Sunday, August 08, 2004

Religious News Roundup for Monday, August 9

"More days off than a preacher"--who said that? I'd like to kick his...

Oh, hello there. It's time for Monday's edition of the Religious News Roundup.

Religion and Politics

We have a passel of links in this category today. The NYT has an article on churches organizing for the election in St. Louis (previously noticed to much greater effect here). Keep your eyes on such stories: between St. Louis' difficult conservative/liberal split and its relatively high rate of church participation, we're like to see much more activity along this front.

James Dobson is interviewed in the Weekly Standard--as a private citizen, mind you--going all out on the "Bush is a moral paragon" angle. Read it and retch, sinner.

Under what might be called the "Catholic Religion and Politics" banner, we have commentary from Body and Soul and the Gadflyer on W.'s recent appearance at the Knights of Columbus convention in Dallas. Shorter Jeanne and Amy: the coverage stank because it failed to notice the KoC's bias. Jeanne doesn't think Bush's outreach is paying off politically, either. Meanwhile, William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has been lining up Nancy Pelosi for the same kind of treatment he's given to John Kerry's religious advisers.

This raises for me a question that I'm sure is a sore spot with many of my Catholic brothers and sisters: just who is it that gets to say what a "good" Catholic is, anyway? Seems to me that what we're seeing this political season is a kind of parallel campaign to define American Catholicism along its most conservative axis.

Salon has an article by Chris Sullentrop on "The Right Rev. George W. Bush." If you're looking the reason(s) W. can hold on to about 40% of the electorate, look no further than this paragraph from a recent stump speech:

From there, Bush becomes a teacher, imparting "the lessons of September the 11th, 2001." "We'll never forget!" a man seated among the firefighters calls out. Bush's Lesson 1: "We're facing an enemy which has no heart, no compassion. And that puts them at an advantage in a way, because we're a country of heart and compassion." Lesson 2: "In order to defend the homeland, we got to be on the offense. We must deal with those people overseas, so we don't have to face them here at home." Lesson 3: "In order to be able to defend ourselves, we've got to say to people who are willing to harbor a terrorist or feed a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorists." Lesson 4: "When we see threats, we must deal with them before they fully materialize." Lesson 5 is a corollary of Lesson 4: "We saw a threat in Iraq."

This is pretty much what I've heard from the Bush diehards in my congregation, and it is not too strong a term to say that these are articles of faith for them. The majority of folks have been able to reassess that faith in light of 9/11, but there are a few who have not. Those are the Bush core.

Finally, look here for a completely different take on "Render unto Caesar..." My only comments? 1.This is what it means to speak "truth to power." 2.I also preached on this text on Sunday. Where was my stone-faced ex-president? Where was my blockheaded soon-to-be-ex-president?

Church and State

Not nearly as much to mention here, thank goodness. (I have some visiting to do today.) WIStv in Columbia, South Carolina reports on some rather stubborn city council members in Charleston who insist on opening their meetings with prayers to a "specific God." When will they ever learn that God finds city council meetings as tedious as the rest of us?

A Boston Globe op-ed writer visits a Faith-Based Initiatives conference held recently in Beantown. If you had to read just one of my links today, make it this one. See also my thoughts under "Religion and $" immediately below.

Religion and $

Despite all the attention that the subject of religion and electoral politics has been getting this year, the American community of faith would do well to remember that ultimate idol is not politics, but cold, hard cash. If you need any reminders: 'twarn't politics what brought down Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

Point in reference: a Cedar Rapids Christian bookstore is offering a charge card with a picture of "Calvary's three empty crosses." The story is a bit misleadingly titled "Jesus Credit Card raises a few eyebrows." It's a charge card, for goshsake.

Oh, and the whole point of the empty cross is that Jesus isn't there.

Even more: a Jesuit retreat center in Guelph, Ontario is trying to fend off an attempt by Wal-Mart to build a supercenter on land just adjacent to the center. Moloch misses no opportunity for mischief.  Even better, the director of the Jesuit center quoted in the article is--no kidding--the Rev. James Profit.

Quick Hits

Fellow dKos denizen allbell passes on a link about Methodist peace activists being fined for their work as "human shields" before the invasion of Iraq last year. He (or she?) calls this "official persecution," but I wouldn't go that far. Yes, the fines stink. But civil disobedience is based on the premise that those who take part in it accept the consequences of their actions. The suffering they endure as part of those actions then becomes a part of the witness against the unjust system they protest. These folks seem "happy" to pay their fines, and God bless them for that.

Beth Quick, a United Methodist pastor, relates the backstory to a hymn:

This summer at St. Paul's I'm preaching on the favorite hymns of the congregation, and tying them into the lectionary. This week is "It is Well with My Soul." I thought I remembered that the hymn author didn't have a happy ending to his life, despite the inspiring and touching story of how the hymn was written, but I had to search long and hard before I found the ending to his story:

from the Christian Network: "In his late life Spafford experienced a mental disturbance which prompted him to go to Jerusalem under the strange delusion that he was the second Messiah. He died there in 1888 at the age of sixty."

It's a sad ending to his life, but I wish people wouldn't tend to exclude it from the story and try to make him into some saint who never faltered in the face of sorrow in his life. Sometimes the real story is more moving . . .

You can imagine that this hits home for me. (I was diagnosed bipolar II about four years ago.) It is well...

One last comment. I've been thinking about the Republicans' outreach to the Amish again, mostly because our local NPR affiliate carried a story on it this morning. The report confirmed a hunch I've had: the Amish population in Lancaster county, the heart of "Amish Country," is around 25,000. Only about 10% of those vote. But let's be optimistic, and say that the Republican outreach pulls in a few hundred more. 3,000 is in fact the target in Lancaster.

Now, you might say, "3,000 votes might tip a close election." Well, it might, if this were Florida. But the fact is that Lancaster is already a Republican stronghold, and given that a)Kerry has a pretty strong lead in PA, and b)that lead comes mostly from the metro Philly and Pittsburgh regions, 3,000 Amish votes is not going to tip much of anything. (Maybe the Senate race, if they come out for Jim Clymer versus Arlen Specter.) What's going on here is more of what DHinMI has noticed: Bush is running solely to his base, plus a few folks he can suck in around the margins, in safely Republican areas. I dunno about you, but this doesn't seem like the soundest of strategies to me. I'd rather be where Kerry is, with a firm base and the ability to reach out to the center.


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