Category Archives: Religion

On the LDS Hit List

Let's start with a little background: when my parents were married my dad was Mormon and my mom was Methodist. Mom converted to being a Mormon a couple of years into their marriage and for the first eight years of my life our family was very active in the church. Then my parents got divorced and left the church. For years afterwards the church would call our house and invite me and my younger brother back to church without my mom with whom we lived. Understandably, I declined.  

All of my adult life whenever I've moved my name has eventually ended up on a list in the local ward (kind of like a Catholic parish) and I've started to get regular visits from the missionaries. I've always been cordial and have even taken the time to sit and chat with them, give them my background story, give them something cold to drink and then sent them on their way. The visits were usually about six months apart and generally not too bothersome so I didn't feel compelled to do anything about it, but that all changed over the last couple of months.

For some reason the local ward in Clemmons has decided to ratchet up the visits.  Our household has had three visits in the last month, and unfortunately for my wife I haven't been home for a couple of those. She was born and raised Catholic – I converted to Catholicism soon after we were married – and we now attend a Moravian church. Literally, there's no reason for her to talk to these young people other than she's married to me. Last week the missionaries showed up and my wife had finally had it. She asked the young ladies to leave us alone (the last few months our missionaries have been young ladies) and was curt enough that one of the young ladies started crying. She asked what she was supposed to do about our situation and talked about how stressed she was being away from home and of course my wife felt terrible about it. She commiserated with the young lady, explained it wasn't anything personal, but that we just desired to be left alone. That's when it got weird.

According to the missionaries the only way to stop the visits is for me to meet with the local bishop (think priest/lay minister) and fill out paperwork requesting that I be removed from their list. That of course floored my wife, but she took the bishop's information and it's sitting on our kitchen counter where it will continue to sit until I act. I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to do, but I do know this: I don't respond well to unreasonable demands and this most definitely feels unreasonable.

Here's what I'm likely to do in the short term:

  • Contact the bishop and ask him to remove me from their list immediately. 
  • If he refuses I'll put up a no soliciting sign on our property and doors and tell him that any representative from the church, missionaries or otherwise, who set foot on my property without being invited will have the sheriff called on them and I'll ask that they be charged with trespassing
  • Under no circumstance will I meet with him, in much the same way I won't meet with a salesperson to fill out paperwork to get him to stop selling to me.

That's about as far as I've gotten. I should note that I really respect these kids who leave home for two years to do what they consider their calling in faraway places, and I really don't want to have to take out my frustrations on them, but if the LDS is going to demand I jump through some silly hoops to get my name off of some list I never put myself on then their messengers will have to deal with it.

That Prayer Thing Again

Some folks in these parts wonder what the big deal is about county commissions or city councils inviting clergy to pray and then allowing the clergy to deliver sectarian prayers. After all most of the prayers are Christian and most of the citizens are Christian so what's the issue?

First of all, the government represents all of the people, not most of the people, so any time a government is in the position of favoring one religion over another it is in fact not acting fairly with all of its citizens. There's simply no compelling reason for an atheist or agnostic to be required to listen to prayers sanctioned by their elected leaders while attending one of their meetings. Obviously those same atheists have to accept that any citizen has the right to pray, and to do so in public if they want, but since the county commission or city council is the sole governing body for the things that directly affect its citizens (property taxes, school funding, land use, zoning, etc.) every person should have the opportunity to address that body without having to be subjected to a religious address.

Then there's what we might call the hypocrite issue. That's a polite way of pointing out that a lot of people who condone the practice of sanctioned prayers do so only if the prayers meet their standard for appropriateness. To wit this story from the NC Legislature:

A Republican legislator in North Carolina told a constituent that she has misgivings with an Islamic prayer being conducted before a legislative meeting because she doesn't "condone terrorism," the Raleigh News & Observer reported Wednesday.

In an email exchange obtained by the News & Observer, state Rep. Michele Presnell (R) was responding to a constituent who asked her if she is comfortable with a prayer to Allah taking place before the meeting. 

“No, I do not condone terrorism," Presnell responded to the constituent. 

Yeah, it's hard buying the whole idea that there's no reason for anyone to be uncomfortable dealing with an elected body that explicitly endorses prayer. It's reasonable for an atheist, agnostic, Buddhist or Muslim to assume that they'd get different treatment because of their beliefs and that's just not fair.

I’ll See Your Bible and Raise You a Torah

There's a proposed bill in the NC senate (SB 138) that would allow local school boards to offer elective courses in Bible study at their high schools.  This would probably cause some consternation with folks who see this kind of thing as violating the separation of church and state, but quite honestly if it's an elective that seems to be a bit of a stretch. On the other hand it does seem to put the state in the position of favoring one religion over others since it doesn't include other religious texts like the Torah or the Koran.

If the intent of the course is not to indoctrinate students but to study how the the Bible has influenced society then it could be seen as a legitimate educational effort rather than an effort to indoctrinate non-religious or non-Christian students.  And if that's the case then why not write the bill so that school's could offer similar courses to study the Torah, the Koran or other religious texts that have obviously had a tremendous impact on our world? 

Perhaps it would be helpful to look at the text of the bill to see if we can discern the intent. Here it is:

A BILL TO BE ENTITLED
2 AN ACT TO PROVIDE FOR LOCAL BOARDS OF EDUCATION TO OFFER TO
3 STUDENTS IN GRADES NINE THROUGH TWELVE AN ELECTIVE COURSE IN
4 BIBLE STUDY.
5 The General Assembly of North Carolina enacts:
6 SECTION 1. G.S. 115C-81 is amended by adding a new subsection to read:
7 "(g4) Bible Study Elective. – Local boards of education may offer to students in grades
8 nine through 12 elective courses for credit on the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament), the New
9 Testament, or a combination of the two subject matters. A student shall not be required to use a
10 specific translation as the sole text of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament and may use as
11 the basic textbook a different translation of the Hebrew scriptures or New Testament approved
12 by the local board of education or the principal of the student's school. A course offered by a
13 local board of education in accordance with this subsection shall (i) follow federal and State
14 law in maintaining religious neutrality and accommodating the diverse religious views,
15 traditions, and perspectives of the students of the local school administrative unit and (ii) not
16 endorse, favor or promote, or disfavor or show hostility toward any particular religion,
17 nonreligious faith, or religious perspective. Courses may include the following instruction:
18 (1) Knowledge of biblical content, characters, poetry, and narratives that are
19 prerequisites to understanding contemporary society and culture, including
20 literature, art, music, mores, oratories, and public policies.
21 (2) Familiarity with the contents, history, style, structure, and societal influence
22 of the Hebrew scriptures or the New Testament."
23 SECTION 2. This act is effective when it becomes law and applies beginning with
24 the 2013-2014 school year.

At first blush it seems innocuous enough, but you still have to ask why other prominent religious texts aren't included.  By not including them it's easy to see how people would assume the underlying intent is to introduce Christianity to the public schools, and as mentioned before it definitely seems to put the state in the position of favoring one religion over another.

Let's end with a fun scenario game:

  1. Bill becomes law.
  2. School district decides to offer Bible elective at its high schools.
  3. Two-thirds of the way through the course a teacher, who's a Baptist, goes out on maternity leave and the replacement teacher is a Mormon.
  4. Parents of several students demand either a different teacher be assigned to the course or that their children be allowed to transfer out of the class without penalty. Their argument is that they don't want their children being fed "lies" by that "cultist."

Wouldn't it be fun to be a fly on the wall of the principal's office that day.
Related articles

Bill would create Bible study elective for high schools

Fox News Tries to Demote Christianity

Fox News' flagship personality, one Bill O'Reilly, has tried to demote Christianity from a religion to a philosophy – apparently in a battle fought in the War on Christmas. Jon Stewart, Comedy Central's flagship personality who happens to be Jewish, is there to set Fox and Bill straight:

 

 

Moravian Star Emergency

Good friend Ruth Burcaw has an excellent post that ties together the topics of Moravian stars, Advent and being Moravian:

A Moravian star emergency is likely only to happen during Advent, the season of the church year leading up to Christmas. That is when Moravians (& others) display the Moravian star, beginning with the first Sunday in Advent and ending with Epiphany, the celebration of the wise men’s arrival on January 6. So, back to my pastor friend, for whom Advent is quickly approaching (three days!) and for whom the sanctuary’s 110-point Moravian star is not working! He has called all experts in the workings of Moravian stars, and as you can imagine, this is not a very long list. Having done all he can, he realizes with some anxiety, all he can do now is . . . wait.

Waiting. . . we all do it, though it seems in these days of immediate gratification that we are not content to wait long before we become frustrated and irritated by our waiting . . . for traffic to clear, the doctor to appear, for the web page to load, for dinner to arrive. Waiting frustrates us because we have so many expectations . . . expectations of clear roads, efficient service, quick internet speeds, fast food. We are impatient people, full of expectations. Our waiting is not peaceful or contemplative.

Yet Advent turns all this on its ear. During this holy season, we are required to be expectant, to wait. Waiting is an intentional part of Advent as we anticipate the coming of the Christ child. We hear in Jeremiah 33:14 the words of promise . . . “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.” We wait.

 

A Different Look at Amendment One

Greensboro blogger David Wharton, a Catholic, has decided to defy his bishop's endorsement of Amendment One for a very specific reason – he feels that endorsing the amendment is a violation of the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae:

After due consideration, I've come to the conclusion that Bishop Jugis is wrong to support the amendment.

The Church holds that marriage is a sacramental, lifelong union between one man and one woman, founded in the love between the partners and for the procreation of children; however, it blesses sacramental marriages between infertile and post-fertile opposite sex couples. Thus its position is prima facie contradictory, but let that lie for now.

Even granting the Church's definition of marriage, I believe Bishop Jugis's endorsement of Amendment One violates the Second Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae. Here are some excerpts from that document, with the most relevant language highlighted by me. Pardon the length.

Despite the length of the post it's worth reading.

The Prayer Bill Comes Due

Hopefully this will be the last time I write about the Forsyth County prayer case. I've written (many times) before about my disagreement with the Forsyth County commissioners who voted to fight the ACLU-backed lawsuit regarding sectarian prayers before commission meetings, so I won't rehash it all here. I will, however, cover one aspect of this affair that's always bugged me and that's the idea of who's footing the legal bills. (I've been prompted to write this because I just read that the plaintiff's attorneys bills came in at $248,000 which was negotiated down from $273,710.15 and the commissioners now have to decide whether or not to accept it or spend more money contesting it).

Here's the deal: the county commissioners were able to take the fight, against the advice of their own lawyer mind you, because one group volunteered to take the case at no expense to the county. Unfortunately that group would not agree to pay the plaintiff's legal costs if the county lost, so one or two commissioners were getting cold feet at the thought of paying the bill with taxpayer dollars if they lost. That's when a local group of church leaders formed a different group to raise money for a defense fund and said they'd cover plaintiff's costs up to $300,000 if the county commissioners lost. So all's good right?

Not in my mind. Here's why:

  • While I believe there are times you will disagree with your own attorney, if you decide to go against your attorney's advice then you should be willing to fight with your own money. You know, put your money where your mouth is.
  • By allowing an outside entity to fight your case you're essentially endorsing that outside entity. In this case they went with a conservative Christian group, but what if they'd been approached by a conservative Muslim group that agreed to fight for the exact same ruling and even agreed to cover the plaintiff's costs no matter what the outcome? Do you think the commissioners would have voted for it?  I don't think there's a snowball's chance in hell they would have because they'd have been perceived as supporting a fundamentalist Muslim group, and that's not happening.  
  • I also had some misgivings that the local group would actually come through with the money, but apparently they provided documentation proving that they had the funds set aside. Assuming that they do come through with the money I have to say I wish they'd spent it elsewhere, like maybe feeding the hungry. You see I've learned through volunteering with Second Harvest Food Bank that they can provide seven meals for $1, which means that if the money had been spent with them instead of on a court case that the county's own attorney said was a loser, they could have provided1,736,000 meals to some folks who really needed it. (I do realize that this could be said about a lot of other areas of spending, but it helps put things in perspective).

By the way if you really think the commissioners need prayers to guide their work you're more than welcome to go and pray for them during the public comments part of their meeting. In fact if they really thought they needed prayers to guide them before doing their business they could have added a public comment period at the beginning of the meeting, opened it up to everyone, enjoyed the citizens' input (prayers included) and gotten on with their business and no one would have said "boo." But unfortunately they seemed to feel that the only people able to adequately pray for them were their hand-picked clergy members, which of course is what got them in trouble. I'm amazed people haven't taken offense to that.

Oops, I guess I lied when I said I'd only write about the bill.