Southern Baptist Convention

The country’s most prominent denominational figure is stepping down after 25 years at the Southern Baptist Convention to officially become an unrestricted free agent in the Religious Right. Richard Land is not the leader of the Southern Baptists—he holds the wordy title of president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

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I commented long ago in The Spine about the courtship between fundamentalist Christianity and Israel. One of the early signs that it was meshing was the meeting between [Israeli Prime Minister Menahem] Begin and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bailey Smith, who had said that God doesn’t hear the prayers of a Jew. That’s a big theological rift already. But Begin tried to finesse the history.

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In the fall of 2005,  Joel Hunter, the senior pastor of a 12,000-member megachurch in central Florida, signed on to the Evangelical Climate Initiative—a landmark public statement acknowledging that human actions were causing the Earth to warm. The central message—“creation care,” as it became known—was that the biblical commandment to protect God’s creation was relevant to modern-day environmental issues. Soon, Hunter had distributed 20,000 creation care pamphlets to pastors around the country, and his parishioners were sifting through garbage to see how much trash his church produced.

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Fun times this afternoon at the Values Voters Summit, judging from the dispatches from the first day of the conference. Rick Perry was introduced by the head of the Southern Baptist Convention, who afterward staunchly affirmed his church's position that Mormonism is a "cult." Perry, meanwhile, got in another dig at the White House on Israel, suggesting that the administration has abandoned its ally. “When I am president, America will again stand with our friends," he said.

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Now that's going to make it easy for liberal Republicans and willing-to-crossover Democrats to stick with "noun-verb-9/11." Which reminds me of a true story about Menahem Begin.  The fundamentalist Christian courtship of Israel began about when he became prime minister. One of the early signs that it was meshing was the meeting between Begin and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bailey Smith, who had said that God doesn't hear the prayers of a Jew. That's a big theological rift already. But Begin tried to finesse the history.

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“THANK GOD for President Bush, and thank God for Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito,” intoned Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention last week, after the Supreme Court announced its decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, the so-called partial-birth abortion case. But Land also should have thanked Justice Anthony Kennedy, whose majority opinion dangerously reframes the abortion debate.   Kennedy doesn’t proceed from the question of harm to the unborn—the premise on which the congressional act in question is based.

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Greener Pastors

Bradford Plumer: Inside the evangelical war over climate change.

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God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It By Jim Wallis (HarperSanFrancisco, 384 pp., $24.95) Taking Faith Seriously Edited by Mary Jo Bane, Brent Coffin, and Richard Higgins (Harvard University Press, 381 pp., $29.95) The phenomenon of martyrdom demonstrates that political success and personal salvation do not generally go together. The faithful find grace not in building winning coalitions, but in worshipping God's glory. Gazing toward heaven means stumbling on earth, a small price to pay for the rewards that await. For a deeply religious society, the Unit

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On a recent afternoon in Washington, D.C., a group of Christian evangelicals and social activists met at the offices of the conservative Family Research Council to watch a short home movie. The twenty-minute film, smuggled out of the People’s Republic of China, depicted Chinese Christians involved in the illegal faith known as the home church movement. The audience watched scenes of hundreds of worshipers at passionate prayer— swaying, chanting—in the caves and fields where they secretly meet.

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