France. But after finishing her university studies here, Ms. Kahlaoui moved back to Morocco to find work.

"I love Morocco, as the country gave me a chance," says the 35-year-old retail consultant in Casablanca. "It's a land of opportunity."

A growing number of well-educated French people of immigrant backgrounds are returning to their parents' homelands. There are no official figures on the number of "returnees," and government officials, scholars and employment agencies say the number is small. Still, this gradual U-turn reflects a relative decline in the desirability of life in parts of Europe, compared with some developing countries.

Mass immigration to France started in the 1960s, as the economy grew strongly, creating jobs. In addition to migrants from southern Europe, workers came from France's former colonies, in particular Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

As France's economy slowed in subsequent decades, however, unemployment rose, and hasn't dipped below 7% for the past quarter of a century. In recent years, the jobless rate for immigrants has been around twice that of non-immigrants. Now that France is in recession, the first jobs to go are often those filled by minorities.

Most of the French "returnees" are of Moroccan background, according to people who have studied the phenomenon, though there is also a trickle to other former French colonies, such as Algeria and Vietnam. In 2002, Rabat set up a "Ministry for the Overseas Moroccan Community," to encourage émigrés to return and invest their skills in their native land.

Morocco is also becoming more open and prosperous. Overhauls under King Mohammad VI, who ascended to the throne in 1999, have improved freedom of expression and women's rights. In addition, the country has formed free-trade agreements with the U.S. and the European Union. The economy expanded at an average of more than 4% from 2000 to 2008, and even this year is expected to post growth higher than that. While a large number of rural poor keep Morocco relatively low in international measures of economic prosperity, city life can be good for better-off residents.

Life can be better than in France. Surveys show that in France, applicants for a job have around a third the chance of getting a reply if their name sounds Arab or African as they do with a more traditional French name.

But no one knows the exact extent of inequality: The French Republic's doctrine that everyone is equal has so far ruled out the collection of statistics on race and religion. As a result, unlike in the U.S., there are no detailed data on how many French people are black, Arab or Asian -- and how they fare in education and work.

Opponents say that such an ethnic census would divide society by validating the existence of groups based on race and religion.

President Nicolas Sarkozy, acknowledging the problem, said before his 2007 election that he wanted better ways to measure discrimination, and in December he appointed a commissioner for diversity. Algerian-born Yazid Sabeg recently published a report in which he recommended that people be allowed to identify -- but not in a mandatory way -- which ethnic group they belong to on official documents.

"We need to measure the negative situation that is the result of different appearances," Mr. Sabeg said in a recent interview in his office on Paris's Left Bank. "It's very important for France to get out of its fantasy that there is no discrimination."

A French education is highly valued in former colonies, and salaries are good relative to the cost of living.

In Morocco, former émigrés are very welcome. Big European companies have been actively recruiting French-educated staff for their units there over the past three or four years, says Jamal Belahrach, president of the North African operations of job agency Manpower. The recruits find they can rise faster in their careers than they would have in France -- and are surprised to find a country different from the one their parents left. "There's a generation who didn't see Morocco in the past, and now sees the modern Morocco," he says.

Barka Biye's parents had moved to France from Morocco when she was just two months old. Ms. Biye graduated in law from the University of Paris, and then worked for several years in insurance. In 2007, she decided to look for a job in Morocco. She found one with a French insurance company in Casablanca in just two weeks.

"I thought I could play my part in the evolution of a country going through big changes," she says. "Morocco is expanding fast, and the companies who set up there want managers educated in Europe and at the same time capable of understanding the country's culture."

When Ms. El Kahlaoui was job-hunting in the late 1990s, she had trouble finding an interesting job, even though she held an undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Paris and another in marketing from ESSEC, an elite business school.

When she asked a university careers adviser why she was having so much trouble, the woman gave her some advice: "She told me I had to change my name and address," says Ms. El Kahlaoui. The problem: Her name and address told potential employers she was from a typical North African immigrant background.

In Casablanca, Ms. El Kahlaoui started off working for French pharmaceuticals company Pierre Fabre and then German cosmetics group Beiersdorf before joining a small retail consultancy.

She says she's happy in Morocco, but being there makes her feel very French. "I will come back ," she says, "but only when the system can generally accept people like me.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Poll shows Protestant clergy still oppose same sex-marriage, but support gay rights and becoming more liberal

USA Today reports on the Clergy Voices Survey by Public Religion Research. Elsewhere, a church historian quips that "It takes Christians two centuries to settle anything." .

Most mainline Protestant clergy do not support legalizing gay marriage, even if they're not required to officiate at same-sex ceremonies.

It was the only point on which the majority did not support gay rights, according to a survey of clergy from the seven historic mainline Protestant denominations to which 18% of Americans belong.

The Clergy Voices Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research, is based on 2,658 responses from clergy from the United Methodist Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Episcopal Church; United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA; American Baptist Church; and the Disciples of Christ.

It asked 60 questions on sexuality and the "the role of (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people in the church and broader society" as well as theological questions on views on Bible.

It finds overall support for hate crimes legislation (67%), for workplace protections for gay and lesbian people (66%), and for adoption rights (55%).

Only 33% say gay couples should be allowed to marry, 32% would allow civil unions, and 35% call for "no legal recognition" for same-sex couples.

Support for same-sex marriage grew to 46% if laws specified that clergy would not be required to perform a religious ceremony in contradiction with their denomination's teachings.

"We find that on these issues, the clergy views are fairly in line with the laity views," said Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research.

Jones said clergy were asked to estimate how their views on gay and lesbian issues had changed in 10 years: 45% called themselves more liberal now, 40% unchanged, and 14% more conservative.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

NYT: Ex-Archbishop Speaks About Catholic Church and Homosexuality

From the NY Times.

He said he had been aware of his homosexual orientation since he was a teenager and suppressed it until he became archbishop, when he had relationships with several men because of “loneliness that became very strong.”

Archbishop Weakland, 82, said he was probably the first bishop to come out of the closet voluntarily. He said he was doing so not to excuse his actions but to give an honest account of why it happened and to raise questions about the church’s teaching that homosexuality is “objectively disordered.”

“Those are bad words because they are pejorative,” he said.


Archbishop Weakland was among those who publicly questioned the need for a male-only celibate priesthood. He also led American bishops in a two-year process of writing a pastoral letter on economic justice, holding hearings on the subject across the country.

A later effort by the American bishops to issue a pastoral letter on women was quashed by the Vatican, he said, because the Vatican did not want to give the national bishops conferences the authority to issue sweeping teaching documents.

The archbishop said it was partly because of his strained relations with Pope John Paul II that he did not tell Vatican officials in 1997 when he was threatened with a lawsuit by Paul J. Marcoux, the man with whom he had a relationship nearly 20 years before and who had appeared on “Good Morning America.”

Mr. Marcoux said then that he had been deprived of income from marketing a project he called “Christodrama” because of Archbishop Weakland’s interference. Archbishop Weakland said he probably should have gone to Rome and explained that he had had a relationship with Mr. Marcoux, that he had ended it by writing an emotional letter that Mr. Marcoux still had and that the archbishop’s lawyers regarded Mr. Marcoux’s threats as blackmail.

But, the archbishop said, a highly placed friend in Rome advised him that church officials preferred that such things be hushed up, which is “the Roman way.”

“I suppose, also, being frank, I wouldn’t have wanted to be labeled in Rome at that point as gay,” Archbishop Weakland said. “Rome is a little village.”

Asked if he had regrets about the $450,000 payment to Mr. Marcoux, he said, “I certainly worry about the sum.”

The morning in 2002 that Mr. Marcoux surfaced on national television, Archbishop Weakland said he phoned the pope’s representative, or apostolic nuncio, in Washington — Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo — who, he said, told him, “Of course you are going to deny it.”

Archbishop Weakland said he told the nuncio that while he could deny emphatically that it was date rape, “I can’t deny that something happened between us.” (Archbishop Montalvo died in 2006.)

Archbishop Weakland is still pained that his scandal, involving a man in his 30s, became intertwined with the larger church scandal over child sexual abuse.


Archbishop Weakland and the Milwaukee archdiocese are also the target of several lawsuits accusing them of failing to remove abusive priests, allowing more minors to be victimized.

In the interview, he blamed psychologists for advising bishops that perpetrators could be treated and returned to work, and he blamed the Vatican’s tribunals for spending years debating whether to remove abusers from the priesthood. In one case, he said, the Vatican courts took so long deciding whether to defrock a priest who had abused dozens of deaf students that the priest died before a decision was reached.

“The concern was more about the priests than about the victims,” Archbishop Weakland said.

Energy consulting firm report on Canadian oil sands: 5-15% more CO2 than elsewhere

The NY Times cites a report by IHS CERA, an energy consulting firm, that Canadian oil sands produce more CO2 through their life cycle than oil derived from regular sources. The report recommends research into how to cut the amount of natural gas used in production, which should improve the picture somewhat.

Canada's oil sands have far less political risk to mine than oil in the Middle East and Africa. They should be under consideration as to energy security. However, that should be balanced against the need to cut CO2 emissions as far as possible.

NYT: Study says antiunion tactics common at US companies that are trying to organize

An NYT article reports on a new study by Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner that demonstrates an increasing prevalence of anti-union tactics:

A new study by a Cornell University professor of 1,004 union organizing drives has found that employers threatened to close plants in 57 percent of the campaigns and threatened to cut wages and benefits in 47 percent.

The study, to be released Wednesday, also found that employers fired pro-union workers in 34 percent of the campaigns. And it asserted that management’s antiunion tactics had helped pushed down the unionization rate to 12.4 percent, from 22 percent three decades ago.


She said her study was based on a random sample of 1,004 unionization elections from early 1999 to late 2003 and relied on a review of National Labor Relations Board cases and documents, as well as surveys of 562 lead union organizers.

In 63 percent of the elections, the study found, supervisors used one-on-one meetings to interrogate workers about whether they or co-workers supported a union. (It is illegal under federal law to interrogate workers about such matters.)

In 54 percent, she found, supervisors used the meetings to threaten workers.

Her study found that employers used 10 or more types of antiunion tactics in 49 percent of unionization drives, up from the 26 percent she found in a similar study 12 years ago.

Professor B. has received funding from unions and other pro-labor groups. The anti-union folks are questioning her findings. I have not assessed the validity of the study.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Give Ben a break

I understand that some Israeli leaders have criticized the Pope for allegedly not being specific enough in his denunciation of the Holocaust. They've also brought up his past in the German Army during WWII.

Bringing up the latter is ridiculous. Benny was drafted. He was a teen. Yes, the courageous thing to do would be to speak up and denounce the war before being drafted. If he had, he wouldn't be the Pope - he would be dead, like Franz Jägerstatter and Dietrich Bonhöffer. Few of us have that courage. Perhaps those folks should ask themselves, why aren't they denouncing the occupation of Palestine?

Give Ben a break on the Nazi issue.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Appalachia and coal

Interestingly enough, I got only one homophobic comment related to same sex marriage, and two related to a Marketwatch article I posted denouncing the concept of clean coal (basically, there can be no such thing). One of the commenters said that I did not know what coal did for the economy of the Appalachian region, which is a mountainous, sparsely populated and poor region of the U.S. in the states of West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee.

I am against coal, but I realize and have stated repeatedly that the U.S., China and India will need to continue to use coal as part of their energy generation mix. Green technologies will not be able to replace the bulk of energy capacity in the near future.

I agree that mining is a necessary way to get the natural resources that our society needs. I also acknowledge that it provides jobs to poor regions globally.

However, mining companies are phenomenally destructive. People around the globe pay the price from environmental degradation. The environment also pays the price; I don't follow the typical White Westerner model of environmentalism, but it's self-evident that the environment has intrinsic worth that must be balanced against any economic benefits that damaging it provides.

And that's not to mention that mining is physically very dangerous. Miners are at risk of mine collapses and very painful chronic diseases. In the U.S., the mining industry is one of the least likely industries to provide health insurance - I know this because I sifted through some health insurance data by industry collected by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Neither miners nor their communities are adequately compensated for the damage that mining does. The mining industry has a record on remediation of environmental damages that ranges from poor to abysmal.

Readers should note that I do not post offensive comments. If you don't like it, that's too bad. The only reason I even responded to this idiot is because he's (presumably) a member of a vulnerable community.

I'm going to link to an article on Sojourners by Danny Duncan Collum - and this guy comes from Kentucky.

By now everyone knows that in the face of global climate change, the United States must do at least two big things. We have to stop burning gasoline for our personal transportation, and we have to stop burning coal to make our electricity. A change in the way Americans move from place to place will affect almost all of us. But leaving coal behind may not, unless we live in Central Appalachia.

In the place where West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee converge, coal has been king since the late 1800s. And an entire way of life is built upon a love-hate relationship with the black, smoky stuff. Coal has brought Appalachian people the only meager glimpses of prosperity they’ve seen. But coal mining has also taken many lives—through accidents and through the slow death of black lung. Now the coal industry is taking away the landscape that formed the Appala­chian people and their culture. Increasing­ly, coal operators simply blow the tops off the mountains to scoop out the coal, leaving lifeless plateaus behind and burying more than 4,000 miles of streams under the rubble and waste.

Country singer Kathy Mattea, a West Virginian, expresses much of this story on her most recent album, Coal, a collection of classic mining songs. You can read about the rest in a new book, Something’s Rising: Appalachians Fighting Moun­taintop Removal, from the University Press of Kentucky, edited by novelist Silas House and journalist Jason Howard.

Coal was the fuel for the first wave of the industrial revolution, and to secure their supply, robber barons swept through Appalachia buying up mineral rights. The rights came cheap because most Appalachians were still subsistence farmers, and any amount of cash looked like a windfall. Ever since those days, Appalachia has been hostage to the energy market. When coal prices go down, mines close and jobs disappear. When the price is up, life gets a little better. In her opening track, “The L&N Don’t Stop Here Anymore,” Kathy Mattea sings of these cycles. The community is quieter and cleaner when the mine is closed, but the people have no money to take to town.

For decades in the coal business, the profit margin could literally be measured in human lives. It is possible to mine coal from underground in relative safety. But it is a lot cheaper to cut corners and gamble with miners’ lives. The most recent coal boom has been largely at nonunion mines, and a series of deadly disasters—from Sago, West Vir­ginia, to Crandall Canyon, Utah—shows what happens when the owners have all the power. On Coal, we hear of exploitation in “Blue Diamond Mines,” of mine disasters in “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” and of the price paid by those who stood up to the companies in “Lawrence Jones,” which tells the tale of a man gunned down during the strike depicted in the film Harlan County, U.S.A. Mattea’s version of the Merle Travis classic, “Dark as a Dungeon,” captures the strange attraction many miners feel for the underground life: “Like a fiend with his dope, or a drunkard his wine, a man will have lust for the lure of the mines.”

While fatal accidents also occur in mountaintop removal mining, nature and the people who live downhill are paying the heaviest price. Even as the smoke from coal-fired utility plants heats the environment and raises sea levels, the process of scraping coal from the earth has already destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of the oldest and most biodiverse forest in North America.

In Something’s Rising, we read about children playing on creek bottoms coated with carcinogens and in streams full of dead fish. But we also hear about ordinary Appalachian people overcoming fear and fatalism to stand up for their homes and for God’s creation, founding organizations with names such as Christians for the Mountains and Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards.

One of the most hopeful voices in Something’s Rising is that of Nathan Hall, a young Kentuckian who left underground mining to study business at Berea College with the goal of establishing a biofuel business in the mountains. As the book demonstrates, more and more Appalachians realize that the future of the mountains, and the planet, depends on finding a way for Appalachians to live without King Coal.

Danny Duncan Collum, a Sojourners contributing writer, teaches writing at Kentucky State University in Frankfort, Kentucky.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wind energy industry in US has potential to become independent of subsidies

Morningstar, a stock and fund analysis firm, contends that the U.S. wind industry is developing to the point where it may become independent of government subsidies.

Morningstar points to the growing presence of large, multinational firms like General Electric, Siemens and ABB in the wind industry space. The latter are European firms (German and Swiss), and they are both investing in the U.S. - definitely a good thing! All these well-capitalized and experienced manufacturers have a good shot at getting industry costs down to the point where they are sustainable without government subsidies - at present, wind energy only has a positive return on investment with the subsidies.

Should these players succeed, this will be very good for renewable energy. It's not stated in the article, but when cap and trade legislation passes, this will be an additional push towards renewables, since they will become cheaper relatively to carbon-heavy fuels. For those interested, the article mentions some stocks to watch.

Disclosure: I subscribe to Morningstar.

Friday, May 08, 2009

God’s Image and Caesar’s Image: Torture and the Currency of Empire

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow, writing on the Sojourners blog.

One of the central teachings of Torah is that all human beings are made in the Image of God. That teaching and what flows from it are at the heart of Jewish prohibitions on the use of torture — and perhaps at the heart of Christian opposition to torture as well.

Indeed, the Rabbis – living under the Roman Empire – enriched that teaching about the Image as a direct challenge to the power of Rome, the Imperial fount of torture. One of them asked, “What does this mean, ’In God’s image?’” And another answered, “When Caesar puts his image on a coin, all the coins come out identical. When that One who is beyond all rulers puts the divine image on a ‘coin,’ all the coins come out unique.”

Torture tries to destroy the Image of God –- uniqueness, the diversity that is the only way the Infinite can unfold itself in the world — and replace it with uniformity, Caesar’s image on the human soul and body. In the experience of the Rabbis, it was Imperial Rome that used torture. To this very day, the liturgy for Yom Kippur, when more Jews are in the synagogue than at any other time, and in a more deeply devotional and covenantal place than at any other time, includes the graphic and horrific descriptions of Rome’s torturing to death ten of the greatest rabbis of that or any age.

I think this understanding of the Image of God casts a profound light on the story in three of the Christian Gospels in which two troublemakers come up to Jesus and ask him a question: “Should we pay taxes with this coin?”

They evidently hoped to trap him into violating either Jewish or Roman law. For the coin had on it an image of Caesar, marked “Caesar, imperator, divus: Emperor, God.” If Jesus said to use the coin, he might be violating the Jewish law against idolatry. If he said not to, he would surely be violating Roman law.

So Jesus, in a totally Jewish fashion, answers the question with a question. He asks, “Whose image is on the coin?” They respond, more or less — “Caesar’s, dummy, that’s the point!”

So according to the Gospels, Jesus says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s,” and for 2,000 years Christians have been arguing about what that means.

But now take into account the Rabbinic teaching that Caesar puts his rigid uniformity upon his coins, whereas the Infinite God puts uniqueness into God’s coins: every human being. Surely Jesus, the radical rabbi from the Galilee, knew this teaching.

So I believe there is a missing line in the Gospel story. Either Jesus didn’t need to say it because his first question would reawaken the knowledge in those who were trying to trouble him, or it was later censored out because it was so radical:

“Whose image is on that coin?” he said, and they answered: “Caesar’s.”

And then I think he said, “And whose Image is on this coin?” as he put his hands on the shoulders of the troublemakers.

Only then did he say, “So give to Caesar what is Caesar’s – and give to God what is God’s!”

And of course, as the Gospels say, the troublemakers themselves went away deeply troubled – not because they had failed to trick him, but because he had forced them to think and feel and act anew as they opened themselves to experience the Image of God in themselves. And to understand that the Divine Image stood in radical contradiction to Caesar’s image, so that the world could not be neatly and comfortably divided into two different realms, one “spiritual;” and one “political.”

This teaching needs to be renewed in every generation. One way that Jewish tradition does this in regard to torture is to insist that every Yom Kippur, the community relive the torture of ten rabbis by Rome. In parallel, Christianity insists that every Good Friday the community relive the torture of Jesus by Rome.

These two practices also remind us what brought about the suffering that grieves us. For they remind us that empires torture. The US by its own hand in the Philippines a century ago, by proxies in Central America just a generation ago, again by its own hand in Iraq and Afghanistan. No empire can survive without resorting to torture against those who refuse to bow to its power — by act or even by omission or even by sheer accident of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those who get in the way of its demand that human beings abandon their uniqueness and bow to uniformity, as Caesar forces his own image onto every human body, drowning the Image of God in a flood of agony.

So what does this teach us about America today? That we have a choice more basic than whether we close Guantanamo or – as is now being done by the Obama Administration — we double the size of Bagram, a similar prison in Afghanistan.

America cannot celebrate both the Infinite God and the tyrannical Caesar, cannot remain both a citizenly republic and a domineering empire. How to choose? One way is to affirm that torture is both a grave sin and a major crime. Refusing to “look back” at the use of torture in the past, refusing to try as criminals those who committed the crime, failing to excommunicate those who committed the sin, means refusing to heal the future.

It would be the same as ripping the crucifixion out of Good Friday or the torture of the ten rabbis out of Yom Kippur. After all, it merely happened long ago. Under a long-gone Empire. What is the point of remembering?

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center, author of Godwrestling, Round 2, and co-author of The Tent of Abraham.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

New pastor at Riverside Church, NYC, is a money grubbing capitalist pig and should be fired

The Washington Post reports that Brad Braxton, the new pastor of Riverside Church, will be paid total compensation of over $260,000. Riverside is a church of 2,000+ members; priests of large churches should get low six figure salaries and NYC is an expensive place to live. However, Braxton's compensation seems on the high side. His response to members' concerns is a bit distressing.

The Market Cost of Discipleship

Historic and influential Riverside Church in New York City installed its new pastor Sunday, despite a congregational conflict that ended up in court and exposed the new pastor's annual compensation package to public scrutiny.

According to news reports, the Rev. Dr. Brad R. Braxton, who follows in the laudatory footsteps of James A. Forbes, William Sloane Coffin and Harry Emerson Fosdick, will receive an annual base salary of $250,000, a monthly housing allowance of $11,500 (the Braxtons are living in a luxury high-rise), monthly entertainment and travel allowances, and free tuition at the church's day school for his 3-year-old.

It's not investment banker money, but who knew preaching the gospel of a man who told his followers to sell their possessions and give the money to the poor could pay so well? Should it?

Congregation members, embroiled in controversy since Braxton was selected last fall, are divided again on whether the church's board is paying their pastor too much.

"Where's the social justice in this?" said Diana Solomon-Glover, a member of the church choir and one of the petitioners in the suit, told the New York Daily News. "We have an economic crisis in the country, and none of the church staff are getting raises this year, but a few people at the top are getting these huge salaries?"

Dr. Billy E. Jones, council chairman of the 2,700-member congregation, said in a statement that the new pastor's compensation was "in line with other religious leaders in Manhattan who minister to congregations of a similar size and scope."

Scott L. Thumma of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research told the New York Times that the average base salary of 105 megachurch pastors surveyed in 2008 was about $150,000, with the highest-paid receiving about $300,000. That doesn't include compensation from TV or radio programs, book sales or stadium shows.

Again, that's not CEO or rock star or pro athlete money, but should it be Christian ministry money? In a world where 25,000 children die every day because of factors related to poverty, should Christians be paying or earning $11,500 a month just for one family's rent? In a world where a billion people live on less than $2 a day, should Christians be paying or earning the same annual salary of 125,000 other people?

Associated Baptist Press published a fascinating story on the subject of pastor pay back in 2007. Ohio pastor Steve Clifford argued that gospel ministers should be paid even more than pro athletes and CEOs. "What value can you place on someone who regularly leads others to eternal life?" Clifford asked. "Ballplayers and Wall Street executives get a lot more money for doing something that's not nearly as important."

Antioch Community Church in Waco, Texas, on the other hand, pays all of its staff members the same annual salary of $26,400, plus $400 a month for a spouse and $275 a month per child for up to four kids. "Our view is that God doesn't value the work of the pastor more than he does the secretary because God called us all to use our spiritual gifts," Jeff Abshire, Antioch's administrative pastor, told ABP. "Aren't we all called to fulfill the Great Commission? Aren't we all called to preach the gospel?"

In his sermon Sunday, Braxton, 40, said critics of his pay package were "mistaking molehills for mountains." He told the congregation that his priority would be "the sacred business of moving mountains."

It seems his moving expenses are covered.

Editor: The New York Daily News reports that Braxton's total comp is either $450,000 or $600,000. Some congregants have filed a lawsuit alleging the higher figure. The chair of the church committee says the lower figure is right. I say it's way too high.

If I was on the board, I'd fire this guy's ass. If I were in the congregation and the board refused to do it, I'd fire their asses. I certainly wouldn't tithe a single fucking cent.

NYT editorial: Free Trade, Green Trade

Daniel Price, in a NYT editorial, offers a vision for liberalizing trade and transferring green technology. Note that he is a former Bush administration member, but that does not necessarily make him wrong. This can be no substitute for a well-designed cap & trade policy and better urban planning, but is definitely a way forward.

PRESIDENT OBAMA and the other leaders at the Group of 20 meeting last month vowed to both pursue a “green” economic recovery, and not turn inward. They can fight protectionism and climate change at the same time by unilaterally eliminating tariffs on clean technology products.

The United States should call on each of the major economies to choose any of the products from the World Bank’s list of 43 climate-friendly technologies — for example, solar and wind energy equipment — and end tariffs on them. The only requirement would be that each country reduce the tariffs collected on these 43 products in total by at least 20 percent.

This proposal is simple and easy to put into place, and need not await the outcome of drawn-out international trade negotiations. Countries merely need to choose the products on which they want to cut tariffs, and reduce those tariffs to zero.

This can be done through the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate Change — an initiative that began with the Bush administration — that brings together the 17 G-20 countries that together constitute 80 percent of the world’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These cuts should be made before the leaders of these countries meet in conjunction with the Group of 8 summit meeting this July in Italy.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at a meeting of the climate change forum on April 27 that the United States is “ready to lead” on climate change. It’s time to demonstrate that leadership.

According to information collected by the World Trade Organization, the United States imposes tariffs (topping out at 5.2 percent) on 32 of the 43 climate-friendly technologies identified by the World Bank. China imposes duties on all but two of the product categories, with a maximum rate of 35 percent. These tariffs, while not the only barrier, are an impediment to trade and hinder the spread and development of clean technologies.

Tariff reduction would have clear trade and climate benefits. Getting all major developed and developing economies back in the habit of reducing barriers is good practice if we want to have any hope of concluding the current world trade negotiations, known as the Doha Round. If the United State leads this effort, it would help alleviate our trading partners’ concerns about mixed signals on trade sent by “Buy American” provisions and the administration’s ambivalence on pending free trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea.

Even on climate change, the trade message has been muddled. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu is open to tariffs on countries that do not adopt satisfactory emission reduction targets, while the United States trade representative, Ron Kirk, has written a letter to Congress indicating opposition to such measures, at least for now. The United States now has a chance to provide an unambiguous signal of its commitment to trade liberalization.

Cutting tariffs on clean technologies is a constructive, rather than confrontational, approach to trade and climate change.

Some developed countries have considered border taxes or tariffs on the products of major emerging markets that aren’t curbing the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions. Developing countries rightfully cry foul on talk of such punitive trade measures and at the same time call for financial assistance to support clean energy projects. But developing countries can hardly expect financial support if they tax green goods entering their own borders. Encouraging trade, rather than trade sanctions, is a more effective way to combat climate change.

Eliminating tariffs on clean technology goods can help achieve the twin imperatives of economic growth and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The solution lies in the development and deployment of affordable cleaner technologies.

To be sure, tariff cuts alone won’t do it. We need both national legislation and international commitments by all major economies to reduce their emissions. But as a start, President Obama should use his personal popularity with world leaders to call upon his colleagues to join him in tearing down tariff walls.

Daniel M. Price, a lawyer, was an assistant to President George W. Bush for international economic affairs.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Just a reminder: Christians are biased against war - Jim Wallis

This is a bit of an older article, but Jim Wallis reminds Christians that Jesus' words and Christian tradition both oblige us to be biased against war.

And contrary to some comments on this site, I have suggested several times an alternative strategy that would have to involve serious international intervention and regional engagement to secure Iraqi security and stability -- the kind of bold, strong, and creative multilateral strategy that is completely obstructed by the ongoing unilateral American occupation. Permanent U.S. military bases and unique American claims to future oil revenues and contracts for Iraqi reconstruction are among the U.S. prerogatives that would have to be sacrificed for such international solutions to be possible -- along with a massive American financial commitment to rebuild the shattered country that our war has broken. But exercising American responsibility without U.S. control is not likely to occur on the Bush watch. So we can only look and hope for a future change of direction.

But let's turn from politics to theology and ecclesiology. The vitriol against Christian Iraq war dissenters from the handful of neocon war promoters who regularly clog the comments to this site forget both. Both the teachings of Jesus (remember, "blessed are the peacemakers" and "love your enemies") and the rigorous criteria of the "just war" from Augustine and others in the Christian tradition clearly leave believers with at least a presumption against war. And the ignominious origins and now-disputed rationales for this war in particular, along with its enormous human cost, clearly put the burden of proof on the war's supporters much more than its critics -- that is, if we are to be Christians about all this, and not just American nationalists or neoconservative apologists for American hegemony in the world.

Jim further reminds us that we are Christians first, and members of our national group second.

That brings me to a second point -- about the body of Christ and our loyalty to the global Christian community. Outside the borders of the United States of America, a vast, vast majority of the world's people are steadfastly against the American war in Iraq and the foreign policies of the U.S. in general. Take out all the non-Christians from that global population sample and among the people of God the opposition remains the same. Even reduce that number to only evangelical Christians worldwide and you are still left with an overwhelming majority of born-again, Bible-believing Christians who are against American policy in Iraq and, indeed, the entire Middle East region.

Because of my work and transatlantic family ties, I travel extensively around the world, frequently talk to others who do, regularly read the international press, frequently host international Christian leaders, and often attend international Christian gatherings. Last week, I wrote on this site about my recent journey to Singapore to join 500 leaders of World Vision from 100 countries. And I will tell you that, once again, the great majority of those evangelical believers, especially from the global South, but also including Europeans, Australians, and even many Americans who work globally, are now completely opposed to the Iraq war, to U.S. policy in the region, and to the way the United States conducts its "war on terrorism." In other words, my experience convinces me that the body of Christ, internationally, is against the U.S. war in Iraq and the whole direction of current U.S. foreign policy. Many Christians I've spoken to go further and say that America's aggressive role in the world today has hurt the cause of Christ globally, especially when an American president dangerously conflates America's role with God's purposes. And if you don't know that perspective, you simply haven't had much experience with Christians outside of the United States.

So if the international body of Christ generally doesn't support America's war in Iraq, or U.S. foreign policy generally, what do some American Christians know that the rest of the global Christian community doesn't? Is the rest of the church just wrong? Do we have access to information that they don't have? (Actually, they have much more access to information and different perspectives than most Americans have, which is a big part of the problem.) What don't they understand that we do? Or, from the perspective of the Christian warriors who try to dominate the commentary section of this blog, what do they know that world Christianity has yet to learn?

Personally, to be frank, I think it is because far too many American Christians are simply Americans first and Christians second. The statement that got the most enthusiastic response in Singapore was not about politics but ecclesiology: "We are to be Christians first, and members of nations or tribes second." That simple affirmation, if ever applied, would utterly transform the relationship of American Christians to the policies of their own government.

For all the vitriolic debate about politics this week in relationship to the war in Iraq, I think the real issue is our theology and ecclesiology. Many American Christians are simply more loyal to a version of American nationalism than they are to the body of Christ. I want to suggest that the two are now in conflict, and we must decide to whom to we ultimately belong. That's the real issue.

Monday, May 04, 2009

3 Ugly Truths About the Auto Industry

Now that I've pissed off the coal miners, I'm going to take on the auto workers. Jack Hough, writing for Smartmoney, thinks the picture for the auto industry is only going to get worse.

Readers should note that Smartmoney is home to two free market fundamentalists whose opinions I find repugnant. I don't believe Hough is one of them, and I do agree with him.

For most of this decade, Americans could be counted on to buy more than 16 million cars a year. Last year sales barely topped 13 million. This year industry forecasts call for 10 million.

America’s car makers are thus struggling to survive. Chrysler couldn’t convince a cluster of debt holders to accept less than they're owed, and filed for bankruptcy on Thursday. On Monday, General Motors (GM: 1.81, -0.11, -5.72%) said it will cut 2,600 dealers and eliminate its Pontiac brand, and will either sell or close Hummer, Saturn and Saab. It faces a June 1 deadline to restructure, or file for bankruptcy.

I wish both companies success, but for America’s car business to have a shot, policy makers and Detroit executives must come to terms with three ugly truths.

1. The new sales pace is closer to normal than sickly.

America’s car count has grown well faster than its population over the past half century (see graphic below). Credit two trends: Incentives for house buyers have pushed citizens away from cities in search of affordability, giving them long commutes, while the cost of living has outstripped wage growth, leading to a surge in two-worker, and two-driver, families. But our stock of cars couldn’t grow that fast forever. We’re already well past the point where our cars (close to 250 million of them) outnumber our drivers (just over 200 million).

I’m guessing the bubbly pace of sales we took for normal a few years ago was driven far more by fashion than utility. The suburbs, after all, put neighbors’ cars on naked display. In 2002, the average new car buyer kept his car for just over 49 months. Whether because consumers can’t borrow more or because flashy displays of wealth have fallen out of style, that number has since crept up to 56 months. It can surely climb higher.

Sales of 10 million cars a year are enough today to keep every driver in his or her own car (already an astounding thing), with many of them driving new cars and none driving ones built much earlier than 1990. That’s enough. It’s not like new technology demands a stampede to showrooms. Tree lovers who buck up for a Toyota Prius today will go five fewer miles on a gallon of fuel than I went at age 16 in a Volkswagen Rabbit with a diesel engine. It was made in 1980.

2. Recent boom years weren’t so great for car makers, and Congress is partly to blame.

General Motors didn’t turn a profit in 2005, 2006 or 2007, years of relative opulence. Even before that, profits came largely from lending, including for houses, and not from making and selling cars. Operating margins for the car business have been more or less in decline since the 1960s. Health-care costs have steadily risen. General Motors famously spends more than $1,600 per car for employee health care.

In the U.S., government payments to the middle class for health care are decried as socialist, but the money is nonetheless needed, so we route payments through employers using a giant tax subsidy, and somehow convince ourselves that we’re more capitalist for it. The money ultimately comes out of workers in the form of lower wages and take-home pay instead of taxes — a subtle enough difference, except the scheme also leaves employers on the hook in the event of a sudden rise in plan costs, which we’ve had over the past decade. Nonunion companies and ones without steep obligations to retirees can adjust. Car makers can’t. On some level, rather than boo them we should applaud them. By losing money to health-care costs, they’ve taken on a responsibility that politicians have shirked.

3. Jobs worth saving generally don’t need saving.

Over the past year policy makers have lent car companies billions of dollars on the theory that if we keep them alive long enough the economy will pick up and good jobs will be saved. But financial failure for a company doesn’t mean that it ceases operations. Often, it means it drastically shrinks, takes on new management and forces otherwise impossible concessions on its unions and creditors. That might be just what’s called for.

Last week I wrote that what some politicians call extraordinary times, financially speaking, are really a return to normalcy. Personal savings (what consumers don’t spend) has recently risen from less than 1% of after-tax income to more than 4%, but its long-term average is 7%. After-tax corporate profits have fallen from 7% of the nation’s income to 5.1%. Their long-term average is 5%. If sales of 10 million cars a year is the new normal, too, we still need plenty of car workers — just not as many as we have today.

One recent proposal by lawmakers would give $4,000 to $5,000 to a consumer who buys a new car by year’s end. It seems like an easy fix. I can picture cashing my $5,000 check and driving off in a new Ford with the thought that I’ve helped my fellow American earn a decent wage. But giant car incentives will only lure Americans into buying more of something when they don’t truly need it, in the same way that giant house incentives have doubled America’s average house size since 1950, even as families have shrunk.

Better to let the car business shrink to a healthy size, whether through bankruptcy or selling brands and closing production lines. Send more taxpayer cash to Detroit if need be, but use it to help our former car workers find and qualify for good new jobs that need them.

More cars than drivers

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."

John 10:11-18

Paul said that Christians must be in, but not of, the world. Some Christians have taken that to mean we should be detached from the world, and frankly, I think this is a bad idea.

In the parable of the good shepherd, the shepherd has a vested interest in maintaining the well-being of his flock, because he owns the flock. The hireling, in contrast, doesn't have an ownership stake in the flock.

The Church is a shepherd to the world. We are called to use our moral standing, our human, financial and other resources for the sake of the world. We are called to participate in leading this world to a more just future - perhaps even to the kingdom of God, where the lion can lie in peace with the lamb.

We are not like the executives of a corporation, so it's inappropriate to talk of an ownership stake in the world. We should think of ourselves more as the governing board of a nonprofit. Ideally, a nonprofit's board has representation from all the communities it serves. That way, the organization will (ideally) take into the consideration of the needs of all stakeholders. It will have a direct stake in the well-being of the community it serves.

Clearly God took this concept of stewardship to its ultimate end - God became incarnate in the person of Jesus. God did not come as a Roman, as a member of a conquering empire. God came as one of the victims of empire.

Some in the Church, such as Oscar Romero, have chosen to be martyred for living out the Gospel among the most vulnerable. Most of us aren't brave enough to do that. But we can build our Church to include the poor, people of color, indigenous people, women, people with disabilities and others in our governance.

In the past, we've excluded people. When we exclude a group of people from possibly participating in our governance and then try to serve them, we will probably end up colonizing them instead.

In this age, good steward means representation. Without representation, the Church will be unable - as opposed to merely unwilling - to take into account the needs of all people.

Friday, May 01, 2009

The alleged threat to marriage

To hear some folks speak, same sex marriage is worse than the genocide in Darfur, the occupation of Tibet, or than the systematic torture and miscellaneous violation of human rights conducted at Guantanamo.

Iowa's Supreme Court recently ruled that the benefits of marriage must be open to all people. Initiatives are underway in other U.S. state legislatures to enable same-sex couples to get married.

As a result, the National Organization for Marriage is organizing against them. I've linked to their talking points.

Most of their talking points are laughable and seem motivated by hysteria. Religious groups would not lose their tax exemptions. While it's true that schools would eventually teach kids in sex ed that some couples are same-sex, they would not "stigmatize" the idea of opposite-sex marriage.

One of their talking points is very worrisome. In Michigan's 2004 election, many proponents of the state's marriage amendment said that they would not seek to overturn arrangements allowing domestic partner benefits. After the marriage amendment passed, some people, such as the state's attorney general, successfully prohibited public universities from offering such benefits (see note below).

It may be that most people who voted for the amendment would not wish that to happen. The fact is that there is still significant discrimination on the ground. There are people in high places who are willing and able to do evil.

Additionally, many employers in the US are not willing to grant domestic partner benefits. Without formally recognizing marriage arrangements between same-sex couples, it may take considerable time for them to do so.

Lastly and most importantly, allowing same-sex couples to marry is only a threat to the really narrow-minded.

Edit: I was informed by an attempted commenter that the U of Michigan went through some legal maneuvers to retain its domestic partner benefits. This is correct.

The fact remains, though, that some conservatives attempted to stop public entities in the state from granting such benefits. My anonymous commenter did not admit this, so I will not publish his or her comment.

An Affordable Salvation - Paul Krugman on cap & trade

Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, has comments on cap and trade. He calls it an affordable solution.

The 2008 election ended the reign of junk science in our nation’s capital, and the chances of meaningful action on climate change, probably through a cap-and-trade system on emissions, have risen sharply.

But the opponents of action claim that limiting emissions would have devastating effects on the U.S. economy. So it’s important to understand that just as denials that climate change is happening are junk science, predictions of economic disaster if we try to do anything about climate change are junk economics.

Yes, limiting emissions would have its costs. As a card-carrying economist, I cringe when “green economy” enthusiasts insist that protecting the environment would be all gain, no pain.

But the best available estimates suggest that the costs of an emissions-limitation program would be modest, as long as it’s implemented gradually. And committing ourselves now might actually help the economy recover from its current slump.

Let’s talk first about those costs.

A cap-and-trade system would raise the price of anything that, directly or indirectly, leads to the burning of fossil fuels. Electricity, in particular, would become more expensive, since so much generation takes place in coal-fired plants.

Electric utilities could reduce their need to purchase permits by limiting their emissions of carbon dioxide — and the whole point of cap-and-trade is, of course, to give them an incentive to do just that. But the steps they would take to limit emissions, such as shifting to other energy sources or capturing and sequestering much of the carbon dioxide they emit, would without question raise their costs.

If emission permits were auctioned off — as they should be — the revenue thus raised could be used to give consumers rebates or reduce other taxes, partially offsetting the higher prices. But the offset wouldn’t be complete. Consumers would end up poorer than they would have been without a climate-change policy.

But how much poorer? Not much, say careful researchers, like those at the Environmental Protection Agency or the Emissions Prediction and Policy Analysis Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Even with stringent limits, says the M.I.T. group, Americans would consume only 2 percent less in 2050 than they would have in the absence of emission limits. That would still leave room for a large rise in the standard of living, shaving only one-twentieth of a percentage point off the average annual growth rate.

To be sure, there are many who insist that the costs would be much higher. Strange to say, however, such assertions nearly always come from people who claim to believe that free-market economies are wonderfully flexible and innovative, that they can easily transcend any constraints imposed by the world’s limited resources of crude oil, arable land or fresh water.

So why don’t they think the economy can cope with limits on greenhouse gas emissions? Under cap-and-trade, emission rights would just be another scarce resource, no different in economic terms from the supply of arable land.

Needless to say, people like Newt Gingrich, who says that cap-and-trade would “punish the American people,” aren’t thinking that way. They’re just thinking “capitalism good, government bad.” But if you really believe in the magic of the marketplace, you should also believe that the economy can handle emission limits just fine.

So we can afford a strong climate change policy. And committing ourselves to such a policy might actually help us in our current economic predicament.

Right now, the biggest problem facing our economy is plunging business investment. Businesses see no reason to invest, since they’re awash in excess capacity, thanks to the housing bust and weak consumer demand.

But suppose that Congress were to mandate gradually tightening emission limits, starting two or three years from now. This would have no immediate effect on prices. It would, however, create major incentives for new investment — investment in low-emission power plants, in energy-efficient factories and more.

To put it another way, a commitment to greenhouse gas reduction would, in the short-to-medium run, have the same economic effects as a major technological innovation: It would give businesses a reason to invest in new equipment and facilities even in the face of excess capacity. And given the current state of the economy, that’s just what the doctor ordered.

This short-run economic boost isn’t the main reason to move on climate-change policy. The important thing is that the planet is in danger, and the longer we wait the worse it gets. But it is an extra reason to move quickly.

So can we afford to save the planet? Yes, we can. And now would be a very good time to get started.

Evangelicals: Nuclear weapons are 'direct affront' to God

USA Today reports that a number of prominent evangelical ministers are calling for steps toward multilateral nuclear disarmament.

The destruction one nuclear bomb can wreak is more than horrifying, says megachurch pastor Rob Bell of Grandville, Mich. It's an insult to God.

"Nuclear weapons are a direct affront to God's dream of shalom for the world," Bell said Tuesday. "Life is beautiful, and nuclear weapons are ugly."

Bell, the pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church and an up-and-coming voice among young evangelicals, has joined other evangelicals to issue an impassioned call for the elimination of nuclear weapons. The new Two Futures Project is a coalition of prominent Christians who assert that multilateral disarmament is a biblical imperative.

Christians should be in the no-nukes vanguard, Bell and others said, as they face the choice of "a world without nuclear weapons or a world ruined by them."

"We must eliminate these weapons, and we can eliminate these weapons," said Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, 31, a Baptist minister who founded the project.

"Who do we think we are to claim authority over life itself and the welfare of future generations? That power belongs to God alone."