Nel's New Day

November 23, 2014

Some Christians Move Forward

While some religious fundamentalists try to move the world back to an earlier millennium, others are working to create diversity for all, whether inside a religion or beside it:

Twenty years ago, women could be deacons in the Church of England, ten years later they could be priests, and now they can become bishops. Canon 33 now states, “A man or a woman may be consecrated to the office of bishop.” At this time, about 15 percent of the priests are female. The Catholic Church has had about 50,000 women deacons, but that practice stopped about the year 1000.

The Vatican has recently unveiled newly restored frescoes in an ancient catacomb that show the Catholic Church had female priestesses. Both Snostic and Montanist sects of Christianity depicted the godhead as androgynous, both male and female. Women served the Eucharist and would speak as prophets.

catholic women priest fresco

Bishop Allyson Abrams, 43, left her husband and the Zion Progress Baptist Church in Detroit because she married another woman, Diana Williams. She said, “I was open to love in whatever way the Lord would bless me.” According to Abrams, same-sex marriage is in accord with Christian teachings: “The Bible teaches that ANYONE who believes in Jesus Christ will be accepted into God’s realm. You can be a child of God and living in loving committed relationships with persons of the same sex.”

Jessica Fitzwater refused to put her hand on the bible during her swearing in on the Frederick County Council (MD). The Jewish strong supporter of separation of church and state plans to take her oath on a non-religious document such as the county’s charter or the U.S. Constitution.

Seven years after officiating at the wedding of his gay son, the Rev. Frank Schaefer has been reinstated as a clergyman in the United Methodist Church.The denomination’s top court upheld last June’s decision to return his ministerial credentials after a trial court removed them. His reinstatement includes back-pay and benefits but doesn’t sanction same-sex marriage within his church. Only a vote at the General Conference could take that step. In response to Schaefer’s punishment, some pastors married same-sex couples while progressive bishops refused to participate in trials against Methodist ministers who perform these marriages.

Seven years ago, Barry Hazle was forced to spend 100 days in prison because he refused to enter a religion-based rehab program operated by the Fresno-based WestCare California. Because Hazle complained about the requirement that he acknowledge the existence of a higher power, the California Department of Corrections put him back in jail. After seven years of court cases, culminating in the 9th Circuit Court, California has changed its policy that parolees must participate into religious treatment programs and is required to pay $1 million to Hazle. Westcare owes Hazle $925,000, according to the court’s ruling.

Last week Judge Nina Pillard used the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby to limit employers’ abilities to deny birth control coverage to their employees. In Priests for Life v. Department of Health and Human Services, Pillard used the Hobby Lobby’s permission for the government to accommodate religious objectors through alternative methods and still provide women with free contraceptives. She also pointed out that the burden on Priests for Life could not be more insignificant. The law used by the Supreme Court applies only when laws “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” Pillard explained:

“All Plaintiffs must do to opt out is express what they believe and seek what they want via a letter or two-page form. That bit of paperwork is more straightforward and minimal than many that are staples of nonprofit organizations’ compliance with law in the modern administrative state.”

Her position might not pass muster with the conservative Supreme Court justices because Samuel Alito pretty much deleted the term “burden” out of the law. He stated that the Hobby Lobby plaintiffs’ “sincerely believe that providing the insurance coverage demanded by the HHS regulations lies on the forbidden side of the line, and it is not for us to say that their religious beliefs are mistaken or insubstantial.” The majority of justices also changed the language of alternatives just days after Hobby Lobby in Wheaton College v. Burwell. Justice Sotomayor said:

“Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word. Not so today.”

After the Supreme Court’s ruling that businesses don’t have to follow the law in providing contraception to women, others have decided that they can avoid all laws. Such is the case of a Christian pastor who used the Hobby Lobby ruling to avoid paying $1.1 million in back taxes that he and his wife owed for 20 years. Ronald and Dorothea Joling had stopped paying taxes because they considered the 16th Amendment, added to the U.S. Constitution in 2013, invalid. The Jolings’ attorney, Mark Weintraub, agreed with the rest of us that his clients are “totally wrong and unreasonable” but tried to persuade the court that what they did was acceptable because of their own Christian beliefs.

The Jolings had also declared that they are no longer U.S. citizens and that their Oregon property is no longer part of the United States. They also tried to hide their money, filed false tax returns, and attempted to harass the IRS with “nonsensical paperwork.” They skipped the part in the bible where Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.”

Mitchell Moore, owner of Campbell’s Bakery in Jackson (MS), has a campaign, “If You’re Buying, I’m Selling,” to fight the state’s “turn away the gays” bill” that passed earlier this year. He handed out stickers for other businesses to post, showing that they did not turn away any customers for their beliefs. After the American Family Association claimed businesses with the stickers were discriminating against the religious freedoms of Mississippians and potential customers, he posted the following questionnaire on his Facebook page. The more serious readers need to know that it’s a spoof.

surveyMany Christians, according to the media, are incensed because the government now forces them to pay for medications against their belief, such as contraception. To all the enraged Christians, there is good news. They can participate instead in health care sharing ministries which are exempt from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. Believers pool their money for health care work like insurance with premiums, co-pays, claims, insurance cards, and deductibles. The three largest of them have 242,000 members.

They do have a few differences. Health care sharing ministries don’t pay for routine medical services such as annual physicals. In fact, the companies can decide what each one will cover. There is no guarantee for payment, and they aren’t required to cover people for pre-existing conditions. With no requirement for solvency, they can go bankrupt. Members cannot smoke, do drugs, and have sex except with a legally-married spouse. Permission to use alcohol is very limited. They also don’t pay for “immoral” substances such as contraception.

People who want to live by these rules with less medical coverage are welcome to participate in this type of insurance. They’re what insurance was before the Affordable Care Act—no guarantee that insurance payments will cover what a person needs and the ability to cancel the person with no reason. It’s all the disadvantages of small government.

To those people whining about Obamacare, just join a health care sharing ministry. You can have the same kind of insurance as before the Affordable Care Act went into effect. For those of you who want more, watch out for what the GOP members of the House are doing because this is the kind of insurance that they want to bring back—for all people, not just those who want to return to another century.

August 3, 2013

Taking Action Moves the U.S. Forward

When I looked at today’s email, I saw a the usual plethora of petition seekers, this time asking me to sign onto protests against egregious acts of environmental and political abuses.

  • Major bank executives such as Chase CEO Jamie Dimon who lost $9 billion of depositors’ money through his fraudulent actions are regulating the banking industry by the law that allows them to serve on the New York Federal Reserve Board. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is introducing legislation to make this practice illegal.
  • Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, gubernatorial candidate, refused to repay $18,000 of gifts from Star Scientific, a dietary supplement company that benefitted from its relationship with the AG, because, Cuccinelli said, “There are some bells you can’t un-ring.”
  • New Hampshire state Rep. Bill O’Brien compared Obamacare to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed slave-owners to take African-Americans out to the state back to the South.
  • The Securities and Exchange Committee has not yet passed regulations to require the disclosure of corporation CEO’s salaries despite the three-year-old Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that mandates this action.
  • Cumulus will reportedly not re-hire Rush Limbaugh, but they may also be trying to jockey a better deal with the misogynist radio show host.
  • Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other stores that sell toxic pesticides containing neoicotinoids (neonics) because these are killing bees, vital for food production, at an inordinate rate; last winter beekeepers reports losses of 50-70 percent of their hives.

These petitions are just the proverbial drop in the bucket. As an activist, I want to make changes in the world; I write a monthly newspaper for the local chapter of PFLAG, help with the local chapter of NOW, and write this blog. But there’s so much more to do. Fortunately, other people are also taking action.

Popular Resistance has a website for people who want to create a sustainable future. It reports that one-third of the people in the United States are members of at least one cooperative, including credit unions. In Seattle, the Community Sourced Capital formed to help people avoid Wall Street and invest in their local communities.

In England, the Church of England has started its own credit union by working with non-profit loan agencies to provide less expensive loan services than the legal loan-shark cost of 1-percent interest per day.

Strike Debt Bay Area is working to reverse the privatizing of public services as in the case of the U.S. Post Office through education.  Another of its projects is to save the historic Berkeley post office, and other groups are focusing on ways the Post Office can expand and provide new services. An early project was to raise money to retire health care debts; as of last January the group had garnered over $11 million.

People in Washington state have put a measure on November’s ballot to require labeling of GMO foods. Companies like Monsanto have poured a great deal of money into the campaign, but success for initiative could lead to a national change. People are also working to buy directly from farmers despite efforts to stop this practice.

In the world, 46 countries get 60 percent of electricity from renewable, clean energy sources. The United States could do this by 2050 at the latest. Last year, the fastest growing source of new energy in the nation was wind that made up 42 percent of new electricity.

Over 600 corporations have been negotiating in secret with the Obama administration and its Office of the U.S .Trade Representative for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would turn people’s rights over to the corporations around the world. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said that it will undermine US sovereignty, and former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk admitted that it would not be signed if people knew its contents. The group Flush the TTP is small but growing as it educates people through displaying banners, distributing OccuCards to commuters, and carrying out other actions on #TTP Tuesdays.

Around the nation, people are occupying different spaces in a “dandelion movement” as they disperse seeds to grow their ideas. Through Moral Mondays, people spent 11 Monday evenings in North Carolina getting arrested for being present in the state capitol while GOP legislators continued to try to take away people’s rights.

Wisconsin police are also arresting people who gather in the capitol to sing. For the past two and a half years, Gov. Scott Walker’s opponents have held Solidarity Singalong most weekdays over the lunch hour. They have refused to get permits for their gathering, saying the state constitution allows them to peaceably assemble without the government’s permission. The GOP legislation passed requirements for permits. U.S. District Judge William Conley temporarily blocked part of the law as unconstitutional, but the rest of the law allowed the arrests last week. Retired Evangelical Lutheran Church pastor Carter Dary collapsed with chest pains after his arrest. He was taken to the hospital in handcuffs.

Wisconsin Protests

o-dream-defenders-facebookThe Florida sit-ins didn’t face the same arrests as protesters in North Carolina and Wisconsin. Activists stayed in the capitol for almost three weeks because the state “stand your ground” law freed George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin. State House Speaker, GOP Will Weatherford, announced that he would ask a House Committee to convene to hold a hearing on the controversial law. The Dream Defenders, primarily young people, say that they will stay in the capitol until their requests are met.

Fast-food workers are striking across the nation to bring up the minimum wage to equal that in the 1960s. Richmond (CA) the city will use its eminent domain power to seize underwater houses threatened with foreclosure and re-finance them.

Because of activism in Ohio, two major oil and gas companies decided not to follow through with fracking in the Delaware River Basin. Nebraska’s Pipeline Fighters are getting their countries to pass zoning laws forbidding tar sands pipelines from crossing through the state as well as writing letters to President Obama, asking him to keep the Keystone Pipeline out of their state.

In May, Gallup released a poll showing that the nation’s shift in ideological attitudes is moving toward the left: more people in the country identify themselves as “liberals” in regard to social and economic issues while fewer of them describe themselves as conservative. A Vanderbilt study shows that conservative politicians overestimate the conservative beliefs of their constituents by more than 20 percentage points on average. Liberal politicians following the same pattern, believing that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are.

Almost 90 percent of Republicans are white; the GOP has only a 13-percent allegiance from Hispanics and less from other minorities. That poll was in February before conservative politicians like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) started talking about how young Hispanics have thighs like cantaloupes because they haul so much marijuana. Polls aren’t always to be trusted, but Republican politicians keep working to alienate everyone in the country except wealthy whites.

At the same time, the percentage of religious progressives is rapidly increasing, particularly among the young. The profile of the Republican is older and white, a demographic that is disappearing. We just need to live long enough to see it disappear and hope that the country has not been destroyed by then. At least two political parties are a good idea, but the United States needs progressives to balance the moderate and right-wing groups.

November 25, 2012

Religion Struggling with Its Government Takeover

I find religion to be a peculiar belief because it rules most of the world, including parts of the United States, and yet people have such vast diversity in beliefs. People don’t even know how often they attend a religious institution. According to a new study from the Pew Research Center, 79 percent of Americans identify with an organized faith group, making the people in this nation more deeply religious than in many other countries including those in Europe. But are people in the U.S. as religious as they say? NPR’s science correspondent Shankar Vedantam looked into this theory.

Although 45 percent of the people say that they regularly attend a church or other religious service, Philip Brenner’s study of their activities through a self-reported diary indicates that only 24 percent of the people actually do this. Perhaps they want to represent themselves as religious. This almost double over-reporting of regular attendance is in sharp contrast to very little over-reporting among people in Western Europe.

Perhaps because they want to look religious, many people in the United States tolerate the intrusion of religion into government matters, similar to the stocks in Puritan New England. States that diligently pass laws preventing the Sharia, the Islam moral code, in their law, are comfortable using Christianity in laws preventing abortion and marriage equality and in sentencing convicted felons.

Judge Mike Norman (Muskogee County, OK) sentenced 17-year-old Tyler Alred to church attendance for ten years—nothing more. Alred was convicted of manslaughter after he killed the passenger in his car when it collided with a tree. Although Alred’s blood alcohol level was under the legal limit, by law he was driving under the influence because he was a minor.

Circuit Court Judge Michael Nettles (Rock Hill, SC) did send Cassandra Tolley to prison after her conviction, but he added a provision to the eight-year sentence: mandatory bible study and a summary of the Book of Job. Tolley drove down the wrong side of a road and hit a car head on, seriously injuring two men. Her blood alcohol content was over four times the legal limit.

Fortunately, Gordon Klingenschmitt is no longer a Navy chaplain, especially after “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. His claim is that that people who vote to support same-sex marriage are like those who wanted to crucify Jesus Christ. When asked if the election shows a movement toward “enlightenment” and that Jesus might approve of marriage equality, the chaplain responded that the interviewer confused “the Holy Spirit with a demonic spirit.”

In quoting Romans 1:32, Klingenschmitt said, “‘Knowing the judgment of God that those who commit such things, homosexual acts, for example, are not only worthy of death, not only for those who do them, but for those who have pleasure in those who do them.’” None of the 18 most common versions of this verse mentions homosexuality. In fact, that word does not appear in the bible.

The former chaplain also practices exorcism and has a new book—self-published—called The Demons of Barack H. Obama. When reminded that people in the military are supposed to support elections and democracy, Klingenschmitt said, “The only election in the New Testament was the election to crucify Jesus and let Barnabas go.”

With the winter holidays bearing down on us, the fundamentalist Christians are again lamenting the loss of Christmas. Pat Robertson got a head start when he said, “Christmas all over again. The Grinch is trying to steal our holiday. It’s been so beautiful. The nation comes together. We sing Christmas carols, we give gifts to each other. We have lighted trees and it’s just a beautiful thing. Atheists don’t like our happiness, they don’t want you to be happy, they want you to be miserable. They’re miserable so they want you to be miserable.”

Like Karl Rove, Robertson was stunned when President Obama won re-election. Last January he said that God had told him who the winner would be, but there seemed to be static in that communication. In talking about his confusion, Robertson said, “So many of us miss God, I won’t get into great detail about elections but I sure did miss it, I thought I heard from God, I thought I had heard clearly from God, what happened? You ask God, how did I miss it? Well, we all do and I have a lot of practice.”

The fundamentalist Christians have had a hard year. First they couldn’t get the candidate they wanted. Texas Gov. Rick Perry looked good back in the summer when he participated in a big rally in his state, but his odd behavior led them to conservative Catholic Rick Santorum who equally alienated most people. Mitt Romney survived only because he said very little and shifted with the wind.

The fundamentalists also failed to get any of the Catholics except the bishops riled after the free contraception kerfuffle. The “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign against President Obama was overshadowed by the “Nuns on the Bus” that showed the hypocrisy of Paul Ryan and the bishop leadership. In the end, 50 percent of Catholics voted for President Obama over the 48 percent that chose Romney.

During the crucial last month, fundamentalist candidates openly and frequently showed their ignorance. Senate Republican candidates Richard Mourdock (IN) and Rep. Todd  Akin (R-MO) helped people understand how extreme the conservative radical theology is. The candidates not only lost but most likely took others down with them.

In addition, fundamentalist Christians failed to turn out for this election, possibly because of the confident rhetoric from conservative pundits on Fox and other stations proclaiming Mitt Romney as a shoe-in for the presidency. Despite Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition that sent illegal voter guides to Ohio churches, the president improved his standing by three points with white evangelicals in that state over the 71 percent to 27 percent margin John McCain won four years ago.

The final blows for fundamentalist Christians were the loss of the presidency and the Senate and the wins for marriage equality in three states. Minnesota was a fourth state that refused to further legitimize bigotry. Even the massive “Vote Biblical Values” ad campaign from famed evangelist Billy Graham failed to stop the groundswells of support among other religious groups for marriage equality.

Far-right religious figures had earlier understood that they were losing the war against marriage equality. Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, reiterated this position when he said that the Religious Right should focus less on abortion and gay marriage and more on issues such as immigration reform, poverty, and increasing adoptions and foster care opportunities. We’ll wait to see if they go so far as to allow same-sex couples to participate in their grand schemes.

Meanwhile, the Church of England is having trouble with its own war on women after its laity rejected women bishops. Although the action was approved by the synod’s houses of bishops and clergy, only 324 synod members in the House of Laity voted to approve the ordination of women bishops, six short of the required two-thirds majority. As Williams said, “We have, to put it bluntly, a lot of explaining to do.” The next vote will probably not come until 2015.

 

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