Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court Has Never Defined “Religion”

Debate about religion in American public life existed well before America’s independence. Many talk about religious freedom, the First Amendment, and mistakenly argue that the U.S. Constitution delineates a “separation of church and state.” Yet, the highest court of the land, the U.S. Supreme Court has never formally defined what actually constitutes “religion.” Nor has the Court ever defined “God.” In fact, its standards for referring to “religion” evolve, change, and remain inconsistent.

For example, in 1890, the Court referred to religion in traditional theistic terms, referring to a “Creator.”

By the 1960s, when interpreting the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the Court referred to religion as it relates to both a person’s belief in the existence of a particular God and another’s disbelief in a particular God or belief in no God at all. When ruling on conscientious objector status, the Court expanded the concept of religion from believing in a “supreme being” to include “deeply held moral and ethical beliefs.”

But by the early 1980s the Court moved away from relating moral and ethical beliefs to religion, ruling that the Free-Exercise Clause of the First Amendment only applied to a “religious” belief or practice and that only beliefs “rooted in religion are given special protection to the exercise of religion.”

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Blogger Tricks

The Sunni-Shia Divide

An ancient religious divide is helping fuel a resurgence of conflicts in the Middle East and Muslim countries. Struggles between Sunni and Shia forces have fed a Syrian civil war that threatens to transform the map of the Middle East, spurred violence that is fracturing Iraq, and widened fissures in a number of tense Gulf countries. Growing sectarian clashes have also sparked a revival of transnational jihadi networks that poses a threat beyond the region.

Islam’s schism, simmering for fourteen centuries, doesn’t explain all the political, economic, and geostrategic factors involved in these conflicts, but it has become one prism by which to understand the underlying tensions. Two countries that compete for the leadership of Islam, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, have used the sectarian divide to further their ambitions. How their rivalry is settled will likely shape the political balance between Sunnis and Shias and the future of the region, especially in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Bahrain.

Alongside the proxy battle is the renewed fervor of armed militants, motivated by the goals of cleansing the faith or preparing the way for the return of the messiah. Today there are tens of thousands of organized sectarian militants throughout the region capable of triggering a broader conflict. And despite the efforts of many Sunni and Shia clerics to reduce tensions through dialogue and counterviolence measures, many experts express concern that Islam’s divide will lead to escalating violence and a growing threat to international peace and security.

Sunni and Shia Muslims have lived peacefully together for centuries. In many countries it has become common for members of the two sects to intermarry and pray at the same mosques. They share faith in the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed’s sayings and perform similar prayers, although they differ in rituals and interpretation of Islamic law.

Shia identity is rooted in victimhood over the killing of Husayn, the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, in the seventh century, and a long history of marginalization by the Sunni majority. Islam’s dominant sect, which roughly 85 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims follow, viewed Shia Islam with suspicion, and extremist Sunnis have portrayed Shias as heretics and apostates.

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Pastors in Poverty

by Carol Howard Merritt
R3 Contributor

First Posted on the Author's blog

Most of us have seen this coming for a decade, but it’s still startling to read the headlines in the Atlantic: The Vanishing of Middle Class Clergy. None of this is news. We know pastors who feed their children with food stamps. When disastrous things happen, clergy have learned to give one another money because sometimes we’re the only ones in the church (or the neighborhood) who can’t go to the church with a financial problem.

We know pastors who covertly stuff the rice from the food pantry in their bag. We know the frustration when the church ladies begin to say disparaging things about our clothes and offer to take us on a little shopping trip to the outlet mall. We have stifled the laughter when church members ask us to join the country club or wonder why we’re not sending our kids to the private school.

We know the devastation of asking the church for a need-based cost-of-living raise, and have them refuse. We have seen how people go into seminary debt, but have no church position at the end of their study. We have watched as churches turn to lay leaders, because they’re easier to hire and cost less money.

We have seen how denominational bodies ask for a multitude of requirements of their candidates on top of the M.Div.--additional years of study, psychological exams, clinical pastoral education, or years of internships with no pay--without the knowledge that they are forcing more debt on individuals who are going into poverty-wage calls.

We have had those awkward realizations of the incredible income disparity between pastors with the same experience and education. We know white men make more than women and racial-ethnic minorities.

But we also know poverty wages, discrimination and disparity does not have to be our future. Our denominations are places of incredible abundance. Look around at the property, buildings, stocks, and assets. Churches close and leave the assets to the denomination. This might be the richest time in our denominational lives. So, why are our pastors in poverty? What can we do about it?

1) Make our pay more equitable. My first year out of seminary, a pastor informed me that I was getting paid much less than the janitors at his church, and he was being paid almost 100k more than I was. I know he had skills and experience that I didn't have, but a six-figure disparity is just wrong.

2) Begin to pay pastors from a centralized body, with attention to experience and education, and without attention to good teeth and full head of hair.

3) Does that feel like too much to ask? Well, then we could at least begin having some serious discussions about pay equity in our denomination's governing bodies.

4) Think about salary off-sets. They could work like carbon-trading. If a church wants to pay their pastor over a certain amount, that's great. But then they need to give money to a lower-income pastor in his or her denomination. We should not be mirroring our culture when it comes to the 1% and the 99. Especially since the disparities often exist on the very same church staff!

5) Call out the discriminatory practices in our denomination. Graph the salaries of the pastors in your denomination's local area. Note the women, men and people of color. Can you see unfair distinctions? Can you draw attention to it?

6) Renew our commitment to educated clergy. Historically, our denominations required educated clergy. Now, without hardly any discussion, we have quit requiring it and allowed churches to hire lay pastors. And to put this in stark economic terms, this causes higher clergy unemployed and drives down the value of our educated clergy. If a church cannot afford an educated clergy person, then a denominational body can help pay.

7) Be mindful of ordination requirements. We often ask people to meet requirements that are way out of proportion to what they will be paid.

8) Speed up the call process. In some denominations, it can take 18 months for a church to call a pastor. All along the way, they have the denominational leaders telling them to slow down and not rush it. Meanwhile there’s 30 people worshiping on Sunday morning, and the number is dwindling. There’s just no reason it should take that long. Often interim ministers last longer than installed pastors. New members are hesitant to join, people begin to slack on their giving. It’s a waste of time and money for the church and for pastors looking for positions.

9) Pay pastors more. Enough said.

Follow Carol on Twitter @carolhoward

Friday, July 25, 2014

Christians Call for Boycott of New TV Show 'Black Jesus'

"The Boondocks" creator Aaron McGruder has come up with a new controversial comedy show entitled "Black Jesus" for the Adult Swim network.

A trailer (below) for the TV program portrays Jesus as an African-American living in the predominantly black city of Compton, California, which is part of Los Angeles County.

Black Jesus, played by Gerald "Slink" Johnson, tries to spread love and kindness while people ask him for winning lottery numbers and gang bangers harass his neighborhood. Black Jesus occasionally curses, but his profanity is bleeped out, notes The Christian Post.

However, Christian-based activist group One Million Moms and Pastor David A. Rodgers of the House of Prayer for All Nations Ministries in Chicago want the show pulled before it airs.

See the trailer below and read the rest here


U.S. Religious Leaders Embrace Cause of Immigrant Children

After protesters shouting “Go home” turned back busloads of immigrant mothers and children in Murrieta, Calif., a furious Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, sat down at his notepad and drafted a blog post detailing his shame at the episode, writing, “It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.”

When the governor of Iowa, Terry E. Branstad, said he did not want the migrants in his state, declaring, “We can’t accept every child in the world who has problems,” clergy members in Des Moines held a prayer vigil at a United Methodist Church to demonstrate their desire to make room for the refugees.

The United States’ response to the arrival of tens of thousands of migrant children, many of them fleeing violence and exploitation in Central America, has been symbolized by an angry pushback from citizens and local officials who have channeled their outrage over illegal immigration into opposition to proposed shelter sites. But around the nation, an array of religious leaders are trying to mobilize support for the children, saying the nation can and should welcome them.

Read the rest here

Islamophobia and Antisemitism

In a hundred years from now when historians and scholars of religion look back on the perceptions of Muslims between the later half of the 20th and the first half of the 21st Century I wonder what conclusions they will come to? Will they look at contemporary perceptions of Muslims in the same light that scholars now view the Antisemitism of the late 19th and early 20th Century?

The rise of Islamophobia in public discourse and the intersection between it and Antisemitism has been examined before on the Bulletin and by news agencies (e.g., here and here), though I do not have the space nor the time to rehash these positions here. I raise the issue because of a recent blog post I read by University of Toronto professor Dr. Ivan Kalmar. In his post Kalmar discusses his recent rejection by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) for a study on the connections between Islamophobia and Antisemitism. Apparently, he and several other distinguished scholars were unsuccessful in their application to study the “important parallels as well as differences between these two forms of hatred.” As Kalmar writes:

Our research was meant to demonstrate that in the imagination of the mainly Christian Western world, they have been intertwined for centuries. We think that important parallels exist – along with major differences – especially between how Muslims are defamed today and how Jews were defamed about a hundred years ago, before antisemitism progressed to the Nazi genocide.

No one is predicting a Holocaust of Muslims, yet there are still moral lessons to be learned. We do not want to subject anyone, Muslim or otherwise, to the hostility and humiliation that Jews suffered, or to ignore the potential that such mistreatment, if unchecked, has to grow to ever more monstrous proportions.

What Kalmar and his colleagues wanted to study was how Islamophobia and Antisemitism are linked in the Western Imagination; they sought to trace out these parallels in order to avoid future hostility and humiliation to Muslims. They did not want to sanction the violence committed in the name of Islam by self-proclaimed radicals (whether in Iraq or in Madrid) but show how this violence is used to justify the creation (and subsequent subjection) of a ‘dangerous Muslim Other.’

Sadly, Kalmar and his colleagues were turned down by SSHRC for the exact same reasons they wanted to conduct their study in the first place: religious essentialism. As Kalmar relates, the SSHRC reviewers felt that the comparison between Islamophobia and Antisemitism was unfair because, whereas the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy is delusional, Muslims clearly are engaged in violent acts.

Read the rest here

F#ck the Poor!

When I was coming up, I used to hear people say “It’s a sin to be poor.” What they usually meant was that the financial and material struggles they contended with was sinful in their scope. They implied that there was some moral aspect to the poor-related vicissitudes they faced, despite the fact that they were never below the national poverty level.

Fast-forward to today. Anyone living in the good ol’ US of A could say the same thing. A recent tidbit of news circulating is that in New York City, developers of high-rises that house mostly the monied, will have a “poor door” for the few with low income who live there. To me, this smacks of the “Colored” doors seen in the American South during the Jim Crow era (and some parts of the North too).

Not just in NYC, but in other parts of the US we see this “fuck the poor” attitude. Despite growing numbers of the unemployed and foreclosed, we have representatives in Washington cutting away at long time safety nets for such people. Today, we see more concern for banks, corporations, fat-cat politicians, and celebrities than We The People (or the 99%). We have major cities phasing out low-income neighborhoods for higher-income residents; or increasing the property taxes to chase the low income folk out.

Even amongst We The People (me too), we have this “fuck the poor” attitude. We complain about how our taxes are supporting “welfare queens,” or “lazy” people on unemployment or disability. We play “blame the victim” with those who lost their houses due to the mortgage mess, or were downsized from a company through no fault of their own. We say, “had they been more careful” or “they should’ve been saving their money”. How quickly we forget that a catastrophic illness to us or a family member could wipe out our “wealth” in an instant.

Plus, how many of us are complaining about the fact that our taxes are financing a bloated military that’s dragging the US into bankruptcy while making us pariahs in the world’s eyes? How many of us are protesting the real “welfare queens,” corporations that are given “personhood” status; the very same corporations that laid off some of us while they still generated a profit? How about these career representatives in Washington that are making a killing now, and with their future pension? Have any of us called for scaling downtheir pay and imposing term limits?

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White Guilt Will Not Save Us From Police Brutality #JusticeForEricGarner

This weekend, I was on Twitter, and there it was again. Another hashtag, #EricGarner, #JusticeForEricGarner. Much like in the past #Justice4Trayvon, #JusticeForRenisha, #RememberRenisha. I saw the horrorifying, gory headlines, and I was afraid to click the linkbait. What happened this time?

According to newsoutlets, Eric Garner was being racially profiled by New York Police. They were practicing the Stop & Frisk white supremacy enacted originally by former mayor Rudy Giuliani. Now some “news” sources will point to Garner’s history with the police, drug possession. The War on Drugs is a satanic manifestation of White Supremacy, and it is looking like it’s end will be just as racist. Just last week, in Colorado, there was a business convention for teaching White middle class folks how to get into the business of selling legal marijuana. My point is two fold: the hypocrisy of white libertarianism to claim to be helping Blacks be wanting to end the Drug War. Not true. The conclusion of the Drug War if it ends with all 50 states legalizing pot, will still have its casualties: the thousands of black and brown bodies thrown in prison, the poor neighborhood who faced militarized police squads, families destroyed. The lack of acknowledgement of these casualties is revealing of society’s persistent anti-blackness.

And secondly, the mark of criminality imposed on black bodies still remains. Any black persons whose lives are ended by the police, the white supremacist media will find in their records to justify the lethal action taken. This leads our discussion back to Eric Garner, a husband, and a father of six with a history of health problems. One officer used an illegal chokehold on Garner. What type of an environment creates a situation like that? One that tacitly accept racist policies, Stop And Frisk, as well as the national War On Black People, I mean Drugs.

The above social analysis I just gave could be seen as a possible sobering presentation of facts plus the victims’ stories. Stories remind us that victims are real flesh and blood, and not just nameless statistics. Unfortunately, there are would-be “allies” out there who take a less helpful approach. One progressive pastor made Eric Garner’s death an opportunity to talk about the guilt of white churches.

Read the rest here

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why I Can No Longer “Stand Up” For Israel

I love Israel.

I have studied, lived, and served in Israel and cannot wait to return to do so again. Further, many of my dearest friends are Israeli or are ardent supporters of Israel.

Recently, reading about recent violence between Israel and Palestine in the news has reawakened years of questions and emotions that, from time to time, I succeed in laying to rest.

I used to be pro-Israel in every sense of the word. After departing Israel from half a year of study and service, I was ready to advocate for AIPAC and spread the word about the “right way” to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The theology was there too: I had the defenses of dispensational pro-Israel eschatology readings of all the important passages down pat. All in all, in my eyes, and as people told me, Israel’s incontestable land claims in the Middle East are supported by a proper understanding of three things: politics, history, and Scripture.

Though I am sure most will remain unconvinced and not share in my convictions, I hope a few may ponder my own reflections with seriousness and humility. Others will be shocked, as this post reflects much change in my thinking. For the latter, it should stand as the beginnings of an explanation for my change of heart. To be clear from the start: I believe that Israel today has a right to exist and live in peace within the Middle East. What I am appealing is that Christians step back from a full, loud, and unquestioning support of the militant actions of the state of Israel and instead advocate more moderate and permanent roads to peace for all parties involved. Though propaganda would have us believe otherwise, there is, I pray, the possibility of lasting peace between Israel and Palestine.

The doubts that changed the way I now view this important issue came in close succession and against all about politics, history, and Scripture I thought I knew so well. These I have summarized below

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When God Was a Girl

Religion is the New Political Science

If I were a member of Congress (now there’s an idea for a second career) I would hire a religion major on my staff. Actually, I would hire someone trained in feminist studies in religion because I think such people have a strong handle on what is happening around the globe.
Consider recent world events, admittedly refracted through an inside-the-Beltway lens. Who better than a student of religion to sort out the difference between Shias and Sunnis to make sense of Iraq? What econ major could understand the depths of the Hobby Lobby case in all of its evangelical complexity, much less see how the Conestoga part reflects certain Mennonite views? Gaza is a conundrum with deep religious roots that are so tangled not even the most sophisticated scholars can pull them apart. The struggle between Russia and the Ukraine has some religious dimensions as well. And what about President Obama’s Executive Order that protects gender identity as well as sexual orientation when it comes to federal contractors? With the predictable religious exemptions crowd breathing heavily, it takes someone with knowledge of what constitutes a religious organization and what does not to see how important this action is.  
Feminist students of religion have well-honed critical skills, healthy suspicion of the status quo, and the technological tools to make a difference. Despite the hype that would have parents who worry about the practicality of religion as a choice of majors dissuading their children and pointing them toward law school (my father did!), I believe our intellectual backgrounds prove eminently practical.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What the Surveys Don't (and Can't) say about the Rise of the Spiritual but Not Religious”

It all begins with “survey says….”
The pollsters now regularly tell us that religion is on the decline and commentators can’t say enough about the so called, “Spiritual, but not Religious” (or SBNR)—the now common moniker for many (but not all) of the religiously unaffiliated.
But analysts often misunderstand what the surveys actually tell us. Some overplay their hand and try to predict the future. Others fail to acknowledge that different surveys measure slightly different categories: “no preference,” “nothing in particular” and “spiritual but not religious” can’t easily be lumped together.
And yet others actually underplay the research. For instance, this past Friday, the NY Times‘ Mark Oppenheimer wrote about four new books on the SBNR. His final takeaway?
At the very least, we might conclude that “spiritual but not religious”isn’t necessarily vague or wishy-washy. It’s not nothing, although it may risk being everything.
Really? Everything? It’s an awkward ending to an otherwise informative piece. But perhaps Oppenheimer didn’t get the whole story.
While many continue to speculate what the survey trends might mean for the future of American religion, sociologist Nancy Ammerman has recognized the limits of the surveys and done her own research.
Read the rest here

A Letter to Christians About LGBT Protections and Religious Freedom

Dear faithful brothers and sisters:

Some of you do not understand how your country can extend employment protections to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. I have been in ministry with LGBT people for decades, so permit me to share with you what happened Monday (July 21).

President Obama signed two executive orders. The first added “sexual orientation and gender identity” to an executive order first issued by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 that bans employment discrimination by any recipient of federal funds. The second adds LGBT protections to an executive order by President George W. Bush. The order still says religious groups can discriminate, even if they receive federal funds: “Religious organizations which receive federal funds may discriminate on religious grounds in their employment practices as allowed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

Many people — religious or not — are surprised when they hear that anyone who is LGBT, or perceived to be, can be fired or not hired. There are faith leaders and politicians who will tell you these protections are unnecessary, but LGBT people with whom I minister in the pews of Metropolitan Community Churches throughout the U.S. tell me stories of losing jobs or job opportunities, simply because of their sexual orientation.

Until today, millions held jobs and lived in areas where there were no barriers to discriminating against people if they were perceived to be LGBT.
Sadly, millions more are still not protected.

Read the rest here

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sporting Events and Religion

On Saturday I went to one of the massive temples across the country where we celebrate our state religion. The temple I visited was Boston’s Fenway Park. I was inspired to go by reading Andrew Bacevich’s thoughtful book “Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country,” which opens with a scene at Fenway from July 4, 2011. The Fourth of July worship service that I attended last week—a game between the Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles—was a day late because of a rescheduling caused by Tropical Storm Arthur. When the crowd sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” a gargantuan American flag descended to cover “the Green Monster,” the 37-foot, 2-inch-high wall in left field. Patriotic music blasted from loudspeakers. Col. Lester A. Weilacher, commander of the 66th Air Base Group at Massachusetts’ Hanscom Air Force Base, wearing a light blue short-sleeved Air Force shirt and dark blue pants, threw the ceremonial first pitch. A line of Air Force personnel stood along the left field wall. The fighter jets—our angels of death—that usually roar over the stadium on the Fourth were absent. But the face of Fernard Frechette, a 93-year-old World War II veteran who was attending, appeared on the 38-by-100-foot Jumbotron above the center-field seats as part of Fenway’s “Hats Off to Heroes” program, which honors military veterans or active-duty members at every game. The crowd stood and applauded. Army National Guard Sgt. Ben Arnold had been honored at the previous game, on Wednesday. Arnold said his favorite Red Sox player was Mike Napoli. Arnold, who fought in Afghanistan, makes about $27,000 a year. Napoli makes $16 million. The owners of the Red Sox clear about $60 million annually. God bless America.

The religious reverie—repeated in sports arenas throughout the United States—is used to justify our bloated war budget and endless wars. Schools and libraries are closing. Unemployment and underemployment are chronic. Our infrastructure is broken and decrepit. And we will have paid a crippling $4 trillion for the useless and futile wars we waged over the last 13 years in the Middle East. But the military remains as unassailable as Jesus, or, among those who have season tickets at Fenway Park, the Red Sox. The military is the repository of our honor and patriotism. No public official dares criticize the armed forces or challenge their divine right to more than half of all the nation’s discretionary spending. And although we may be distrustful of government, the military—in the twisted logic of the American mind—is somehow separate.

The heroes of war and the heroes of sport are indistinguishable in militarized societies. War is sold to a gullible public as a noble game. Few have the athletic prowess to play professional sports, but almost any young man or woman can go to a recruiter and sign up to be a military hero. The fusion of the military with baseball, along with the recruitment ads that appeared intermittently Saturday on the television screens mounted on green iron pillars throughout Fenway Park, caters to this illusion: Sign up. You will be part of a professional team. We will show you in your uniform on the Jumbotron in Fenway Park. You will be a hero like Mike Napoli.

Saturday’s crowd of some 37,000, which paid on average about $70 for a ticket, dutifully sang hosannas—including “God Bless America” in the seventh inning—to the flag and the instruments of death and war. It blessed and applauded a military machine that, ironically, oversees the wholesale surveillance of everyone in the ballpark and has the power under the National Defense Authorization Act to snatch anyone in the stands and hold him or her indefinitely in a military facility. There was no mention of targeted assassinations of U.S. citizens, kill lists or those lost or crippled in the wars. The crowd roared its approval every time the military was mentioned. It cheered its own enslavement.
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Why You Can't Ignore Religion If You Want to Understand Foreign Policy

At the June 2014 meeting of the Society of Historians of American Foreign Relations (SHAFR), the six sessions dealing primarily and with religion outnumbered those dealing primarily with the Korean War (one), World War II (one) and World War I (none despite the centenary). Clearly this topic is coming into vogue. Because I have been interested in the connections between foreign affairs and religion for a long time, I was asked to join a roundtable on the "state of the study." The other participants were Molly Worthen (University of North Carolina), Cara Burnidge (Florida State), William Inboden (University of Texas), Emily Conroy-Krutz (Michigan State), and Edward Blum (San Diego State).

In keeping with the friendly spirit of our session, William Inboden called me the John the Baptist of this topic While denying any prophetic gifts, I see what he means. I am at least a generation older than the other participants. The panel discussion and audience response prompted this expansion of my remarks.

Historians cannot understand the behavior of the American people past and present without paying serious attention to nationalism and religion--or, more precisely, religions, since religion is a weak category. The relationship between religions and foreign relations is more problematic. Thus my text for this sermon is an old American adage, sometimes attributed to Mark Twain: For someone with a hammer everything looks like a nail.

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Religion and SCOTUS: An Overview of Decisions by the Roberts Court

The Roberts Court, which began in 2005 and has been altered by two replacements — Sonia Sotomayor in 2009 and Elena Kagan in 2010 — has been asked to clarify the precise nature of the church-state relationship on several matters.

One topic the court addressed is whether religious symbols may be displayed on public property:
  • In 2009, the court handed down a 9-0 decision in Pleasant Grove City v. Summum allowing a town in Utah to keep its display of the Ten Commandments in a public park. The case came before the court after the city rejected a monument proposed by members of the Summum religion who wanted to display their faith’s Seven Aphorisms in the park as well.
  • In 2010, Kennedy wrote the opinion for the 5-justice majority in Salazar, et al., v. Buono, which upheld the constitutionality of the 6 ½-foot Mojave Memorial Cross in California on land maintained by the National Park Service.

One case dealt with the controversial issue of prayer before public meetings:
  • In 2014, Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in Town of Greece v. Galloway, in which the court defended, in a 5-4 decision, the right of the city to begin its meetings with sectarian prayers, of which all but 4 of its 127 monthly sessions between 1999 and 2010 were explicitly Christian.

The case came before the court after a Jew and an atheist from the New York town — uncomfortable with having to either feign piety or stand out in front of their fellow citizens and powerful board members during these prayers — were told to close their ears or wait in the hall until the invocation was over. Kennedy did not regard such prayers as “impermissible coercion” and expressed caution about the government deciding which kinds of prayer are appropriate in public venues.

Read the rest here

Religion and State: School Vouchers and Clergy Parsonage

For a number of years now, I have been privileged to attend the White House Chanukah party in the presence the President. Each year, I am so deeply inspired that I live in a country that strongly supports religious commitment while protecting the rights of religious minorities from any possible religious coercion. History has shown repeatedly that nations with an established religion often abuse that combined power by oppressing those with minority views. We must be constantly vigilant to ensure this necessary and proper separation.

Religion and State
We all wish to live in a moral society, but how do we balance our spiritual and political systems? Judaism was not meant to be a relic of the ghetto: Torah was intended to permeate the hearts and souls of its students and to impact society. The Jewish religion, however, was not intended to place a coercive imposition on society. From a perspective of self-interest, minority groups want to be protected and insulated from the impositions of majority religious practice. However, from a collective interest, not minority interest, it is fair for democracies to reflect majority values (whether they are of religious or secular origin) and have those values integrated into society.
The 14th century Ran, Rabbeinu Nissim, in his famous 11th homily, endorsed a separation between religion and state. Ran suggested that the Torah embraces two different levels of justice. First, the beit din (Jewish court) is to uphold the Torah's laws. The "king," on the other hand (secular leadership), is to maintain a higher-level order, and in many ways operates outside of Jewish law. The balance between religious duty and normative secular practice is thus kept in a state of balance.
The religion and state relationship in America grew out of the situation in Europe (and specifically the religious politics of Stuart England) at the time the English colonies were founded. On the continent, the wars of the Reformation only ended with the conclusion of the Thirty Years' War in 1648. In England, after securing permanent Protestant rule, the Puritans waged a civil war against King Charles I and his monarchist followers. The Puritans won, Cromwell became protector of the realm and, in 1649, Charles I was beheaded. They sought unsuccessfully to abolish the monarchy and only rule through Parliament, but in 1660 the monarchy was restored under Charles II.
At this time, most American colonies were sectarian, either supporting the Puritan (Congregational) or Church of England as their established churches, supported by colonial funding. The Congregational Church opposed the religious (and political) authority of the King, preferring to have each "congregation" rule itself. In the South, the Church of England was the established church. In the Church of England, from the time of is inception under Henry VIII to the present, the monarch is considered the "Supreme Governor of the Church of England," and appoints many of the leaders of the clergy (some of whom sit in the House of Lords). Each colony had some form of intolerance towards most other sects, especially Catholics; Massachusetts went so far as to hang a number of Quaker missionaries.
However, most of the middle Atlantic colonies (as well as Rhode Island) did not have an established church. Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, a Quaker and a firm believer in religious toleration and the notion that one promoted religious values through moral example. Pennsylvania was a haven for persecuted Protestant sects as well as for a small population of Jews, indeed even Catholics. New York, a former Dutch colony, had from its beginnings a diverse population (this despite Peter Stuyvesant's attempts to banish Jews from the city). For example, a 1771 map of New York City showed religious houses of worship for 11 different sects, including a synagogue. Diversity was directing America away from having an established church.
Read the rest here

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Why Are We Losing Our Religion? Because Internet

The number of the religious unaffiliated in the United States has doubled since 1990. Almost no Americans used the Internet in 1990, while 87 percent use it today.

Is the Internet causing us to lose our religion?

Yes, says Allen Downey, professor at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts. He analyzed data and found that the statistical increase of those who claim no religious affiliation can be partially explained by an increase in Internet use.

Downey found correlations between a decrease in religious affiliation and three factors: a drop in religious upbringing, increase in college education, and an increase in Internet use. He controlled for factors such as income, socioeconomic status, and rural versus urban environments. Religious upbringing is the most influential factor — 25 percent of the decline is linked to those raised without religion. Only 5 percent of the decline is linked to an increase in college education. About 25 percent of the decline, however, is linked to increased Internet use.

Confident in his conclusion, Downey says: “Correlation does provide evidence in favor of causation, especially when we can eliminate alternative explanations or have reason to believe that they are less likely.”

About half of the decrease is unexplained, and Downey is still seeking an explanation.

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Are You 'Spiritual' but Not Religious?

Spiritual Versus Religious
Defining religion might be the best way to start this part. Religion "is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols which relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values."(1)
There are 19 major religious groupings in the world, and from them a total of 10,000 distinct religions, although only about 270 of those have half a million or more followers. In the United States alone, over 2,500 different religious faith entities can be observed. That's a lot of different ways of formulating cultural and belief systems. And yet, most of them have common sources. The religions of Abraham (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) all believe in one universal God, experienced as personal, who is the creator of the universe and the primary source of values, while what I the main Eastern religion (Hinduism, Buddhism, and Shintoism) grew out of local traditions and focus on insight.
A spiritual person is one who seeks to elevate himself, to connect with a higher power, or simply his higher self. He believes there is more to the world than what is easily seen, than what is merely physical. He will have certain guidelines of behavior and diet that he will go by, but all in the name of properly attuning with the infinite and entering some higher state of consciousness. Tibetan monks are the best example of the spiritual.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

African American Texas History in Houston

by Miles Mullin, II
R3 Contributor

This first appeared on the Anxious Bench blog

The best research projects are ones that can reasonably be accomplished. Since I enjoy archival research and travel funds are limited, I recently began considering what projects I might pursue locally. With a strong interest in African American religious history and the recent historiographical turn towards grassroots activism during the Civil Rights era, focusing on Houston-area churches and religious individuals in the freedom struggle seemed a good place to start. With that in mind, I applied to attend in the Summer Workshop on African American Texas History (SWATH). I had three personal goals for the workshop: 1) learn a good deal of Texas-specific African American history 2) garner some ideas for archival research in Houston, and 3) expand my group of similarly-interested colleagues. I was not disappointed.

The spark for the workshop came from the publication of five books on Texas African American Texas history by Texas Southern University (TSU) professors and alums last year (2013). Desiring to facilitate good teaching and further research on the topic, Karen Kossie-Chernyshev of TSU secured monies, planned, and organized the workshop. Open to K-16 teachers, I qualified due to my teaching responsibilities in our college and prison undergraduate programs. I was honored to be selected to participate in the workshop.

Hosted by TSU and The African American Library Gregory School (both beautiful venues), the workshop consisted of three emphases each day: learning history, doing history, and making history.

I learned quite a bit of history:

  • Jesse Esparza gave a stellar overview of African Americans in Early Texas History. Jesse clearly understands the importance of religion in people’s lives, and thus I gained a new colleague with different areas of expertise but overlapping fields of interest.
  • Veteran scholar Merline Pitre spoke on the agency and activism of black legislators and voters during Reconstruction in Texas. A good mentor, she included one of her graduate students–and her work–in the presentation.
  • Young (and upcoming) scholar Bernadette Pruitt of Sam Houston State University presented on a topic I thought I knew fairly well. Originally from Detroit, Pruitt intended to research the Great Migration of African Americans to the North but realized that project would require a lot of travel funds (something most often in short supply for graduate students). As a result, she chose to research The Other Great Migration: The Movement of Rural African Americans to Houston, 1900-1941. I’m glad she did. Her presentation piqued my interest, leaving me with several questions that likely will be answered in the book, which I hope to review on Anxious Bench in the near future.
  • I also learned about the Camp Logan Incident, a wonderful film project on the challenges and successes of the first African Americans to attend Rice University, the work of grassroots Civil Rights activists in protesting segregation at the Texas State Fair, etc.
In addition, I met my goal of sparking research ideas.
  • On Day 1, archivist Billy Glasco presented on the growing number of collections at the African American Library at the Gregory School and gave me several ideas for article-sized research projects. (Bonus: The library is located 20 minutes from my office.)
  • On Day 2, Director Norma Bean and archivist Gary Chafee, oriented the group to the many on-line resources for researching African American history in Texas. Through trial and error, I could have found most of this information myself, but their hard work streamlined the process, saving me hours of time while sparking research ideas along the way.

Finally, I also had some outside-my-usual-box encounters with top-notch men and women I might not normally cross paths with in my regular “academic” circles. For example:

  • Dorothy Price, a third grade teacher at River Oaks Elementary School, demonstrated the manner in which she folds student-led interviews and song-writing into history projects for her pupils at River Oaks Elementary School. I was inspired to be more creative in my teaching.
  • Photographer Marti Corn discussed her four-year project documenting the lives of the citizens of Tamina, originally established as a freedman’s town. Years later, the expansion of The Woodlands threatens generational homes, customs, and history.
  • Captain Paul J. Matthews, Executive Director of the Buffalo Soldiers National Museum, gave an engaging presentation that would capture the attention of auditors of any age. (I am now planning a trip to the museum for my own children.)
With the exception of a forced evacuation of one of the buildings we occupied due to a small fire (!), the well-planned workshop ran smoothly, coming off without a hitch. The faculty and staff running the workshop embodied friendliness and hospitality, provided a warmth a bit outside the norm on the regular academic circuit.

Follow Miles on Twitter @msmullin


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The End of the ‘Mormon Moment’

LAST month, Kate Kelly, a feminist Mormon lawyer who had called on the Mormon Church to open the priesthood to women, was excommunicated on the charge of apostasy. John P. Dehlin, who runs a popular podcast on hot-button church issues and has loudly advocated for the church to welcome gay men and lesbians, also was threatened with expulsion. Other Mormons have faced sanctions for participating in online forums questioning the church’s positions on these and other matters.

This crackdown marks the end of the “Mormon Moment” — not just the frenzy of interest that rose (and largely faded) with Mitt Romney’s campaigns for the presidency, but a distinct period of dialogue around and within the Mormon community.

In the last few years, observers had asked hard questions about the faith, not with the derision and malice with which Mormonism has historically been characterized, but in a spirit of honest inquiry. Journalists have examined the governance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the political implications of Mormons in politics, even the prevalence of Mormon “mommy bloggers.” Scholars have examined Mormon history in greater detail. Universities have created positions devoted to Mormon studies. The satirical but sympathetic musical “The Book of Mormon” took Broadway by storm in 2011 and is still running.

But the debate — much of it at the Bloggernacle, slang for the Mormon blogosphere — has also revealed troubling historical facts and inconsistencies in policy and even doctrine.

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Cries of Poor Black Mothers Too Often Go Unheard

It was several years ago — a hot summer evening in July — when the receptionist buzzed my office phone for the umpteenth time that day. "Why me?" I thought to myself. I was on a deadline. I had to prepare my sermon for the evening service.

"Yes?" I inquired after the third ring.

"There is a young woman here to see you."

"I don't have any appointments scheduled this evening."

"No — she really needs to see you."

She could not have been older than 17. She came down the hallway disheveled, with tears in her eyes, pushing her baby in a stroller. Before I could ask her name, she collapsed on the floor of my office door and said, "I just can't do it anymore."

When I finally got her into a chair she admitted, quite evenly, that she was going to throw her baby off the roof of her building. In fact, she was on her way home when she passed the church. The doors were open so she decided to come in.

She cried, and cried, and cried some more. The young woman told me the particulars of her story — young, black, poor and alone with a child — that echo the social realities of so many young black women. Notwithstanding the realities of postpartum depression and other forms of mental illness that are aggravated by social inequity, she had no job, no money, no permanent place to live, no food, no diapers, no formula, no support system to help her care for her infant — nothing.

"I just can't do it anymore."

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Monday, July 14, 2014

The Science-Religion Crisis at Christian Colleges

Shortly after the 2004 publication of his book, Random Designer, biologist Richard Colling was prohibited from teaching introductory biology courses at Olivet Nazarene College in Illinois and his book was banned from the campus. Peter Enns, who earned his PhD from Harvard University in Near Eastern languages and civilizations, claimed that the first chapters of Genesis are firmly grounded in ancient myth, which he defines as "an ancient, premodern, prescientific way of addressing questions of ultimate origins in the form of stories"; in 2008, the board of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia forced Enns, a tenured faculty member, to resign after fourteen years. In 2010, Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando fired biblical scholar Bruce Waltke for stating that evolution is true. In 2011, Calvin College firedtheologian John Schneider and silenced biblical scholar Dan Harlow for challenging the traditional Christian understanding of a literal Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve are the third rail for contemporary evangelical scholars--touch it and you will die (homosexuality is another third rail).
Science has peeled away successive layers of the Adam and Eve narrative for over two centuries. According to the traditional account, Adam and Eve, the morally pure first couple, lived in a paradise where, though they didn't work, their every need was met. In Eden there was no suffering and death (not just for humans but for every living creature). Adam's fall, then, issued forth in natural evils such as earthquakes, pestilence, and famine (and the suffering and death that lie in their wake) and moral evils such as human slavery, war, and other forms of violence (and the suffering and death that lie in their wake). Prior to the fall, the world was one of suffering-free and death-free bliss.
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An Outrage Beyond All Others: The Use Of Religion to Assault Democracy

There is a fairly well-know idiom, “give someone an inch and they’ll take a mile” that describes a person or group who has been given a small amount of power or freedom to do something, and then attempts to seize a lot more, or unlimited, power. That sense of entitlement is often the result of giving preferential treatment to a person or group over and above that of everyone else, and it is likely why the Founding Fathers did not single out any group as having supremacy or special rights over any other. It is true the Founders gave preferential treatment to white male landowners, but the Ninth Amendment provided a means for future lawmakers to give equal footing to the entire population. Where the Founders did not give preferential treatment or privileges was for religious adherents, and they included the Establishment Clause to ensure that future generations would never face the threat of religious imposition due to preferential treatment from the government.

Within 24 hours of the Hobby Lobby ruling, there were two statements from Christian fundamentalists that demonstrate exactly what happens when a group has been given a small amount of power or freedom and then attempts to gain much more. The first statement, “My religion trumps your right to (fill in the blank) is precisely why the Founders included the 1st Amendment’s Establishment Clause the High Court’s conservatives’ Hobby Lobby ruling demolished according to constitutional scholars and lawyers. The second statement was in a letter to the President within 24 hours of the ruling warning him he better start “giving deference to the Christian prerogative” that is also a direct result of the conservative Court neutering the Establishment Clause. However, the idea of government “deference to the Christian prerogative” began long before Hobby Lobby, and it is the result of giving the religious right an inch that inspired them to take a mile.

There is not one specific instance of deference to the Christian prerogative that is bringing Americans closer to a theocracy, but rather, a combination of government actions that not only violated the Establishment Clause, they gave the religious right freedoms and power over and above that of every other American. Now, the American people are beginning to realize the danger, and folly, of “government deference to the Christian prerogative” that began in earnest when the B-movie actor Ronald Reagan gave the moral majority a voice in the direction of government. Because Reagan set the precedent, every President since then keeps religious advisors close to the White House.

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Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the Politics of Reconstruction-Part 3

by Andre E. Johnson
R3 Editor



*Read part 1 here.  Read Part 2 here

Get your copy of the Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition American Prophetic Tradition in paperback today. 

With the frustration at the politics surrounding the Civil Rights Bill debate and the continued racism aimed at African Americans, Turner turned his attention to Africa. While Turner eventually became a staunch supporter and defender of African emigration, during this time in his life, he only just began to mention Africa in his speeches and writings. 

On his selection as a Vice president of the despised American Colonization Society (ACS), Turner shared his reasons for accepting. He started by defending the need of the ACS by addressing the question, “Why continue the American Colonization Society?
Every right-thinking man, who will ponder the Negro question twenty-four hours, must come to the conclusion that my race cannot long remain in the land of its centuries of thralldom unless it be a state of serfdom or ward-espionage.  This I know would be revolting to its every member and to its friends.  But just so long as we are a people within a people vastly our superiors in numbers, wealth, &c., having no government of our own, we shall be nothing, and be so treated by the civilized world.  The Negro may wax as eloquent as Demosthenes, Pitt, or any of the renowned orators of the past ages; still he will be considered a cipher until he wins distinction in manipulating and running the machinery of government. Nothing less than nationality will bring large prosperity and acknowledged manhood to us as a people (178).

Grounded in a nationality argument, Turner wonders, “How can we do this?” He rejects continuing to “complain of bad treatment; holding conventions and passing resolutions; by voting for white men for office; by serving as caterers and barbers, and by having our wives and daughters continue as washerwomen and servants to the whites.” His answer, “A government and nationality of our own can alone cure the evils under which we now labor, and are likely yet the more to suffer in this country.”

Turner then asks, “Where can we build up a respectable government?” For Turner, the answer is clear, Africa.
That continent appears to be kept by Providence in reserve for the Negro. There everything seems to be ready to raise him to deserved distinction, comfort, and wealth.  Ample territory, rich in all the productions of the tropics and many of those of the temperate zone, with coal, iron, copper, gold and diamonds, await the trained hand of civilization with capital and intelligent enterprise.  And the time is near when the American people of color will seek that genial clime as the European has this Western world, and there erect the UNITED STATES OF AFRICA (179).

When word got out that Turner had join, albeit in a honorary way, the dreaded ACS, others warned Turner to “reflect well before he attempts to work in the interest of the Society.”  Turner of course had a response:
I beg to say, I have been reflecting upon the status of the negro in this country for many years, and the more I reflect, the more I am convinced that his days are few and evil, on the soil he is now trying to eke out an existence. I believe that extermination or re-enslavement is only a question of time, if we in spite of what ought to be our better sense attempt to remain here: our salvation as a race depends upon a negro nationality, either in Africa or in South America, the path to the latter of which is found up the Amazon river (99).

Further Turner shifted the argument back at his distractors and challenged them to come up with better solutions.
I am startled at times at the ignorance displayed by many of our prominent colored men, upon the real condition of our race in this country. Don’t you see it’s a white’s man Government? And don’t you see they mean at all hazards to keep the negro down? And don’t you see the negro does not intend to stay down, without a fuss and an interminable broil? Then why waste our time in trying to stay here? Why not do as the white settlers of this country did, leave and build up a country and Government of our own; and have our own negro Presidents, Governors, Judges, Congresses, Legislatures, etc; yes, kings and queens if we chose. Then, and not till then, will the nations of earth respect us, and admire our manhood and genius (119).

In another letter to the editor, Turner defended yet again his emigration position—this time writing on white people’s hostility to African Americans—especially in Georgia.
Several exceptions have been taken to my position in regard to going to Africa and establishing a negro nationality, and thus protecting ourselves from a set of ravenous white wolves, who are preying like the vampires of hell upon our people. I am called a fanatic, a fool, an aspirant for royal honors, the would be king, etc.
How long can the negro race last in this country at such a ratio of murdering as is now in process of operation in this state. I have just figured up the reported number of colored persons who have been brutally killed within the last twenty-five days in this State alone and find the sum to be twenty-seven. Some it is said were convicts who were shot trying to escape the chain gang: but it is cold blooded murder, nevertheless, and we are the dreadful victims (105).

He closed his letter with a powerful repudiation of his distractors.
No white man has been or will be arrested if he kills forty negros. (I judge the present by the past.) So you anti-emigrationists must now come up with your life preservers, or tell us how long the negro race can exist at this rate before he will become exterminated. The twenty-seven murders which has come to my attention, would possibly be augmented to thirty-seven if all the facts were known through the State. I am not complaining about it; I use to complain, but I have to quit; it use to be the fault of white men- but it is now the fault of negro men. We all know our lives are not worth a cent (105).


To be Continued……….

Follow Andre on Twitter @aejohnsonphd

Work Cited