Archive for the ‘Religion and Politics’ Category

“Guest commentary: 10 things you can do with a cross”


“I’m a big fan of the U.S. Supreme Court, and I’ll defend its important role in our checks and balance system of government to the end. But sometimes, when those five right-wingers on the court get together they can produce some pretty wacky results. After all, it was Chief Justice John Roberts who testified during his confirmation hearing that it’s“my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.” In Salazar v. Buono, however, the conservative band of brothers not only umpired, they took every position in the field, loaded the bases and then hit one out of the park when they decided last week that a cross is not a cross.”

To read the entire article click here.

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Click on image to read full article on cnn.com.

Washington (CNN) — The Supreme Court narrowly ruled Wednesday that a white cross, erected as a war memorial and sitting on national parkland in the Mojave Desert, does not violate the constitutional separation of church and state.”

Click on the above image to read the entire article on cnn.com.

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It’s Ash Wednesday and many mid-Missourians will begin a period of Lent in preparation for the celebration of Easter. At the Columbia Missourian, we’re looking for services and people who will be gathering to observe this holy day.

The president is making note of Lent, too. This is his statement, provided to the media by the White House press office.

Statement by the President on Ash Wednesday

Michelle and I join Christians here in America and around the world in observing Ash Wednesday.  We mark this solemn day of repentance and promise, knowing that Lent is a time for millions to renew faith and also deepen a commitment to loving and serving one another.

How are you renewing your faith this Lenten season?

Send your comments to us by e-mail at johnstonlc@missouri.edu or post them here.

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The Althea W. and John A. Schiffman Lecture in Religious Studies series continued on Oct. 6 at the Columbia College campus with guest speaker Robert Wright. Wright, a Schwartz Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation gave a lecture on “The Evolution of God,” which is also the title of his latest book. Wright is a journalist, an author and a research scholar in religion. His latest book, The Evolution of God, grapples with the evolution of God and the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism). The book argues that pursuits of religion and the divine are valid even in the scientific era we live in.

Wright, whose religious beliefs are unclear, took an outsider’s point of view during the lecture. The “evolution of God” he refers to is not biological, but how ideas about God have changed over time and with the evolution of customs, traditions, etc. Given the way the world is melding together and becoming increasing intertwined, Wright brings up some interesting points about the relationship between different religious faiths.

“The Clash of Civilizations” is a theory that religious and cultural beliefs are and/or will be the main sources of conflict in the modern era. Wright questions what will happen to major civil societies if the three Abrahamic beliefs do not find a way to get along and have a sort of social cohesion. This raises an interesting point: history, globalization and economic interdependence have pushed societies to a point where we have learned to tolerate what we never would have accepted even a hundred years ago, let alone thousands of years ago when these three religions were first being introduced. Will we continue this trend to tolerate one another for our own survival, or have we reached a breaking point where political interests and fringe groups have interfered with morality and toleration?

Wright argues that morality was never an issue of religion in the ancient world, and that “moral monotheism” becomes a part of religion’s mission overtime. He says that religion first questioned why good and bad things happened within a society, with no emphasis on the importance of a strong moral compass. I wonder whether the reason humans have begun to put a greater emphasis on morality is a result of industrialization and globalization. We all have to get along to survive.

Going back to “The Clash of Civilizations,” Wright lectured that when religions see a benefit or a peaceful coexistence with another religious group, they are more inclined to find a basis for toleration. However, if they see a threat or rival in the other religion, they will use the parts of scripture that allows for belligerence as opposed to tolerance. Wright compares this idea with doing “business” with other religions. In the Muslim holy text, he says, there is a line that reads, “kill the polytheists wherever you find them.” Put in context, it’s saying that the war being waged in that part of the text is not about religion, but about whose side you are on because the line is saying to kill polytheists who are fighting against them, not with them. That is an example of toleration because it benefits you.

To wrap up his lecture, Wright concludes that history has pushed the three Abrahamic religions to a moral test which suggests that a larger purpose is moving society as a whole closer to moral truth. Wright says that salvation can only come about if there is a movement toward that moral truth around the world, and if that movement continues instead of falling prey to the Clash of Civilizations theory. What Wright strongly argues is that this larger purpose unfolding on Earth is one with a moral perspective. I guess, whether the movement purposeful, whether there is a God or supernatural entity behind it or whether it gives credence to the existence of divinity is up to each individual.

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Last night when I attended the Muslim Student Organization event, I was able to talk to a few members about their thoughts on Sept. 11. Nuzhat Chowdhury said that she felt like Columbia was a very open community, so she wasn’t worried about any problems associated with the anniversary of the attacks. Another student I spoke with, Mahir Khan, agreed.

Khan felt that as an American society as a whole we had lost our respect for the day. I tend to agree with him. Besides on Sept. 11, we don’t really discuss anything about it. A couple of movies came out a few years ago, but other than that it is rarely mentioned. At the same time, it’s not something that needs to come up in daily conversation. However, I think there is a balance for the amount it is talked about.

I would consider myself a patriotic person. I vote. I follow current events. I am proud to be an American. I’m appreciative of everything the members of our armed services are doing for us. But I think sometimes, as a nation, we are only patriotic on specific days. Rather, we are MORE patriotic on certain days. Why is that? Why do we ignore our patriotism on other days? Is it conscious? Or are we caught up in other aspects of our life.

I don’t think patriotism really goes away. It’s just not as central on the ordinary days. On holidays and anniversaries of tragedies like Sept. 11, it is just more at the center of our minds.

After talking to Muslim students about their religious beliefs and then about the anniversary, I realized their views weren’t that different from my own. Sadly, they occasionally have to deal with discrimination or prejudices because of what they believe, even if they are as patriotic as anyone else. It is my hope and sincere wish that this Sept. 11, no one, no matter their religion suffered any difficulties due to their differences. I hope no one faces mean looks or hateful words like some in the story in the paper today. I hope that on the anniversary of this terrible event, we truly are one nation under God.

Have you ever experienced these prejudices? Do you have to alter your life on this day to avoid it? Maybe you saw someone today on the receiving end of these prejudices and poor treatment. Hopefully you saw someone and gave them a smile. This is a tough day for all of us, but we need to be sensitive of people who are blamed for the actions of others that are out of their control. I hope everyone had a good, patriotic day.

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If you drove down Green Meadows Road on Saturday night, you might have seen a small circle of people standing on the lawn of the serenely lit Rock Bridge Christian Church, holding candles whose flames danced in the breeze of the unseasonably cool evening. If you stood on that lawn with them, you might have seen a few cars drive by with their windows rolled down, and you certainly would have heard the drivers of those cars honk their horns and shout their disagreement with the signs a few people in that circle held: “Health care is a Moral Issue,” “Love Your Neighbor: Health care for All,” “No Patient Left Behind.”

As a congregation, Rock Bridge stands firmly in support of health care reform. The small, progressive congregation, which also publicly opposes the Iraq war, registered their candlelight vigil with Faithful Reform in Health Care, an organization dedicated to building a coalition of faith communities that support health care reform. Faithful Reform urged faith groups in favor of health care reform to hold some kind of visible event this weekend, the last weekend of the congressional recess. I learned about the event from a letter its organizers, the Rev. Maureen Dickmann and moderator Roger Carter, sent to the Missourian last week.

The group that gathered at Rock Bridge was small — no more than a dozen. The event was short — no more than half an hour. It was grounded in their Christian faith — they prayed, read letters and testimonials, sang hymns and songs with the words “health care” cleverly inserted. For example, the refrain of John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance” was altered to say, “All we are saying is health reform now.” They also offered each other a sign of peace at the end of the gathering. It was peaceful, apart from some shouts from passing drivers.

The passion these people showed for health-care reform and that passion’s deep roots in their faith was particularly striking to me. After the vigil, I spoke briefly with the woman who held the “Health care is a Moral Issue” sign, and she said: “We stand together as a church in this belief that caring for each other is our moral obligation … We felt so strongly about this that we needed to make a statement. More people should speak out. So many people feel for others’ misfortune but don’t speak or do anything.”

She also told me Saturday’s event was particularly timely, given the death of Sen. Ted Kennedy, a staunch universal health care advocate, whom she called “our leader,” saying, “Because we have lost him, who was such a marvelous speaker, we all need to step up and speak for him and speak for everyone.”

Later, I sat down with Dickmann and Carter in the church’s worship space. Both tied the need for health care reform to Biblical teachings about caring for the less fortunate, both in the New Testament (“Jesus told us to care for all of God’s children, ‘the least of these'”) and in the Old Testament (“It was about taking care of the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the alien”). Carter, a Social Security disability lawyer, spoke from his experiences with clients desperate to secure adequate health care, and Dickmann told of the “vitriolic,” fear-based anti-reform rhetoric she said she encountered while attending Sen. Claire McCaskill’s town hall meeting in Moberly. Both were passionate about providing health care for all Americans and said they believed the church was morally compelled to make a visible statement to that effect. The conversation — and it felt like just that, a conversation, rather than an interview — was interesting, and I didn’t want it to end.

I attended the event as a starting point for a longer story on Columbia faith communities’ role in the health-care debate, and I am particularly interested in these communities’ faith-based justification for supporting or opposing health-care reform. When I asked Dickmann and Carter what they might say to faith groups that oppose reform, Dickmann appeared taken aback.

“I’d really like to know what kind of argument there would be for being against health care reform based on faith,” she said.

However, I know the arguments are out there, on both sides; as I report this story, I am searching for communities that have spoken on both sides.

So I enlist your help again, dear readers. Has your faith community taken a stance on health-care reform? What stance does your church take, if it has one? Why does your church hold that position? (In the event that this provokes discussion and debate in our comments section, as I sincerely hope it will, I ask that you stay on topic and be respectful.)

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I’ve been thinking of writing about Columbia’s First Church of Christ, Scientist for a while now; I’ve visited the church twice this summer and have spoken with members of the congregation about upcoming events. But I’d rather do something less newsy, and more thematic.

What would people reading this blog and/or the Missourian like to see for coverage in this area?

I was thinking of looking into some of the stereotypes associated with the faith (mainly, a dissociation with anything medical) and getting a view from congregants of the validity of these views. Would this interest any readers?

Thanks for your help!


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Members of Congregation Beth Shalom attended a service Wednesday, July 29, to remember the importance of a day called Tisha’ah b’Av. Numerous calamities that have occurred in Jewish history seem to have converged on this one day in the Hebrew calendar. The day, which means “The Ninth of Av” is remembered first as the day that both the First and Second temples in Jerusalem were destroyed, in 586 BCE and 70 CE, and when the Jews were exiled.

Rabbi Feintuch said that many Jewish leaders blame the Jewish people for the demise of the temple, citing the sins of the people as the cause. “Nowadays there are regimes in the Middle East that, in order to keep themselves in power, would point out to an enemy outside, that the Jews are so downtrodden and we suffer because of others. Not so in Jewish tradition.” In other words, some Jews have historically blamed forces within their own group for their downfall, unlike belligerent groups to which Feintuch referred.

He said the Talmud points to much evidence that the Jews’ corrupt behavior allowed for the Babylonian and Roman takeovers.  Specifically, the First Temple’s destruction is connected with the three vices of bloodshed, sexual turpitude and adultery. The second’s fall is connected with several elements, including the Jews hatred among each other and their division into factions, the disobedience of the Sabbath, or lack of youth education in the Torah.

“This is my heritage, I’m not here to try to suggest other views,” Feintuch said. “The Talmud suggests these rabbis who ruled Jerusalem made egregious historical mistakes because they chose not to seek some kind of reconciliation with Rome.”

Feintuch said that the Bible and the Talmud, the 2 most important pieces of Jewish literature, actually corroborate the idea despite our own sins, we look to blame our ills on outside forces.

“Our economy’s so depressed and our society’s so primitive, that this is something that’s happening in the Middle East for instance,” Feintuch said. “To explain their own mistakes and errors, such as women’s rights, they say ‘It’s not us – it’s because of the enemy outside.’ That’s not what the Jewish people chose to do.”

Please read the Columbia Missourian’s recent piece on Tisha b’Av for further information and context.

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The nation’s largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention, concludes its 2009 annual meeting in Louisville today. The meeting has been a forum for messengers to discuss pivotal issues in the Baptist community. Several of these resolutions include congratulating President Obama on his election and dismissing the comments of Rev. Wiley Drake, a pastor at First Southern Baptist Church in Buena Park, Calif., when he told Fox News he prays for Obama’s death. By and large, the issue of declining membership in the church will be central to the discussions.

The SBC was established in Augusta, Ga., in 1845 and now boasts 16 million members. The title refers to the denomination itself as well as its annual convention. The denomination comprises more than 42,000 churches, and 11 ministries carry out the SBC’s financial and business functions at the annual convention. Towers Online offers an excellent primer on the convention and describes the hierarchical structure and processes of the SBC. The SBC churches outline their beliefs in “The Baptist Faith and Message.” Conversion and baptism are central to the Southern Baptist faith, which historically has increased its numbers through performing adult baptisms and sending missionaries overseas.

The Rev. Brian W. Evans of Calvary Baptist Church acknowledged that the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message effectively delineates what Baptists like him believe, and he would like to see an equivalent doctrinal statement from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a more moderate Baptist fellowship of 1,800 churches, which he has yet to see. “I have reasons for what I believe, and it’s not just because the SBC says it.”

The Missouri Baptist Convention is affiliated with the national SBC body, which comprises conventions from all 50 states. A state Baptist convention is divided into several regional components, called associations, and the city of Columbia is part of the Little Bonne Femme Baptist Association. This association of 20 churches works independent of any national group. It includes churches that identify themselves with the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Baptist Association, the Baptist General Convention of Missouri and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Bill Marshall, president of the Little Bonne Femme Baptist Association, is a member of Cornerstone Baptist Church, which was dismissed from the SBC and the Missouri Baptist Convention several years ago, along with First Baptist Church and Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church, due to its ties with moderate entities.

The Southern Baptist Association gives each church its own freedom to carry out its ministry the way it wants to, Pastor Evans said. He cautions against placing too much blame on the convention’s “reluctance to change.”

“The problem is that most churches are so traditional and rooted in how they’ve ‘always done things’ that they tend to hold certain styles as sacred that are truly just preferences from a previous generation,” Evans said in an e-mail statement.

This perceived restrictive theology, coupled with the economic downturn, contributed to the SBC’s decline, Bill Marshall said. It seems that people aren’t able to give as much as they used to, and also they see things happening in the church that they don’t like and decide to worship elsewhere, he said.

More than 4,000 members have signed a newly drafted manifesto called The Great Commission Resurgence, which outlines tenets of the Baptist faith in 10 articles and affirms the convention’s biblical convictions. SBC President Johnny M. Hunt makes a video endorsement of the manifesto on its main website, suggesting that the main fault of contemporary Southern Baptist churches is an underemphasis on personal evangelism.

One article has stirred controversy among members of the SBC, some who oppose the suggested fusion of the North American Mission Board and the International Mission Board. Morris H. Chapman, president of the SBC executive committee, has publicly expressed his disapproval of article IX.

Pastor Evans said he wouldn’t be surprised if such a merger were necessary. Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, posited that half of the nation’s Baptist churches will close their doors by 2030 if the church doesn’t reconsider its strategies, according to a May 28 article in the Christian Index.

Evans boasted that his church has been a “Switzerland,” sharing an affiliation in the Baptist community that edges toward bipartisanship. Although Calvary Baptist Church is officially affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and no one has seemed to be uncomfortable with this designation, some members of the congregation have beliefs that are more linked with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Although such a dynamic has caused the Missouri Baptist Convention to rescind its affiliation with churches in the past, as Marshall described, Calvary continues to share close ties with the SBC and the state entity.

A movement toward non-denominational status is becoming more apparent in churches, Bill Marshall said, so that people may be more free, or at least feel more able, to make their own decisions.

“One of our biggest principles is that each believer can define for themselves their relationship to God. If churches will share this love and freedom with other people, they won’t have any problem with membership.”

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In 2004, a law was passed in France prohibiting the Islamic hijab (as well as other ostentatious religious symbols) in public schools. This was a significant show of the country’s commitment to secularity, going beyond what Americans would call a separation of church and state. By involving the government in matters of religious identification, France seemed to be taking extreme measures to ensure that the state was neutral, especially in light of criticism that the law was targeting Muslims.

Now, the French are at it again with an address yesterday from President Nicolas Sarkozy saying burqas “will not be welcome” in France. A burqa is an outer garment worn by some Muslim women covering their entire body and veiling their face and head. Sarkozy called the garment a “sign of the subjugation, of the submission of women.”

In many instances, Sarkozy is probably correct. Many Muslim women who wear the burqa do so because their husbands force them to. However, some do so out of religious reverence and respect for religious tradition.

Although I can’t say whether or not I support the burqa (how can I either support or condemn it when I am separate from the religious convictions that are so intertwined with its purpose), I know I cannot support the government officials who say it is unwelcome. Sarkozy is no more affected by or experienced with the burqa than I am.

Sure, if Sarkozy truly believes that burqas “imprison” women, he has an obligation to take a stance. But I think this response is one of fear. A fear of Muslim extremism in relation to the rising Muslim population. As with the banning of religious symbols in schools, the hope is to encourage moderate practice of religion, straying from fundamentalism that seems to threaten France’s secularity.

The president of France’s Representative Muslim Council, Mohammed Moussaoui, said the council supports Sarkozy’s position and also supports a moderate form of Islam. However, he did say a proposed study on burqas would stigmatize French Muslims.


Though a secular state, why is it so important that religious people cannot practice their beliefs to the fullest extent (short of compromising any other person) without government meddling? Isn’t the point for the state to be devoid of religious affiliation and mandates? The instance of the hijab ban and the current call for burqa removal make it seem like the government is taking sides, if only one against Muslims practices.

Do you think the French government should be able to mandate whether a religious garment, such as the burqa, can be worn?

Read about Sarkozy’s speech here.

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