Tesla and the Electric Future of Green

This column also ran on UPI’s Religon and Spirituality Forum.

Like a lot of Americans, my interest in presidential politics has bordered on obsession in recent weeks. I’ve been spending an indecent amount of time trolling the web for evidence that Barack Obama’s campaign will be reinvigorated by an infusion of moxie or that Sarah Palin actually thought the Bush Doctrine practiced bush medicine.

I love politics and the soap opera that is unfolding in the battle for electoral votes, but Sunday morning I got a reprieve from my political fixation, a touch of grace that came in the form of what certainly must be the most beautiful green car that anyone has imagined since Ian Fleming wrote Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. Continue reading

Sarah Palin’s Crusade

This column also is published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum.

When her critics point out that Governor Sarah Palin is inexperienced on matters of foreign policy they tend to note what she hasn’t done —she seldom has traveled outside the United States. In fact The New York Times reports that Governor Palin had to apply for a passport before traveling to Kuwait and Germany to visit deployed members of the Alaska National Guard in 2007. She also visited Ireland on that trip—The Wall Street Journal says she was there just long enough to refuel her plane—and it’s fair to assume that she’s seen the parts of Canada between Alaska and Idaho.

Governor Palin never has been to Iraq and she’s never visited any of America’s most important allies. Even though their population is roughly equivalent to that of Memphis, Tennessee, Alaskans must engage in foreign commerce, yet Palin has not visited Alaska’s trading partners. I have no idea if Palin has received foreign delegations to Alaska. I’ll leave it to more astute political observers to decide if what Sarah Palin hasn’t done qualifies her to set our nation’s foreign policy. I am a religious commentator. My job is to point out that, what Sarah Palin has done (or, more precisely what she has said), suggests that this affable hockey mom is theologically ill-prepared to lead on matters of foreign policy; and the American people should be singularly concerned if Sarah Palin ever is in charge of representing the United States in its relationships with the Muslim world.
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Religion and Global Warming: A Wager

This column also ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum.

Sometime this fall, HarperCollins’ imprint, HarperOne, will be releasing a “Green Bible,” in which all of the scriptural passages that speak to the Christian responsibility to care for creation will be printed in green letters. Also bound between the eco-friendly covers of this Bible will be several essays and a couple of poems by great Christian thinkers such as St. Francis, Desmond Tutu, and Wendell Berry.

Last week HarperOne interviewed me for a short video that will be used as part of its advance publicity for the Green Bible.  During the interview I had to answer questions about the connection between faith and environmentalism, and for the most part, I think I gave responses worthy of my being the pastor of one of the most intentionally and publicly green Presbyterian congregations in the United States (and perhaps the world).

On one question, however, I think I stumbled: “why,” the interviewer asked, “should Christians care about global warming?” For an answer I sort of mumbled through what I hoped would make for a good sound byte, something about global warming being an issue in which care for the earth and care for humanity intersect. It’s not a bad answer, but my thoughts about global warming are a little more complex than the answer I gave. Continue reading

Fingerprinting Roma in Italy: A Time For Outrage

This column also ran on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum

“What the duck?”

Those were my exact words (except that I made no mention of water fowl) when, on my car radio, I heard that the newly re-elected Italian Prime Minister’s government, in emulation of Nazi Germany, has begun fingerprinting and registering Roma people living in Italy –—citizens and immigrants alike. (In English the Roma often are called “Gypsies,” a term I’ll avoid using here because most Roma people find the word offensive.)

I’ll admit it: I dropped the F-bomb, the mother of all cuss words. It is language that didn’t exactly match the white dog collar I happened to be wearing at the time (I was driving home from a graveside funeral), but I said it anyway, and I think the sentiment was appropriate, especially for a man of the cloth.

After all, this is 2008, almost seventy years after the Holocaust, when as many as 500,000 Roma people died alongside European Jews in Nazi concentration camps. The human family—especially in Europe—was supposed to evolve beyond such ethnic bigotry. The Holocaust is still a living memory for many people in the world today. What’s wrong with our collective recollection? Continue reading

Book Review: “The Family” by Jeff Sharlet

This column was first published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on May 26, 2008.

Jeff Sharlet is the best journalist currently covering American religion. Among those who connect subject to predicate, there are few who do so with Sharlet’s grace, insight, or humor. His recently published book, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (Harper Collins, 2008, $25.95 cloth) was every bit as good as I expected it to be. Often, while reading The Family I found myself interrupting the conversations of those around me to read aloud Jeff’s well-crafted insights.

The subject of Sharlet’s book is “The Family,” also called “The Fellowship,” a self-identified “Christian Mafia” which, for seven decades, has operated in the shadows of American power, exerting great influence without accountability or oversight. They are evangelists and powerbrokers with a theocratic agenda, a lust for power, and a strange fondness for such creeps of history as Adolf Hitler, Mao Tsedung, and Genghis Khan. Continue reading

From the Archives: A Perspective on Proposition 22

In celebration of the California Supreme Court’s decision to strike down laws baring same-sex marriage, I have pulled the transcript of my first radio commentary from the archives. This commentary was broadcast in February of 2000. An extended version of this commentary ran on Beliefnet, opposite a piece by James Dobson, who–naturally–supported California’s Proposition 22, which provided for a strictly heterosexual definition of marriage in California


Soon Californians will be privileged to vote on a ballot initiative, dubbed Proposition 22, which, if passed, would enact a statute whose entire wording, written in ten point font, could fit inside a fortune cookie: Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

And so it is that our own dear state which gave the nation the Free Speech Movement, the legalization of medical marijuana and Boogie Nights now stands poised, at the cusp of a new millennium, ready to position itself in the avant garde of the Reactionary Right. Continue reading

Rejecting the Racist vote

This column also was published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Page on May 12, 2008

OK, so the Democratic primary season is just about over, and this may be a moot point, but as Hillary Clinton wages her final efforts to convince Democrats that she should be the nominee in November, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with her rhetoric because it seems to contain a racist subtext which panders to the worst elements of American society. Continue reading

John McCain and Rod Parsley: Sacrificing Peace for an Ohio Victory

By now we all know about Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor whose homiletical remarks have become a serious liability for the Obama campaign. Less known are the “pastor problems” of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. This week’s column is the second in a series of two columns that will look at the religious baggage being carried by Barack Obama’s fellow presidential hopefuls. Last week I wrote about Hillary Clinton’s involvement in “the Fellowship,” a secretive, powerful and sometimes abusive affiliation of our nation’s power elite. This week I’m focusing upon John McCain’s relationship with Rod Parsley, a Mega-Church pastor from Ohio.

Whatever you may think of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright—he of the “Goddamn America” homiletics—it doesn’t take much examination to find that Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor was good in many ways. A tendency toward radical theology notwithstanding, Jeremiah Wright’s church provided the Obama family with the kind of spiritual home that every family should have regardless of religious affiliation.

Something similar can be said of Hillary Clinton’s participation in the ministry of The Fellowship, a secretive network of mostly rich, mostly white, mostly powerful, mostly men, who have extraordinary influence in Washington and who have  a well deserved reputation for being creepy.  The Fellowship provided the then First Lady with a place of sanctuary and healing in the wake of the Monica Lewinski scandal. As a senator, Ms. Clinton’s Fellowship connections have helped her to forge significant and (I think) nationally beneficial bi-partisan relationships. On these two points the Fellowship gets no complaints from me.

There is, however, nothing good to be said about John McCain’s courting of Rod Parsley, the pastor of World Harvest Church, a 12,000 member congregation outside of Columbus, Ohio. Continue reading

Doug Coe, The Fellowship, Hillary Clinton and Why You Should Care

This column was first published on UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on April 14, 2008.

By now we all know about Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor whose homiletical remarks have become a serious liability for the Obama campaign. Less known are the “pastor problems” of Hillary Clinton and John McCain. This week’s column is the first in a series of two columns that will look at the religious baggage being carried by Barack Obama’s fellow presidential candidates.

This has the potential of becoming a huge story: Doug Coe, a man Hillary Clinton has called a “genuinely loving spiritual guide and mentor for many” has been caught on tape praising the personal relationships shared by Hitler, Goebbels and Himmler. In the same speech Coe expressed admiration for the dedication of Chinese soldiers who, according to Coe, were forced to chop off the heads of their mothers as a demonstration of their commitment to the People’s Republic of China. Continue reading

Obama and Wright: the Best Thing Written So Far

My friend Jim Bennett is a Presbyterian minister who teaches American Religious History at Santa Clara University, here in the Silicon Valley. Jim’s area of expertise is race and religion in America, which makes him uniquely qualified to comment on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor.

This morning the San Jose Mercury News ran an opinion piece written by Jim that is, in my opinion, the very best bit of writing on the issues surrounding Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. If you read nothing else on the subject, read this essay.

Yesterday, Jim and I had lunch together in downtown San Jose at a Vietnamese hole in the wall called (and I’m not making this up) Duc Phuc. Hearing Jim talk about Jeremiah Wright and about Obama’s recent speech on race has left me convinced that we are living in momentous times, witnessing what may prove to be a pivotal point in the history of race in America. Never before has so prominent a politician spoken so candidly and forcefully about race in so public a manner. Thanks to YouTube, Obama’s speech is being watched by millions of viewers. What Barack Obama said on Tuesday may not get him elected President, but it certainly has to potential to change American forever.

Jim and I were classmates at Princeton Theological Seminary. After seminary, Jim went on to earn a PhD at Yale. Having Jim as a friend has instilled within me the conviction that everyone should be friends with an historian. Historians are able to frame current events within historical context in a way that provides us with the wisdom of ages.

Click here to read Jim’s piece in the Mercury News. Then come back and leave a comment on this website.