Monday, August 23, 2004

Religious News Roundup for August 23

I know, I know.  I said there wouldn't be a RNR today.  What can I say?  It's who I am.  It's what I do.


Today's categories:



Sex Abuse

RNR is sorry to have to admit that it will need to carry this as a separate category.  Even though the subject has dropped from front-page status lately, there's still quite a bit going on.


To wit:  the Diocese of Toledo is paying out $1.13 million dollars to 23 victims of abuse; the Detroit Archdiocese has suspended two priests after  allegations; Seattle has banned 3; a New York priest cleared in one case has been charged in a second; and the Portland Archdiocese is seeking a deadline for claims in its ongoing scandal.


However, such problems are not restricted to the Catholic church.  The Mormon church recently dodged a bullet when a Utah court ruled that it had no responsibility to warn parishioners about a member who had previous child-molestation convictions.  More information here.  While RNR is certainly not qualified to judge the case on its legal merits, we're still disturbed by it.  Why on earth would anyone keep a convicted child molestor in a position of authority as a "high priest" (lay minister?) or a Cub Scout leader, knowing of his past?  Though the abuse took place away from the church, and not as a part of this member's church duties, it seems only a matter of common sense and common decency to protect members of the church from harm.  Morally, if not legally, the Church of Latter-Day Saints bears a heavy responsibilty in this case.


Meanwhile, if you've been hiding under a rock for the past week or so, BeliefNet has a good summary of the Deal Hudson case.


Religion & Politics

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer carries a definitive smackdown of W.'s political use of religious language.  Short version:  Bush and Rove find the structure of fundamentalism a handy way to make political points.  That much has been obvious for quite a while, though the writer's analysis of how that's accomplished bears reading.  A key excerpt:

This research showed that the administration's public communications contained four characteristics simultaneously rooted in religious fundamentalism while offering political capital:


1) Simplistic, black-and-white conceptions of the political landscape, most notably good vs. evil and security vs. peril.
2) Calls for immediate action on administration policies as a necessary part of the nation's "calling" and "mission" against terrorism.
3) Declarations about the will of God for America and for the spread of U.S. conceptions of freedom and liberty.
4) Claims that dissent from the administration is unpatriotic and a threat to the nation and globe.


In combination, these characteristics have transformed Bush's "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" policy to "Either you are with us, or you are against God." To the great misfortune of American democracy and the global public, such a view looks, sounds and feels remarkably similar to that of the terrorists it is fighting.



In other news, Alan Keyes declares that his "Victory is for God".  And if he's defeated?  RNR seems to remember that in the OT, those who prophesied falsely often wound up dead.  That's not a threat; just something to think about in re: consequences for arrogating God to your side.


If the 2004 election demonstrates anything, it's that the religious wingnuts are not going to stand still while we pinko pastors try to "silence" them.  Agape Press carries a story on a new Left Coast group working to ensure that conservative pastors can still preach "proclaim truth and biblical perspectives from the pulpit without fearing for their church's non-profit status."  Which is all very nice--except it's not the point.  Preachers are and always have been free to promote their moral vision.  What they may not do is explicitly link that vision to a particular candidate or slate of candidates.


One of the ways around this is to put out a voter's guide with slanted (or carefully selected) questions that guide parishioners to one party.  Both conservative and liberal groups have employed this strategy.  The Palm Beach Post how it works in one South Florida church, and how the politicization of religion is filtering down to even candidates for the "local soil and water conservation board."


That being said, the Christians for Kerry site has a nice--and thoroughly partisan--summary of what they see as Kerry's Christian values.


And just so you don't think it's only America: the Fiji Times reports on  Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's promise to run his party on "Christian Principles."  At least those values are "peace and harmony," forgiveness and reconciliation.  Beats some other values he could have.

[Update:] a reader reminds me that Fijian politics are split between the influential Hindu/Indian immigrants and the native/Christian Fijians. PM Qarase's quote suddenly looks a whole lot less benign.

Church & State

This is one of the "underground" stories of religious practice these days:  increasingly, local munincipalities are hesitant to approve land-use permits for churches and other religious institutions.  It used to be that churches were welcomed as anchors of a residential neighborhood; these days, they're often seen as noisy traffic magnets that draw down the tax base, and they're regulated as strictly as the local strip mall.


In another case, an Arizona "public school system run by the nation's largest polygamous sect...could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds for failing to properly report how it spends its money."


This 'n' That

A Tennesee pastor has been convicted of twice trying to burn down his church.  Believe me, more pastors than you might suspect have fantasized about doing exactly this, though it's usually motivated by frustration with the facility, not for the insurance money.


Amy Sullivan has some parting advice for the Kerry campaign: push this story upcoming in the Washington Monthly about how Kerry helped dismantle BCCI, the notoriously corrupt Saudi bank.  But, as Sullivan points out, they weren't just corrupt:  they were financing terrorists and various anti-American activities.  As she says,

Shouldn't that be in an ad somewhere? You know, while Reagan and Bush were selling arms to Saddam Hussein, John Kerry was taking on the terrorists' money source. That kind of thing. Seems to me it's the type of accomplishment you'd want to trumpet far and wide. Think about it.


Last but not least, I'll pass on this graph from The Christian Century, quoting Thomas Thangaraj, a World Missions prof at Candler School of Theology, RNR's seminary alma mater:

Religion in a global village of 1,000 persons

  • 300-Christians (183 Catholics, 84 Protestants, 33 Orthodox)
  • 210-No religion or confessed atheists
  • 175-Muslims
  • 128-Hindus
  • 55-Buddhists
  • 47-Animists
  • 85-Other religious groups

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