Thursday, March 24, 2005


Click on image for larger gif. Tip of the pin to Bill Griffith for letting me occasionally display these strips.



From a Guardian report on the Schiavo protest scene outside the Supreme Court building:
Dave Daubenmire was sitting in church Sunday in Hebron, Ohio, when he says the spirit suddenly moved him to come to Florida. A man in the congregation wrote him a $716 check on the spot and told him: "We need you down there."

Wearing a blue baseball cap with a red cross, the 52-year-old former high school football coach considers himself a "coach for the church." He goes wherever he thinks the nation's Judeo-Christian values are under attack; he says he spent seven days on the steps of Alabama's judicial building in Montgomery, supporting Justice Roy Moore defiance of a federal order to remove a two-ton Ten Commandments monument. That order was enforced, the monument was moved and Moore was eventually expelled from office.

"Those of us in faith have been missing in action," Daubenmire says. "How come Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson aren't laying in front of that door over there? If they really believe a woman is being murdered, where is the church?''

That's easy: they're off writing fundraising letters to help defend America against the scourge of gay-friendly cartoon characters.


No juice at the first Communion?

A deeply weird treatise on Maundy Thursday, the Lord's Supper, and Jerry Falwell, courtesy of UPI:
On the first-ever Maundy Thursday almost 2,000 years ago, Christ took the cup, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this whenever your drink, in remembrance of me.'(1 Corinthians 11:25) The cup contained Passover wine.Today, many U.S. pastors, especially the Rev.Jerry Falwell, condemn the drinking of such a beverage as sinful.Indeed, in most American churches, including sanctuaries of most mainline denominations, sweet grape juice is served instead of wine in shot glasses or plastic finger cups at Holy Communion.

Hence many ministers in the United States have a saying about vacant vessels or heads: There are 'as empty as Jerry Falwell's wine cellar.'

Among other dubious facts, the author announces:
Inspired by teetotalism, Thomas Bramwell Welch, an American Methodist dentist, and his son Charles first pasteurized grape juice in 1869, heating it and thus killing the microorganisms that cause fermentation.

Since then, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians and most other Protestants use Welch's grape juice or similar products for communion.Only Lutherans and Anglicans stuck to wine.Some of their congregations even serve up a particularly potent drink to give the "communicant a bit of a kick -- or a little help to the Holy Spirit," as some Lutheran pastors like to say.

Roman Catholic churches have withheld the chalice from laity since the high Middle Ages and are only now slowly returning to the "common cup," which then of course contains real wine.

What modern medicine has only recently rediscovered was well known two millennia ago -- wine had healing properties.In his parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said that an injured man's wounds were treated with oil and wine.(Luke 10:34) And the apostle Paul advises his readers to drink a little wine "for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments."(1Timothy 5:25) But out of all Biblical narratives there is none where wine flows more lavishly than in story about Christ's first miracle at the wedding feast at Kana in Galilee; there he turned water from six stone jars into the best of wines.

This amount of wine is truly staggering.Experts on first-century Palestine have calculated that the volume of six stone stars corresponded to 652 to 948 modern bottles of 0.75 liters each.Wine, the Bible tells us, is one of God's abundant gifts of love to his people.Like music, its function is to lighten man's lot this side of Paradise.But linked to its role in Christ's Passion, wine (and not grape juice) also has a significant role for the end of times.

I don't know off the top of my head whether the measurements given for the stone jars is accurate, and perhaps it doesn't matter. Whatever their exact size, they were big, and the people who came to wedding parties in Jesus' day drank. A lot. Over the course of several days.

In any case, all the mishigas over wine reminds me of a good story Roberta Bondi used to tell about her grandmother, a confirmed Methodist teetotaler. Granny was having a hard time with going to a wedding where wine was to be served. So the family said to her, "Well Granny, what about Jesus? He drank wine, you know."

The old woman sat silent for a moment, considering this piece of data.

"I know," she said at last. "And I think the less of him for it."



Jessica Alba turns her back on Christian pals who made her feel ashamed:
Sexy actress JESSICA ALBA turned her back on the born-again Christian community she grew up with when they started to make her feel ashamed of having a great body.

The DARK ANGEL star, who has become a Hollywood hot property in recent years, became a devout Christian in her teens, but started shunning her friends when they poked fun at her natural beauty.

Alba says, 'One of the reasons why I chose not to be (a devout Christian) is because a lot of people gave me a lot of grief for just being a woman and made me feel ashamed for having a body because it tempted men.
'I didn't understand what that meant because I was like, 'God created this...' That was a hard time in my life.'


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Scottish Episcopal Church backs gay priests

The BBC, among many other places, is reporting on a statement by the Scottish College of Bishops that the church
"had never regarded the fact that someone was in a close relationship with a member of the same sex as in itself constituting a bar to the exercise of an ordained ministry".

The church says this is not new policy, but simply the first written statement of what until now had been an informal agreement.

Good reaction:
Gay rights group Stonewall welcomed the Scottish church's announcement, a response to a February meeting of 35 world Anglican leaders.

Spokesman Alan Wardle said: "We are not theologians but we welcome the sensible approach taken by the Scottish Episcopal Church.

"It strikes us as a real pity that the Anglican Church has been tearing itself to pieces over what seems a relatively trivial issue when they could be tackling more pressing matters like world poverty or the Aids epidemic."


"The Scottish Episcopal Church offers a far greater degree of support to lesbian and gay people and does so more transparently than any other branch of the Anglican communion in the British Isles," said Richard Kirker, spokesman for the charity Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.

"It should be commended for its progressive and Christian response," he told AFP.

Asked about the English church's position on the issue, Kirker said that it would eventually be forced to follow Scotland's "even if sadly the Church of England becomes more isolated before it catches up with its sisters and brothers across the border."

More: a statement of the traditional Anglican via media:
The Scottish bishops expressed regret at the decision to request the withdrawal of U.S. and Canadian Churches from the ACC.

"We are conscious that as a church we are much indebted in our life both to a significant presence of persons of homosexual orientation, and also those whose theology and stance would be critical of attitudes to sexuality other than abstinence outside marriage."

"We rejoice in both," the bishops' response said.

This complicates things somewhat. The CoE is harder put to portray the churches of the British Isles as peacebrokers between North America, Africa and Asia. It'll be interesting to see if this accelerates calls for schism in the World Communion.


Ooh, ooh!

Is it the UCC?: Church Tapped to Square Off Against Spidey

Spiderman, by the way, was right up there with the Incredible Hulk in our childhood superhero pantheon. The highest was the Silver Surfer:



Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg:

After the frenzy of congressional action over Terri Schiavo, there was a certain abrupt, almost cartoonish, Wile E. Coyote-going-into-the-brick-wall aspect to U.S. District Judge James Whittemore's decision Tuesday to favor the law over faith-based hysterics. "This court is constrained to apply the law to the issues before it,'' he said, no doubt earning himself a spot among the "activist judges" reckless enough to point out, for instance, that nothing in the Constitution says gays can't be married.

Perhaps we need a constitutional amendment here, too: that the right to make such difficult medical decisions should not be left to legal guardians, but transferred to grandstanding politicians so that they may act in the best interests of their reactionary support base.



From the "Falwell Confidential" e-newsletter:
Our annual Easter "Sonrise" Celebrations will take place at Thomas Road Baptist Church on Easter Sunday, March 27, in two identical 90-minute services at 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Renowned worship leader Charles Billingsley and many other special musical guests--including Shari Falwell, the Sounds of Liberty, the Old-Time Gospel Hour Singers and others--will present a truly exhilarating 60-minute Easter Music Spectacular prior to my special Resurrection Message in both of these services.

Whatever happened to the good old days--you know, like in the Bible?--when Easter was a strange, sometimes terrifying revelation of God's mysteries?

Well, don't ask us. We'll be too busy noshing on chocolate easter bunnies.


They're getting better

Bob Chase of the UCC writes,
The following, reported by Religion News Service, more than caught my attention. It made me angry:
"Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian group, is praising the removal of references to sexual orientation from materials accompanying a children's video starring SpongeBob SquarePants and about 100 other television characters." (full story)
Can this be true? The We Are Family Foundation denies that pressure caused them to drop references to sexual orientation from the video's support materials, citing instead their desire to "shorten the guide." This would be almost amusing, if it weren't so tragic. Today's taunts often involve sexual orientation, like when I was growing up they involved religion, race or ethnicity. Of all references to tolerance, why would these be dropped?

What is really appalling about Focus on the Family's stance is that it is not only anti-gay, but also anti-family and anti-children. The purpose of these resources is to promote tolerance among children who, lest we forget, don't choose their parents. By eliminating this category in the need for tolerance in peer-to-peer relationships, aren't we signaling that it's okay - even justified - to engage in bigoted behavior towards more than one million children of gay parents under the age of eighteen?

The Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's General Minister and President, says it well:

"It is a sad day when Focus on the Family, a group claiming to speak for Christians in America, finds reason to celebrate assaults on tolerance in the name of its own version of family values. For Focus on the Family to bully groups like the We Are Family Foundation because of their efforts to teach children about respect for those who are different only leads to bullying on the playground. What's Christian - or American - about that?" (full story)

Focus on the Family should be ashamed of its wanton gloating at the expense of a safer environment for so many of our nation's children. I believe that those of us who are really concerned about a safe environment for our children say "ENOUGH" to those who would put our children's well being at risk for their own narrow political agenda.

This is an adequate response. Dobson and his crew are thinly-veiled bigots pumping up their prestige and fundraising operations on the backs of gays and lesbians.

But more is needed. We need to break out of the stalemate of "my values" vs. "your values." The problem with Focus on the Family isn't that they don't like the LGBT community. It's that they'd rather bash those people than address God's priorities: caring for the poor, the powerless, and the peace of the earth.

The UCC needs to say so.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

You know it's bad when...

Pocatello Idaho: "In tribute to the U.S. servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq, a rally called 'Support the Troops, Bring Them Home' is scheduled Saturday.

According to a press release, interested persons are asked to gather at 2 p.m. Saturday at Caldwell Park, located between South Seventh and South Eighth avenues on Center Street. The rally is scheduled to last no longer than 4:30 p.m.

The rally is being coordinated by opponents of the Iraq War. After a brief stay at the park, those attending will walk to the First Congregational United Church of Christ, 309 N. Garfield Ave. A film, 'Arlington West,' will be shown there."


Dept. of Speaking Out


There’s a joke about a football referee who made a terrible call that favored
the visiting team. When the crowd booed in protest, the ref turned to the
visiting coach and said, “Ah, they’re just mad because we’re winning.”

Did you know that a similar call was made in Washington, DC in YOUR House of Representatives?

In January some Republican members of the House of Representatives – without consulting with Members on the Committee on Ethics – quietly monkeyed around with the rules of that very committee so that when a complaint is filed against a House Member, a majority vote is no longer needed for it to be dismissed. Instead, they changed the rule so that after a month and a half it can simply evaporate without a trace. By all accounts it was an outrageous call.

Ethics are too important to punt away for the sake of party politics!

Here's the good news - Congress is in recess and your Representative is at HOME. It's the perfect time to let your elected official know that faithful voters expect a higher standard in the House, and we're here to help you.


Find your Representative online at

We'll provide you with phone numbers, email and postal addresses, and talking points. After you've taken action, be sure to let us know by dropping us a line:

As a person of faith you know that living to our highest moral and ethical standard is not a drudgery to be endured, but a privilege to be exercised. Thousands of years before the words of our nation's constitution were penned, a far more enduring, holy law was written upon the hearts of those who cared to give it heed. It taught us that before we could “form a more perfect union, establish justice” and the rest, we must first know in the deepest sanctuaries of our hearts what it means to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God. (Micah 6:8) It is a standard of ethics worthy of our best efforts not because we fear getting caught lying, but because it is the way “we the people” show up for life when we're at our very best.

These values are not true simply because they are in Holy Scripture.
They are in Holy Scripture because they are true. If our civilization is to grow and not decay, if our nation is to deliver on the promise of liberty and justice for all, if our society is to advance into the light of compassion and courage, rather than retreat into the shadows of a selfish and clutching survival, then we must insist that our own standards reflect the best and highest of who we are as a human family. Until we do, and despite all religious rhetoric, the United States of America will forever be a morally poor and subject nation. We need not be Christian, Jew, Muslim, or Buddhist to feel and to know the law that resides in our hearts – that we cannot know freedom until we embrace truth, Or as Christian scripture has put it, “the TRUTH will make us free.

Thank you! Blessings to you as you put your faith into motion.

Vince Isner & your FaithfulAmerica Team


Monday, March 21, 2005


Last week, we reported that Jim Pawlenty's attempt to establish a faith-based initiative office in Minnesota was being met with some skepticism, but Michigan's seemed to be doing fine. At least one editorial board begs to differ:
You can't blame Jennifer Granholm for pursuing new ideas. With the state budget seemingly always bleeding red ink, the governor is right to look for cost-effective ways to meet the needs of Michigan residents. Unfortunately, her new faith-based initiative isn't an idea that could work.


The governor and the president rightly appreciate the valuable help religious groups provide to those in need. The truth is these programs seem to do best on their own terms.

This is one area where government would be wise to butt out.

Correct us if we're wrong, but Port Huron is not exactly a hotbed of liberalism, is it?


How to Beat the Christian Right, Part I

Fredrick Clarksonconsiders the Religious Right again:
There is a tendency, especially among those who are just learning about the Christian Right, to get very worked up about 'the dominionists,' 'the theocrats' and 'the Reconstructionists,' and so on. And this is understandable. (If it wasn't, I wouldn't have spent so many years learning and writing about these things.) But once you do know, once you do understand, what then? What do we do with what we have learned? How much information do we need to take action? Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that learning about the Christian Right is something we should not do, or ever stop doing. What I am saying is that one does not need to be an expert to begin to take action, and the knowledge that we gain should inform our activism.

As I say over at Booman, I think Fred's responding at least in part to my post, "You Mean Lisa?" below. But we're on the same page, I think, if for no other reason than that we both think Roy Moore is a huckster. Heh.


Christian Aid "appalled" by Wolfowitz nomination

ekklesia: a British organization is offended by Paul Wolfowitz's nomination to head the World Bank:
"George Bush is able to put forward a controversial ally and strong advocate of the Iraq war to run an institution that has a significant influence over the economic fortunes of developing nations" Christian Aid said in a statement.

"It is difficult to imagine how Mr Wolfowitz's past experience as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's deputy will have prepared him to lead an important multilateral agency tasked with promoting good governance and poverty reduction throughout the
developing world.

Despite commitments made by the UK government and other Western leaders to reform the process, Christian Aid warns that recruitment procedures at the higher levels of the World Bank and IMF "resemble an old boy's network, and not the transparent process we would expect from institutions that are technically part of the UN family".

As much as we appreciate their outrage, all we can say is: stand in line.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Initium finis

Michael [ talks] about the beginning of the end for the pope.


Brothers and Sisters,

I bid you pray for our community, the world, and all in need.

For our community:

  • For the unemployed, for those who cannot attain independence, for those who struggle with financial insecurity;

  • For parents and their children, that their homes may always be nurturing and loving;

  • For those who suffer from addiction or mental illness. May we always provide loving support in their struggles;

  • For those who have experienced illness, whether serious or run-of-the-mill;

  • For those who are heartbroken, lonely, or isolated.

And we give you thanks for:

  • Our families and friends;

  • Satisfying work, access to health care, freedom of speech, and all good fortune brought by living in the developed world;

  • For spring.

For the world:

  • For peace in the Middle East, as violence and tensions there rise once again.

  • For the people of nations affected by the December 26th tsunami, the peoples of Darfur, Sudan, Afghanistan, and all places whose struggles take place below the reach of headlines;

  • For developing lands, that they may not repeat the mistakes of the First World. May they find the courage and patience to seek economic growth without oppression, impoverishment, and ecological catastrophe;

  • For the people Kyrgyzstan and other lands living under the weight of political repression;

  • For Ciudad Juarez, that the long string of murders of women and girls may finally come to an end.

For all those in need:

  • For President Bush and other leaders of the nations, that they may guide their people under the principles of fairness, equity, justice, compassion, and freedom.

  • For our enemies--personal, political, in business and community--that we may in time come to offer them compassion, service, forgiveness and understanding. Until the day come that we are to give them friendship, may we bear with them and never turn them to objects to be rejected.

  • For the City of York, Pennsylvania, suffering with six murders in ten days, and for all people affected by gun violence;

  • For the family of Jessica Lunsford, that their grief may be eased; for all those who have lost children, especially those lost to violence; for John Couey, that he may be judged fairly, and find the justice and mercy that surpasses this world;

  • For Terri and Michael Schiavo and their families, as their battles continue. May a decision come that does justice to all parties, may Terri's suffering be eased, and may these intense difficulties not be complicated by political interference.

  • For all those who grieve the senseless loss of the last two years of war, whether civilian or military.

  • For all people everywhere, that they may know us by our steadfast compassion, commitment to justice, and willingness to go the extra mile on their behalf.

For all these things spoken and unspoken, we lift our hearts, knowing that our hopes will not be dashed.


It's their right,

(and their rite), but:
More than 500 people turned out for the funeral of a gay man refused a service anywhere in San Diego's Roman Catholic diocese.

John McCusker's family was told that Bishop Robert H. Brom had issued a directive to parishes throughout the area to refuse to conduct the funeral.


"To avoid public scandal Mr. McCusker can't be granted a funeral in a Catholic church or chapel in the Diocese of San Diego," a statement from Brom's office said.



A 30-year member of a Unitarian Universalist church was arrested for vandalizing its property with anti-gay messages.

Matthew Fox, 49, of Binghamton, was charged with forth-degree criminal mischief and ordered to have no contact with church officials.


Because I am a Christian

Leonard Pitts compares and contrasts two Christians named Smith. The first:
When the man came to, he asked why Smith had beaten him unconscious. "Because I'm Christian," Smith said.

The anecdote comes from a story about alleged prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay written by my colleague, Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg, and published earlier this month. Her report, based on recently declassified notes taken by lawyers representing the captives, included other claims of religious intimidation. Prisoners say their American captors kicked and stomped Korans, cursed Allah and denied them pants, knowing Muslims are prohibited from praying with bodies uncovered. A man who refused to surrender his pants said he was gang-tackled, beaten and pepper-sprayed.

The second:
Then, there's Ashley Smith.

She is, of course, the 26-year-old woman from Duluth, Ga., who was allegedly taken hostage this week by accused rapist and escaped Atlanta courtroom shooter Brian Nichols. Smith knew even before this what trouble is. Her husband was stabbed and died in her arms four years ago. And The New York Times reports that she has a history of petty crime — arrests for shoplifting, drunken driving and assault.

Then, says Smith's family, she found God and, through God, change. They say it was what she knew about hurting, about life at the end of your rope, that enabled her to reach out to Nichols. By her account, she talked to him about God. She encouraged him to think about his purpose in the divine design. She reminded him that the people he is alleged to have killed were loved. She made him pancakes. In a word, she ministered to him.

And the moral of the story:
I am loath to question anybody's bona fides where religious beliefs are concerned. Still, if the Smith at Guantánamo Bay embodied the faith he professed, might not Jumah al Dossari have wound up asking different questions?

Might he not have said, Smith, why do you treat me decently? Why do you respect my religion when the others don't? Why did you stop them from beating me?

Then it would have made sense, would have been a stirring affirmation, for Smith to reply, "Because I'm Christian."


The Word For the Week

Matthew 21:1-11; 26:14-27:66, Philippians 2:6-11

Today is Palm Sunday, the day Christians remember Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem as crowds lined the streets, tossing palm fronds before Jesus and giving a royal welcome for a man the people took to be their new king, on the model of King David.

The Palm Sunday readings reflect this triumphalism, proclaiming Jesus as sovereign. Philippians 2:9-11, for example, declares:

God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

For most of the history of the church, believers would attend services throughout the week between Palm Sunday and Easter, where they would hear of Jesus' rejection by the same crowds who had welcomed him, and of his betrayal, trial, and eventual execution. These days, though, many Christians skip Holy Week and go directly to Easter. Which is to say from triumph to triumph.

So, many churches have taken to celebrating the day as "Palm Passion" Sunday. The stories of Jesus' suffering, traditionally reserved for Good Friday, are placed next to the remembrance of his "ticker-tape" parade to remind the faithful that the path to the resurrection goes through the cross and the tomb, not happy, cheering crowds.

It's a useful reminder for those who seek political change in their country. Many of my progressive friends have expressed frustration lately; they'd like to see things moving more quickly against the Bush administration. They begin to despair that things will ever change in our country.

I've taken to reminding them that success and rightness are separate things; we don't do what is right only because we think it can carry the day. Thousands marched against the war in Iraq yesterday, the practical effect of which is almost nothing, especially with an administration as smug and entrenched as this one. So why do it? Because the war is wrong, and somebody needs to say so. We need to say so.

At the moment, this may earn us nothing more than disapproval in our community. But the memories are still there of an earlier war, when people can and did go to jail for their opposition (including Daily Kos' own Meteor Blades). In other countries, marching against government policy is liable to get you beaten, or worse.

Yet it's still the right thing to do. Sometimes, we must sacrifice for the good, even at a terrible cost to ourselves.

In fact, many Christians wonder if their faith calls them to exactly this kind of witness, if living on the jagged edge isn't what belief in Christ is all about. That in turn causes many non-believers to wonder if Christianity isn't some kind of blood-sport, a cult of death framed by an example of monstrous suffering.

I don't believe so. A wise pastor once gave a sermon at the beginning of Lent by standing behind the church's altar table and pointing to the small cross that stood there. In our church, he reminded the congregation, the cross is typically "empty": there is no image of Jesus attached. But for this Lent, he continued, I want us to see that image of Jesus in his suffering: to remind us of the wrongness of what he suffered, and to remind us that that suffering continues in every person who is tortured today.

This, I think, is the key to Palm Passion Sunday: the understanding that Christ suffered not for its own sake, but to place himself with all those who suffer. And we are called to follow his example. For the glory of Palm Sunday is not the warmth of Jesus' success, but his willingness to give up the glory, laud and honor due to him in order to suffer that others may not. Or as Paul puts it:

though [Christ Jesus] was in the form of God,
[he] did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Given the suffering of the world today, how can we not do the same?