Nel's New Day

September 22, 2019

Evangelicals Killing Christianity in U.S

Christian evangelicals were largely responsible for electing Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) in 2016, but their politics are driving people away from organized religion, according to a recent analysis in fivethirtyeight.com. Michele Margolis, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of From Politics to the Pews: How Partisanship and the Political Environment Shape Religious Identity, said:

“Politics can drive whether you identify with a faith, how strongly you identify with that faith, and how religious you are. And some people on the left are falling away from religion because they see it as so wrapped up with Republican politics.”

In the early 1990s, less than ten percent of people in the U.S. lacked a formal religious affiliation, with liberals having about the same percentage as the general public. Twenty-five years later, almost 25 percent have no affiliation with a religion, and 40 percent of liberals are part of that group. The share of conservatives and moderates with no religion is also rising. By now, most people’s ideology matches their religious identity. The more liberal the person, the less likely to belong to a faith, and vice versa. 

Many religiously unaffiliated still believe in God, but the percentage of liberals who never attend religious services has tripled. Those in the U.S. who say that God exists fell from 53 percent in 1991 to 36 percent in 2018.

In the past, politics weren’t connected to loss of faith; reasons were a church scandal or the feeling that a religion’s hierarchies or rules were antiquated, restrictive, or irrelevant. Searches into the connection between politics and faith were carefully done because the view that politics can shape religious beliefs can be offensive. Two sociologists, Michael Hout and Claude Fischer, did look beyond conventional demographic and generational shifts to find reasons for changes of falling religious affiliation in the mid-1990s, particularly among liberals. Published in 2002, their results offer the theory that some left-leaning people walked away from religion because of the Christian right’s extensive participation in politics, especially when the white evangelical Protestants became controlling in focusing the GOP platform on sexual morality such as opposition to marriage equality and abortion. 

Exploring that theory, prominent political researchers discovered that people leaving a religious affiliation kept their political identities instead of a growing secular attitude moving them toward the left. One study showed that just reading a news story about a Republican who spoke in a church might cause Democrats to claim they were nonreligious in “an allergic reaction to the mixture of Republican politics and religion,” according to David Campbell, a co-author of the study and political scientist at the University of Notre Dame. The numbers began to increase, and liberals are unlikely to return.

Surveys by the Pew Research Center show that the percentage of liberals who believe that churches and religious organizations positively contribute to society dropped from 49 percent in 2010 to only 33 percent. Only 11 percent of very liberal people say that being Christian is important to what it means to be American, compared to 69 percent of people who identify as very conservative. Liberals are unlikely to return to organized religion as long as conservatives push their fundamentalist religious beliefs into politics.

Surveys also show that secular liberals are more likely than moderates or conservatives to have spouses who aren’t religious. These couples don’t create a structured religion for their children, and the youngest liberals who have always lived in a political Christian right world are the most secular. The fundamentalist Christian power in politics undermines trust in both religion and Christian power in government, making politics more and more divisive.

Evangelical Christian hypocrisy is a strong reason for turning away from religion, and an eight-month investigation into DDT’s supporter Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University, reveals him a poster boy for the conservative religion’s double standard that can lead people to leave religious affiliation. University officials described Falwell’s abuse of school’s funds, for example his gift of $1.8 million to Miami poolboy, Giancarlo Granda, for an LGBTQ-friendly Miami Beach hotel. Falwell also sold university property to his young handsome personal trainer Benjamin Crosswhite, providing him the money to buy the property which the university rented back from him. Colleagues have described more deals.

Under Falwell’s direction, the school made big loans to his friends not in the university’s financial interests. Prototype Tourism LLC, a tourism company founded by Josh Oppenheimer, got $200,000 but had trouble paying back the loan. Family friend Robert Moon, who founded Construction Management Associates, Inc., got $750,000 before the university awarded him $130 million in construction contracts at the school with no other bids and sold him university property. In 2012, Falwell turned management of several university properties over to the company that his son, Trey Falwell, formed and that listed its address as that of Jerry Falwell’s and his wife’s home.

A senior university official said:

“We’re not educating; we’re buying real estate every year and taking students’ money to do it.”

Other accusations include photographs of Falwell and his son Trey at the WALL nightclub in Miami Beach while they were drinking alcohol and dancing. Falwell’s university punishes students for drinking alcohol and co-ed dancing. Falwell hired “IT guy” John Gauger to reduce the pictures’ prominence in Google searches. Claims include sending and texting racy photos of his wife to male subordinates and “accidentally” emailing a picture of his wife in a French maid outfit to multiple people. Falwell was overheard hiring DDT’s former fixer Michael Cohen to fix blackmail for the photographs, possibly by his pool boy, in a recording of Cohen with Tom Arnold.  

Falwell makes colleagues uncomfortably by incessantly talking about his sex life at work. He called one of his students “emotionally imbalanced and physically retarded” and described the campus police chief “a half-wit and easy to manipulate.” About his former associate athletics director, Falwell wrote, “Only get Kevin involved in something if you want it not to work.”

Liberty officials fear retribution from Falwell and his wife. One school employee said:

“It’s a dictatorship. Nobody craps at the university without Jerry’s approval.”

A high-ranking university official, one of the over two dozen officials who spoke out, said:

“We’re talking about the difference between right and wrong. Not even ‘being a Christian,’ but being a good person, versus people who manipulate the system.”

While not denying the content of the embarrassing emails, Falwell claims that his embarrassing emails were stolen from Liberty University in a “criminal conspiracy” that makes him the target of an “attempted coup.” The FBI doesn’t comment, but cybercrime expert Nick Ackerman called Falwell’s claim “totally insane.”

Falwell is also a prime example of a politically powerful evangelical Christian who’s in the religion business to make money. He slammed David Platt, an evangelical Virginia pastor who apologized for welcoming DDT to his church by saying:  

 “I only want to lead us with God’s Word in a way that transcends political party and position, heals the hurts of racial division and injustice, and honors every man and woman made in the image of God.”

Falwell said that “pastors like [David Platt] need to grow a pair.” He responded to critics by bragging about how much money he made for Liberty University. A former university official called Falwell’s “washing his hands of any responsibility for spiritual life at the university—that was frankly a pretty Trumpian line of commentary.”

John Stoehr, political scientist and journalist, describes white evangelical Christians as sadists for the pleasure they derive from human suffering who they consider as “others.” People of color and members of the LGBTQ community deserve pain, humiliation, and physical abuse because of “divine justice.” Stoehr writes:

“[Sadists] are cruel because being cruel to people deserving cruelty feels good.”

For example, Christian leader Mark Taylor claimed that “patriots” will drag dead high-profile Democratic politicians through the streets if DDT doesn’t mass-arrest them by January.  White evangelicals don’t recognize political legitimacy in “others” because they don’t see them as equal. According to the evangelical Christian “moral compass,” “others” are to be used or abused, cheated and defeated because they aren’t equal.

Led by DDT, most U.S. evangelicals ignore the climate crisis destroying the planet for their descendants. World leaders including UK’s Boris Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron, and India’s Narendra Modi are coming to New York City for the UN climate action summit on September 23, but DDT won’t be present. Instead, he booked a room at the UN headquarters to give a speech about religious freedom, hoping to distract from the 60 speeches giving concrete plans to slow the climate crisis around the world. While over 4 million children and adults marched in 163 countries to save the planet, DDT praised Australia for digging coal.

Hypocrisy, Christian control, sadism, and DDT—these are reasons to leave organized religion.

May 17, 2015

Religious Persecution from the Christian Side

Christian leaders in the United States are still reeling from the latest survey from Pew Research Center regarding religious affiliation in the United States. Completed every seven years, the poll discovered that the number of people not affiliated with any religion is up over 40 percent during the last seven years from 16.1 percent in 2007 to 22.8 percent. At the same time, evangelical Protestants have shrunk about one percent, and Catholics have gone down about three percent. Mainline Protestants have decreased over three percent. Almost six percent of people in the United States identify with a non-Christian faith, an increase of 1.2 percent.

religious landscapeThe greatest increases of nonaffiliated people were those born in the 1980s—about one-third of the population—and those born in the 1990s—rising to 36 percent. A surprising change was also found by the Christian polling company Barna Group. In the last 22 years, the percentage of women atheists and agnostics rose from 16 percent to 43 percent. One assumption for this change is that these skeptics regard Christian churches as “places that have ugly views, such as wars, preventing gay marriage and a woman’s freedom to control her body, sexual and physical violence perpetrated on people by religious authority figures, mixing religious beliefs with political policy and action.” Good guess!

When two gay men recently met with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), they may have honestly thought that they could have a reasonable dialog with the presidential candidate. Cruz said about his visit, “I know it’s been a long time since we’ve seen it, but this is what it means to truly be a ‘big tent Republican’ instead of a panderer.” The “tent” was short-lived. Last week Cruz said that the Democratic Party has “gotten so extreme and so radical in its devotion to mandatory gay marriage that they’ve decided there’s no room for the religious liberty protected under the First Amendment.” Time for LGBT people to leave the GOP tent.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (T-TN) complained about this non-existent victimization at the recent “Freedom Summit” in South Carolina. When asked about Christian persecution, she said, “You know, there have been several lately. There’ve. Um. I can’t give you a specific [pause] right off the cuff.” She shrugged, said “I’m sorry,” smiled, turned away, and then looked back at the camera to finish, “Yeah. Thanks.” Tennessee, Blackburn’s home state, has a law prohibiting atheists from holding any public office.

After his disastrous performance in trying to answer questions about the Iraq War last week, Jeb Bush came up with the example of a florist discriminating against a gay couple as “the best example” of Christians facing persecution in the United States. He said that the country needs to be more “tolerant” of her viewpoint that the LGBT community doesn’t deserve equal access to business services. This statement follows an earlier expression of his support for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Conservative columnist Kathleen Parker delivered a typical misinformed perspective on Christian persecution this past week. Her reference to how Roger Ailes’ Fox network protects Christians shows the source. She wrote:

“Why can’t the Little Sisters of the Poor suck it up and sign off on the Affordable Care Act’s demand that their insurance policy include contraception funding? Ditto Hobby Lobby, the family-owned craft business that prevailed in its Supreme Court fight to not fund insurance covering contraception that destroys embryos.”

No one ever demanded that the Little Sisters include contraception in its insurance, just that the group sign an application for a waiver. It refused. The for-profit Hobby Lobby was comfortable with birth control as long as Hobby Lobby made enough money from their stock in drug companies that sold these to women. The Satanist religion is now trying to protect women from the government’s interference in their health care. If Parker believes in lack of persecution for religion, she will also be supporting that, especially because she wrote that “the state should always go to extra lengths to protect religious liberty whenever possible.”

Parker claims that Hillary Clinton would “crush the individual’s [interests] in necessary to advance women’s rights” because she advocates women’s unfettered access to “reproductive health care and safe childbirth.” Parker added, “By contrast, Jeb Bush, who will become the GOP nominee if Republicans are smart, [said] it’s a depressing fact that when some people think of Christianity and of Judeo-Christian values, they think of something static, narrow and outdated….” (Depressing yes. Also true.)

The 40,000 students in the Clovis (CA) United School District will not be oppressed by religion after Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black ruled that the religion-based abstinence-only sex education isn’t really sex-ed. Because of this religiously mandated curriculum, the United States faces high rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies.

Black concluded that programs dedicated to pushing abstinence rather than “medically and socially appropriate sexual education” are depriving students of “an important public right. The ruling is long overdue. California law prohibited schools  from medically inaccurate or biased information in sex-ed courses since 2003. An example of teaching in the Clovis district is that a non-virgin woman is like a dirty shoe. While failing to provide information about birth control and condoms, abstinence-only programs also compare people who have had sex to chewed up gum, used tape, dirty chocolate, and glasses of spit. “This is the first time that abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula have been found to be medically inaccurate,” Phyllida Burlingame, director of Reproductive Justice Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the decision.

The ruling against using abstinence-only curriculum as sex ed may be heading for the Supreme Court along with Wal-Mart’s argument that the religious beliefs of their shareholders cannot guide the products that it sells. The Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby decided that corporations can avoid following laws because of its “religious beliefs,” overriding an argument from 44 lawyers that “allowing a corporation … to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation.”

The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month against the Trinity Church, concluding that shareholders can’t impart their religious beliefs onto a corporation. Wal-Mart, one of 2012 CNN’s top nine “religious companies” in the U.S., refused to let its shareholders vote on whether the company should sell products that “might endanger public safety, hurt Wal-Mart’s reputation, or offend ‘family and community values’ which they believe are ‘integral to Wal-Mart’s brand.’” Wal-Mart and the federal court decided that the shareholders have no religious rights like Hobby Lobby does. The church had sued Wal-Mart because it sells products such as weapons used in mass shootings, including the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Maybe SCOTUS, Jeb Bush, and Kathleen Parker would agree with the shareholders because of their religious beliefs. Or maybe not.

Fundamentalist Christians may be shifting their belief that religion should control the U.S. government. Just five months ago, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) wanted leaders from the faith community to “rise up and engage America in the public square with Biblical values.” He calls for “pastors to lead the way and reset the course of American governance.” The GOP wants religious leaders to guide public debate.

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter's square at the Vatican March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini - RTR4URKU

Pope Francis waves as he arrives to lead the weekly audience in Saint Peter’s square at the Vatican March 25, 2015. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini – RTR4URKU

That was before Pope Francis decided to sign a treaty recognizing a Palestinian country. At that point, Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) said, “It’s interesting how the Vatican has gotten so political when ultimately the Vatican ought to be working to lead people to Jesus Christ and salvation, and that’s what the Church is supposed to do.” The conservatives have been upset about the pope’s progressive positions on climate change, Iran nuclear talks, Cuban diplomacy, economic inequality, and pay equity for women, but advocating a Palestinian state drove them over the edge.

Conservatives support religion in government as long as it’s their own religion. Any other time, religious leaders should stay quiet.

November 18, 2012

Churches Challenged on Their Control

Good news for all the people who object to religious groups using the pulpit to get their favorite—frequently bigoted—candidates elected while still avoiding payment of taxes on their illegal acts. The Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) is suing the Internal Revenue Service for not challenging the tax-exempt status of churches where pastors partisan politick in their preaching.

FFRF filed a lawsuit last Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Western Wisconsin alleging that up to 1,500 pastors participated in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” in early October and endorsed at least one or more candidates in violation of IRS rules for non-profit organizations. Wisconsin. Although FFRF has members and chapters across the US, it filed the case from Madison (WI) because the main office is based there.

Most churches and other religious institutions are classified as 501 (c) (3) non-profits giving them tax-exempt status. In exchange, these organizations cannot participate or intervene in “any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any political candidate.” Although the regulation went into effect almost 60 years ago, a federal court ruled three years that the IRS lacked staff to investigate places of worship after the federal agency re-organized.

Religious leaders know that they can break the law with impunity because not one religious organization has been challenged for electioneering since that court ruling. According to Russel Renwicks from the IRS’s Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division, the IRS is “holding any potential church audits in abeyance” until rules on electioneering could be “finalized.” There is no timeline for this “finalization.”

This lawsuit follows 27 complaints with the IRS this year, including opposition to these actions:

— Roman Catholic Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay (WI) warned voters on diocesan letterhead inserted in parish bulletins that they could “put their own soul in jeopardy” if they voted for a party or candidate that supports same-sex marriage or abortion rights.

— Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria (IL) criticized President Obama in a homily and then exhorted parishioners that “every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences.”

— Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Morlino wrote in the local diocesan newspaper that “No Catholic may, in good conscience, vote for ‘pro-choice’ candidates (or) … for candidates who promote’ same-sex marriage.”

The Washington-based Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics has filed a similar complaint against the electioneering of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

While religious groups try to control the country, Congress is becoming slightly more diverse. For the first time, a Congressional member is claiming to be a “non-theist.” Unfortunately, the record does not show this: evidently the Congressional statistics does not have a “non-theist” category so Krysten Sinema is classified as “nonaffiliated”—a long way from her actual beliefs. This year ten others—all Democrats, oddly enough—described themselves as “unspecified” or refused to answer the question about religious preference.  Pew Research has created great visuals to show the variety of religions in each of the political parties within Congress.

 

 

My favorite lack of balance in the U.S. government is the Supreme Court with six Catholics, two Jews, and one Protestant.

It’s another apology! The Rev. Gary LaMoine of the Barnesville (MN) parish of Assumption Church has apologized for the actions of 17-year-old Lennon Cihak’s family. Their sin was to publicize the fact that LaMoine refused to deny Lennon religious sacrament because the adolescent supported marriage equality. LaMoine discovered that Lennon supported marriage equality when he saw this photo of the young man on his Facebook. In his letter to the parish, LaMoine referred to “a couple of candidates” who could not “enter into full communion” because they differed with the church.

The Cihaks wanted Lennon to be confirmed but not if he had to lie about his beliefs. Last year the diocese fired a teacher after she expressed concern about Bishop Michael Hoeppner preaching to children in support of the proposed amendment that would ban same-sex marriage. The diocese also donated $50,000 in an effort to pass the amendment.

The young people have the chance to change the United States. On Friday evening, Lennon tweeted: “No matter how much negative feedback I get, I will ALWAYS support the #LGBT community … Support what you believe in!” Thank you, Lennon.

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