One summer when I was in college, I worked for a tiny lobbying firm, most of whose clients were disease-related. If the firm wasn’t able to get you increased funding for research into your disease, at the very least it could get a friendly member of Congress to introduce a proclamation about it. Framed on the office walls were documents declaring the first week in June to be Copious Earwax Awareness Week or November to be Toenail Fungus Month.
The government declares lots of national days of this and weeks of that, most of which go unnoticed. Today, however, is the National Day of Prayer, in which, that pesky establishment clause notwithstanding, the federal government encourages you to get down on your knees and implore your deity to deliver whatever you happen to lack, or to be merciful toward those he might otherwise smite. Don’t confuse it with the National Prayer Breakfast; that’s an entirely separate national prayer event. Here‘s Barack Obama’s proclamation of the day, though beyond that I don’t think the government is doing much to honor it. That slack is picked up by the quasi-official National Day of Prayer Task Force, a decidedly evangelical Christian group chaired by Shirley Dobson, wife of James Dobson. This year’s honorary chair is California megachurch pastor Greg Laurie, whose participation led to protests from gay-rights groups unhappy with Laurie’s particular view of sin and sexuality. Laurie will be leading prayer events on Capitol Hill and the Pentagon today. The theme of this year’s events is “Pray for America,” the message being that everything is pretty much going to hell (so to speak) in our country, and the only thing that can get us back on the right track is Jesus.
In the face of all this government sponsorship of prayer, the rather less influential secular humanist movement has declared today the National Day of Reason. They had to declare it themselves, because unlike the National Day of Prayer, the government wasn’t going to get involved with them. So feel free, if you swing that way, to take a moment today to consider all that reason and science have done for us.
I’ll stop before my impulse to snark gets the better of me, but I would like to note something for my religious friends, especially the Christians: Next time you want to say you’re “oppressed” because people are saying that there may be a few areas we can keep religion out of, like science class, or that it might be better not to assume that everyone is a Christian but instead be sensitive to people who believe in gods other than yours or no god at all, consider that those of us who don’t believe in an almighty deity tolerate stuff like the National Day of Prayer all the time. We don’t much like it, but we almost always just let it slide. The government makes our kids stand up and declare that we’re “one nation, under God,” our money says “In God We Trust,” Congress starts every day with a prayer, and official sponsorship of religious events is everywhere. On the other hand, while there are lots of places where discussion of people’s religious beliefs is excluded, there is nowhere—nowhere—where the government explicitly affirms and honors the beliefs of those who don’t believe in god. There’s no government-sponsored “There Is No God Day” with White House proclamations and Pentagon gatherings.
And that’s as it should be. It’s not government’s job to tell you it agrees with your metaphysical views. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
11Yes, technically kids in public schools don’t have to say the Pledge of Allegiance if they don’t want to, but peer pressure being what it is, few feel comfortable abstaining.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 2, 2013
As Congress prepares to debate an overhaul of a dysfunctional immigration system, pro-reform Democrats may have new allies in Christian Evangelicals. A coalition of Evangelical leaders has begun a political push for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, making a name for conservative Christians outside of the issues of marriage equality and abortion.
As reported by The New York Times:
On Wednesday, evangelical pastors will converge on Washington for a day of prayer and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
Guiding the campaign is a coalition called the Evangelical Immigration Table, which includes the top pastors of more than two dozen evangelical denominations and at least 20 heads of Christian colleges and seminaries. “It is very remarkable the degree to which there is consensus,” said Galen Carey, the vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group for the churches. No prominent pastor has spoken out against the immigration effort, although some pastors of the largest churches have remained silent.
Many of these pastors have been inspired to act by the growing influence of immigrant congregations in the Christian community and an upsurge in Latino “born-again” evangelicals, according to the Times:
For the Rev. David Uth, the head pastor of First Baptist Orlando, there was no mistaking the evolution of his traditionally white congregation, as he discovered in recent years that immigrants speaking at least 32 different languages had flocked to his doors. Mr. Uth is one of the pastors going to Washington this week.
His church offers ministry in seven foreign languages, with simultaneous translation of Sunday services in Spanish and Portuguese and a separate Brazilian service on Sunday evenings.
“The stories out there in the pews are stories of people from all over the world who have made friends and who have become close with people here,” Mr. Uth said after his service last Sunday. “I think that’s why there’s movement in this church, there’s momentum, there’s an openness to try to do something to address their needs.”
Despite a public push to let compassion and fairness shape proposals for reform, Christian leaders have splintered with other immigrant rights advocates over the inclusion of the rights of gay and lesbian immigrants in legislative reform. In an interview with the Christian Post, CEO of the Christian Community Development Association and pro-reform (for some immigrants, at least) evangelical Noel Castellanos stated his belief that immigration reform and gay rights should be handled as separate issues: “Right now, I can say as a general coalition we have talked to the President about trying to keep those two issues separate. It’s very problematic.”
But groups like United Latin American Citizens and the National Council of La Raza have backed the inclusion of provisions for gay immigrants and their families, citing the importance of family inclusion for all families: “Family unity has always been the cornerstone of our immigration system. We must address the unnecessary separation of families who are kept apart by extraordinarily long wait times for certain family visas, including the families of bi-national and same-sex couples,” said National Council of La Raza president and CEO Janet Murguía.
By: Katie McDonough, Assistant Editor, Salon, April 14, 2013
Jonylah Watkins died on a Tuesday.
She was with her father, who was sitting in a minivan in Chicago on the night of March 11 when someone opened fire. Doctors worked 17 hours trying to repair what a bullet had done to her body, but to no avail. She died the next morning. Her funeral was about two weeks ago. She was six months old.
Antonio Santiago was seven months older when his mother put him in a stroller and took him for a walk in their Brunswick, GA, neighborhood. Sherry West says they were accosted by two teenagers demanding money. She told them she didn’t have any. West says they shot Antonio in the face and killed him. This happened two days after Jonylah’s funeral.
An Associated Press reporter was on hand a day later as the boy’s father tried to comfort his child’s mother. “He’s all right,” Luis Santiago told her, smiling for her benefit. “He’s potty training upstairs in heaven.”
Which is, of course, the very foundation of faith, the belief that even tragedy will work ultimately for the good, that in the end, the bitterest tears transmute to the greatest joy. That is, in essence, what is commemorated this Easter week. It marks the morning when, we Christians believe, a carpenter turned itinerant rabbi overcame death itself, rolled a stone aside and walked out of his own tomb.
In the King James Bible, in the book of Matthew, the rabbi — Jesus — is quoted as saying, “Suffer little children and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
When I was a kid, that always confused me. I wondered why children were commanded to suffer. But, as later translations confirm, the word was used in its old English sense, meaning: to permit or allow. Let the children come to me, He is saying, for they are the essence of grace. Love the children.
Two thousand years later, a singer named Marvin Gaye turned that command into a stark plea: Save the children.
As a nation, as a people, we have failed at both.
Nearly 100,000 people will be shot this year according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Seventeen thousand will be younger than 19. So almost 5,000 kids have been shot since the Newtown massacre in December, the one that was supposed make us finally get serious about gun violence.
That toll speaks unflattering volumes about our seriousness. As does a Politico report that support is softening for laws that would expand background checks and impose other common-sense restrictions on gun ownership. A Florida state legislative panel just voted to support a bill allowing teachers to bring guns to school. Once again, the nation endorses the Orwellian logic that would “solve” the problem of too many guns by adding more guns.
How do you suppose we would explain that to Jonylah or Antonio? Which of the gun lobby’s inane platitudes would we use to justify our failure to keep them safe? Jonylah, guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Antonio, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun …
This year as every year, foes of abortion publicly mourn the loss of babies who could have been. But they — we — remain silent on the loss of babies who actually were, who died because we could not get our act together, because ours is a nation that does not simply enable private gun ownership, but that worships and fetishizes it to the point where sensible restriction — even sensible conversation — seems impossible.
As a result, we are a nation where what happened to Jonylah and Antonio has become grimly, sadly… routine. That fact alone starkly illustrates the insanity to which we have devolved, and the challenge that faces faith this Easter week.
We keep crying the bitter tears. We are still waiting for the joy.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, March 31, 2013
There is much dispute and dialogue among scholars over what to make of the Christmas narratives in the scriptures and the connection between what was written and what we can know about what happened. As the Rev. Daniel J. Harrington has noted: “The New Testament contains two Christmas stories, not one. They appear in Matthew: 1–2 and Luke: 1–2. They have some points in common. But there are many differences in their characters, plot, messages, and tone.”
Those of us who celebrate Christmas do not tend to think as scholars or (God forbid!) journalists, but as people of hope. We tend at Christmastime to rely most on Luke, whose telling of Jesus’s birth is, as the Rev. Harrington says, is “upbeat, celebratory, and even romantic.” We find in Jesus, all at once, inspiration, comfort, challenge and, in one of Pope John Paul II’s favorite phrases, “a sign of contradiction.” And the contradiction is right there in the two Christmas accounts: Matthew emphasizes Jesus’s noble lineage, while Luke tells the story of a savior born in a manger. There is a special moral significance, I think, in Luke’s account: a faith rooted in the Jewish prophetic tradition traces its origins not to a palace but to a stable; not to an aristocratic household but to a family led by a carpenter. It was a powerful way to send one of Christianity’s most important messages: that every single human being is endowed with dignity by God and worthy of respect.
Pope John XXIII offered a take on this idea that quietly reminds us of how the materialism that seems to run rampant at Christmastime is antithetical to the Christmas story. The church, he argued in his 1959 Christmas message, “has always fixed her gaze on the human person and has taught that things and institutions — goods, the economy, the state — are primarily for man; not man for them.” He added: “The disturbances which unsettle the internal peace of nations trace their origins chiefly to this source: that man has been treated almost exclusively as a machine, a piece of merchandise, a worthless cog in some great machine or a mere productive unit. It is only when the dignity of the person comes to be taken as the standard of value for man and his activities that the means will exist to settle civil discord . . . .” In this telling. “Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men” is not a greeting card sentiment but a moral demand.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. also took “peace on earth” as a personal and social imperative. On Christmas Eve 1967, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. aired King’s “A Christmas Sermon on Peace” as part of the Massey Lecture series. (I draw this from “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King Jr.,” published by Harper Collins.) King argued that “if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional,” and he added: “Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.”
Like so many of Rev. King’s sermons that included stern warnings and tough lessons, this one ended in hope.
“I still have a dream,” he said, four years after his most celebrated speech at the March on Washington, “that with this faith, we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when there shall be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day when the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of god will shout for joy.”
Go tell it on the mountain.
By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 24, 2012
There’s a lot of chatter about a video, made in 2007, when Romney was running for president the first time, that has (naturally) surfaced again just a few days before the election. Apparently filmed by hidden camera, it shows Romney arguing with conservative Iowa talk radio host Jan Mickelson, in studio but off the air, about his Mormon beliefs. Mickelson appears to be goading Romney into admitting or explaining ways that Mormonism differs from evangelical Christianity, and Romney gets pretty angry and heated throughout.
Earlier this year, Joanna Brooks wrote about how journalists who focus on, for example, Romney’s citation to Mickelson of Cold War-era Mormon figure W. Cleon Skousen (long a religious right, tea party, and Glenn Beck favorite) miss the mark about the Mormon world in which Romney functions, “a powerful multinational network of financial and political influence brokers connected by a profound common bond: their multigenerational membership and service in the LDS Church.”
This week, one part of the Mickelson video in particular has generated some discussion: Mickelson asks Romney about the end-times, and about whether he believes the Second Coming of Christ will happen in Missouri. In the video, Romney tells Mickelson that, no, the LDS Church teaches (as do evangelical churches) that the Second Coming will happen in Jerusalem. He then goes on to explain, rather clumsily and without much detail, “what the church” teaches about this.
Mickelson seemed inspired to broach the topic by an interview Romney gave to George Stephanopoulos. Here’s part of that transcript:
George Stephanopoulos: In your faith, if I understand it correctly, it teaches that Jesus will return probably to the United States and reign on Earth for 1,000 years. And I wonder how that would be viewed in the Muslim world. Have you thought about how the Muslim world will react to that and whether it would make it more difficult, if you were present, to build alliances with the Muslim world?
Former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass.: Well, I’m not a spokesman for my church. I’m not running for pastor in chief. I’m running for commander in chief. So the best place to go for my church’s doctrines would be my church.
Stephanopoulos: But I’m talking about how they will take it, how they will perceive it.
Romney: I understand, but that doesn’t happen to be a doctrine of my church. Our belief is just as it says in the Bible, that the messiah will come to Jerusalem, stand on the Mount of Olives and that the Mount of Olives will be the place for the great gathering and so forth. It’s the same as the other Christian tradition. But that being said, how do Muslims feel about Christian doctrines? They don’t agree with them. There are differences between doctrines of churches. But the values at the core of the Christian faith, the Jewish faith and many other religions are very, very similar. And it’s that common basis that we have to support and find ability to draw people to rather than to point out the differences between our faiths. The differences are less pronounced than the common base that can lead to the peace and the acceptability and the brother and sisterhood of humankind.
Stephanopoulos: But your church does teach that Jesus will reign on Earth for the millennium, right?
Mickelson asks Romney whether, contrary to what he told Stephanopoulos, he believes the Second Coming will take place in Missouri. After mentioning that a Skousen book explains LDS teaching on this, Romney seems either unwilling or at a loss to go into too much detail. Romney adds:
Christ appears, it’s throughout the Bible, Christ appears in Jerusalem, splits the Mount of Olives, to stop the war that’s coming in to kill all the Jews, it’s—our church believes that. That’s where the coming and glory of Christ occurs. We also believe that over the 1000 years that follows, the millenium, he will reign from two places, that the law will come forward from one place, from Missouri, the other will be in Jerusalem. Back to abortion.
A few things here. First, except for the part about Missouri, what Romney is saying about LDS belief about Christ’s return doesn’t deviate that much from what many evangelicals believe. I’m not in any way endorsing apocalyptic biblical literalism or proof-texting here, or saying that all Mormons or all evangelicals believe this. I’m just pointing out that Romney was relying on the same parts of the Bible many evangelicals do about Christ’s return. For example: “‘In the whole land,’ declares the Lord, ‘two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.’” (Zechariah 13:8) and “On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem, and the Mount of Olives will be split in two from east to west, forming a great valley, with half of the mountain moving north and half moving south” (Zechariah 14:4). I’ve seen preaching on this by evangelicals; I’ve talked to evangelicals who believe these verses to be true, accurate, and undeniable prophecy of what will happen in Jerusalem. (N.B.: Zechariah was not talking about Jesus, and what exactly he—or more than one he—was actually talking about is far from clear. But anyway.)
The question that’s being raised now, as this video resurfaces and generates discussion, is: does Romney himself really believe this? Does he somehow revel in a “war that’s coming in to kill all the Jews,” or see it as inevitable? I think that’s not evident from the video, or from his answer to Stephanopoulos. (Of course Romney’s a notorious liar, so we may never know.) Romney’s very defensive in the video, under questioning by Mickelson who clearly is trying to get him to admit that Mormon end-times theology is wildly different from evangelical end-times theology (which has many variants, incidentally, but none that include Missouri as a locus for anything except the second coming of Todd Akin). But Romney appears to be suggesting that “our church believes that” rather than saying, “I believe this is a literal prophecy of how world events will play out.” I’ve written before about how Romney’s public pronouncements on the Israel-Palestine conflict are out of touch with non-apocalyptic, contemporary Mormon thinking, but still, he’s never discussed his own beliefs on the end-times, or disagreements, if any, with LDS doctrine.
Apocalyptic beliefs are a Republican problem, though, not just a Romney problem; for example, George W. Bush, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Mike Huckabee are all evangelicals who forged relationships with apocalyptic preacher John Hagee. I would very much like to know whether they co-sign Hagee’s apocalyptic visions.
I want to know the same answers about Romney, but not because he’s Mormon. Equally as pertinent to what Romney himself believes is what he thinks his base believes, and to what extent, as president, he’d be worrying about placating them. Remember, he was trying to show Mickelson he believes the same things evangelicals do. He’s running for president, for Pete’s sake!
By: Sarah Posner, Religion Dispatches, November 2, 2012