Friday, February 20, 2009

separation of church and state

I came across a group on Facebook today that is working to get the LDS Church stripped of its tax exempt status because of its support of Prop 8. The rumor is that over 50% of the money supporting Prop 8 came from the Mormons and letters were read in all of the churches in California encouraging members to work, volunteer, and give in support of the proposition.

I'm not fond of the idea that the Mormons may have pushed that terrible law onto the books in CA but I'm even less happy about the possibility of outside groups dictating the message or practice of any religious organization.

There are a number of arguments that should be addressed. Some say that tax exempt status is a privilege, gift, or benefit given to churches because they provide some benefit to the broader community and it comes with strings, including not being involved in politics in a substantial way. While that argument may fly for other 501 c3's, it doesn't fly for religious organizations. Religious groups are not taxed because the government has no say over them. The power to tax is the power to control and the state has no power when it comes to religion.

Others frame the tax exempt status as a subsidy to religious groups. While it is true that many religious organizations could not survive, at least in their current forms, if they had to pay taxes, again, this implies some gift that the government has the power to give or withhold from religious groups. It has no such power to give or to withhold.

A serious fallacy that is common in the US is the idea that religion is not supposed to be political. How can it not be if it is worth anything at all? If faith impacts an individual's values, is that not political? Doesn't that inform who we vote for and what ideas we support? If it impacts how they live their daily lives, is that not political? If religion speaks to what is important in life, is that not political? When we look at Jesus, the central metaphor for his ministry was a political one - the Kingdom of God. The history of social movements in the US is a history of religious groups acting politically whether it be the idea of religious freedom which found its strongest proponents in the Baptists and the Quakers, the elimination of slavery, women's rights, worker's rights, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement... none of those political movements would have existed without people of faith acting politically from a standpoint of their religion.

Now one might argue that it is OK for people of faith to act poltically as individuals but not as groups. That betrays a misunderstanding of the diversity of faith groups. That certainly fits in the free church tradition, in many threads in Judaism, and in a number of other faith traditions which emphasize the role of the individual in shaping their own faith. In other groups, such as Catholicism and the LDS on a global level and even some fundamentalist churches on a more local level, the shape of faith is dictated by a hierarchy that literally defines what is and is not orthodox and who is in or out of the flock. In those settings, a political directive makes sense. A bishop might reasonably tell all of the members of his diocese that to vote for a certain pro-choice candidate is to risk excommunication. Likewise an LDS leader might tell all of the faithful that support for prop 8 is required to be a Mormon in good standing (I don't know how the encouragement was framed so this is just an example). Or a fundamentalist pastor may tell his congregation that they must believe a certain way which must be reflected in a vote for or against a certain candidate. Such prescriptions are built into the religion.

As a pastor, I think it is stupid to try to tell people how they should vote or what political stances they should take. In this age of baptistification (google the term, used by Martin Marty in the 80's), I think even the connectional churches risk serious problems when they try to dictate the beliefs of their constituents. Still, it solidly fits in their traditions and for the government or the people to try to curtail that practice seems clearly to be in violation of the 1st Amendment in that it impedes the free exercise of that religion.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Kids Rock!

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I have to say, "itsy bitsy spider" is my fav

Sunday, February 08, 2009

real people

A few months ago, prop 8 passed in California. Of the people with whom I spoke who voted for it, all did so on principles, on theology, or in some of the cases out of pure homophobia. The problem with all of them is that they forgot that prop 8 impacted the lives of real people. Here's a video that raises the next question... now what?

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Gene Robinson's Prayer

Both before and after the inauguration, there was lots of discussion regarding Rick Warren's prayer. I knew that Gene Robinson, the openly gay Episcopalian bishop gave the prayer at the We Are One concert. I heard some controversy that HBO didn't include the prayer in their broadcast and I guess FOX didn't even mention it in the coverage, but I hadn't found the text of the prayer until today when I ran across it at Rabbi Rami's blog. Thank you Rami for making it easy for me to find.

I should say that I have real issues with prayers given at events like this. I'm not sure they are ever proper. They certainly are not if they just underscore nationalism and militarism as all too many do. All to many are either milquetoast or they just underscore the status quo... there is no place anywhere for prayers like that. Well, here is Bishop Robinson's prayer. It is a prayer that could be and should be prayed in places of power. It is a prayer that calls us all to be what we are called to be as God's children. It is a prayer that I join in praying with all my heart.

“O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…

Bless us with tears — tears for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women in many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless this nation with anger — anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Bless us with discomfort — at the easy, simplistic answers we've preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and our world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future.

Bless us with patience — and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah.

Bless us with humility — open to understanding that our own needs as a nation must always be balanced with those of the world.

Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance - replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences.

And bless us with compassion and generosity - remembering that every religion's God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable.

And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States.

Give him wisdom beyond his years, inspire him with President Lincoln's reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy's ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King's dream of a nation for all people.

Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain.

Give him stirring words — we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead.

Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States.

Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims.

Give him strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters' childhoods.

And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we're asking far too much of this one. We implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand - that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.



a hoot... or a hootenany

My friend Jon, blogged about a new software product from Microsoft called Songsmith. Evidently, it works like a reverse karaoke. You sing into it and it produces the chord structure and instrumntation for your melody in a style of your choice. There are scores (excuse the pun) of popular songs on Youtube, processed through the software. Some are hilarious. This one is my favorite.

or maybe this one...

And no, there is no way I'm going to get the software. It would be a black hole of wasted time for me. But it would be fun.

Monday, February 02, 2009

talk radio

When I'm in the car I usually listen to either NPR or to talk radio. We have an Air America affiliate here but neither their coverage nor NPR's reaches all of my roaming area so sometimes I find myself listening to Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh or another talker of that stripe.

I understand that they need to keep an audience and that means pushing things a bit, but... but... but...

I have to say that I am more than a little miffed when they say they hope Obama fails. Now I am no fan of the W. I think and thought the first election was stolen and possibly the second one too. I think he was a disaster as a president. But I never once wished he would fail. I fully expected he would, but I never hoped for it. Why? Because his leadership impacted the entire world. If he failed. We failed. Jobs were lost. Unnecessary wars were fought. People died. I didn't want him to fail.

Now, of course, had he succeeded, it would have been very difficult for the dems to get power and for a dem to get elected as president, but that was a price I was willing to pay if it would have made the world more stable and people's lives fuller.

No, when they hope for Obama to fail, they are hoping for people to lose their homes and their jobs. They are hoping for my neighbors to lose their healthcare and to have to make choices between medicine and food. They are hoping for the world to erupt in violence and for innocent children to die as collateral damage. They are being absolutely unpatriotic. They are sinning against all of humanity.

The second piece that I've been hearing makes me laugh. I can't tell you how many times I've heard these apologists for the Bush administration attack Obama and say, as good Republicans, they are for fiscal restraint and a balanced budget. Did they sleep through the last 8 years? Did they forget that Bush came into office with a surplus (left to him by a Democrat) and left with the largest deficit ever? Or did they forget that in large degree the last administration, a Republican administration, virtually did exactly what it wanted to do for 8 years and in doing so, put our economy in the toilet, decimated our military, shredded the constitution, and destroyed our standing in the world? Or maybe they just think their audience is so stupid that they have forgotten who got us into the current mess.

Now they also spend a lot of time talking up the Bush administration's legacy. They remind us that during the final 7 years of Bush's administration no terrorist attacks took place on US soil. That is true. But no aliens from outer space attacked us either. Is either one due to the diligence of the Bushies? Got me, but given the way they ran the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan, the economy at home, and took care of the constitution, I have my doubts they were responsible for fending off either attack. At the same time, we do know who was president when 9/11 happened and we do know that reports were ignored that gave warnings about Osama Bin Laden. They seem to forget that as well.

Well, I guess they do succeed in accomplishing their primary objective though. I get upset. And I listen some more.