Sunday, January 29, 2006

State of Belief: January 29

I think it is important that mainstream to progressive religious views get more air time--we are a long way from catching up with the right wing Christian media giants, but I want to make sure I do what I can to increase awareness of what's out there. So, a brief reminder that State of Belief, hosted by Welton Geddy of The Interfaith Alliance, is going to be on tonight at 5 p.m. EST. Previous programs are available viat podcast. Here is what's going to be on tonight's program...

Esther Kaplan, author of With God On Their Side: George W. Bush and the Christian Right, tells us how the Christian Right got so powerful - and what scares her most about them.

Plus, what to expect from Bush's State of the Union address, a look at the Pope's first encyclical (and what the heck an encyclical is!), and the religious side of the White House Hurricane Katrina stonewall.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Church leaders come forward to defend call for IRS audit

This is the so-called "anonymous 31", but as you see from the article, they never had any intention or expectation that they would remain anonymous when they signed their names to an IRS complaint against Rev. Rod Parsley and Rev. Russell Johnson.

Church leaders come forward to defend call for IRS audit

"We come from different traditions, we come perhaps from different theological points of view, we come from different experiences, but we all come together around this one single concern," Williams said, referring to the pastors representing nine Judeo-Christian denominations.

The pastors want the IRS to determine whether the two evangelical megachurches headed by Parsley and Johnson, along with three affiliated organizations, should lose their tax-exempt status for participating in partisan politics.

The complaint alleges numerous instances in which the churches promoted conservative Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican candidate for governor, at religious events, in voter-registration drives and in educational materials.

Until yesterday, only about nine of the complaining pastors — whom Johnson labeled "an unholy alliance" — had been identified. But they revealed themselves yesterday under pressure from the public and Parsley, who last week called them the "anonymous 31." The pastors said they acted as individuals and not on behalf of their churches.

The Rev. David W. Meredith of the United Methodist Church said "there was never any intention to keep our names secret" and it was difficult to assemble "very busy clergy" for a public event.

Did you catch that? The nice "Christian" minister calls his fellow persons of the cloth an "unholy alliance".
Parsley said if the pastors had come to him personally, "rather than air their grievances in the media, we certainly would have quickly put their fears to rest."

But the Rev. John Edgar, of the United Methodist Church, said, "It’s not a conversation about whether or not we should have gone to Pastor Parsley ahead of time. It’s about whether or not there’s a violation of the IRS code . . . Clearly, there are significant violations. They knew it and the person they were helping (Blackwell) is someone who should have enforced the laws that were being broken."

Most of the pastors who assembled yesterday said they have told their congregations they signed the complaint and were overwhelmingly supported.

"When I told my congregation on Sunday during our worship service, there was a round of spontaneous applause," said the Rev. Kim Keethler Ball, of the American Baptist Church.

"As American Baptists, one of our core values, like the other traditions here, is that we value separation of church and state. For us, this issue falls in that realm and, precisely, (in the complaint) the issue is running a political campaign from church for a particular candidate."

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Street Prophets interviews Ted Strickland

Yesterday I posted about the Ohio governor's race in general, and specifically about how perplexed I am that newly announced candidate Eric Fingerhut's criticism of Howard Dean's recent visit to our state. The odd thing as that Fingerhut was on record as being "insulted" by Dean's visit before the event even took place--someone brought it up in the question and answer period immediately after the Honesty in Government event held on Wednesday morning. Petty snipes at fellow Democrats would seem to be a counterproductive tactic in a year that we have Ken Blackwell and his band of zealous theocrats to fight.

Thankfully, there is another candidate in the race, Ted Strickland, who has already won a number of key endorsements. Given that the Republican nominee is very likely to be Ken Blackwell, a favorite of the Religious Right who routinely appears at events carrying his Bible, Strickland, as an ordained minister may have a unique advantage if defusing or counteracting some of the rhetoric coming from the Blackwell camp.

Over at Street Prophets today, there is an interview with Ted Strickland...

Strickland grew up hardscrabble in Southern Ohio, on a dirt road that Roy Rogers and Branch Rickey also called home. A story that turns up often in his speeches concerns the chicken shack his father fixed up as temporary housing after the family home burned down. "Believe me," he's fond of saying, "if you learn anything from living in a chicken shack, it's that things can get better."

Click here for the rest.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

National Sanctity of Life Day Action Item

Driving my daughter to choir practice, I passed a Catholic church that apparently took to heart Bush's proclamation of National Sanctity of Life Day. The lawn was covered with white crosses, and there was a sign that said "abortion kills babies". I couldn't read all of the words as I drove past, but apparently there was a numercal comparison between abortion victims and Holocaust victims.

Wonder how many crosses the Bush administration has racked up in the past 5 years. The easy part would be coming up with the number of deaths brought about as a result of his misguided misadventure in Iraq. The hard part would be finding out how many lives have been lost, either directly or indirectly, as a result of his domestic policies.

I still believe that we need to respond to this utter hypocrisy. Bush, who as Governor of Texas, signed a "pull the plug law", preaching to Americans about the "sanctity of life". And, reading the proclamation, one can't help but notice the religious language he uses. What a truly frightening man this is--with this mix of warmongering and the mantle of piety he wears, the words "Holy Roman Emperor" come to mind.

But here's the part that deserves response, in thoughtful letters to the editor as well as any eye-catching statements we can come up with...

National Sanctity of Human Life Day is an opportunity to strengthen our resolve in creating a society where every life has meaning and our most vulnerable members are protected and defended including unborn children, the sick and dying, and persons with disabilities and birth defects. This is an ideal that appeals to the noblest and most generous instincts within us, and this is the America we will achieve by working together.

So, let's look at the Bush administration's track record on protecting and defending the most vulnerable members of our society. Unborn children? Right, this is supposed to be a point in his favor, since he's against abortion. But I would think that protecting and defending them would also involve making sure that their mothers have access to affordable medical care, and that their jobs pay a living wage. The sick and dying? Persons with disabilities? I'm thinking the main idea here is that he is against euthanasia, but I'll bet that administration policies have adversely affected each of these groups.

Let's not miss this opportunity. Let's make sure that newspapers around the country receive letters tomorrow morning addressing the Bush administration's *callous disregard* for the sanctity of life, giving specific examples. Please use the comments to share facts that can be used in letters to the editor, or to post your own letter that you are sending...or any other ideas this sparks for you.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

State of Belief Radio Show

I hope to have more time to post here soon. Since this is tomorrow, I wanted to pass along the following email update as a heads-up to anyone who is interested...

Leahy Opposes Alito on Sunday's State of Belief Radio

Gaddy, Leahy, Hackett, Eltantawi on the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism

Washington, January 20 -- "State of Belief," the new, much talked about Air America Radio show on religion and politics, announces a terrific show for Sunday, January 22, building on the great success of the first show.

This Sunday's State of Belief features interviews with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Paul Hackett, US Senate candidate from Ohio.

Leahy tells host Welton Gaddy that Judge Samuel Alito is only the second Supreme Court nominee he has opposed in 32 years in the Senate. Senators who supported Alito from the start and declined to ask Alito tough questions didn't serve their country well, Leahy says.

"I don't go to church to get my politics anymore than I elect politicians to give me my religion," Hackett says.

And Gaddy explains, "I'm doing this radio show because I want to hold up an attractive alternative to the Religious Right. I want to provide information and tools for action for all interested in working together for the good of all people regardless of their posture toward religion. In my vision, State of Belief, is, at least in part, to promote the proper role of religion in the nation, and thus, to prevent the Religious Right from hijacking religion and stealing our nation."

Activist Sarah Eltantawi offers a compelling commentary on how the progressive Muslim movement is working with other progressive religious groups in America. And a student from Georgia explains how religion and politics intersected in her life --in this case, in her biology classroom.

State of Belief talks about religion and politics in public in all the ways you're not supposed to. Through interviews with newsmakers and celebrities and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism. Welton believes that religion and radical freedom are best friends. And that the Religious Right is wrong -- wrong for America and bad for religion.

State of Belief
Religion and radio, done differently
Brought to you by The Interfaith Alliance Foundation
5:00 to 6:00 PM EST each Sunday
Air America Radio Network

To see where Air America is broadcast, go to (It is likely that State of Belief will be on the air this Sunday at 5 PM EST on your local Air America Radio affiliate. Or, you can listen online or on XM Satellite Radio, channel 167).

To listen online, go to:

To stream or podcast State of Belief, on Monday go to

Monday, January 16, 2006

Jonah House

Haven't had much time to write new posts here for a while, as work, more work, bits of my computer going (virtually) kablooie. I am thankful that I still *have* a computer that more or less works, but it is going to take a while before I regain some vital pieces of functionality.

Anyway, I just checked my e-mail and found a message from Susan of Jonah House, suggesting that I add their link to my page of Progressive Religious Links. Except, the web design software I used to set up that page is one of the things I'm having trouble with now. So for now, I'd like to post about Jonah House here, and will add it to my links page as soon as I am able...

"We are a faith-based, nonviolent, resistance community, and I think that some people who go to your site would be interested in visiting us."

Friday, January 06, 2006

How do you define religion?

Something I have been thinking about lately is what makes an organization a "religion" rather than a charity, social club, activist group, etc.? From time to time I hear that some Unitarian Universalist church is in danger of losing its tax-exempt status because they do not require that one believe in a supreme being with supernatural powers. Of course, I'm sure that these challenges typically have more to do with the fact that UUs are often activists for issues of social justice, and don't tend to vote Republican. Having spent two years at a Unitarian Universalist church here in Columbus, I would never hesitate to call it a "real" church, but I'm not sure how to explain why I think so.

Then today on a break at work, I saw a story in the Faith and Values section of the Columbus Dispatch about Universism. The article states that the only "rule" of Universism is "do not harm one another". In the article, the founder of Universism, 28-year-old medical student Ford Vox says "It's a matter of looking at it not as a transcendent truth that is immutable. Our central tenet is that truth is mutable and changes and depends on our own perception."

How do you define religion? This is a question I am just putting out there for discussion, and I hope it is of interest to people. At the moment, I don't have an answer of my own to that question, so I am very interested in knowing what the rest of you have to say.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Science and religion

Via the Flying Spaghetti Monster web site (because the big noodly one gets a brief mention on the second page of the article, I found this Scientific American piece:

Getting a Rational Grip on Religion
Is religion a fit subject for scientific scrutiny?

It's a review of the book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, Daniel Dennett. Interesting discussion on the evolution of religion, and the purpose it served.

"I appreciate that many readers will be profoundly distrustful of the tack I am taking here," he writes. "They will see me as just another liberal professor trying to cajole them out of some of their convictions, and they are dead right about that--that's what I am, and that's exactly what I am trying to do." This warning comes at the end of a long, two-chapter overture in which Dennett defends the idea that religion is a fit subject for scrutiny. The question is how many of the faithful will follow him that far.

For those who do not need to be persuaded, the main draw here is a sharp synthesis of a library of evolutionary, anthropological and psychological research on the origin and spread of religion. Drawing on thinkers such as Pascal Boyer (whose own book is called Religion Explained) and giving their work his own spin, Dennett speculates how a primitive belief in ghosts might have given rise to wind spirits and rain gods, wood nymphs and leprechauns. The world is a scary place. What else to blame for the unexpected than humanlike beings lurking behind the scenes?

The result would be a cacophony of superstitions--memes vying with memes--some more likely to proliferate than others. In a world where agriculture was drawing people to aggregate in larger and larger settlements, it would be beneficial to believe you had been commanded by a stern god to honor and protect your neighbors, those who share your beliefs instead of your DNA. Casting this god as a father figure also seems like a natural. Parents have a genetic stake in giving their children advice that improves their odds for survival. You'd have less reason to put your trust in a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

Read the rest here.
Interesting. On the one hand, I certainly consider myself to be among "the faithful", but I do think that science can tell us some things about religion in a broad sense. But I don't think science can render faith meaningless, any more than religion can render science useless.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Pondering these things

I'm off to a slow start getting my mind around the new year, getting the kids back to school and myself back to teaching. And finding additional work to help make ends meet. And...well, suffice it to say that there are lots of things filling my time and keeping me from blogging as much as I'd like to. But I've been wanting to post this since I first heard it as a liturgical reading in my church last Christmas season. Since it was used again this past Sunday, and I have the text in front of me, I'd like to share it now...

"Pondering These Things" by Gay Hadley

Neighbors said it first. Surely this child belongs
to someone else.
Mary, too, when she held him,
sang him to sleep, watched
his deep brooding eyes,
wondered where he came from.

We ponder our children,
blessed or not, depending on
our point of view. We are afraid
for the ones who are different,
who talk early, speak
with a shivering wisdom.

We fear the world will be afraid
and we know we may lose them,
not understanding why,
except to think they must
belong to someone else.