Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Church & State

It's being widely reported today that the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State are suing the School District of Dover, PA over a plan to introduce Intelligent Design as an alternative theory to evolution in the ninth-grade curriculum. Dover is a hop, skip and jump away from RNR's blogcave; in fact, one of our parishioners teaches music in that district. Local reaction (or perhaps coverage) has been predictably disappointing: chirpy teens declaring themselves in favor of considering all points of view.

So far, RNR's parishioner hasn't brought the issue up: he seems more concerned with the ever-increasing burden of state guidelines meant to ensure high-quality education.

Which is exactly why this is such a devilish issue for the blue-footed. Teachers are too burdened by stupid beaucratic educational theories to fight back against stupid theocratic educational theories. Meanwhile, the idea that ID is not a responsible scientific perspective is much more difficult to get ahold of than the notion that all ideas ought to be considered.

And perhaps they should.

Wouldn't you have liked it if your ninth grade biology teacher were as exciting as saying: "Creationism is a bunch of crap! Next topic..."?

Agape Press, Focus on the Family's version of Pravda, reports that a Christian university in Colorado has been turned down for state educational assistance. No reason reported, at least none from the state.

What makes this story interesting to RNR is that the
Rocky Mountain News is reporting the same story nearly word-for-word. We thought reporters were supposed to come up with their own stories, instead of transcriptions of press releases?


Religion & Politics

The National Catholic Reporter has a story and an editorial on the apparent re-invigoration of Christian progressives. The editorial is thoughtful, but two things jumped out at us from Joe Feuerherd's reporting. First off, the Center for American Progress facilitated a meeting between faithforward religious leaders and Democratic party functionaries. Progressives, it would seem, continue to get organized--and coordinated--just like the right.

Second, some of those religious leaders are thanking...their lucky stars for the so-called "morals vote":

Buttressed by the controversial findings of the 2004 presidential race exit polls -- more than a fifth of the voters cited "moral values" as their top concern and nearly 80 percent of those who did voted for Bush -- the religious left senses opportunity. Many Democrats say the exit poll findings were deeply flawed, that stacking a generic topic like "moral values" up against specific concerns like terrorism, the Iraq war and the economy skewed the numbers.

Yet, said the Rev. Jim Wallis, executive director of Sojourners and a leading liberal church activist, the findings "sparked a national conversation" that places church activists front and center in shaping the Democratic Party's message. "If the election had turned out differently, I'm not sure the Democrats would be reassessing in quite the same way," said Wallis.

"The bad news is that the exit poll exaggerated the case," said Shaun Casey, "and the good news is that it exaggerated the case." Casey, assistant professor of Christian ethics and director of the National Capital Semester for Seminarians program at Wesley Theological Seminary, said the poll provided a wake-up call to the Democratic Party, which "does not have a lot of capacity to speak a language that resonates with people of faith."

Apparently, we're not the only ones to have noticed the Religious Right's campaign to declare Christmas in peril. The Boston Globe has picked up the story, picking up some choice quotes along the way:

''There is a revival taking place in our nation that is causing Christian and right-minded people to say, 'Wait a minute. We've gone too far,' " says the Rev. Patrick Wooden Sr., pastor of the Raleigh church. ''We're not going to allow the country to continue this downward spiral to the left."...

''I think it is part of a growing movement of people with more traditional values, which make up the majority of people in this country, saying enough is enough," says Greg Scott, a spokesman for the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund. ''Ninety-six percent of us here in America celebrate Christmas."...

''I think the businesses and the schools have just gone too far; this is the final straw," says [Rutherford] Institute president John W. Whitehead. ''It's supposed to be a time of, what, peace and freedom, and fun. And they've kind of made it into a secular . . . kind of gray day."

While the self-perpetuating sense of persecution continues to amaze FF, this story is not ultimately about Christmas at all. It's an attempt--part of an ongoing attempt--to take control of the public square by the Religious Right. You wonder why their was such an outcry after the "God is Still Speaking" ad came out? You wonder why Focus on the Family is taking Katie Couric to task for a question she asked after Matthew Shepherd's murder?

Well, scratch the righteous indignation on that last one. Somebody needs to take a slice out of the Mighty Chipmunk's ass.

Along the same lines: the NYT's by-now well publicized article on Christian conservatives's push in state and local government. We'll have more to say about that in another diary. Also this piece from the typically thoughtful Bruce Prescott:

Baptist Press quotes Richard Land, head of a Southern Baptist political action committee, as saying that Christians "have a right and an obligation to bring
our religious convictions to bear on public policy issues." He added, "That's not called a violation of church and state. That's called religious freedom. It's called freedom of speech."

When will Land wake up? People of no faith and people of all faiths -- not just Christians -- have an equal right and and obligation to bring their convictions to bear on public policy issues. Religious freedom and freedom of speech are rights that all citizens of our society share equally. These rights exist because the First Amendment created some "sacred ground" where, by force of law, we do not permit others to force their religious convictions on us and where we are not allowed to force our religious convictions on others. That is what separation of church and state means.

One last link while we're at it, from the Nashville Tennessean about competing--and quite partial--visions of who Jesus was, and what his example demands of us today.

FF appreciates the reminder that Christ was--and is--more than the sum of the parts that his believers catch hold of. Still, we think this piece misses the boat. It's been a long and honorable tradition for Christians to argue about the central figure of their faith, and what that means for that faith. If you don't believe us, read Jaroslav Pelikan's Jesus through the Centuries. We Christians argue about such things because, in the words of the UCC Statement of Faith, "each generation has the responsibility to make the faith its own."

Let a thousand Jesuses bloom. The diversity is pleasing unto God, and refreshing to our political discourse.


Homosexuality & Religion

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin is reluctant to put the idea of same-sex marriage to a national referendum, the AP is reporting. Presumably, he's afraid of losing such a vote. RNR asks its gay and gay-friendly readers: does this bother you? Is it better to win the right to marry by any means, or is it better to win that "democratically," which is to say waiting until it has broad popular support and can win a national referendum? We have to admit being ambivalent about it.

Eleven evangelists arrested trying to disrupt Philadelphia's Gay Pride Parade are being charged with "criminal conspiracy, rioting and ethnic intimidation." Again, a question: should the GLBT community be considered an "ethnic minority," or is that demeaning?

"Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul spoke to Vatican officials about gay rights proponents wearing rainbow sashes to Mass and receiving Communion," Catholic News Service reports.

Meanwhile, on the UCC ad front, there's more reaction here and here, and an announcement here that the UCC is now releasing 60-second radio spots featuring the same edginess you've come to know and love.

Our favorite part?

In keeping with the Christmas season, one of the spots parodies the words of a traditional Christmas carol, with a chorus singing, "O come, some of ye faithful, powerful and privileged, O come all ye special few to Bethlehem ..." An announcer interrupts the music, saying, "God doesn't invite some of the faithful. God invites all the faithful. So do we - the United Church of Christ."

Kudos to fellow bloggers Fredrick Clarkson and Chuck Currie for catching this press release.

Speaking of UCC blogs, here's a new one on the UCC's "God Is Still Speaking" site. In keeping with blog tradition, its name contains a groaner of a pun: "Yule Blog." No word yet on whether it will survive Christmas.


This 'n' That

This is big: the Boston Archdiocese is caving in to squatters protesting the closing of their local parishs. Gads, what next? Democracy for the Catholic Church? Television ads declaring openness to gays and lesbians?

Uh, scratch that last one.

The Independent carries an intriguing story about a Japanese village which declares that Jesus survived his crucifixion and took up residence with them some 2,000 years ago. This is more than just a "crazy belief" story: scroll down and you'll find an examination of how politics and religion interact, and an insightful discussion of folk belief. Classic feature writing here.

One last link, from the Revealer. Oh heck, let's just lift the whole post:

Not one to rest on his laurels after a job well done, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is "taking time out from running the war in Iraq to defend his beloved scouting movement from assault by a liberal civil rights group." That's right: fresh from his rousing P.R. success in explaining to U.S. troops how their lack of adequate equipment was a matter of "physics," Eagle Scout Rumsfeld is changing the subject speaking his mind about an unpopular Pentagon settlement with the ACLU that would limit direct military sponsorship of boy scout troops, which require members to believe in God. Bless your selfless heart, Rummy.
Oh, and don't forget: Merry Christmas, Mr. Secretary of Defense.