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.

December 22, 2013

Battles in Holidays, Capitalism, LGBT Rights

Sometimes, religious news goes far beyond hypocrisy into just plain crazy. Here’s my top tale for the week.

One of the four Texas’s GOP gubernatorial candidates to replace Rick Perry is Larry Secede Kilgore, who changed his middle name because he wants the state to be an independent country. He wants LGBT voters to help him get elected. If he wins, he promises to step down for a year and then run for office again. His platform at that time would be to kill all homosexuals, just as the Bible says. What a campaign slogan! “Vote for me so I can kill you.”

Next to Texas is Oklahoma with its handsome tablet of the Ten Commandments in front of the capitol. The state promised that it would allow representations from other religions but reversed its positions after applications rolled in. The Satanic Temple started the requests, followed by a Hindu group (a monkey god), an animal welfare group (world peace), and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. The Oklahoma Capitol Preservation Commission voted to ban new monuments on statehouse grounds until it settles its separation of church and state court battle with the ACLU.


The Flying Spaghetti Monster has already joined the traditional holiday display at the Wisconsin State Capitol next to a “Festivus” pole and a “Winter Solstice Nativity” scene featuring Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, and Mark Twain. Freedom from Religion has posted this sign:

“Think this is ridiculous? We agree! Religious ideas should not be promoted within the halls of government. Protect the separation of church and state, it protects us all.”

Up in South Jersey, the religious battle is between a billboard reading “Keep the Saturn in Saturnalia” and a “Keep Christ in Christmas” banner hanging over the main street of Pitman. The traditional Christians decided that the best way to oppose the celebration of Rome’s precursor to Christmas, a Winter Solstice festival, was to burn it down.  An off-duty police officer saw two men in a pickup truck who succeeded only in “charring the sign’s steel support beams.” Another protester wants Christmas instead of “Obamass.” Later police sent a family on their way after they tried to cover the sign with a picture of Jesus.


Phoenix (AZ) has another warrior to preserve Christmas. A woman ringing bells for the Salvation Army in front of a Wal-Mart told a shopper “Happy Holidays.” A shopper asked her if she believed in God and then told her, “You’re supposed to say Merry Christmas.” Then the shopper punched the bellringer in the arm.

Sen. Marco Rubio is caught between a rock and a hard place after he pulled his nomination of William Thomas, a gay black judge, for the federal bench because of Tea Party protests. Members of Miami’s 93rd Street Baptist Church are now protesting the withdrawl of Thomas’ name for a U.S. district position.

Not satisfied with current translations of the bible, Andy Schlafly, the founder of and son of Phyllis Schlafly, is ridding the sacred book of liberal verses. In soliciting the “best of the public” in proposing new wording for offending terminology, Schlafly has listed words that can be used in these revised verses such as capitalism, death penalty, anticompetitive, elitism, productivity, privatize, pro-life—even “a.m.” which supports the work ethic.  According to Schlafly, “accuracy” is a conservative term because “liberals are masters of deceit.”

Thus far, Schlafly has finished the New Testament and several of the Old Testament books. Some of their “revisions”:

Eliminations:  “He who is without sin, let him cast the first stone” (John 7:53-8:11) and “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Changes: “Blessed are the meek” switches to “Blessed are the God-fearing.” And “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:24) replaces “rich” with “fully fed and entertained” or “idle miser.” Schlafly translates “Peace be with you” (John 20, 26) into “Peace of mind be with you.” Environmentalism takes a hit as the word “world” changes to “mankind” in “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but to save it” (John 3, 17). Because hypocrite is often “misused politically against Christians,” the word is changed to “deceiver” when Jesus admonishes hypocrites to “Cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.”

Humorous alternatives: One suggestion is the rewrite, “It is easier for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than a poor camel driver.” Christians might accept this because of their recent love for capitalism. Gone is the idea of helping the poor, as Ayn Rand’s unfettered capitalism is now an important part of evangelical policy:

Jesus was a capitalist:  Ramesh Ponnuru explains away Pope Francis’s recent positions on the excesses of capitalism by saying that he doesn’t understand “markets could instead enable a creative form of community.” Jonathan Moseley at WorldNetDaily redefines “capitalism” as an imaginary tax-free governmental system.

Labor unions are anti-Christian: Ralph Reed argues for the submission of workers to employers, and David Barton uses a Bible story about a vineyard owner hiring employees to show that God hates collective bargaining.

Jesus wanted poor people to starve: The far right ignores the Bible stories about Jesus’s generosity with its focus on this verse from 2 Thessalonians:  “Anyone unwilling to work should not eat.” They also ignore the fact that many people on food stamps do have jobs.

Religion freedom means employers control workers’ private lives: Hobby Lobby is going to the Supreme Court to keep female employees from using their own insurance plans for contraception, and other corporations want to follow suit.

God doesn’t believe in environmentalism: those believe climate change is real don’t have enough trust in God.

Catholic news of the week:

o-THE-ADVOCATE-570 The naming of Pope Francis as Time magazine’s “person of the year” didn’t raise eyebrows, but his next accolade was more surprising. The Advocate, America’s oldest LGBT rights magazine, chose the pope as the ‘single most influential person of 2013 on the lives of LGBT people.’ Not everyone agrees with The Advocate. Michelangelo Signorile published an op-ed on the serious flaws of the Catholic Church in relation to the LGBT community.


Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Archbishop of St. Louis, has lost his position. An avid opponent of abortion and marriage equality, he openly criticized the pope’s new direction of the church. He will stay as the head of the Vatican high court, the Apostolic Signatura.

detail=email  Administrative changes from Pope Francis also removed Burke from his position on the Congregation for Bishops, that oversees the selection of new bishops, along with Cardinal Justin Rigali. Both have been called “culture warriors” who blame the Church’s problems on others. Rigali “left Philadelphia a mess, a string of Grand Jury reports detailing malfeasance in dealing with clergy sex abuse that rivaled the pro-Dallas Charter days. Rigali left St. Louis a mess…,” according to Michael Sean Winters of the National Catholic Reporter.  A new appointment to the Congregation is Washington’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who said that married gay Catholics are “not a great problem.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt has temporarily stepped down from his post in Minneapolis and St. Paul after accusations that he inappropriately touched a minor boy in 2009. This followed a report describing his concealment of continued sexual abuses by priests. The list of 46 priests “credibly accused” of the abuse was finally made public earlier this month. 

Fifty 50 Catholic leaders sent a letter to the president of the Catholic University of America (CUA), criticizing him for accepting a $1 million donation from Charles Koch because his “trickle-down economics” ideology directly opposes that of Pope Francis and the Catholic Church. The letter also pointed out the problems with Koch’s opposition to unionizing and expansion of health care as well as “an abysmal environmental record” of its company.

To Catholics, the pope is infallible. But to Catholic Sean Hannity, the pope is wrong. Hannity explicitly said that the pope is wrong when he calls unfettered capitalism “a new kind of tyranny.” His guests helped him by explaining that “Free market capitalism does help the poor.” People rise up by lowering taxes which creates competition. And American was founded on “free market capitalism.”

Good News of the Week:

Rev. Frank Schaefer, the Pennsylvania United Methodist pastor who was stripped of his position because he officiated at his gay son’s wedding in 2007, has been offered a job by a California Methodist bishop. He would have most of the rights and responsibilities of ordained ministers. Hundreds of Methodist ministers reject the church’s official policy against marriage equality, some of them facing discipline for presiding at same-sex ceremonies.


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