Thursday, October 11, 2007

Thoughts on Religion and Science

by Eric Walters

As a scientist and minister, I’m often asked to comment on the whole creation/evolution debate. The following is a less scholarly response that I provided to a ministry colleague who teaches at a liberal arts college in New Jersey.

“Science gives a man knowledge, which is power; Religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”
--Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The statement by King comments on how the world of science and the world of religion must have their fullest expression in their coexistence. Those who attempt to instigate and perpetuate rival relationships between the two lack wisdom, and fail to value what it means to be human. To be human is to ask questions—probing questions about how the world works. The disciplined “scientific eye” of the religious and non-religious afford the luxuries we enjoy through invention and advanced technology. To be sure, scientists who seek to understand the inner workings of the world through inquiry and exploration have helped to protect our children from danger, and provide healing and comfort for many.

Asking questions—whether scientific or theological, is important, and we should ask those questions with fervency, integrity, and humility. The strange irony is that we now live in an age when science and religious scholarship are more informed than ever, and unfortunately, what emerges is the competition for dominance, supremacy, and absolutism (which reflects a lack of wisdom). Thus, factions from each side (Creationists and Evolutionists) soldier up, and prepare for war in an effort to annihilate the other—hoping to strike the fatal intellectual blow to the opposition.

Over the past two decades, amid endless debates between creationists and evolutionists, children starve and die throughout the world (roughly 25,000 to 30,000 per day by most estimates), wars continue to be waged, and our earthly home weeps ever so loudly of how we—its inhabitants, have abused and “gluttoned” her limited resources, and also fashioned weapons of war with them. Those who encourage hostility between scientists and creationists might want to reflect ask what “victory” really looks like. When does anyone ever “win” the debate of creation vs. evolution? When does anyone ever say that the book (whether that be Bible or textbook) is closed on the matter of the origins of man? Will solving this debate eliminate man’s inhumanity to man? Instead of “either/or” could the answer rather be “both/and”?

Ironically, whether one believes that God created man, or man was placed on earth by creatures from other planets, or that man evolved millions of years after a random Big Bang of the “nethersphere”, we can all come to a consensus on one (scientific) fact: we are human, we must live together, and this must be the most important quest. Perhaps from this new perspective, the question of where we came from could be less important than where we will choose to go. This means that the hard work is to build the bridge that help us understand our common bonds,and that strength involves the disciplines of science, theology, and anthropology, to name a few. That’s the important "debate", and we don’t have to destroy each other along the way.

For there is a profound difference between being a human (this registers a scientific fact), and being human (this reflects an act of wisdom).

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Getting Back to Blogging

by Eric Walters

Hi Folks!

Many of my friends and theo-colleagues have been wondering what happened to me: "Where are you? Why haven't you written anything on the blog?"

Fact is, I'm exhausted! [Check out the image on the right--The Causes of Fatigue]; if you find your "issue" or "issues" there like I did, then do something to heal yourself! We're no good if our bodies don't work, so if you're overworked and stressed, be sure to take care of yourself.

Besides, I need at least one of you around to post an occasional comment (Ha!).

I love the thought of blogging. Mind you, I said the THOUGHT of blogging. But blogging is work, and the day job (I am a full-time biochemistry professor, if some of you forgot or didn't know) is really hectic! This is a loaded semester for me, and teaching, doing research, writing grant proposals, and performing basic ministerial duties got the best of me this summer and fall.

So I took a much needed break! Thank God I don't have to blog for a living, but blogging does enhance my life!

So thanks to all for your comments, concerns, and encouraging words.

Now, back to the blog!

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Monday, March 12, 2007

Is Obama's Church Membership an Obstacle, or Opportunity?

by Eric Walters

Newly announced presidential contender Barack Obama is no stranger to the spotlight. His bestselling book, Audacity of Hope, was titled after a sermon given by (his) Pastor Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) in Chicago, where Obama is a member. The Afrocentric nature of TUCC and the political outspokenness of Pastor Wright has recently become a source of controversy for the Obama campaign.

TUCC embraces black liberation theology—a brand of liberation theology that finds its roots in social justice/social gospel, contemporized by James Cone and other black theologians almost 40 years ago. Guided by the motto, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian”, TUCC also promotes a 12-point Black Value System that guides its ministry programs and objectives. Below is an excerpt from the TUCC website:

"Trinity United Church of Christ adopted the Black Value System written by the Manford Byrd Recognition Committee chaired by Vallmer Jordan in 1981. We believe in the following 12 precepts and covenantal statements. These Black Ethics must be taught and exemplified in homes, churches, nurseries and schools, wherever Blacks are gathered. They must reflect on the following concepts:

  • Commitment to God

  • Commitment to the Black Community

  • Commitment to the Black Family

  • Dedication to the Pursuit of Education

  • Dedication to the Pursuit of Excellence

  • Adherence to the Black Work Ethic

  • Commitment to Self-Discipline and Self-Respect

  • Disavowal of the Pursuit of "Middleclassness"

  • Pledge to make the fruits of all developing and acquired skills available to the Black Community

  • Pledge to Allocate Regularly, a Portion of Personal Resources for Strengthening and Supporting Black Institutions

  • Pledge allegiance to all Black leadership who espouse and embrace the Black Value System

  • Personal commitment to embracement of the Black Value System. "

The contemporary black theology movement in America arose in response to white racism and discrimination. In short, Christ not only redeems, but also liberates the poor and oppressed. Black theology has helped shape black identity, self-respect, and empowerment in the post-Civil Rights Era through its continued emphasis on social justice, the social gospel, and political activism.

Only time will tell if Obama’s affiliation with TUCC represents a political asset, or liability. Some political pundits suggest that the ethnocentric/black emphasis of the 12 precepts/covenantal statements at TUCC, the ambiguous meaning of a “disavowal of the pursuit middleclassness” , detracts from a centrist appeal that Obama needs to win the White House. Others argue that Obama’s association with Pastor Wright (who favors the rights of Palestinians) and membership at TUCC could alienate some voters, particularly those who are white or Jewish. Obama called Wright the night before his February 10 presidential announcement and rescinded his invitation for Wright to give the opening invocation. Alternatively, some think that the TUCC agenda could endear Obama (a product of an interracial marriage) to more black voters.

One may question whether some of the Black Values of TUCC (established in 1981) have outlived their usefulness or should undergo revision. Moreover, the degree to which Obama is obliged to uphold any or all of them is a matter of personal preference and conviction.
Without question, we live in an era where race, color, ethnicity—and the theological perspectives that emerge from them, have now become the new subtexts of the political debate. To be sure, the Obama-TUCC connection should challenge all Americas to engage in a substantive examination of faith that is informed by race (and racism), and its articulation within the political arena.

How Barack Obama defines the meaning of “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian,” may ultimately determine the fate of his campaign.

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Christian Liberty and the Lottery: Should You Play?

by Eric Walters

March 5-11 is National Problem Gambling Awareness Week, and by coincidence (or divine intervention?) individuals in multiple States are hurriedly competing for the grand prize Mega Millions lotto drawing, worth a record $370 million.

Last night I stopped by my local Seven-Eleven store to pick up a few items. At the checkout, while talking to my friend James on my mobile phone, I remarked about the large number of people waiting to purchase lottery tickets for the $370 million prize. At the time it was estimated that New Yorkers were buying more than 1 million tickets an hour, and Virginia retailers were selling about 8,550 tickets per minute as Tuesday night’s drawing approached. James asked me to buy a ticket, offering to split the cost, and the prize if we won. I didn’t think it was such a great idea, so I declined.

I’ve never played the lottery before, never been seriously “tempted” to go for all those millions. Admittedly, this is probably related to some rudimentary teaching I learned when I first became a Christian: gambling was wrong and sinful, like throwing money away. That was the black and white about gambling, but over the years, I’ve become more aware of the responsibility of my freedom to choose. To be sure, today the reasons for choices are not always so black and white, and more often than not, at best they are shades of gray. I’ll stop here.

I realize that there are many Christian people who don’t think twice about playing the lottery, and many of my friends and colleagues consistently play Lotto. I even know some who quietly pray that God will help them win (To be honest, I think that’s a bit crazy—but I digress.). I’m reminded about the story of a minister who preached regularly from his pulpit against gambling, only to be surprised one day when his wife held the lucky number. Suddenly the skeptic preacher was converted by the gospel of Lotto because he believed God had blessed his family!

I’m interested in your thoughts about Christians and gambling behavior, but before we are tempted to rehash old points and become “preachy”, let’s consider the following:

· State lotteries provide significant funding for public schools and other essential services for many citizens and local communities.

· Some share the opinion that playing the Lotto is very similar to investing in the stock market. Is this merely a case in semantics?

· What practices, other than playing the Lotto, constitute behavior that can be considered as gambling?

· Do spiritual communities or churches rely upon traditions and protocols that a) resemble gambling, or b) are promote addictive behavior?

My point is not to demonize or condemn those individuals who play the lottery, but instead to challenge us to think critically about choices we make in many areas of our lives. As Christians, what central (biblical and extra-biblical) factors inform the rationale for our choices, and do they account for a sense of individual, spiritual, and communal responsibility?

In this vein, National Problem Gambling Awareness Week can help believers understand that gambling isn’t fundamentally about money. Instead, this week can focus us toward greater resourcefulness, responsibility, and stewardship.

I welcome your thoughts.

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Black Beauty, Obesity, and "Norbit"

by Eric Walters

Last year at a local theatre near Baltimore, I participated in a questionnaire about the trailer for Eddie Murphy’s newest movie, Norbit. In the movie, Eddie Murphy plays Norbit, who is engaged, or “chained” to Rasputia (also played by Eddie Murphy), a dark-skinned, authoritarian, obese woman who incessantly dwindles Norbit’s manhood. Thandy Newton (light-skinned and thin) plays Kate—Norbit’s dreamgirl. Murphy is a multitalented comic genius who capitalizes on Rasputia’s dominance, insecurity, and self-image to generate laughs.

Jasmyne Cannick recently wrote about her deep frustration with Norbit because of its negative, stereotypic characterization of obese black women ("Why Norbit Sent Me Into Orbit"). To me, the trailer for Norbit encouraged a strange ambivalence of laughing at something that in reality shouldn’t be funny, because the comedy relates to the social and historic tragedies about body image/obesity and skin color preference, respectively. Tim Cogshell, in a review of Norbit, comments about this:

“…there is a great deal of mockery of the obese in Norbit, but therein lies a bit of truth, too: We do mock the obese, don't we?”

“…The lithe Kate (who seems to transform into a white girl post her childhood persona) juxtaposed with the big, fat, mean Rasputia may simply look like more of the same fat-bashing humor we've come to expect in movies such as this, and it is, but that's not all it is. There is a mirror in this movie, reflecting a lot of things, not the least of which is that we are a mean, fat country, that ironically doesn't like mean fat people.”

I often wonder if there are significant numbers of African American women and girls who suffer silently about their body images in light of the widespread popularity of movies like Norbit, particularly in a society that worships being thin. According to the National Heart Blood and Lung Institute, more than 80 percent of midlife African American women are overweight or obese, 52 percent have high blood pressure, and 14 percent have been diagnosed with diabetes.

In Baltimore, some churches have designated Red Dress Sundays to encourage lifestyle changes aimed to address the problem of obesity, heart disease, and stroke in African American women. But what can African American churches do within their own communities to further address the negative perceptions of obesity and skin color preference that saturate our entertainment and media outlets?

Perhaps a more holistic approach might employ strategies within our faith communities that:
· Demonstrate the practice of healthy diet and exercise programs within the life of the church. Food preferences in the church can be heart-healthy, and nutrient-dense.
· Confront negative stereotypes about dark-skinned, obese women and explore roots in historic racism. Education and discussion forums can quell suspicions and purge long-held assumptions about the obese. Open forums can also address the taboo subjects of skin color and hair texture preferences.
· Investigate how these factors contribute to the emotional and spiritual stress of obese women. Body image/body perception, and the image of beauty in American society should be explored. What is a healthy self-image?
· Challenge Christians to better define what makes for quality entertainment in our churches, homes and communities. What are the latitudes and limitations when it comes to movies, music, and other venues of entertainment? And how do parental/adult choices influence our children?

To be sure, Norbit is just a movie and many will watch, laugh, and go on with their lives. However, as a caution, I quote Jasmyne Cannick: “So while today it's Norbit, in a few weeks it will be Reno 911!: Miami, with Niecy Nash as Deputy Raineesha Williams and the big Black booty jokes.”

Sometimes cheap comedy costs more than the price of a ticket.

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Gangsta Rap and Pulpit Wealth: A Tale of Two Greeds

by Eric Walters

"The church ought to say, 'If you can't do more positive rap, shut up and get the hell out,' ”

Those were the words of Reverend Michael Battle, commenting on how gangsta rap has negatively influenced black youth and black women. Battle is a Baptist preacher and President of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.

Speaking to an audience of pastors and church leaders at the West Angeles Church of God in Christ (Los Angeles, CA), Battle charged that gangsta rap has stolen "the soul of positive rap," meant to articulate the "sociological circumstances" of African Americans, especially men. Some raps capture the obstacles facing a teen as he tries to "become a man … somebody with character in their turbulent circumstances."

Battle also alleged that the "wealth, health and prosperity part" of the [black] church as "what gangsta rap is to the hip-hop."

I think the comparison between gangsta rap and pulpit greed that Battle speaks of is quite fitting. It’s always encouraging to hear black clergy speak against self-inflicted abuse in the black community. Both gangsta rap and prosperity preachers prey upon their listeners with the empty promise of riches, respect, and prestige.

However, in ministry talk is cheap, and I’m concerned about what happens next. In the early 1990s C. Delores Tucker was one of the first African American leaders to galvanize a campaign against the emerging gangsta rap culture. Despite the Pastors and Laity Conference having deliberated the problems of gangsta rap/pulpit greed at its previous two conferences, I do not sense that there is a plan to mobilize their outrage into a foreseeable movement for transformation.

How do ministers and theologians move beyond "preaching and analysis" about the industry of gangsta rap and pulpit greed, to organized protest in the hope for transformation of our communities?

I have my own ideas and strategies, but I’d like to hear your suggestions.

What do you think?

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

"Charity is so loosely defined in our society that it is possible to be fully engaged in it with our time, talents, and money without becoming charitable ourselves."
--Professor Kortright Davis, Howard University School of Divinity

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Pro-Life Pharmacists and the Morning After Pill

by Eric Walters

In August 2006, the FDA approved the sale of Plan B, the “morning after” pill at pharmacies across the country. Plan B hormone pills can be sold to women over the age of 18 without prescription as an emergency contraceptive to prevent pregnancy when taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

This week the Cincinnati Post reported that 23 year-old Tashina Byrd complained to the Ohio governor’s office because Wal-Mart workers refused to sell her the contraceptive. According to the article, Brent Beams, the pharmacist, assumed the status of “conscientious objector” and denied Byrd's request for the contraceptive pills because he believes "in preserving life, and I do not believe in ending life, and life begins at conception.” Wal-Mart is currently investigating the incident.

Major pharmacy chains such as CVS, Rite-Aid and Walgreens carry Plan B in all their stores and have pledged to ensure that customers can buy it at each store even if a certain employee declines to sell the pill because of moral objections. CVS officials say that a pharmacist who refuses to sell Plan B must arrange for another employee to sell it, and the pharmacist must ensure that the customer "is served promptly and treated with respect." (

Some state legislatures are considering laws that would grant pharmacists the right to refuse to dispense drugs related to contraception or abortion. Still others consider laws that require pharmacies to fill any legal prescription for birth control, … which requires pharmacies that stock the morning-after pill to dispense it without delay. (New York Times, April 2005)
What can be an appropriate Christian response or action when religious liberties and civil liberties seem to conflict?

Should pro-life pharmacists impose their ethics or morality upon customers?

Does “conscientious objection” also apply to the sale of condoms, other forms of contraception, or any other product that may conflict with an employee’s moral convictions?

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Execution of Saddam Hussein: Evangelical Eyes Wide Shut

by Eric Walters

Ever since the execution of Saddam Hussein, a hush—a strange, eerie, silence—has overtaken many evangelical Christian online publications, commentaries, and weblogs. Very few, if any, have mentioned the episode. I previously wrote about how America’s failure to capture Osama Bin Laden gave President George W. Bush and neoconservative evangelicals license to fashion Saddam Hussein as the scapegoat for American angst after September 11, 2001. Won’t bother with that again.

This loud silence intrigues me. Perhaps many of the evangelicals who supported and promoted the unjust Iraqi war now sit silently in the dark, in dim shadows because, if they bear any conscience, they might be ashamed of their “Christian” arrogance that helped to fuel the destruction of an entire country that used to be called Iraq.

Perhaps the silence is because watching or imagining a dead body dangle from a noose is gruesome. Let’s face it, hanging just isn’t a “kindler, gentler” form of killing people. And besides, hanging for execution and entertainment purposes has been out of style in America for quite a few decades. We prefer techno-stuff like smart bombs, precision targeted missiles, and lethal injection; it’s so much more nouveau chic, with limited collateral damage to our psyche. Or at least we think so.

For many, Saddam’s hanging was just a bit too close to home. Neoconservative evangelical ideologs who promoted this war in the spirit of nationalism and patriotism must now wrestle with the emptiness and shame that comes from scapegoating Hussein. For their part, President Bush, Dick Cheney, and Tony Blair are predictably silent because the death of Hussein was not the political watershed or catharsis that they expected. If there is verifiable concept of a just war, the Iraqi war does not qualify. Invasion didn’t marshal the virtues of democracy, but instead, revealed man’s inhumanity to man.

[American military casualties, 25,000; almost 3,000 U.S. soldiers are dead; over 650,000 Iraqi civilians are dead. Do the math; calculate the cost.]

Ironically, Hussein got the last word on bloodthirsty neoconservative evangelicals, and on many of us who remain complacent about the criminal nature of this unjust war. The death of Hussein demonstrates to all of us that scapegoating only leads to more death and destruction.

Was Saddam an evil tyrant and dictator? You bet. Was he guilty of crimes against humanity? You bet. Do I believe that God will judge him for that inhumanity? You bet.

But new, and more probing questions must now be asked. Are there tyrants and dictators in America? You bet. Do those tyrants and dictators masquerade as Christians? You bet. Are they guilty of crimes against humanity? You bet. Will God judge the guilty for their inhumanity? You bet.

Eric Walters is Co-Founder of TheoSyst Group.

Miracles and the Sovereignty of God: Who’s In Charge?

by Carolus Taylor

Recently a Christian lady shared with me about a personal struggle that she was going through. Then, she asked me an interesting question: “When do I stop believing God for a miracle?” I told her that I thought a more appropriate and accurate question might be, “When do I start believing God for a miracle?”

The cultural propensity to “name it, claim it” and “just tell God to bless us with whatever we want”, is to claim a miracle from God when God has not spoken. The advocates of this shortsightedness tend to employ Mark 11: 22-24 (“...whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”v. 24b, NIV) as a scriptural carte blanche for what we interpret as our personal miracle. Thus, I can speak my miracle into existence! I said it with my mouth, I believe it in my heart then I must receive it!

But instead of us trying to make God do something for us in response to our every whim and whimper, perhaps the more accurate way that we should think about miracles is to start believing God for a miracle when God says God is going to perform a miracle. Is there any place in the Bible where the God of the universe relinquishes ultimate sovereignty to us? Does faith give us the right to give directives to the omnipotent, omniscient God?

It seems to me that faith—however feeble or strong, should lead us to completely trust in God. We trust whatever God wants to do, whenever God wants to do it, and however God chooses to do it. This means that in sickness and in health, we trust God; in good times and in bad times, we trust God. When the storm is raging or when the sea of life is calm, we put our trust in God. But the patience of our suffering teaches us that we are ill-prepared to determine our own destiny, and that God is sovereign.

In this light, God’s sovereignty means that there are no experiences in life of which God is not aware. Nothing happens to us that surprises God. God is in control, and must have a plan and purpose for God’s will in our lives. The wisdom of faith does not always focus on what God delivers us from, but on how God’s sovereignty keeps and sustains us in the midst of hard times (and good times). Thus, it is foolish to claim a miracle when God has not spoken. We can only with surety, claim what God says God is going to do.

Rather than teaching people to claim miracles or proclaim miracles, clergy must first and foremost encourage parishioners to accept and live under the sovereignty of God. This is not to suggest we should not believe God to do miracles; indeed, God is a miracle worker. What I am suggesting is that we learn to believe God, and to understand scripture within its context. The miracle is in the hand of God.

Several years ago, I visited a ten year old girl who was hospitalized with hepatitis. I spent a Friday evening at the hospital with her family, and throughout the weekend we fervently prayed, and anointed the child with oil. Some family members even spoke in tongues as they prayed for the child’s healing. I went to the church, laid before the altar, cried, and called out every Bible verse I knew about healing. On Sunday night, the child died. I was crushed, angry, and disappointed with God. I asked, “God—how is it when we really believe you are going to do something, you don’t do it?”

Then I remembered that it was not a matter of faith or believing; it was the sovereign will of God that ultimately reigned supreme.

Carolus Taylor is the Senior Pastor of the Friendship Baptist Church in Columbia, Missouri.