Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Confused Leading The Ignorant

I'm on a list-serv of Christian newspaper editors run by the Evangelical Press Association, and the posts there are by turns interesting and frustrating -- and sometimes both at the same time.

One editor there, for example, is a Barack Obama supporter. She acknowledges that abortion is an important issue; she claims to be pro-life. And she acknowledges that Obama, while in the Senate and on the campaign trail, has an unabashedly pro-choice view. Nonetheless, she claims that Obama is "inspiring." It's the first time I've ever heard the promotion of baby-killing called inspirational. Her views, though, seem to be a sign of the disarray of evangelicalism.

For example, this week I interviewed megachurch pastor Joel C. Hunter, whose new book is "A New Kind Of Conservative." He said that young people were rejecting "traditional" Christian worship and such "trappings" of an older generation as denominationalism and party labels.

I asked, "Dr. Hunter, I'm assuming that you're smarter now, at age 60, than you were at age 25."

He responded, "I hope so."

Me: "I'm also assuming that you've read the surveys from Barna, from Gallup, from the Pew Trust, and just about everyone else that says the younger generation is perhaps the most secular, least religious, most pagan, most theologically and biblically illiterate generation in American history."

Dr. Hunter: "OK, I see where you're going."

Me: "Well, I guess where I'm going is here: I have a great deal of respect and admiration for the passion and desire to 'make a difference' of young people. But shouldn't they be looking to us for wisdom, rather than the other way around?"

Dr. Hunter: "I'm not saying that. We need each other. They should be looking to us."

Here's my point: There is a great deal of theological confusion out there. I think one of the reasons that 25-year-olds don't want to pay attention to the wisdom of 60-year-olds is that we have too many 60-year-olds trying to be "hip" in ways they weren't when they were 25. And among evangelical leaders, you have the added temptation of money: the desire to sell books and get speaking gigs and be seen as the "Next Billy Graham" or (heaven forbid) the "Next Rick Warren." I mean, after all, who wouldn't want to "hang" with Bono?

Our young people bring a lot to the community, to the koinonia. But, in general, wisdom is not a part of what they bring. They need older -- and wiser -- people for that. And our older men need to be patriachs, not pals; our older women need to be matriarchs, not "cougars" and "BFFs."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Warren's Speaker Promo Video

Monday, October 22, 2007

Has Alan Keyes "Jumped The Shark"?

Keyes criticism of "Values Voters Summit" sounds desperate, self-serving

On the old TV show “Happy Days,” the Fonz was the coolest guy around -- until an infamous episode just before the show’s cancellation which had the Fonz literally jumping a shark while water-skiing in his trademark leather jacket.

The scene was supposed to show that the Fonz remained cool in all circumstances. But the episode was so contrived, so preposterous, that even the uber-cool Fonz looked ridiculous. Since then, "jumping the shark" has come to symbolize anyone who gets caught trying to be cool, or -- more generally -- is desperately, and unsuccessfully, even pathetically, trying to remain relevant.

Such is a description of the current chapter in the political career of Alan Keyes.Keyes was a refreshing and credible voice in the 1996 and 2000 presidential elections. But he’s become a gadfly and -- worse -- a whiner. He’s failed to make a credible showing in any race he’s ever entered, and he’s started blaming others for his inability to get traction.

Witness, for example, excerpts from a press release from the Keyes campaign, coming on the Monday after the Family Research Council's Washington Briefing. After berating each of candidates for some deficiency in their conservative, pro-life positions, Keyes then blasts the FRC:

“[The] FRC gave each of these candidates the use of its platform. It gave each of them a photo-op receiving a standing ovation from a crowd identified as strongly pro-life and supportive of the God-ordained natural family. [But the FRC] repeatedly refuse to invite one particular candidate: Dr. Alan Keyes. For decades, Dr. Keyes has boldly and courageously fought for everything the FRC claims to represent.

“The contradictions get worse," Keyes' whiny press release continues. "For weeks prior to the event — in advertising, and in the radio and television pronouncements of FRC leaders — FRC claimed that all the candidates in both parties were invited. This claim was patently false, since Dr. Keyes was excluded, and yet they refused to correct it even after its untruthfulness was pointed out to them repeatedly.

“Keyes staffers, seeing the claims that 'all' the candidates had been invited, even the Democrats, thought perhaps an invitation for Ambassador Keyes had been lost in the mail. It could happen. So, they contacted FRC organizers just to be sure there was no misunderstanding. To their surprise, no such misplaced invitation had ever been offered. And none was ever forthcoming. The explanation given was that the event had been planned for months, that Keyes had entered the race too late, and that no slot in the speaking schedule could possibly be found for him. A shocking claim, considering the fact that Fred Thompson entered the race barely a week before Keyes, that Rudy Giuliani confirmed his attendance only days prior to the event, and that both were given every consideration.”

Keyes’ campaign lands a few punches, but he and his campaign ignore one important point: one of the values of a presidential campaign is that it gives the American people a chance to see how a candidate operates as a manager and a leader. Is he an effective manager, or a bumbler?

Many decry the fact that political campaigning has become so expensive, but you could also say that it gives us a good chance to see how well organized a candidate is, and what his stamina and perseverance is.

Keyes has proven time and again that he is not presidential material. He's a smart guy with a lot of good ideas. He should write books and give speeches, not run for president.

Warren Cole Smith is the editor and publisher of "The Charlotte World" and the Evangelical Press News Service. He can be reached at

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Dobson "Speaks From Heart" At Values Voter Summit

The capstone of the Value Voters Summit held this weekend at the Washington, D.C., Hilton Hotel was a black-tie gala honoring Dr. James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council. More than 1000 people attended the dinner, most of them were among the 2300 who were at the weekend-long Summit, which featured presentations from all of the Republican presidential candidates.

Prison Fellowship's Charles Colson began the evening by outlining what values voters should be looking for in a president -- adding that he knew no one who possessed these qualities so much as Dobson himself, a comment prompting cheers from the audience.

After a concert by country artist Lee Greenwood (he ended with his anthem "God Bless The U.S.A.") former Attorney General Edwin Meese honored Dobson for his work in the public policy area. Meese acknowledged that Dobson "sometimes comes under attack, but Jim has faced these attacks with courage and fortitude, and has persevered with dignity and great determination."

The current president of Focus on the Family, Jim Daly, came next. He called Dobson "tender-hearted, compassionate" and "full of integrity." Elsa Prince, an FRC and Focus on the Family board member (and mother of Blackwater founder Erik Prince), called Dobson "warm" and "sincere" and recounted anecdotes of traveling around the world with the Dobsons, visiting Focus on the Family's international operations. He also called Dobson a man of prayer, both "human and humorous," who can't be interrupted when his beloved University of Southern California sports teams are on the televison.

Danae Dobson said the question she has been asked the most frequently is "What is it like to be the daughter of Dr. James Dobson?" She said it has been "wonderful." She said one of the qualities she admires most is that "he practices what he preaches."

When Shirley Dobson took the podium, she said, "Jim, are you sure you want me to be up here to tell the real truth about you?" The crowd responded with laughter and applause. Shirley Dobson said that even from their undergraduate college days, her husband was confident and determined. She closed her speech by looking directly at her husband of 47 years and saying, "Jim Dobson, I honor you not only as my husband, but as one of the finest men of our time."

A video tribute featured Jerry Regier, Gary Bauer, Joni Eareckson Tada, Donald Wildmon, Don Hodel, and Ryan Dobson.

Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, served as master of ceremonies of the event. After the video presentation, he took the stage to present the FRC's first Vision and Leadership Award to Dobson.

After accepting the award, Dobson honored those who honored him. It was 10:15 pm when Dobson took the stage. He apologized for the lateness of the hour, but he had something he wanted to say. First, he said the media had, for months, been saying that the pro-family movement was dying. Dobson turned to the press gallery and said, "To the media who are here: Welcome to the morgue." The remark got a standing ovation.

Then Dobson got serious. "There is an ominous feeling in the air," he said. "There is a possibility that the far, far left is going to capture the 'triple crown' in the fall of '08: the White House, the House, and the Senate. If that happens, the direction of the Supreme Court will change, and if that happens, that will change the direction of this country for the next 30 years." He added, though, that profamily forces wouldn't "let that happen."

Dobson said that we "can't set aside our morals and our principles" to support a presidential candidate who may be electable but who won't advance pro-family causes. "The problem with choosing the lesser of two evils is that you're still choosing evil," Dobson said. He said, "We cannot be so terrified of losing that we forget who we are and what we came here to do."

He then turned his remarks toward the institution of marriage. He called for passage of a marriage protection amendment, saying that without it marriage would be thrown "on the ash heap of history."

The crowd grew quiet when Dobson explained what happened at a meeting of conservative activists in Salt Lake City in early October. He said that the group "did not" vote to form a third party. But he also said he was "frustrated with the Republican Party. The Republican Party had the Triple Crown -- the White House, the Senate, and the House -- for six years, and they did absolutely nothing."

He closed by saying there were many causes for optimism. "We are winning the hearts and minds of the people," Dobson said. He cited polls saying Americans overwhelmingly believe abortion is wrong. So, he concluded, conservatives should "stay the course. The Democrats are not a shoo-in, no matter what you are hearing in the media."

Romney Edges Huckabee In "Values Voter" Straw Poll

The big loser in the straw poll at the Family Research Council's annual "Value Voters" straw poll could be the Family Research Council itself.

First the facts, Mitt Romney narrowly edged Mike Huckabee to win the poll. Romney got 1595 votes (27.62 percent) and Huckabee got 1565 (27.15 percent). Ron Paul came in third with 865 votes (14.98 percent). No one else got more than 10 percent of the vote.

Now the problem for the FRC: the people who actually came to the event in Washington and voted on-site went overwhelmingly for Huckabee. All eight Republican presidential candidates spoke at the event, and Huckabee's speech was a real stem-winder, interrupted by applause more than 20 times and by standing ovations nearly a dozen times. He was the overwhelming winner among those who were there -- outpolling Romney 488 to 99, a nearly 5-to-1 margin. When Tony Perkins announced the results of the straw poll this afternoon, the crowd was visibly stunned by how out-of-sync the results were with the sentiments of the "values voters" in attendance.

In fact, at the press conference immediately after the announcement, a non-media attendee "crashed" the Q & A session to chastise Perkins for the way the event was run. Some bloggers and secular media even led their stories with that episode.

Perkins told me, though, that he had "no second thoughts" about the process. "Everyone had the same chance to get their people out," Perkins said. "Huckabee mounted an aggressive on-line campaign, too."

The bottom line: the poll results didn't reflect the true sentiment of "values voters." That's a problem for values voters who wanted their voices heard clearly and unmistakably. What remains to be seen is whether the FRC, given its bungled management of this straw poll, can maintain its position as the point of the values voters' spear.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

One of Charlotte's best-known pastors resigns

Dr. Dan Burrell, who has served as senior pastor at Northside Baptist Church for the past seven years, announced his resignation from the post on June 3. His resignation is effective September 1.

Neither Burrell nor the church has issued a public statement about the resignation, though Burrell wrote on his popular blog, “For seven-and-a-half years, it has been my pleasure to lead this historic ministry that is filled with wonderful and loving people. But through a variety of circumstances, I have reached a conclusion that it is time for me to step away from the Senior Pastorate at Northside.”

Burrell added, “There have been absolutely no allegations or disputes involving ethics, morality, theology, philosophy or any such matter.”

Dan L. Burrell is a native of Moberly, Mo. Before taking over as senior pastor at Northside he served a church in West Palm Beach, Fla. He holds a doctorate in educational administration and has been active in educational endeavors as well as pastoral activities. He was instrumental in the formation and leadership of the Greater Charlotte Association of Christian Schools. He has served as an adjunct professor for Luther Rice Seminary, Atlantic Coast Baptist Bible College, Boston Baptist College and Liberty University. He has served on the Board of Directors for Piedmont Baptist College, Appalachian Bible College, Boston Baptist College and Tennessee Temple University.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

CMS and Diversity: Paternalism Disguised With Good Intentions

NOTE: Part of the "Observing The Observer" series.

By Warren Smith

Ed Williams’ August 27 editorial in the “Charlotte Observer” on “diversity” highlighted some critical issues for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School (CMS) system. Williams, editor of the "Observer's" editorial pages, of course wants diversity, and he laments that “[p]ublic opinion no longer considered school diversity a priority. Nor did the law. And neither did school leaders.”

I am not opposed to diversity in our schools. The world is a marvelously diverse place, and to see an accurate and true picture of the world reflected in our schools could not help but be a good thing.

But I would argue that a close look at Williams’ editorial reveals a subtle racist ideology that lovers of true diversity and equality -- not to mention freedom and democracy -- should reject just as forcefully as the overt racism of a white supremacist.

But that may not be so obvious without a closer look at Williams’ arguments.

What is Diversity?

At the center of Williams’ argument is the idea that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are not “diverse.” But what is diversity? Approximately 11 percent of the American population is African-American. Within the past few years, Hispanics have passed African-Americans to become the largest minority group in American. They now represent about 12 percent of the population. As you might expect, in the South the percentage of African-Americans is significantly greater. Charlotte is about 33 percent African-American, about 58 percent white, and about 7 percent Hispanic.

Now, compare this to the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, where African-Americans make up a majority, and every other group (except whites) are also represented in greater percentages than in the population as a whole. And let’s look at the individual schools. The “whitest” schools in the district have a black population greater than the 11 percent national average. In fact, many CMS majority white schools are majority white by only a small margin.

So it is hard to understand what Williams means when he advocates for diversity. If the standard for “healthy” diversity is that the schools reflect the racial makeup of the community, we passed that mark long ago. Is Williams arguing for the pendulum to swing back? Surely not. Surely he is not saying (is he?) that blacks now have TOO MUCH power and influence, and for their power and influence to reflect their actual racial makeup in the community, it should go DOWN and not UP.

Perhaps he is talking not about race at all, but about class? It seems that this is at least a part of his argument. He quotes a blue-ribbon committee report saying that some schools should be created that actually strive for “a target of 40 percent low-income students.” This goal is supposedly in response to the fact that some CMS schools have poverty rates in excess of 90 percent.

Since the poverty rate in Mecklenburg County is less than 12 percent, it’s hard to understand how the current and immediate-past leadership could have let this happen. And are we supposed to believe that the same leadership who let this happen could somehow be trusted to lead us out of this abyss? It is also hard to understand how taking a school with 90 percent poverty and turning it into a school with only 40 percent poverty could be accomplished without forcing students – against the will of their parents – into these schools. Williams writes that “coercion is unacceptable,” but he doesn’t say how this goal will be accomplished without coercion. Does he really mean that coercion is unacceptable unless coercion is the only way to accomplish this goal of diversity? All these are vital questions, but – given the limits of our discussion here -- questions for another day.

The as-yet-unanswered question for today remains: What, exactly, does Ed Williams mean when he talks about diversity? It is not pedantic to dwell on this question, because if the word doesn’t actually mean something, it can be re-defined by ideologues to mean whatever you want it to mean to push whatever agenda you want to push. The word has to mean something. It can’t just mean “more” or “less” or “whatever I want it to mean today, but possibly something else tomorrow.” As all previous civilizations understood, and as George Orwell prophetically wrote, if words do not have specific and agreed-upon meanings, they are nothing more than instruments of tyranny.

Identifying Priorities

Now, let’s look at Williams’ second point, that diversity (again, whatever that means) is no longer a “priority” for the public, the law, nor school leaders.

First of all, Williams ignores the obvious possibility that diversity is no longer a priority because it has been achieved – or at least that these three important constituencies believe it has been achieved. The numbers cited above strongly suggest that this is the case.

But let’s concede Williams that point and grant – despite all data to the contrary – that diversity has NOT been achieved. What does it mean, then, when a “majority minority” says they no longer think diversity should be a priority?

It could mean that they consider other things to be more important. After all, isn’t that what identifying priorities really means? When I establish my priorities, I focus on those things that are the most urgent and important, and on those things where my efforts will actually make a difference.

So could it be that these vital constituencies have looked at the data, and they’ve concluded that “diversity” is either not as important as other vital issues -- such as the health and safety of children while on school property, or their academic achievement? Or it could mean that they think diversity, while important, is something that will “show up” on its own? After all, a truly diverse community needs no bureaucracy or infrastructure to create diverse institutions that are drawn from that same community. They’ll happen anyway. As one of my mentors once said, if you throw a brick off a building, you don’t need a committee to get the brick to fall to the ground. Gravity will pretty much take care of that for you.

Should Diversity Be A Priority?

The data strongly suggest that diversity, given any reasonable definition, has been achieved. Williams himself said “public opinion no longer consider school diversity a priority.” This “public opinion” presumably either is or at least is strongly represented by the mostly African-American parents of CMS. Also, that same blue-ribbon committee I mentioned above was co-chaired by Harvey Gantt, Charlotte’s first black mayor and Clemson’s first black undergraduate. That committee, again according to Williams, “treated diversity as an option.”

But if the black parents who now make up a majority of the parents in CMS, and black leaders who now have their hands on the senior-most leadership positions, no longer consider “diversity” a priority, one wonders why Ed Williams thinks he’s so much smarter than they are. One wonders why he would make such a case, and – as we have seen -- with the thinnest of arguments at that.

I will not speculate as to motive, but I will say that – intended or not -- it would be easy to use Williams’ own words to make an argument for paternalism as the true cause of Williams’ call for greater diversity.

So, should diversity be a “priority” in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools? I remain unconvinced by Williams’ editorial. Even our city’s black leaders seem to think other matters are more important. Either that, or they are beginning to recognize calls for “diversity” from liberal, white, do-gooders is the kind of help they do better without.

And because I happen to think that I’m NOT smarter, or better, or in any other way superior to them, I’m willing to take their word for it.

Warren Smith is the publisher of “The Charlotte World.” He can be reached at This article is the latest in his ongoing “Observing The Observer” series, articles examining “The Charlotte (NC) Observer.”

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Deconstructing Reality

That there is a liberal bias in the mainstream media is a part of the dogma of conservatives. And even many liberal newspaper people will admit, in their private moments, that most newspaper people tend to be more liberal than the communities they serve.

But, interestingly, it is to the editorial pages that both sides resort to make their cases. It’s understandable that conservatives would point to the editorial pages, most of which contain a preponderance of liberal opinion, because it is easy to find evidence there. But many liberals point to the editorial pages. Often, they point to the token conservative columnist and say, “See, we have conservatives on our editorial pages. Or, more often, they confess the liberalism on the editorial pages, but add something like this, “Well, yes, the editorial page may skew liberal, but the rest of the paper is balanced and objective.”

That’s why I thought it would be interesting to take an article not from the editorial pages, but from the front page of “The Charlotte Observer,” and attempt to deconstruct the worldview that is dominant in the newsroom of a typical big-city daily paper. That story is “Churches find little unity on homosexuality.” It is from the June 29, 2006, issue of “The Charlotte Observer,” and it’s written by veteran religion editor Ken Garfield. You don’t have to go any farther than the headline to find problems.

Garfield’s story appears under the headline “Churches find little unity on homosexuality.” Under this head is the following sub-head: “Denominations grappling with division on issues of gay clergy, unions.”

Before proceeding with my critique, it’s important to note that somewhere between 75 and 90 percent of all readers of a newspaper will read no further than the headline. To cite just one study: The Readership Institute Impact Study reported that 85 percent of readers do not read beyond the headline. What this means is that even if Garfield’s story is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – but the headline is a lie – then 85 percent of the readers have been fed a lie.

So, is the headline the truth, or a lie? As it turns out, it is closer to a lie than the truth on two counts. First of all, the head and sub-head fail to accurately represent the story; Garfield’s story carefully sticks to the proceedings of two denominations, the Episcopal Church USA and the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA). The head and sub-head lead the reader to believe that this story is about all denominations, and not just these two.

We might be able to forgive that problem if, in fact, all churches were struggling with that problem, and these two churches were merely emblematic of the problem. But the hard reality is that most churches are not. The largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, is crystal clear in its opposition to homosexual marriage, ordination, and activity. In fact, there are at least a half-dozen Presbyterian denominations. Though the PCUSA is the largest Presbyterian denomination, the combined membership of the other denominations exceeds 1-million. And the PCUSA is the only one of the Presbyterian denominations that is struggling with this issue. Taken as a whole, of the more than 60 Protestant denominations in the country, only the United Church of Christ officially sanctions the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

So what is the factual “bottom line”? The City University of New York did a survey in 2001, called the American Religious Identification Survey. The survey found that 79.8 percent of Americans identified themselves as Christians – including Catholics and all varieties of Protestants. If you take these numbers at face value, you end up with the following situation: while the issue of homosexuality is hotly debated in the culture, and while there is no doubt that a vocal minority continues to raise the question in the ECUSA and the PCUSA, in the vast majority of other Christian churches, homosexuality is a “settled question.”

Of the more than 220-million Americans who identify themselves as Christians, only 1.4-million of them are members of a denomination that sanctions the ordination of homosexuals. This issue is not dividing the American church. It is dividing a very small number of denominations, and – by the way – these denominations are no longer the largest Protestant denominations and they are shrinking fast. To state or imply otherwise is simply not telling the truth about the state of the American Christian church.

In fairness to Garfield, he probably didn’t write that headline. On most big-city dailies, one person writes the story, and another person or other people put the paper together. Of course, that just makes the problems worse, since editors – once removed from the “streets” where facts and reality are stubborn things – become even more likely to get sucked in to the liberal ideological vortex that typifies the leadership of most newspapers.The Bible says that “For lack of knowledge my people are destroyed.” Nowhere is this more true than when it comes to our dealings with the media. Christians should arm themselves with knowledge, and read with discernment, or their faiths can easily be destroyed by the constant diet of falsehoods – large and small – in the mainstream media.

Warren Smith is the publisher of the “The Charlotte World” and the Evangelical Press News Service. He can be reached at