From the frontline…

Early this morning I visited with a young man serving outside Fallujah with the United States Marine Corps. We talked about a host of issues, ranging from thoughts about marriage to the doctrine of transubstantiation. Near the end of our conversation, he sent me a copy of his journal. Below are the thoughts of a 24 year old U.S. Marine serving in Baharia, Iraq:

I always thought that ripping apart a house that belonged to a terrorist would be rather easy. I thought that I could do it without even a slight blink of the eye. I thought I could shred their belongings from one end of their house to the other. I thought that I could look them in the eye and the only feeling that would exude from me was sheer hatred. It did not take long for me to figure out that this was simply not going to be the easiest of tasks.

If all of the aforementioned raiding simply involved those that were after the blood of American forces, I would have no problem. If it simply involved those males that were after the same goal as we, which is victory, I would have no problem. It couldn’t be further from those idealistic wartime simplicities.

Patting down a boy’s father in front of his very young eyes at a place that should be private, a place that just over 6 years ago was his quiet home, feels somewhat wrong although still necessary. War for the young man is often the time of his life. I have read many books regarding the feelings of young men of war. I have read the trials and tales of Ulysses and his quest to be the greatest warrior of the Trojan era. I have read the stories of young David and his desire to slay the giant so that God might be glorified and that his people will be free from tyranny.


In all of these stories the horror of those that stand by, without weapons, is often left out. It’s the young boy who watches his father thrown to the ground and searched on the same ground that they used to play soccer that is truly changed. It is the boy who sees a weapon pointed at the face of his uncle and hears men scream at him that if he does not back away he will be shot. It is that boy who grows up to hate the invaders. It is that boy who will forever be scarred with war. It is that boy who will never again be able to look at his father with the same fervor that young boys in America often do. This young boy will never again be able to participate in the childhood pastime of betting whose father could do what. This boy now knows that his father is not invincible. He knows that his father cowers under the gun. He knows that his father was guilty but a coward.


His father is all about the cause of having the invaders leave but lies when he is in front of them. He sees his father in a way that he never has. He sees the nervousness, the hesitance to speak, the weakness of knees and all of a sudden the strength that the young boy was told that Allah would give, seems to be as unreal as the chance the invaders will soon be defeated.


I have tried to prepare myself for loss of blood, for bullets flying over head, for bombs, and for destruction. The little boy’s eyes were not on my checklist of reality. They were a distant thought. They were and often are an after thought. These eyes do not shape the mission while it takes place but do affect while you lay at night. The glass over these eyes will most likely prove to be haunting all the days of my life.


All of these are necessary evils I presume. The American idealist in me thinks that this young boy is in far better shape now than he would have been without our influence on his life. The realist in me tries to illuminate that this boy would be in no danger simply for the fact that his father is loyal to the fallen regime even to the peril of his own family. If he supports the Republican Guard in the face of tanks and 50 caliber weapons, how much more would his support be shouted in accord with a government that hates the west?


I have no feelings of regret for the man. His sympathy left the moment he conspired to kill Marines. He did this to his boy. He is the one that doesn’t fold his morals for the sake of his son. He sits firmly on a double edge sword. He either folds to his religion and the ideals that he wants his son to hold or he folds to the image that every father wants his children want of them.


The Christian believes that God is the source of all good. All things flow through him and that without his strength we are nothing. Nearly 2 billion people on this globe believe that Our Father who art in heaven has a hallowed name. This is the example that the father tries to live by. These men desire to be men of their God. They, like Abraham, believe that they might have to offer up their sons and families in order to gain favor with the Almighty. The Christian however believes that this sacrifice has already been made.


The man tells his young boy that Allah demands his obedience, even his obedience unto the death of himself and his family. I imagine the young boy is entranced with such a God. I imagine that he has Allah as some sort of galactic superman. He knows that his father is willing to die for Allah. He knows that many of his family and his countrymen have already died for this jihad. He begins to believe that this will be his destiny as well. He will die for honor. He will die for Allah.


I wonder though, is deceit mentioned as one of the methods of honor? Is lying told to be OK? The glassed over look in the little boy’s eyes wonders the same thing. He wonders if all of this for naught? I can imagine him wondering why we don’t just tell the infidels that we have bombs and desire to use them?


All of this leads me to believe that bombs and guns will never cause peace. It will never prove to be a method to change the ideology of a people. Judeo-Christian dogma is not something that can be force fed. Its not something that congress or the Whitehouse can dictate. If after this young boy’s experience, he desires it, I will be very surprised. I hope with all hope that he does. My breath is not held. Our methods must changed or the madness will not.

Fifty Questions for Nearly-Weds…

In the past five years, I have developed a series of questions that I use to begin a marriage consultation. Right now, I’m going through premarital counseling with two couples. I always use some form of these, either formally or informally, during the first session of premarital counseling. Never does it fail to stimulate conversation between the man and woman, and never do these questions fail to lead the first session toward ultimate spiritual commitments.

I do not use these like a “questionnairre,” and I never give them a printed copy. Sometimes I cover them all, sometimes only certain ones. I’ve intentionally structured them to “jump between” themes, to keep the discussion from getting bogged down, and I always end by allowing each person to revisit any question that they might have had more time to digest. Feel free to use these as you see fit.

Fifty Questions for Nearly-Weds

1. Why should anybody get married? Why not just commit to one another and start a family together? Why do you need a piece of paper to make your commitment real or valid?
2. How will marriage change your relationship? How do you think it will change you?
3. What are the most important three factors to a successful marriage? Why?
4. Is it possible to lose the trust of your spouse, and regain it? What sorts of things would make you untrustworthy to your spouse? Have there been instances of broken trust in your relationship so far?
5. Communication is important in any relationship. Between the two of you, which one is the talker? Which one is the listener?
6. Words can be both encouraging and destructive. Tell me about a time when your partner said something that encouraged you. Tell me about a time that your partner’s words hurt you?
7. How important is privacy to you? Do you think it is important for a married couple to share everything, or are secrets okay? What kind of secrets?
8. When couples get married, one of the first things they discover is that it is harder to go on dates. When children come along, it can seem almost impossible. What are your expectations for “nights out” once you get married?
9. Right now you have separate banking accounts. Do you intend to maintain separate accounts, and have a joint account? For what purposes will you maintain a separate account, if at all? Who will be responsible for the joint bills you incur in marriage?
10. What has your practice been with regard to saving? What are your expectations for saving?
11. Talk to me about your personal relationship with God. When did you start believing? Has anything about your beliefs changed since you were a child? What are your non-negotiable spiritual beliefs?
12. What about your spiritual practices? Prayer? Bible reading? When was the last time you shared your faith openly with a non-believer?
13. How comfortable are you talking about your feelings? Your beliefs? Do you easily discuss your opinions and beliefs when you know they are different from somebody elses?
14. If you could change one non-physical thing about yourself, what would it be?
15. If you could change something physical about yourself, what would it be?
16. Has somebody important to you ever let you down? Taken advantage of you? Lied to you?
17. When was the last time you did something for somebody else that nobody knew about?
18. How frequently do you think married couples should eat meals together? Is it important to have time together in the mornings/evenings? Which one is more important, and why?
19. Should married couples go to bed at the same time together? What is your sleep schedule? How much sleep do you need?
20. How would you feel if your wife kept in touch with old male friends? What do you think about her talking on the phone to male friends? Vice versa?
21. How would you feel if you caught your husband looking at pornography?
22. What are your beliefs about sex? How important is it to a marriage? How frequently should it occur?
23. What do you think about your body? Would you characterize yourself as modest?
24. Is it ever okay to say “not tonight?”
25. What are your beliefs about contraception?
26. Is it ever okay for a married man to masturbate? A woman?
27. What is your most natural response to conflict?
28. Have you ever been depressed? Taken medication for depression?
29. What do you think about antidepressants? Do you take any prescribed medications?
30. What is more important to you, that your husband looks good, or that he smells good?
31. What is more important to you, that your wife keeps her body smooth (legs shaven, etc), or that she keeps her hair fixed and makeup on?
32. How long is too long for a business trip?
33. What is the most romantic thing anybody has ever done for you?
34. What is the most romantic thing you’ve ever done for somebody else?
35. What does it mean to say “I love you” to somebody?
36. Are there varying degrees of love?
37. How often should a married couple be in church?
38. What is the most important thing about church for you?
39. What is church discipline? Do you think it’s important? Would you “tattle” on your spouse to a minister if he/she was living in continual sin?
40. What do you believe about supporting the church financially? Do you tithe?
41. How strong are your political views?
42. What do you think about abortion? Gay marriage? The war in Iraq?
43. Do you always vote Republican/Democrat? How important is your party affiliation?
44. Does your family have any history of racism? Have you ever had racist thoughts? What do you think about inter-racial marriage? Do you have any Black, Mexican, or Asian friends that you would consider close?
45. A man’s job is to maintain the outside of the house and the yard; a woman should keep the inside clean and organized. Generally true or generally false?
46. A parent should never spank a child in public. Generally agree or disagree?
47. If a couple has a serious disagreement in public – or while on a date – should they leave immediately and go home to deal with the conflict, try to get through the date and talk about it later, or quietly deal with it right there?
48. Define compromise? Do you think it’s important to compromise in marriage? Tell me about a time that you gave in to your partner, but he/she didn’t know it? Or a time you let them “win” the argument?
49. Is it important to talk to each other during the day while on breaks from work, or is it important to let each other work and talk when you get home?
50. What do you believe is your partner’s biggest emotional need? Physical need? Spiritual need? Your own?


Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic
By Reinhold Niebuhr

(Entry from 1924)

“Had a letter today informing me that the First ______ church in ______ has called a new pastor. After trying futilely to find the right man, who was to have as much scholarship as his predecessor and more ‘punch,’ they decided to raise the salary to $15,000. I don’t know whether that was the factor which finally solved their problem, but at any rate they have the man they want. I suppose it is not easy to get a combination of Aristotle and Demosthenes, and on the current market, that ought to be worth $15,000. Nevertheless there must be some limit to this matter of oversized salaries.

There ought to be some questioning, too, about the growing tendency of churches to build their congregations around pulpit eloquence. What kind of fundamental ethical question can a man be eloquent about when he draws that much cash, particularly since a Croesus or two usually has to supply an undue proportion of it? I don’t know anything about the prophet of the Lord who accepted this call, but I venture to prophesy that no sinner in that pagan city will quake in his boots in anticipation of his coming.

The idea of a professional good man is difficult enough for all of us who are professionally engaged as teachers of the moral ideal. Of course, ‘a man must live,’ and it is promised that if we seek first the kingdom and its righteousness ‘all these things shall be added unto us.’ But I doubt whether Jesus had a $15,000 salary in mind. If the things that are added become too numerous they distract your attention terribly. To try and keep your eye on the main purpose may only result in making you squint-eyed. I hope the new prophet won’t begin his pastorate with a sermon on the text, ‘I count all things but loss.'”

(If you want to figure what a $15,000 salary was worth in 1924 compared to today, click here.)

Chronicle of Higher Education…

Professor Sues Baptist Seminary, Saying She Was Dismissed Because of Her Gender

Monday, March 12, 2007

A former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary has sued the institution and its president, L. Paige Patterson, contending she was fired because of her gender. She is seeking damages for breach of contract, fraud, and defamation.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Tex., last week, the professor, Sheri L. Klouda, alleged that Mr. Patterson informed her that “he would not renew her contract to teach or recommend her for tenure based solely upon the fact that she was a woman.”

The suit states, “According to Dr. Patterson, women are prohibited from teaching or ruling in any capacity over men, based on his interpretation of Scripture. Upon his acceptance of the presidency at Southwestern, Dr. Patterson had publicly expressed his objective to build Southwestern’s faculty with ‘God-called men.'”

Ms. Klouda was appointed an assistant professor of Old Testament languages at Southwestern’s School of Theology in the spring of 2002. At that time, the suit says, she was the only female member of the School of Theology’s 40-member faculty. When Mr. Patterson took over as the seminary’s president in the summer of 2003, the complaint adds, he “personally assured her that the administration change — his appointment — would not jeopardize her appointment.”

But in April 2006, according to the lawsuit, she learned that her contract would not be renewed. “Dr. Klouda was told that she was ‘a mistake that the trustees needed to fix,'” the lawsuit asserts. She is now an assistant professor of Old Testament studies at Taylor University, in Upland, Ind.

A spokesman for Southwestern, Jon J. Zellers, said via e-mail on Sunday that “since this is an active and open legal case, we will not be making comment.”

In an e-mail message to The Chronicle, Ms. Klouda said she “firmly believed that excellent work both in the classroom and the academy would define me, and that I would be evaluated fairly in light of my scholarly accomplishments and congeniality. Consequently, I am saddened that it became necessary to file this suit, and disappointed that we were not able to resolve this matter fairly and privately.”

Ms. Klouda expressed concern that her academic career would suffer as a result of the suit. “I was afraid to take legal action because it seems as if it is an unspoken yet well-known assumption that filing suit against a former employer always reflects negatively on a potential faculty candidate.” But, she said, “I have the urgent needs of my family to consider. They have suffered a great deal in the last year.”

It was unclear how the suit against Southwestern might differ from other discrimination cases in which courts have, under a legal principle known as ministerial exception, declined to interfere in the administrative dealings of religious organizations. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit cited that principle last year in dismissing a discrimination lawsuit filed by a former female chaplain against Gannon University, in Pennsylvania, saying the exception “bars any inquiry into a religious organization’s underlying motivation for the contested employment decision” (The Chronicle, September 8, 2006).

The Chronicle was unable to reach Ms. Klouda’s attorney, Gary L. Richardson, of the Richardson Law Firm in Tulsa, Okla., for comment on Sunday.

In a development related to Ms. Klouda’s case, a Baptist minister in Texas has filed complaints against the seminary with the Association of Theological Schools and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The Rev. Benjamin Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Tex., has written to both associations asking them to investigate “what appears to be a serious breach of the accreditation guidelines for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.”

Mr. Cole provided The Chronicle with copies of those letters. In them, he cites “considerable evidence” that Ms. Klouda “was denied the process [of tenure review] on the basis of unenumerated criteria and gender bias, which constitutes a violation of the tenure-policy guidelines adopted by the seminary trustees and governing the institution.”

His letters also note that the seminary “has already, in the recent past, faced investigations and citations for its failure to meet accreditation guidelines.” In 1995, for instance, the seminary was put on probation for two years, in part because of concerns about its treatment of former president Russell Dilday, who was fired in 1994, and other faculty members (The Chronicle, February 17, 1995).

Ms. Klouda’s case has already generated a good deal of comment in the Baptist blogosphere. Mr. Cole has posted comments about it on his Web site, Baptist Blogger, where he has criticized Mr. Patterson in previous posts. And the Rev. Wade Burleson, an Oklahoma pastor, posted an extensive defense of Ms. Klouda and her “conservative credentials” earlier this year on his blog, Grace and Truth to You.

In his post, Mr. Burleson discussed the debate over a passage of Scripture, I Timothy 2:12, that some interpreters have taken to mean that women should not minister to men. He raised the question of whether such an interpretation might have been a motivation for Ms. Klouda’s dismissal, even though she was not teaching theology, but Old Testament languages.

“What bothers me is the extraordinarily restrictive views of certain leaders in our convention regarding women,” Mr. Burleson commented. “This is not about ‘being a pastor’ of a church. … This is all about the belief among some that women should not have authority over men, whether it be in the home, the church, a business, or society in general.”