Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Religious News Roundup for Wednesday, July 21

First up, three bits from the UCC, God's hippest denomination (IMHO, but I might be biased).

On Wednesday, July 28, at the Democratic Convention in Boston, the UCC Massachusets Conference is organizing a national anti-poverty Let Justice Roll event from 4:30-6:00 pm at historic Old South Church, 645 Boylston Street. Co-sponsored by the National Council of Churches, the Center for Community Change, and many others, this public witness will involve worship, preaching, and a commissioning of several hundred convention delegates to return to the floor and advocate for a party platform that does not leave poor people behind.

On Tuesday, August 31, at the Republican Convention in New York City, the UCC is joining with New York City's historic Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive, and a broad network of religious witnesses to bring a similar message to the Republican delegates and convention attendees in New York City. The time is to be announced. Rev. Dr. James Forbes, senior pastor of Riverside Church in New York, is the featured speaker at both conventions in the Let Justice Roll events, and has been tirelessly travelling the country mobilizing faith groups and community based organizations against poverty this election year. For more information about Let Justice Roll contact Marvin Silver at the UCC Washington, DC office (202) 543-1517 or visit the UCC Our Faith Our Vote website and follow the link on the front page to Let Justice Roll.

Many of our UCC/DOC Justice and Peace Action Network activists are involved in dozens of the activities being sponsored at both Conventions. One event worth noting at the Republican Convention that has significant UCC involvement is sponsored by the Campaign for a National Health Program Now, on August 31 - September 1. Rev. Barbara Baylor of UCC Justice and Witness Ministries joins speakers from the religious community (Rev. James Forbes and many others), the arts (Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon) and the media (Bill Moyers) to rally for healthcare for everyone. To register or for more information, log onto

(From the UCC Justice and Peace Network.)

From the Office of Communication of the UCC:

The managing director of a church communications advocacy group today (July 19) unveiled a nationwide campaign to hold local broadcasters accountable for airing programming in the public interest, particularly election coverage.

Gloria Tristani, managing director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc. (OC, Inc.), helped introduce the campaign during a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The "Community-by-Community Campaign for Better Local Broadcasting" was initiated by the Public Interest, Public Airwaves Coalition, which includes several public policy, grassroots and media reform groups, including OC, Inc.

"We are asking citizen groups to meet with their local TV broadcasters and ask them to sign a pledge to air a minimum of two hours per week of candidate and electoral discourse for the six weeks leading up to the Nov. 2 election," said Tristani, a former Federal Communications Commissioner. "That's asking for about 17 minutes a day."

"This year's election is being labeled one of the most partisan, divisive and raucous in recent history, and many Americans believe that the future and the values of our country are at stake," Tristani said. Yet study after study shows that issue and electoral coverage by television stations is at an all-time low."


Turning to the larger issue of the negative impact of media consolidation on local communities, [FCC Commissioner Michael] Copps added, "We have now heard from the court, the Congress and the American people that that FCC got it wrong when it tried to unleash even more [media] consolidation. It is clear that we need to start over on these rules and this time make it our goal to protect the people's interest in the people's airwaves. And, for Heaven's sake, this time let's include the American people in the process instead of shutting them out."

The Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, Inc. (OC, Inc.) was established in 1959. Throughout its history, OC, Inc. has advocated for persons historically excluded from the media, especially women and people of color; petitioned the FCC to issue EEO rules; sought to guarantee educational and informational children's programming; defended the Equal Time Rule for political candidates; supported efforts to establish low-power FM radio; protected affordable access to emerging technologies; and urged strengthening of basic corporate character requirements for those who transmit images and data.

And last but not least, via Amy Sullivan, something from "reliable liberal quote-meister" Barry Lynn, from an exchange with Jerry Falwell on NBC "News in Depth": "Jerry Falwell is playing a shell game that wouldn't work in a backwoods carnival." Sullivan's coverage of the show is worth checking out.

Agape Press, a conservative evangelical news service, has an article on the recent FMA debate entitled Massive FMA Support Has Politicians Concerned." It's worth quoting the entire (uncopyrighted) story:

The head of a Christian legal organization says Capitol Hill has been shaken by the voices of Americans who support traditional marriage and want it protected from judicial efforts to redefine it. Despite losing the vote that would have ended a Democratic filibuster of the Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA), the voices of pro-family Americans have been heard -- and it has many elected officials on Capitol Hill worried. Liberty Counsel president Mat Staver explains part of what transpired in Washington, DC, over the days leading up to the vote. "We [had] over three-million petitions being delivered to the Senate in just a matter of a couple of days -- [and] for two days, the Senate voicemail system was literally shut down and inoperable because of the overwhelming response," the attorney says. And in one case, Staver says Senator Bill Nelson of Florida "received a thousand calls in favor and only one in opposition" to the FMA. Democrats are concerned that this will become a campaign issue that could hurt them. Former President Bill Clinton has reportedly warned John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, not to get involved in the marriage debate or the abortion debate prior to the November election. But pro-marriage groups plan to make it an election issue.

Though this piece defintely has a slant to it, don't underestimate it. If those supporting the FMA can organize two million calls on its behalf, there is definitely a strong core of support out there in the land. The FMA's Senate defeat doesn't necessarily mean this dog won't hunt anymore.

Sen John Warner (R, Virginia) has 'fessed up to being the senator who allowed the Rev. Sun Myung Moon to use the Dirksen Senate Office Building for a ceremony at Moon was crowned as the new Messiah. Why don't I believe his staff when they say they felt "misled" by Moon's application to use the room?

Rachel Zoll of the AP is reporting on National Research Opinion Council poll that may signal a sea change in American religion:

Between 1993 and 2002, the share of Americans who said they were Protestant dropped from 63 percent to 52 percent, after years of remaining generally stable, according to a study released Tuesday by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

At the same time, the number of people who said they had no religion rose from 9 percent to nearly 14 percent, and many are former Protestants, the survey's authors said.

This isn't unexpected news, though it is a bit surprising, considering that the study included Mormons, one of the fastest growing denominations in the U.S. It corroborates the sense of many Protestants that we a facing a much more competitive environment than we have since the 50s or 60s. A change is gonna come, and it might come at the expense of Protestant America.

Rick Perlstein of The Nation spends some time in "The Church of Bush":

Says Delores: "There is an agenda--to get rid of God in our country."

Chirps the reporter: Certainly not on the part of John Kerry, who once entertained dreams of entering the priesthood.

I'm almost laughed out of the room.

I ask why Kerry goes to mass every week if he's trying to get rid of God. "Public relations!" a young man calls out from across the room. "Same reason he does everything else." Cue for Delores to repeat something a rabbi told her: "We have to stand together, because this is what happened in Europe. You know--once they start taking this right and that right. And you have the Islamic people . . . "

She trails off. I ask whether she's referring to the rise of fascism. "We're losing our rights as Christians: yes. And being persecuted again."


I ask Tom what role he sees in America for nonbelievers. "Well, if people are of an opinion that their God is supreme and are willing to burn your house down to prove it or dismantle your car to prove it or make all sorts of loud noises, disturbing the peace, and say that they have a right to do that in the name of God. . . ." he begins, in his best Mr. Rogers voice. Later I parse out what the hell he was talking about. I was asking about atheists. But Tom understood "nonbeliever" according to the premise that God is exclusively Judeo-Christian. It wasn't about whether you believe in anything, but whether you dared diverge from his belief.

Walking me to my car (he insisted), Tom, who works for a construction conglomerate, reaches for a favorite metaphor to describe George Bush: linoleum. "You know: Usually you get a microfilm of the color, and if you drop a plate on it you discover it's an ugly-looking floor. Then linoleum came out--the pattern goes through the entire one-eighth of material. You can drop a plate on it, and the color is true all the way down!"

His face glows. He gets a far-off look in his eyes. That's his Bush.

It's like a scene from a John Waters movie.


Conservatives see something angelic in George Bush. That's why they excuse, repress, and rationalize away so much.

And that is why conservatism is verging on becoming an un-American creed.

Wow. All I can say is that I'm writing a column of W.'s supposed "I trust God speaks through me" quote this afternoon, covering much the same ground. I'll post it here when it's done. The White House denies the quote, by the way.

The Pew Center is holding a forum today: One Electorate Under God? A Dialogue on Religion and American Politics. Among the panelists: David Brooks and E.J. Dionne. I was signed up to go, but schedule conflicts prevented it. Pooh.

Let's end on an up-note. According to the AP, residents of Hamtramck, Michigan voted yesterday in favor of some religous tolerance:

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. - Residents of this once-predominantly Polish city on Tuesday upheld an amendment to the city's noise ordinance, a victory for those in favor of allowing mosques to issue the call to prayer over loudspeakers.

The vote, which supporters of the prayer calls acknowledged was merely symbolic, was 1,462 to 1,200, or 55 percent to 45 percent.

The City Council unanimously passed the amendment to the noise ordinance in April after a mosque asked for permission to begin broadcasting the Arabic chants, traditionally issued five times a day.

The ordinance regulates the volume and timing of the amplified call. Without the law, city officials said there would be nothing to prohibit the broadcasting of the call to prayer itself.


The vote was nonetheless widely viewed as a choice between allowing the call to prayer or prohibiting it by repealing the amendment.

Thanks to all, and to all a good night. Or day. Whatever.


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