Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Heresy of Compromise

Religion Dispatches

The controversy surrounding the Obama administration’s birth-control mandate is not the first time the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops have found themselves enmeshed in a dispute concerning religious liberty. In an earlier flare-up sparked by the friction of Catholic doctrine and constitutional freedoms, however, liberty was not a rallying cry for the bishops—it was a problem.

In a pair of papal encyclicals written at the end of the nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII expressed ambivalence about the Catholic Church in the United States. Much of what the man sometimes called “the first modern pope” had to say amounted to nodding approval (“That your Republic is progressing and developing by giant strides is patent to all…”), which at times seemed to take credit for the success it praised.

In a rhetorical flourish, the pope even laid claim to the nation’s neonatal survival: “When America was, as yet, but a newborn babe, uttering in its cradle its first feeble cries, the Church took it to her bosom and motherly embrace.”

The opening passages of both encyclicals (Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae and Longinqua Oceani) paint such a rosy picture of the Holy See’s opinion of the United States that it is easy to miss that the documents were written to accuse certain U.S. Catholic bishops of heresy.
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The right way for people of faith to practice politics

By Sam Fulwood III

Within a one-mile radius of my house, there are more places to pray than there are Starbucks coffee shops. I know this because I tried to count each of them.
After an hour's walk around my neighborhood, I lost count of the many churches (in a multitude of denominations), synagogues (no less than five in one two-block stretch), temples, and mosques. That doesn't even include the storefront places that advertise religious services of some sort. There were so many places to receive a blessing that I lost count after several dozen.
That's when I turned my attention to finding a cup of joe. It was easy -- there are only three Starbucks locations within walking distance of my house. My failed experiment proved something that our political leaders would do well to understand. Our nation's founders knew what they were doing by not establishing a state religion. A nation as diverse as ours can never settle on a single set of faith principles to cover us all in glory. As a society, America embraces all faith traditions, while as individuals many of us pray in spirit-filled fellowships of the like-minded.
Our nation doesn't lack religious faith. What we lack is uniformity of religious expression. There are black Mormons, Latino evangelicals, Asian Protestants, and Muslims of all hues and races. Religion thrives in the fertile diversity of American culture. This is a good thing.
Unfortunately, some political and religious leaders fail to understand or appreciate the value in the blooming of faith traditions within a secular government. For them, religion is a one-size-fits-all edict, or a blunt weapon used to bludgeon anyone who disagrees with their narrow and exclusive views.
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Santorum 'Throws Up' on JFK and Obama

With Republican presidential front-runner Rick Santorum, it's hard to decide what is more alarming, his know-nothingism or his dishonesty. In recent days, he has put on displays of both, decrying President Barack Obama's advocacy for higher learning and distorting John F. Kennedy's 1960 appeal for religious tolerance.

Like many on the Right, Santorum also selectively disregards the founding principles of the United States, which include government neutrality on religion. In one speech, Santorum said he "almost threw up" when reading Kennedy's reiteration of that principle more than a half century ago when JFK was seeking to become the first Catholic president.

Instead of embracing Kennedy's support for the separation of church and state, which has spared America much of the religious violence that has marred other parts of the world, Santorum espouses a chip-on-the-shoulder notion that by not embracing the Bible as a governing philosophy the government is picking on fundamentalist Christians.
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Religion and the 2012 Republican Primaries: Arizona and Michigan

Mitt Romney won the Arizona Republican primary by a large margin and secured a narrow victory in the Michigan Republican primary. In both states, Romney’s support among born-again/evangelical voters was weaker than among non-evangelicals, continuing the pattern from previous primaries and caucuses in other states.Rick Santorum, who finished second in both Arizona and Michigan, received his strongest support from evangelicals and from voters who said it matters a “great deal” to them that a candidate shares their religious beliefs, according to results from the National Election Pool exit polls.
In Michigan, 39% of the GOP electorate was comprised of white evangelical Protestants. Santorum was the clear winner of the evangelical vote, receiving 51% support from this group, compared with 35% for Romney.1 The balance of opinion was reversed among non-evangelical voters in Michigan, with 45% voting for Romney and 30% supporting Santorum. Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich each finished far behind Romney and Santorum among both groups of Michigan GOP voters.
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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Politicians’ Religious Beliefs Are Generally Fair Game

The GOP candidates’ struggle to outdo each other in appealing to Christian fundamentalists continues. Rick Santorum, the current favorite of this constituency, topped his previous plays with his remark that John F. Kennedy’s famed 1960 speech on the importance of a separation between religion and government “makes me throw up.”

The separation of church and state is not some abstract notion, nor is it a means of oppressing people. It very reasonably keeps people from imposing their religious beliefs on other people. These are not beliefs that can be objectively measured or empirically tested—like, say, the hypothesis that public spending can affect employment levels. Religious beliefs may be comforting or helpful to some people, but no matter how deeply felt, they can have no place in a rational, shared system of managing outcomes for all Americans.

Yet because of the current political climate in this country, we’re not supposed to talk about any of that. The other day, the New York Times op-ed columnist Charles Blow got in a little trouble. He tweeted an admittedly rude and rather inappropriate remark about an eccentric element of Mitt Romney’s faith—the belief that wearing special underwear literally protects the person from harm.
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Monday, February 27, 2012

Theologian in Chief: New Class at Memphis Theological Seminary

Dr. Andre E. Johnson, the Dr. James L Netters Professor of Rhetoric & Religion and African American Studies at Memphis Theological Seminary, will offer a new class for the fall term titled: "Theologian in Chief: The President as Pastor, Prophet and Priest." He will teach the class on Monday nights from 5:30pm-8:30pm. The class will also coincide with the 2012 presidential election in which religion, religious rhetoric and rhetorical constructions of faith figures to play a prominent role. The course description reads:

A bedrock principle in our democracy is the separation of church and state. Many attribute Thomas Jefferson with the phrase “separation of church and state.” In his letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 he wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” However, despite the impenetrable wall of separation, religion has always played a role in our politics since the founding of the country—and no politician has shaped the religious/political culture in American politics than the President of the United States.

Despite claiming while candidates that they were not running for “pastor” or “theologian” in chief, the American public expects the president to be a person of faith and the country expects the president to talk about and demonstrate the faith. The public expects the president to offer moral guidance and faithfully lead the nation. Moreover, when the nation needs absolution from perceived sins, the American people expect the president to offer words of forgiveness. When the country experiences tragedy, many expect the president to find the right words to say to reassure and comfort. In many ways, the president acts as a pastor, priest and prophet.

In this class, by engaging in a close textual analysis of speeches, writings and other forms of communication, we examine presidential religious discourse/rhetoric. We examine how presidential rhetoric empowers and uplifts its audiences, as well as divides and separates as political strategy. We will also examine how presidents adopt the religious personas of pastor, priest, and prophet to get their messages across to their audiences. We also will study what I call the “religious and faithful veracity” of the messages from presidents and candidates. Finally, at the end of this class, the students should be able to not only analyze messages, but also place them within a framework that will help church leaders when discussing political issues with their own congregations.

Dr Andre E. Johnson also is the Editor of the Rhetoric Race and Religion blog

Our Contributor: Weldon McWilliams IV

Dr. Weldon McWilliams is an ordained minister and currently serves as a professor at Cheney University. In addition to this he is also the Interim Director of the Calling Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role-Modeling) program. This program is designed to increase the production of African-American male role models in the areas of mentorship, leadership, and becoming teachers within the public school system. Dr. McWilliams has served on several panels and served as speaker to many events nationwide. His research interests are Liberation Theology and the African American religious experience, Black Manhood, and Political and Social Movements.

Articles from Weldon:
1. Christianity and the Conflict in the Middle East
2. I Heard you Mr. President, and "Hear" is What I Have to Say

Black Atheists Rising

by Sikivu Hutchinson

When President Obama wants to burnish his credentials amongst African Americans he knows he will always be welcome in one place: a black church from central casting. From scripture spewing politicians to high octane Baptist gospel choirs to the ubiquitous prayer circle and Tyler Perry’s bible-thumping Madea caricature, religion and black culture are virtually synonymous in the American popular imagination.

According to the Pew Research Center 87% of African Americans are religious, making them among the most religious communities in the U.S. In my predominantly African American South Los Angeles neighborhood, the most common personalized license plates are righteously faith-based. Fish icons, hands clasped in prayer, and church congregation names grace cars buffed to a blinding sheen.
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Contributor: Brian Foulks

Brian Foulks is a church planter/ lead pastor, an urban missionary, and a social activist. He has a passion for those nestled in the cortex of Hip Hop and church. Known for being an advocate for invading the culture with the truth of the scripture. He is considered to be a hybrid of the faith-connecting the seminary with the block, the unorthodox, hip hop culture with some of the liturgical aesthetics of the church. His mission is based on a need to redirect the efforts of the church toward a people group that society at large has been disinclined to engage. He has a B.S. in Recreation from Benedict College and a M.A. in Theological Studies from Liberty University. He is currently a doctoral student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Urban Minsitries.

The Mis-education of Whitney Houston

by Frances Cudjoe Waters
Huffington Post

We have been riveted by the tragedy of Whitney Houston's untimely death. Accounts of drug use and a fallen icon have flooded the media. Yet, little has been said about how herself-professed faith may have contributed to both her downfall and eventual escape from an unhealthy marriage relationship.

In her last major interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2009, Whitney states that she stayed in the marriage, endured abuse, infidelity and humiliation and engaged in self-destructive behaviors in her effort to be a "good" Christian wife. No matter what happened, she felt she had to remain because as she quotes, "What God has brought together, let no man put asunder."

Yet, Whitney's statements about letting, indeed inviting, her husband "to take control of her life," and that a wife must do whatever her husband says is not a new concept. In fact, the concept of women being required, as a matter of faith and faithfulness, "to submit" to their husbands in all things is the pervasive normative gospel preached in churches across racial, denominational and geographical lines. Ephesians 5:22-24, which outlines a wife's duty to submit, is often taught without context or nuance. Rarely is the verse above it, which says to "submit to one another," discussed. Moreover, the last verses of the chapter which make it clear that a man would not hate or hurt his own body, do not get much airplay in the church either.
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The power which binds: Why we should teach about religions in school

By Richard Schiffman

Religion ranks as one of the most divisive factors in the world today. Yet it has also brought billions of people together forging a sense of shared belief and unity of purpose across wide racial and geographical divides. The word itself comes from the Latin re-ligåre, which means "to bind back together." So how has the power which binds become a force which divides us?

The answer is complex, but if we had to boil it down to one word, that word would be ignorance – a condition shared by believers and nonbelievers alike. America today is a nation of religious illiterates. Even many who attend worship services and profess to be devout may never have thought deeply about the tenets of their faith, still less wrestled with God, as the Jewish tradition exhorts its followers to do.

Leaving aside the question of God-wrestling for the moment, most religious believers have only a cursory knowledge of their own faith, and know next to nothing about the beliefs of other religions. This is something like learning geography by memorizing the names and capitals of all the states, but never finding out about other countries and continents which lie beyond the borders of the U.S.
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Rick Santorum Benefits From Protestant Support Despite His Roman Catholic Faith

Rick Santorum's political good fortune in the Republican presidential primaries has come about in large part because of his appeal to evangelicals. A Roman Catholic, he is a beneficiary of more than two decades of cooperation between conservative Protestants and Catholics who set aside theological differences for the common cause of the culture war.

Doctrine – and anti-Catholic bias – once split Protestants and Catholics so bitterly that many evangelical leaders worked to defeat John F. Kennedy because of his religion. When Kennedy sought to confront suspicion about his Catholicism, he made his now-famous faith speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of evangelical Protestants in Texas. Five decades later, when some prominent evangelical leaders gathered at a Texas ranch to discuss backing a 2012 GOP candidate, Santorum was their choice.

Now running about even with Mitt Romney, Santorum has nearly doubled his support from white evangelical Republicans, from 22 percent last month to 41 percent two weeks ago, according to surveys by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion and Public Life. An Associated Press-GfK survey conducted more recently, Feb.16-20, found Santorum leading Romney among white evangelicals, 44 percent to 21 percent. White Catholics also preferred Santorum, 38 percent to 29 percent, in the AP-GfK poll.
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Quran Burning: Dehumanizing Muslims

by Stephen Lendman
Media with Conscience

Despite constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom, America consistently violates fundamental rights, including respecting all faiths equally.

More than other ethnic/religious groups, Western discourse portrays Muslim/Arabs stereotypically as culturally inferior, dirty, lecherous, untrustworthy, religiously fanatical, and violent.

In his book, "Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People," Jack Shaheen explained how they've been defamed and vilified throughout decades of cinematic history. From silent films to recent ones, they encourage prejudicial attitudes, and reinforce notions of Western values, high-mindedness, and moral superiority.

Worse still are slanderous post-9/11 media commentaries about dangerous gun-toting terrorists, the need to closely monitor them, and rid society of those considered dangerous.

Never mind rule of law principles, right or wrong, or whether accused targets are guilty. Saying so's all that matters to justify America's war on terror. It needs enemies. When not around, they're invented.

As a result, Muslim Arabs and others suffer hugely, including at home. Koran burning incidents provide more proof. It symbolizes America's contempt for Islam.
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Rick Santorum: JFK’s 1960 Speech Made Me Want to Throw Up

GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum said today that watching John F. Kennedy’s speech to the Baptist ministers in Houston in 1960 made him want to “throw up.”
“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum said.
“That makes me throw up and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can’t come to the public square and argue against it, but now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square,” he said.
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Rick Santorum’s home-school hokum

from Salon

As the Los Angeles Times recently noted, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum is probably “the most prominent home-schooler in America.” Indeed, the fact that Santorum’s seven kids have largely been educated at home (two of them are now adults) is a key aspect of Santorum’s appeal to his right-wing base. Of course, home-schooling is a popular issue in its own right, especially among religious conservatives, but its symbolic importance goes much deeper than that. It also symbolizes Santorum’s self-presentation as a man of firm principles and unbending anti-government convictions, in obvious contrast to some flip-floppy, Obamacare-loving, one-time Northeastern governor one might mention.

As a home-schooling parent on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Santorum, I’ve observed his emergence — and, to a lesser extent, that of Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow — with a certain queasy fascination. It’s difficult to imagine a hypothetical universe where I’d ever vote for Santorum for anything, but sometimes his rhetoric on home-schooling strikes one of those weird political nerves where the quasi-libertarian right and the quasi-anarchist left hold similar views. In a recent Ohio speech, for instance, Santorum described the predominant model of public education as an artifact of the Industrial Revolution that has become ill-suited to a post-industrial age: “People came off the farms where they did home-school or had a little neighborhood school, and into these big factories … called public schools.”
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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Christian Publisher Zondervan to Release Jeremy Lin Bio 'Linspired'

Christian media and publishing company Zondervan is releasing a biography on breakout NBA sensation Jeremy Lin. Keeping with the pun-friendly nature of Jeremy Lin's name, the book is titled Linspired and focuses on Lin's unwavering faith before and after his success and popularity.
Both an adult and youth version of the book will be released, and are due to hit shelves in April of this year.

Linspired is written by bestselling author Mike Yorkey. Yorkey has written about Christian athletes before, including Growing Up Colt, the biography of religious Cleveland Brown's quarterback Colt McCoy, and the popular Playing with Purpose, a book that highlights the faith of a few religious football players including Tim Tebow.

"Just as stories like Jeremy Lin don't come along very often, so do opportunities to share those stories with readers hungry to learn more about Jeremy Lin," Yorkey expressed in a press release.
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