Meet James Leininger

Salon is running a piece on the Republican Party of Texas,

the crucible in which Karl Rove helped craft the presidency of George W. Bush. It is the home of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. The party has seized control of every statewide office in Texas, won majorities in both chambers in the Statehouse for the first time in more than a century, and along with ideological soul mates, captured the U.S. Congress.

The authors note that school vouchers are a major priority for the Texas GOP:

In particular, during the 2002 election cycle, a San Antonio hospital bed magnate named James Leininger invested $624,774 mostly in GOP candidates, according to campaign watchdog Texans for Public Justice, apparently with the goal of establishing a voucher program in Texas. From 2000 to 2004, Leininger’s entire family gave $2,497,250 to state candidates, which does not include the contributions of numerous companies in which he owns sizable interests. This past February, Leininger and his wife joined Texas Gov. Rick Perry and his wife along with anti-tax guru and Washington lobbyist Grover Norquist, among others, on a private cruise in the Bahamas to “talk about school finance.”

Salon tells us nothing more about the elusive Leininger. However, a journalist by the name of Debbie Nathan has been tracking him for some time. According to Nathan, writing in the Austin Chronicle:

Few know that his anti-abortion and Christian-school-board campaign giving is only the tip of an iceberg of one-man benevolence — much of it sunk into right-wing projects that have changed the political landscape in Texas, and to some extent, the nation…Hardly anyone is aware of the role he has played in making the Texas Supreme Court one of the most anti-consumer, pro-business judicial bodies in the nation; or about his instrumental and sometimes smear-tactic efforts to pack the State Board of Education with Christian conservatives; or how he has been associated with a group implicated in federal campaign finance scandals; or of his support for attempts to gut the Endangered Species Act; or the way he funds anti-choice groups.

Raised in “fundamentalist Lutheranism”, Leininger went through an agnostic period but returned to religion after his failing business turned around following prayer. Nathan’s lengthy article includes the information that Leininger is now a member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which (says Nathan) split from other Presbyterians over civil rights and feminism. His actual place of worship is Faith Presbyterian Church, where

the pastor, Tim Hoke, is as modest as his church. He doesn’t yell, and his sermonizing touches as much on complex questions of grace as on the simpler horrors of Satan.

Faith Presbyterian also does not appear to share the same obsessions as another PCA church I came across a while back, Harvestwood Covenant (discussed in World O’Crap).

In the Texas Observer, Nathan notes Leininger’s links to Christian Reconstructionism. She also discusses how he helped to ensure people he approved of have been voted onto school boards:

Focus Direct, a Leininger company in San Antonio that does slick, direct mail work for companies and politicians, produced and mass-mailed a leaflet featuring a photo of a black man and a white man kissing and accusing [Donna] Ballard’s opponent Mary Knott Perkins of wanting to teach Texas children about oral and anal sex. Perkins, a grandmother many times over who is by no means a political radical, lost the election to Ballard. The other two Christian conservatives also won. The victories gave the elected state school board its first-ever Republican majority.

More articles about Leininger have been gathered at this rather unexpected (it’s run by a Welsh witch or witches) website.

Salon also could have noted the existence of sometime GOP VC David Barton, a noted Christian Reconstructionist. Another Texas Observer journalist has looked at Barton’s role within the production of Texan educational products, and even alleges links with Christian Identity.

Creationist Schooling in the UK

Richard Dawkins writes a letter to The Guardian about Peter Vardy:

Your readers may remember the case of Emmanuel college, the notorious creationist school in Gateshead. The prime minister (Bush’s praying partner, let’s not forget) defended it on grounds of “diversity” and exam results, but both apologias ring hollow for a school whose head of science dates the origin of the universe some time after the middle stone age. The school’s sponsor, the evangelical car salesman Peter Vardy, is now trying to move in on Doncaster. He has already succeeded in taking over Thorne Grammar school, renamed Trinity Academy.

Now, a worried science teacher informs me, Vardy has his eye on Northcliffe comprehensive too. A group of local parents are concerned about the threatened subversion of their children’s school (www.cadpag.co.uk)

Richard Dawkins
University of Oxford

Not sure what Blair as “Bush’s praying partner” has to with it, but he draws attention back to a controversy that’s being going on now for a few years. Many UK state schools have a church affiliation, but this is a very different development: a private religious foundation is being given state schools to run. As the Northcliffe parents report, as well the Creationism

We have conflicting reports as to whether the new school will follow patterns at Emmanuel like a compulsory GCSE Religious Education Examination, and a compulsory course in Philosophy, Theology and Ethics, at A Level.

At Emmanuel, reported The Observer a while ago, pupils must carry two Bibles at all times (an NIV and a Gideon NT) or face punishment. Plus:

Each week pupils must attend two-hour ‘Special Lectures’ concerning spiritual subjects and use these as the basis of a compulsory long essay at the end of the school year. No backsliding is permitted.

According to the school’s own website (not updated for quite some time):

Finally, and centrally, as part of our commitment to the all-round spiritual, moral and intellectual development of young people, all subjects seek to set their teaching within context in which Christian values and Biblical revelation can be discussed and analysed. It is such a context which gives learning a proper fullness.

Interviewed on the BBC’s Today progamme, Vardy explained that:

We do teach creationism alongside evolution [interruption] – we present both – one is a theory, the other is a faith position and it’s up to the children. We give them an all-round education, so both are presented to the students and we think that is fair education

What he failed to make clear, however, was that the Creationism is taught by a believing science teacher – i.e. as a scientific position; www.cadpag.co.uk links to a lecture by Stephen Layfield, science teacher at Emmanuel College, that shows this. Layfield stated that science teachers should

Note every occasion when an evolutionary/old-earth paradigm (millions or billions of years) is explicitly mentioned or implied by a text-book, examination question or visitor and courteously point out the fallibility of the statement. Wherever possible, we must give the alternative (always better) Biblical explanation of the same data.

In 2002 Vardy reportedly told Richard Dawkins (see this Guardian report) that Layfield’s “personal view” on Creationism was not taught in science classes. Layfield’s lecture (removed from the website of the Christian Institute when the controversy broke) and Vardy’s statement on Today suggest that Dawkins was lied to.

However, what no-one appears to have noticed is that Creationism is also doing well in independent Christian schools in the UK. For example, Maranatha Christian School, based in Sevenhampton, near Swindon, boasts a

Christian, Creation-based curriculum [that] has been developed over the last 25 years and is now used in thousands of schools all over the world.

Don’t worry if you think your GCSE results will suffer, for instead of the General Certificate in Secondary Education, you can qualify with the National Christian Schools Certificate. According to Paragon Christian Academy, based in Hackney, East London:

The NCSC is accepted by universities in the UK and abroad (including Oxford University), as an alternative to the usual GCSE and GCSE ‘A’ level route (see the UCAS Handbook).

What’s more, according to Maranatha

At the same time a child is taught to read, he will also start to learn some of the sixty biblical character traits which are reinforced throughout the whole School of Tomorrow curriculum…The student will also begin to memorise Scriptures associated with the character trait, building up a deep well of Godly wisdom.

The School of Tomorrow curriculum is derived from the USA, and provided by Accelerated Christian Education:

Accelerated Christian Education’s worldwide team of professional educators currently serves over 7,000 schools, one government contract, and thousands of home educators in 135 countries. This Global Support Team provides curriculum, program, and school services as well as in-service and leadership training for schools and home educators in their areas.

In addition, Accelerated Christian Education’s in-house team of professionals at the International Ministry Offices in Largo, Florida, provide materials and support services to help meet the educational needs of communities everywhere.

In Britain, its products are sold by CEE Ltd (Christian Education Europe Ltd), which holds that

The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the verbally and plenary inspired Word of God. The Scriptures are inerrant, infallible, and God-breathed, and, therefore, are the final authority for faith and life. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament are the complete and divine revelation of God to man. The Scriptures shall be interpreted according to their normal grammatical-historical meaning.

The village of Sevenhampton is also home to the British branch of Answers in Genesis, and no doubt this Creationist organisation is also closely linked with Maranatha.

UPDATE: Back in 2003, Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith gave strong backing to Tabernacle School, a small Pentecostal school in Kensington which follows the ACE curriculum (see also here).

NB: Do not confuse the evangelical Peter Vardy with Dr Peter Vardy, the Catholic theologian at Heythrop College, University of London.

Vox Hunting

As part of a series of posts profiling the strange concept of “Christian libertarianism”, which seems more often than not to mean “Christian theocracy”, I recently chanced upon Christian libertarian and WorldNetDaily contributor Vox Day (Theodore Beale), who believes that women should be denied the vote. Since I, among others, appeared critical of his position, he issued a challenge to anyone to refute his idea. I wrote a few points, to which Vox has now responded on his blog. This is my response to that.

Normal “religion in the news” blog service will be resumed after this, exceptionally lengthy, entry

Part One

Well, Vox Day has wielded his flaming sword in my direction. I have been mildy singed in a couple of places, but, in my opinion at least, his weapon quickly fizzles out. Readers can judge for themselves.

He begins with the following headline:

I’m not gay, I’m English

Correct on both counts, although he shouldn’t assume that British people are English or that English people are not gay – but I suppose recognising that Englishness and gayness are not necessarily the same thing is an advance on PJ O’Rourke’s assertion that the English are “a race of cold-blooded queers with nasty complexions and terrible teeth who once conqured half the world but still haven’t figured out central heating.”

He then moves on to my actual points. I began with an informal note, written very quickly, and then provided him with the text of my blog entry from Monday. The informal note referred to his claim that since children were not allowed to vote because they were not responsible, then this means that exclusion was recognised as legitimate. I responded with the suggestion that:

Your recent comment about children is not valid: it is not discriminatory to deny them the vote because everyone was once a child and so subject to the same restriction.

His response to that is to point out that by the same grounds the elderly could be discriminated against and that furthermore:

discrimination against children is justified on their inability to make responsible decisions, not the universal nature of childhood.

I’ll concede the point. One for the flaming sword.

We then move on to American history, where I suggested “there is no evidence that there was less mobocracy in times when women or others were denied the franchise”. Response:

Sure there is. The Founders were concerned about a mob voting itself bread and circuses, while Joseph Schumpeter predicted the inevitable devolution of any universal democracy into socialist tyranny. An analysis of federal spending per capita easily illustrates this playing out right now.

But surely mobocracy is more than just “a mob voting itself bread and circuses”? To me it means the mob bringing about any political action or legislation that is a) manifestly foolish or ignorant or b) oppressive to non-members of the mob. Even if Vox’s interpretation of federal spending as an example of mobocracy is correct, totting up how much mobocracy there was before women were allowed to vote is rather more complicated and subjective. And even if – a big if – more mobocracy is indeed a vice that attends universal suffrage, that still has to be measured against the vices found in other forms of government.

Vox then adds, in reply to my comments about the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in relation to democracy:

The USA is not a democracy, never was, and was expressly designed not to be. In his first formal point, Bartholomew demonstrates that he has no understanding of the source of American rights and liberties.

I was aware of this issue, as it happens – Gore Vidal brings it up a lot. But America presents itself to the world as a democracy, most Americans believe themselves to live in a democracy, and democracy is the political system the USA claims it wishes to see spread globally. Vox, of course, sees this as a corruption of republican (small r) ideals. Fine, but it seems to me that “rights and liberties” are better protected in a democracy than the kind of republic he would prefer (although I am a “republican” in relation to the idea of monarchy).

Moving on to my second point, that if women could be excluded so could others, he writes:

First, it would indeed be very good sense to deny those groups who are determined to sabotage their self-interest.

This is more confused. I thought libertarianism was about personal responsibility, not ensuring that people don’t “sabotage their self-interest”. To achieve the latter, surely a fairly authoritarian big government is needed? I assume he really means “sabotage the general interest” or “other people’s interests”. But that’s why we have constitutions and/or independent judiciaries, as the best way to stop the worst excesses of people who want to bring about bad things.

Precisely this reasoning is presently being used to deny the Iraqi people the right to self-determination; I don’t know any so-called “democrats” who actually favor allowing open elections in Iraq as I do. Are they racist too?

Are they making such a case? If someone is arguing that given the conditions of the country at present a short delay is necessary to set up the checks and balances that can keep mobocracy at bay, then that is a reasonable proposition (although whether it truly reflects the situation in Iraq is another issue). If they’re saying that Iraqis cannot handle democracy based on their Arabness, then yes, they’re racist. And why does Vox favour “open elections” there but not in the USA?

Second, women are a unique group in that they are provably biologically different. These biological differences have a direct effect on their ability to think and reason, as numerous scientific studies have proven that women have literally different brains than men. There are both spiritual (Christian) and scientific (evolutionary) and psychosexual reasons that women are inordinately inclined to favor the “security” offered by Big Daddy government intervention. This is not true for any other group, except, possibly, the homosexual community, if one accepts the homosexual argument that their abnormality has a genetic base.

I wonder if men are also “provably biologically different”, and therefore “unique” as well? And if homosexual men are to be denied the franchise also, we’ve now got an odd idea of one kind of woman but different kinds of men. By the way, I’m left-handed – does that give me the correct sort of brain to be allowed to vote or not? But even if women are biologically obliged “to favor the ‘security’ offered by Big Daddy government intervention” (which I doubt), and even if that is a bad thing (which is impossible to judge when the political programme is painted in such vague terms), does that mean women should not be allowed to vote? Even if “they” are prone to a vice here, what virtues might they have to make up for it? And what other vices might belong to men? Testosterone has also has “a direct effect” on the “ability to think and reason”, and often the result is irresponsible behaviour. Men could be denied the vote on that ground alone.

I then raised the issue that if women could be denied the franchise, so could religious conservatives. This invited a strange persecution fantasy:

What are hate crimes for? I fully expect the openly religious to be disenfranchised in the future. They’re already being fined. We’ll be fortunate if it stops with only losing the vote.

But clearly, Vox sees such an outcome as undesirable. So do I. But if you don’t want that to happen to you, how can you prescribe it for others?

We move on to the principle of exclusion itself:

He sees exclusion as undesirable; neither I nor the Founding Fathers do. What accountability comes with a universal franchise? I obviously don’t have that confidence, as I believe that most people, given the chance to vote themselves largesse from others, will do so every single time. History would seem to support this very strongly.

I’ve no argument with that, but the problem that “most people, given the chance to vote themselves largesse from others, will do so every time” is not solved by reducing the franchise. It merely makes it more likely that the enfranchised group will try to take an even bigger largesse, and will be more likely to succeed in doing so, being unaccountable. I recall that Communism started out with political idealists who thought their ideological correctness and economic knowledge meant they did not need to trouble with democratic processes and accountability. The results were most unhappy. Vox’s system would most likely degenerate into something like Margaret Atwood’s “Republic of Gilead”.

I then raised the practical issue, that women will not accept losing the vote. Response:

The civil strife [in that case] would be as nothing as what is going to happen once the present system collapses under the weight of centralization. One of the many nice things about women is that they’re not prone to serious violence.

Well, try taking the vote away from women who have it and see what happens. Besides, “serious violence” is not the only option for creating disruption. Women got the vote in the first place in many countries through self-sacrifice, not violence. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata provides a further possibility.

Vox also notes that “voting is mandatory in many totalitarian states”. But therefore what? I never said the voting was sufficient to ensure liberty, only that it is a necessary component.

Part Two

We also hear about the Palestinian situation, his solution to which I had also taken exception to:

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, 2,233 Palestinians have been killed in the present conflict, which is just heating up. Apparently Bartholomew was more offended by a suggestion that might actually help bring a final end to the conflict than he is by the actual “mass murder” of thousands of Palestinians. Or perhaps he believes that refraining from the intentional murder of children is hopelessly beyond those dusky savages now that the British Empire has laid down the White Man’s Burden.

Vox’s solution, you may recall, was killing 1,000 Palestinians for every one Israeli child killed, and 100 for every adult civilian. As it happens, the “actual ‘mass murder'” (of Palestinians and Israelis) does offend me more than Vox’s solution, but as he’s not responsible for the “actual ‘mass murder'” I didn’t mention it. My problems are as follows:

Every nation contains people who either cannot or chose not to refrain from killing children. Such people are not deterred by the idea of other innocent people being punished for his or her crime. Further, I would not wish to be killed as part of a collective punishment for the crimes of members of my ethnic group or nation, and suspect that attitude is fairly common. Why should Palestinians therefore be on the receiving end of such treatment?

It’s rather drastic for something that only “might actually help”. When has such a procedure ever helped? And even if it could help, that does not mean it is therefore the best way to proceed. Giving the Palestinians the same rights as the Israelis, either in their own state or as part of a bi-national state “might actually help” as well.

A particularly difficult point to grasp, it seems: it would be unethical. A central component of ethics is that you give up a very clear present advantage in order to protect long term values that will become corrupted otherwise. The deliberate mass slaughter of civilians to end a conflict (and not because they were in the way, as happened in WW2) would usher in a dark age of violence and savagery. The fact he can’t see that is perhaps the best evidence there is that being a Christian libertarian man does not necessarily confer a special wisdom and a greater right to vote.

That’s all I intend to say on the matter – Vox can have the last word if he wishes. What I’d really like to see, though, is how he sees himself as different from the Christian Thenomists and Reconstructionists, a number of whom leave enthusiastic comments on his blog.

Meanwhile, I have a blog on religion in the news to get back to…

UPDATE: Vox has sent me his response to the above, privately but with permission for me to post any part of it I care to. I’ve decided to put it in the comments section, as an appendix – it’s worth a read.

Church Leader Linked to Vox Day in Non-Sexism Shock

While researching something else, I came across the website of Christians for Biblical Equality, an international evangelical organisation founded by Alvera Mickelsen in the 1980s. Somewhat to my surprise, the site features a prominent endorsement from Vox Day’s spiritual mentor Gregory Boyd (who, like Mickelson, once taught at Bethel College). Boyd may have exotic views about demons and spiritual warfare but he’s no sexist. We knew already that he agreed with women ministers, but there’s more:

Thanks to many committed Christian activists in the 19th century, the western Church woke up to the truth that the practice of slavery, allowed in the New Testament, was not part of God’s plan for all time. Yet many segments of the Church today persist in the assumption that the first century limitations placed on women are part of God’s plan for all time. The effects of this are not much less tragic than the effect of mistaking slavery for God’s ideal. I know of no organization that is doing as much as CBE to help the church wake up to God’s ideal regarding women in ministry and women in marriage. They are among the “abolitionists” of the 21st century and I’m proud to be among their passionate supporters!

Although is he proud to have his theology linked to a video game designed by a man who wants to deny women one of the most basic signs of equality, namely the right to vote?

According to its Statement on Men, Women and Biblical Equality, Christians for Biblical Equality holds these beliefs, among others:

The Bible teaches that woman and man were created for full and equal partnership. The word “helper” (ezer), used to designate woman in Genesis 2:18, refers to God in most instances of Old Testament usage (e.g. 1Sam 7:12; Ps 121:1-2). Consequently the word conveys no implication whatsoever of female subordination or inferiority…

The Bible teaches that, in the New Testament economy, women as well as men exercise the prophetic, priestly and royal functions (Acts 2:17-18, 21:9; 1Cor 11:5; 1Peter 2:9-10; Rev 1:6, 5:10). Therefore, the few isolated texts that appear to restrict the full redemptive freedom of women must not be interpreted simplistically and in contradiction to the rest of Scripture, but their interpretation must take into account their relation to the broader teaching of Scripture and their total context (1Cor 11:2-16, 14:33-36; 1Tim 2:9-15).

But is this going to be the old “equal but different” cop-out – the old “yes, men and women are equally important, but men are better suited to discharging certain responsibilities”? An article by Alan Padgett on the site suggests not:

God freely calls believers to roles and ministries without regard to class, gender, or race.

Discussing Genesis:

We sometimes hear teaching in the churches today that the man is the “priest of the home,” or that women need the “spiritual covering” of a husband in order to be fulfilled. There simply is no biblical basis for this teaching. Women and men are both priests in Christ, as has already been stated. Men are not spiritually superior to women in the Bible. This is simply another form of traditional male domination of women—common to Western civilization for thousands of years—being read into the Bible by traditional, conservative Christian leaders.

Padgett then sets about deconstructing Paul’s letters to argue that where Paul implies male domination, a fuller contextual understanding shows that was not his intention (whether this truly reflects the historical Paul is debatable, but it’s a good case made).

A Dose of V.D.

The Dark Window informs us that Christian libertarian Vox Day has responded to the mockers and the scoffers. Albeit indirectly, he touches on my suggestion that he does not appear to understand the meaning of the world “libertarian”:

Voting is not a God-given right as delineated in either the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. Liberty, in fact, denies universal democracy, (or mobocracy as it was known), a fact that anyone who has read the Federalist Papers would know the Founding Fathers understood very well. The dichotomy of a libertarian favoring limited suffrage is only an apparent contradiction to the ideologically and historically ignorant.

Vox also challenges anyone to provide evidence that giving women the vote has proven anything other than bad for the USA, “unless you want to argue that divorce, illegitimacy, homosexuality and falling real wages are the historical signs of a healthy society.”

Well, while my perspective is probably clear to readers, the emphasis of this blog has usually been on providing background information rather than joining the thousands of others filling the blogosphere about “what I think” on this issue or that – readers can make up their own minds. However, as Vox has apparently seen my work, on this occasion I’ll make an exception, and briefly turn vicar:

1. Democracies use constitutions and independent judiciaries to guard against “mobocracy”, rather than denial of the franchise to particular groups of adults. While this may not be perfect, there is no evidence that there was less “mobocracy” in times when women or others were denied the franchise. Perhaps this is not spelt out in the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights, but if Vox Day’s interpretation of those documents is correct that only means that the USA is not the very best example of democracy after all, and could learn from others (I’m British, by the way).

2. If women as a whole can be denied the franchise because a majority of them support views of government he dislikes (leading to what he considers the social ills outlined above), then why not apply this rule to other groups should they show the same preferences? Answer: because if such a rule were applied to other groups it would be manifestly unfair, and in many examples would be racist (n.b: the answer to this is not “ahh, but no other group does share these views, so that issue does not arise”. Even if that is the case in fact, it is not so by necessity, and members of other groups would still risk exclusion as a whole in the future if some of their members came to dissent from the “libertarian”).

3. His argument is that he has judged certain ideas to be bad, and because a majority of women support those ideas they therefore should not be allowed to vote. So why shouldn’t I call for religious conservatives to be disenfranchised on the grounds that they vote for what I consider bad ideas? Well, a) I would be supporting an undesirable principle of exclusion; b) I understand that without the accountability that only comes with a universal franchise even good ideas will not be implemented well; c) I have confidence that as long as democracy endures the good ideas will eventually triumph. Vox Day does not have that confidence about his own ideas, it seems, which is why he wants them imposed by banning people from voting.

4. If women were denied the vote, they would protest, as they did in many countries before they got the vote, and many men would support them. The civil strife would be overwhelming. No doubt Vox Day, who is willing to contemplate the mass murder thousands of Palestinians for a greater good, would not shy away from quelling the complainants with brutal force. But that’s not libertarianism. Or Christianity.

Of course, that still leaves the question of whether the socio-economic trends he diagnoses can be traced back to the impact of women having voted for particular ideas he dislikes. But since his case rests on the mere citation of an ABC Poll that shows that less women than men want smaller government I shan’t bother to get into that.

PS: World O’Crap has more.

UPDATE (9 June): More on Vox’s spiritual mentor Greg Boyd.

UPDATE 2 (10 June): Vox has replied.

R.I.P. No.1

Everything is falling into place. It can’t be long now. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God’s people. That must mean they’ll be destroyed by nuclear weapons…Gog the nation that will lead all of the other powers of darkness against Israel, will come out of the north…Gog must be Russia…now that Russia has set itself against God…it fits the description of Gog perfectly.

Vox Day, Theodore Beale and The Spiritual Side of Killing Palestinians

The Dark Window introduces me to Vox Day (thanks!), Southern Baptist and Christian libertarian. However, as with a number of other Christian libertarians we’ve come across lately, the word “libertarian” is here being used in a rather odd way. As The Dark Window quotes him:

It’s pretty clear to me that one of the most destructive forces in our society has been women’s suffrage. Women consistently and reliably turn towards government as a solution for perceived problems, which creates more intractable problems, which then is used to justify more government intervention. This process is unlikely to stop until the entire edifice collapses of its own weight.

The answer, therefore, is to ban women from voting. Previously, Vox Day has outlined his Middle East peace plan:

The Israeli government must announce to the world a unilateral ceasefire, balanced by the deadly promise that for every Israeli soldier killed, 25 Palestinian police will die. For every civilian, 100 non-combatant Palestinian adults will be slain, and for every child, 1000 adults…In a fallen world, violence does solve some problems, and at times extreme violence is required.

So who is he? According to his website

He is a member of the SFWA [Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America], Mensa and the Southern Baptist Convention, and has been down with Madden [?] since 1992. His weekly column is syndicated nationally by Universal Press Syndicate.

His biggest claim to fame as Vox Day, however, is as contributor to WorldNetDaily. But for one so willing to stand tall and say what must be said (while looking incredibly “tough”), his site tells us nothing about who he actually is.

Luckily, Unscrewing the Inscrutable (which provided that quote about Israel/Palestine) has gathered a number of links that demonstrate that Vox Day is actually Theodore Beale, author of a computer game and a couple of fantasy novels published by Pocket Books. Beale’s father Robert, who developed a highly successful computer business, founded the Christian Coalition in Minnesota and sits on WorldNetDaily‘s board.

A website devoted to Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy features an interview with Vox Day/Beale, where he talks about his former atheism and conversion back to Christianity. He also informs us:

I’m now a Southern Baptist, albeit one heavily influenced by the warfare theology taught by Dr. Greg Boyd, to whom [Beale’s novel] “The World in Shadow” is dedicated. I’m a member of New Beginnings Baptist Church, and I also have strong ties to Woodland Hills Church, where Dr. Boyd teaches.

Greg Boyd’s Christus Victor Ministries explains warfare theology further:

The warfare worldview is based on the conviction that our world is engaged in a cosmic war between a myriad of agents, both human and angelic, that have aligned themselves with either God or Satan. We believe this worldview best reflects the response to evil depicted throughout the Bible. For example, Jesus unequivocally opposed evils such as disease, demonization, and even natural disaster (i.e. Jesus rebuked the storm) as originating in the wills of Satan, fallen angels, and sinful people, rather than of God.

What’s more:

Greg Boyd and counselor, Al Larson have designed an innovative approach to personal transformation and counseling called Theosynergistic Neuro-Transformation (TNT). This approach has proven remarkably effective in helping people overcome psychological and spiritual disorders such as phobias, addictions, and traumatic experiences. Christus Victor Ministries has teamed up with Dynamics of Growth, Inc. (Al Larson) to promote this novel approach to personal transformation and counseling.

Boyd has degrees from Minnesota University, Yale and the Princeton Theological Seminary, and promotes “open view” theism, in which the future is not determined. The future is open, and will unfold according to how he and humans fight against Satan. Two of his books are entitled God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict and Satan and the Problem of Evil: Constructing a Trinitarian Warfare Theodicy. However, although broadly conservative, he’s no stickler: according to his church’s website,

The people who make up Woodland Hills Church have various theological perspectives and diverse backgrounds. As Greg (our Senior Pastor) says, ‘We agree on enough to get the job done.’ That’s our policy. We do not exclude anyone on the basis of a different view on baptism, gifts of the spirit, predestination vs. freewill or any other matter of honest theological disagreement among members of the Church.’

Also, Vox Day should note:

We affirm that ministerial authority is based upon a person’s character, calling and giftedness, not his or her gender.

Boyd’s views, however, are controversial. In 1999 his teaching that the future is “open” and not known by God (shared by Clark Pinnock and John Sanders) was opposed in debate by John Piper. But against this, his dramatic views on spiritual warfare are attractive. According to C Peter Wagner (quoted here):

God at War raises the current discussion of spiritual warfare to a new and unanticipated level of scholarly investigation. I am ecstatic with the integrity with which Gregory Boyd develops his convincing argument for a biblical warfare worldview. This is an extremely important work for all who wish to advance God’s kingdom today.

The IVP (InterVarsity Press) website that advertises Boyd’s books bids us to “check out the Eternal Warriors website for a computer game based on the ideas from Boyd’s book God at War.” And whose website would that be? Yep, it’s Theodore Beale’s – where there is no mention of his Vox Day alter ego and where his portrait photo has a rather different haircut.

Vox Day’s regular church, the New Beginnings Baptist Church, does not appear to have a website, but its pastor, Ian Bethel, can be seen here.

UPDATE (7 June): More Vox Pox today.

Bush: Changing America’s Culture with Faith-Based Organisations

The White House website has published Bush’s speech at the First White House National Conference on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives:

[Some people in government have said that] because there’s a rabbi on the board, cross on the wall, or a crescent on the door. I viewed this as not only bad social policy — because policy by-passed the great works of compassion and healing that take place — I viewed it as discrimination…And the message to you is we’re changing the culture here in America.

Federal money can therefore go to such groups, “so long as they don’t proselytize, or exclude somebody simply because they don’t share a certain faith”.

Not proselytise? No discrimination? Is he quite sure?

[Tony Evans]…assures me that as of being — as a result of being a successful church, in the sense that it’s got a lot of building, a lot of members and a pretty good sized budget — by the way, he started with a — in a house; he started small and grew big — that he is willing to help young churches, and faith-based programs in inner-city Dallas, Texas, as to how to accomplish the mission, how to grow from little to big, how to grow from wanting to be vibrant, to successful. And that’s what the faith-based initiative is meant to do. It’s meant to allow for access of federal money, but at the same time spawn the entrepreneurial spirit, what I call social entrepreneurs, and encourage their growth.

Has Bush garbled it? Is he being deliberately ambiguous? Or does he really mean that he wants to assist Evans “to help young churches, and faith-based programs [i.e. both – RB] in inner-city Dallas, Texas, as to how to accomplish the mission, how to grow from little to big”?

Bush also gives his considered opinion on addiction programs:

I will tell you — I will tell you, the cornerstone of any good recovery program is the understanding there is a Higher Being to which — (applause) — to whom you can turn your life, and therefore save your life.

Therefore recovery programmes that don’t refer to a “Higher Being” are no good? If so, then perhaps federal money for them should be stopped? What’s more:

Six hundred thousand — more than 600,000 inmates will be released from prison this year. Those are a lot of souls that need help coming into our society. I can’t think of a better place for a prisoner to go is to a church or a synagogue, or a mosque and say, I need help.

Unless, perhaps, you think that non-religious people (or members of faiths that don’t run ex-prisoner support programmes) shouldn’t have to go knocking the doors of particular religious institutions because no other help is available?

Bush, however, is more modest about his own abilities – maybe he feels he has much to be modest about?

Listen, what I’m telling you is, is that I told our government, the people in my government rather than fear faith programs, welcome them. They’re changing America. They do a better job than government can do.

There you go – don’t blame Bush for any of the USA’s social problems – they are unfixable, except through faith-based organisations!

However, despite all of the above Bush may have blown it with some of his more conservative supporters – talk of a “Higher Being” rather than “Jesus” will have raised suspicions, but this will have the “New World Order” crowd in a frenzy:

When you hear me talk about faith, I’m talking about all faiths, whether it be the Jewish faith or the Christian faith or the Muslim faith or the Hindu faith — all faiths have got the power to transform lives.

Bush also mentions some of the people he conferred with just prior to the speech, “healers, and doers, and community changers”, as part of his drive to find out ” whether or not the strategy is being properly implemented”:

Mark Franken is the executive director of migration and refugee services of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — is with us. Wintley Phipps is the founder, president, and CEO of the U.S. Dream Academy, from Columbia, Maryland. Archbishop Harry Flynn, of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis; Bishop Don Wuerl, the bishop of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; my friend from the great state of Texas Tony Evans, of the Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship. (Applause.) There’s a few Texans here, Tony, that know of you. Pastor Rick Warren, of Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, California — (applause); Reverend Cheryl Anthony Mobley, is the founder and CEO of the Judah International, from Brooklyn; and from a local church here, Jim Sprouse, the pastor of Trinity United Methodist.

So who are these people and organisations? Well, Bush’s people aren’t going to want to bring up some of the less credible characters who have been involved with faith-based initatives (such as Reverend Moon), and by highlighting mainly mainstream denominational Christian leaders they’ve steered clear of any obvious link to the religious right (although Chuck Colson inevitably pops up later). The weakest link is Bush’s friend Tony Evans, who runs the Urban Alternative. How this would qualify is unclear, since its website clearly states that “The Urban Alternative is a teaching ministry, providing Christian resources for the home that will heal and renew relationships.” In fact, Evans admits that evangelism is a prime purpose of his organisation:

It is the mission of The Urban Alternative to equip, empower and unite Christians to impact individuals, families, churches and communities for the rebuilding of lives from the inside out. When each biblical sphere of life functions properly, the net result is evangelism, discipleship, and community impact. As people learn how to govern themselves under God, they then transform the institutions of family, church, and government from a biblically based kingdom perspective.

He’s also involved with the Promise Keepers, and his church can be found here. Moody publishes his books and pamphlets, premillennialist tomes (he was the first African-American doctoral graduate from Hal Lindsey’s alma mater, the Dallas Theological Seminary) and his Tony Evans Speaks Out Series, in which he Speaks Out on subjects like Sexual Purity, Spiritual Warfare, A Man’s Role in the Home, A Woman’s Role in the Home and diverse other subjects.

However, this should be balanced against the other figures and organisations mentioned:

The United States Catholic Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) does important and useful work. According to its website, it “resettles nearly one-fourth of all refugees admitted to the U.S. each year”.

Whitney Smith is a Gospel singer who has “performed before audiences across North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Bermuda and the Caribbean. He has sung for U.S. Presidents, the Vatican, and appeared as a special guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show and CBS Nightwatch.” Not sure how he got on at the Vatican, since, as a Seventh Day Adventist minister, he will be of the opinion that the Pope is the Anti-Christ. His U.S Dream Academy provides mentoring for children whose parents are in jail.

Archbishop Harry Flynn is noted for anti-racism, and for instructing that church members wearing rainbow sashes to support gay equality should not be barred from Communion (in a break with some of his colleagues and much to the annoyance of a certain David Pence, who’s been disrupting masses as a protest)

Bishop Donald Wuerl is also respected, having run his diocese well and, according to the Post-Gazette, he “emerged from last year’s Catholic sexual abuse scandals as a poster bishop for zero tolerance, hailed as a role model for his 1993 refusal to obey a Vatican order to reinstate an accused pedophile priest who had never been convicted of a crime, but who Wuerl believed was guilty.”

Rick Warren, of course, is very well-known for his Purpose Driven Life books on church and personal growth. He has had many profiles in the secular press of late – here’s one from USA Today. Chris Lehmann at Slate has a rather more sceptical take.

The Judah International Christian Center is a job training center, and has been profiled in the Gotham Gazette.

Jamie Sprouse, better-known as James Sprouse, pastors a congregation in McLean made up mainly of United Methodist Pentagon employees.

The White House has also issued more details of the meeting Bush held before the speech. There were few more Christians and several Jews, but that was about it.

Maxime Rodinson, author of “Muhammad”, has died

I’ve just seen a couple of obits for the French scholar Maxime Rodinson. I read Rodinson’s 1961 biography Muhammad when I was an undergrad (thanks to John Bousfield, who also died last week), and found it an excellent introduction to the man and his milieu; Edward Said, writing in The Nation in 2000 described it as “a bracing combination of anti-clerical irony and enormous erudition”.

The Egyptian government was rather less appreciative, as the Guardian reports:

Indeed, in 1999 Mohammed was withdrawn from the curriculum of the American University in Cairo after it was attacked by a newspaper columnist, and banned by the Egyptian minister for higher education amid charges that it “denigrated the Islamic faith”.

In a sympathetic review of Ibn Warraq’s Why I am Not a Muslim, Rodinson made this point regarding the excesses of Islamic fundamentalism (regrettably the article appears to have been quite poorly translated):

one must not reject the criticisms of Ibn Warraq a priori under the pretext that the individuals who are his targets have been or are still in great part the object of unjustified contempt. A crime is a crime even if the one who commits the crime is the target of another criminal. Likewise, an error. One is ashamed to express oneself with such obviousness. But it must be done and much more than once. For this is largely unknown. Fashionable intellectuals are besides the most relentless in their failure to recognize it.

The Beirut Daily Star notes that Rodinson and Edward Said fell out badly when Rodinson criticised Orientalism. The article accuses Said of “slander”, although it quotes him as having previously praised Rodinson for making “a constant attempt to keep (his) work responsive to the material (he was studying) and not to a doctrinal preconception.”

Rodinson, whose parents were killed in the Holocaust, was also a critic of Zionism and a supporter of Palestinian statehood.

No More Mr Nice Guy

Just after completing my previous entry, on Doug Giles, I come across John Eldredge, whose teachings on Christianity and “wild men” complement Giles’s macho vision. On his website Eldredge provides an introduction to his best-selling book Wild at Heart:

God designed men to be dangerous. Simply look at the dreams and desires written in the heart of every boy: To be a hero, to be a warrior, to live a life of adventure and risk. Sadly, most men abandon those dreams and desires— aided by a Christianity that feels like nothing more than pressure to be a nice guy. It is no wonder that many men avoid church, and those who go are often passive and bored to death.

Discussing another book, The Sacred Romance, we learn that:

In the heart of every person lies an inconsolable longing. Men often know it as the hunger for adventure. Women tend to feel it as a thirst for intimacy. This longing is the secret of our lives. It tells us who we are, what our life was meant to be.

If you have ever felt those deep yearnings, we have some really good news: this is what the Gospel truly offers. Life is more than chores and Christianity is more than duty. It is a Sacred Romance® —a great love story set in the midst of a life and death battle.

To this end, Eldredge has a ministry – Ransomed Heart, based in Colorado – that seeks to assist men’s “masculine journey”. This means conferences, books, but also a boot camp and generally being outdoorsy (Eldredge’s one-time co-author Brent Curtis went to glory in a climbing accident). Naturally, his wife Stasi has a similar ministry dealing with women’s femininity.

Eldredge’s background is with Focus on the Family, and he has a PhD in counselling, having studied under Larry Crabb and Dan Allender. Both Crabb and Allender are Christian psychologists, and have their own ministries putting out Christian self-help books. Crabb’s New Way Ministries describes its mission thus:

When He planned the New Covenant, God’s intention was to recover His reputation that His Old Covenant followers [that would be Jews – RB] had pretty well ruined. God’s priority then, now, and always, is His glory. New Covenant resources are provided so we could live lives that are all about God and not all about us.

The point is that God be glorified in us, not that He become useful to us.

The old life energizes a dad to want to straighten out his drug-abusing son, to be a good father who does things right. The new life empowers a dad to want above everything else to enjoy God and be abandoned and responsive and honoring to Him even when his son stumbles in the door at four in the morning, buzzed and defiant.

Allender, meanwhile, runs The Path Less Chosen, from where:

He travels and speaks extensively to present his unique perspective on sexual abuse recovery, love and forgiveness, worship and other related topics.

With their backgrounds in psychology, all three have rather more subtlety than the posturing Doug Giles. However, even you’re not worried about the use of psychology to promote gender essentialism and patriarchy these Christian psychologists remain controversial. Allender promotes the discovery of “repressed memories” of sexual abuse (scroll down here), despite that theory (seized on by some Christians after all the Christian ex-Satanists like Mike Warnke were shown to be frauds) having been completely debunked (third item here). Christian psychology as a whole raises the suspicions of some conservative Christians. One hostile Christian reviewer notes that:

Eldredge’s views on the nature of man come directly from pagan mythopoet Robert Bly and occultic psychologist Carl Jung, NOT from Scripture. According to Bly and Jung, man’s “true self” or “true heart” is good, but men have been corrupted into creating “false selves” to cover the “wounds” that have been inflicted on them by others, most notably by their fathers. Eldredge’s dismissal of Jeremiah 17:9 (“The heart [is] deceitful above all [things], and desperately wicked: who can know it?”) is theologically unsound. He mangles the doctrines of justification and sanctification, and their effect on the heart and mind.

A list of complaints follow, that include:

Eldredge and his friends seem to have a lot of unresolved personal “issues” and hang-ups with their own masculinity, and they assume that all men are like them… 

Like Larry Crabb, he presents Adam’s fall as a sin of abdication (not stopping Eve), rather than of Adam’s own rebellion and disobedience. The text only tentatively supports this view.

The reviewer also objects to Eldredge’s profanity and discussions of penis size. Aha, so that’s what it boils down to…

Meanwhile, if you want to meet Christians (male and female) who really do know about taking risks, check out the Christian Peacemaker Teams, a member of which organisation was recently profiled in Salon. Somehow roaming Iraq collecting testimonies about the conduct of the Occupation seems more worthwhile and genuine than sitting in a wood in Colorado congratulating oneself for being a man.