Mar 30, 2013

Edith Schaeffer, 1914 - 2013

Edith Schaeffer has died at the age of 98. 

Schaeffer co-founded L'Abri with her husband Francis, and was a monumental figure in late twentieth century American evangelicalism. She taught that homemaking and hospitality were important Christian ministries, and that art and beauty should have a cherished place in contemporary Christian life. According to Schaeffer, God was creative and brought beauty into the world and Christian women, through feminine service to their families, could do the same.

Tim Challies, pastor of a Baptist Church in Toronto, writes a brief history of L'Abri, and Schaeffer's role in that work: 
In 1948 the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions sent the Schaeffers to Switzerland as missionaries. In 1955, after identifying significant disagreements with IBPFM and subsequently withdrawing from that organization, they decided to simply open up their home and make it available as a place to demonstrate God’s love and provide a forum for discussing God and the meaning of life. They called it L’Abri after the French word for “shelter.” By the mid-1950’s up to 30 people each week were visiting. 
Edith had an integral role in maintaining the home and mentoring those who visited. She wrote or co-wrote twenty books, including Affliction, a book on suffering, and the autobiographical The Tapestry: the Life and Times of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, each of which received the Gold Medallion Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (in 1979 and 1982 respectively).
Os Guinness once called Schaeffer "the secret of L'Abri."

John Piper retires

John Piper -- the preacher who formulated "Christian hedonism," and done as much as anyone to promote Calvinism to evangelicals and stoke the revival of interest in Jonathan Edwards in the late 20th, early 21st century -- retires his pastorate tonight.

Justin Taylor describes the scene:
Tucked into the coat pocket of his charcoal suit jacket will be his compact ESV Bible, and in his worn leather briefcase will be a cheap folder, and in the folder will be a 11-page double-spaced typewritten sermon manuscript, with an array of handwritten circles and connecting lines and underlines and exclamation points and notes.  
Within a couple of hours the singing will cease, and he will rise from the front-row pew, place his sermon manuscript on the wooden pulpit, offer an introduction, and then read from Hebrews 13:20-21, the text for his Easter sermon that will double as his farewell sermon.
The farewell sermon will be live-streamed at Desiring God, this evening.

Piper has been the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist since 1980.

Mar 29, 2013

'Cruel, vicious, MONSTER'

A Good Friday-themed sermon outline from Chuck Smith, founder of Calvary Chapel. The text was Matthew 27:35. In the sermon, Smith connects the crucifixion to atheism, calling it an act of atheism, and then says his audience is engaged in the same sort of God-killing when they "refuse to be guided" by God and "reject His advice."

In Smith's telling, there's a marked similarity -- even synonymity -- between those who don't hear God speak to them in their daily lives, those who don't believe in God, and those who crucified Christ on Good Friday.

A. Cruel, vicious, MONSTER.
1. Kill a innocent man.
a. More than innocent. Neg. trait.
b. He was good, kind, loving.
2. Torture of cross.
a. Exult in His suffering.
b. No words of pity.
B. How do you picture the murderers of Christ?
1. Wild-eyed: foaming mouthed idiots.
2. You probably couldn't pick them out of the rogues gallery.
3. They look like your neighbor or maybe even like you.

A. "The fool hath said in his heart, "There is no God."
1. This is an attempt to destroy God.
2. Any man today who says, "I don't believe in God" is trying to destroy God. 

Mar 27, 2013

The story behind Ben-Hur

One the most popular, most successful, most enduring Christian novels in American history, it turns out, was inspired by a man who made his career challenging, criticizing and arguing against religion.

At Slate, John Swansburg tells the story:
The train was bound for Indianapolis and the Third National Soldiers Reunion, where thousands of Union Army veterans planned to rally, reminisce, and march in a parade the New York Times would later describe as 'the grandest street display ever seen in the United States.' It was Sept. 19, 1876, more than a decade since the Civil War had ended. [General Lew] Wallace had grayed a bit, but still wore the sweeping imperial moustache he’d had at the Battle of Shiloh. 'Is that you, General Wallace?' the man in the nightgown asked. 'Won’t you come to my room? I want to talk.' 
Robert Ingersoll, also a veteran of Shiloh, was now the nation's most prominent atheist, a renowned orator who toured the country challenging religious orthodoxy and championing a healthy separation of church and state. Wallace recognized him from earlier that summer, when he'd heard Ingersoll, a fellow Republican, make a rousing speech at the party's nominating convention. Wallace accepted his invitation and suggested they take up a subject near to Ingersoll’s heart: the existence of God. Ingersoll talked until the train reached its destination. 'He went over the whole question of the Bible, of the immortality of the soul, of the divinity of God, and of heaven and hell,' Wallace later recalled. 'He vomited forth ideas and arguments like an intellectual volcano.' The arguments had a powerful effect on Wallace. Departing the train, he walked the pre-dawn streets of Indianapolis alone. In the past he had been indifferent to religion, but after his talk with Ingersoll his ignorance struck him as problematic, 'a spot of deeper darkness in the darkness.' He resolved to devote himself to a study of theology, 'if only for the gratification there might be in having convictions of one kind or another.' 
But how to go about such a study? Wallace knew himself well enough to predict that a syllabus of sermons and Biblical commentaries would fail to hold his interest. He devised instead what he called 'an incidental employment,' a task that would compel him to complete a thorough investigation of the eternal questions while entertaining his distractible mind. A few years earlier, he'd published a historical romance about the Spanish conquest of Mexico, to modest success. His idea now was to inquire after the divinity of Christ by writing a novel about him.

It took four years, but in 1880, Wallace finished his incidental employment. He called it Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ. It’s one of the great if little known ironies in the history of American literature: Having set out to win another soul to the side of skepticism, Robert Ingersoll instead inspired a Biblical epic that would rival the actual Bible for influence and popularity in Gilded Age America—and a folk story that has been reborn, in one medium or another, in every generation since.
There may be something of a revival of interest in Wallace and his post-bellum Bible epic.

Mar 26, 2013

Religious arguments in the legal fights over same-sex marriage

Marriage Equality March 2013
Photo by Jamison Weiser (CC)
A man dressed up in Catholic liturgical regalia protests religious teachings against same-sex
marriage in San Francisco, Monday.
One of the biggest, most contentious issues in the ongoing American culture wars goes to the Supreme Court this week, with oral arguments today and tomorrow in two cases about the constitutionality of legally defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

At Religion and Politics, law professor Calvin Massey offers a preview of the cases:
Hollingsworth v. Perry confronts whether California’s 2008 constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage violates the U.S. Constitution, specifically its guarantee of equal protection to all persons under the law. Prop 8 drew a lot of attention during the 2008 election; it was bolstered by a host of religious organizations, notably the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and megachurch pastor Rick Warren. It passed by a 52 to 48 percent margin, receiving more than 7 million “yes” votes. Then two same-sex couples filed suit in federal court to invalidate Prop 8. The trial court voided the amendment and a federal appeals court affirmed that decision on equal protection grounds.

In United States v. Windsor, the plaintiff, Edith Windsor, is an 83-year-old widow who is challenging section 3 of DOMA, also on equal protection grounds. When her spouse Thea Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was not allowed the marital deduction for estate taxes, though she and Spyer legally married in 2007. DOMA, enacted in 1996 under the Clinton administration, makes federal marital benefits available only to married couples of the opposite sex. Because of this, Windsor paid some $350,000 in estate taxes before she sought a refund in federal court. The trial court agreed with her, and the federal appeals court affirmed the ruling; the federal government has appealed to the Supreme Court.
Massey notes that because of the way culture-war conflicts have played out over the last 40 years, some proponents of same-sex marriage are actually hoping for a small victory, rather than a big, dramatic win. If the court strikes down all same-sex marriage bans, that could detrimental to the cause, resulting in lots of backlash and generations of cultural entrenchment, where conservatives use the court's ruling as a rallying cry. It's a fear of a Pyrrhic victory. Massey calls this the "specter of Roe v. Wade":
Roe overturned all state laws prohibiting abortion, and even those that severely regulated but did not outlaw abortions. The result, as Justice Ginsburg noted in her Madison Lecture at NYU Law School, delivered 20 years ago this month, was that the trend in the states toward progressive legalization of abortion was truncated by a sweeping judicial fiat. Had the Court confined itself to striking down the Texas law at issue in Roe, without addressing the validity of other states’ laws, there would have been room for further evolution of abortion laws in the states. Instead, Roe closed the door of legislative change and brought about a 40-year battle of high emotions, even violence, and stubborn opposition to Roe and its progeny. 
When people feel that they have lost in an open and democratic debate, they may not like it but will usually accept the popular verdict. But when people feel that their voice has been ignored by a process in which they have no input, they are apt to resist the result as an illegitimate usurpation of democratic institutions
National Public Radio has a piece on a Pentecostal church in El Paso where many people would likely respond to a clear legal victory for same-sex marriage in just this way. That church has -- like a number of conservative Christian groups -- been politically active on what NPR dramatically calls "one of the battlegrounds in the gathering war over gay marriage." It's not a great news story. There are more than a few problematic framing issues typical of accounts of "culture war." But the story does give space to the views of some of those religious people in America who are deeply opposed to same-sex marriage, and worried about what the court might decide in June. One of the main fears is that a sweeping ruling will, by judicial fiat, etc., basically rule religiously informed arguments against same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

This is one of the many legal arguments that religious groups are officially making in these two cases, which can be found in the nearly 100 amici filed with the Supreme Court, where various groups not directly involved in the dispute offer their input in legal briefs.

In Hollingsworth v. Perry, there are at least two dozen such briefs from religious organizations. A survey of some of the arguments those organizations are making in favor of the right of the State of California to legally define "marriage" as only involving opposite-sex couples shows the variety of religious arguments that are being made. Some are familiar, some innovative.

Mar 20, 2013

Jerry Jenkins' vanity press

Jerry B. Jenkins is the consummate hack.

The man knows the Christian fiction market and he works it.

I'm not very interested in the moral and aesthetic disapproval that's normally implied by calling a writer a hack. I am quite interested in how book markets work, though, and especially how the Christian fiction market works. So I'm very interested in hacks. Hacks consciously and actively respond to the market as they find it. In some ways, they are just more pure. They're untroubled by fantasies that artistic quality correlates to commercial success, unbothered by the sense of aesthetic justice that insists artistic quality should correlate to commercial success. Hacks write for the world as it actually is.

Hacks write like it's their job.

They know that writing is their job, and they embrace that, and embrace all the marketing analysis and economic acumen necessary to succeed at that job. Jenkins, for example.

"I make no apologies for writing for the masses," he once said. "I am one of them."

He has always had an eye for the markets with mass potential, such as Christian children's series and Christian athlete biographies. He has authored or co-authored 220 books, by my count, or about 3.4 for every year he's been alive. Fourteen of those books have been New York Times bestsellers. He accepted the deal to co-author Left Behind where others would have balked (and did balk), and he wrote the first book of the series in under 24 days. Left Behind sold as many copies as Catcher in the Rye, and it's never been required reading for high schoolers. Jenkins stayed on for 12 more books, plus three prequels, and he cooperated with lots of spin-offs, including a series of 40 children's books. He was pretty consistently smart about how and where to push the franchise -- in one case, at least, smarter even than the people who actually made the marketing decisions.

So, when Jenkins takes up a new project, it's likely that that says something about the way the Christian fiction market is evolving. He's not necessarily innovative, but he's paying attention to the market, and responding to it. When that project, further, is explained specifically as a response to market conditions, it's especially worth noting.

His new project is a vanity press, Christian Writers Guild Publishing. They will be charging would-be authors nearly $10,000 to put their works in print.

Thus speaketh the consummate hack: this is the fiction market now.

Mar 18, 2013

Religiously unaffiliated now at 20%

One wonders: What happened in 1988?

A new survey, done by the University of Chicago and analyzed by sociologists from UC Berkeley and Duke, puts the religiously unaffiliated at 20 percent of the American population. Atheists, meanwhile, come in at about 3 percent, and don't seem to be growing.  

Elizabeth Drescrer writes:
The report makes clear that the trend away from affiliation with organized religion is not an indication of declining religious belief. They write that “conventional religious belief, typified by belief in God, remains very widespread—59 percent of Americans believe in God without any doubt,” adding that, “Atheism is barely growing,” with 1% in 1962 and 3% in 2012 indicating no belief in God.
Also interesting: even though we've now seen two decades of rapidly growing disaffiliation, the number of those raised outside of religious organizations is still very, very small. Only 8 percent say they were raised without religion. This could be connected to fact that people tend to get more religious when they have children. David E. Campbell and Robert D. Putnam point this out in American Grace. For each generation since the '60s, religious affiliation has increased at about the time that generation has children. 

For those who came of age in the '60s, for example, about 12 percent said they had no religious preference in the mid-'70s. By 1985, though, that number had dropped to about 8 percent. In fact, that generations' irreligion only rose again in the early 2000s, around the time their children came of age. By the end of the 2000s, the generation that came of age in the '60s was again as likely to profess no religious preference as they had been in the mid-'70s. That trend holds for each successive generation. For those who came of age in the 2000s, for example, irreligion spikes in the first few years of the millennium (possibly for historical reasons, rather than generational ones) to the point that 30 percent said they didn't have a religious preference. But then that number drops. By the late 2000s, 25 percent say they have no religious preference. They're still, of course, a lot less religious than previous generations, but it seems that even a lot of that 25 percent will raise their children with a religious preference. 

All the normal caveats about misinterpreting and over-interpreting this data from this new study apply. What we might be looking at, here, is the waning usefulness of the term "religion."

The question asked, specifically, was: "What is your religious preference? Is it Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, some other religion, or no religion?" That's slightly different that the question asked by Pew, and the difference in the phrasing of the question could account for the difference in answers. 

'Praying over mozzarella sticks'

A funny little rip-on and identification-with the so-called "nones" from Memphis rapper Skewby, from his album "Humble Pie":
Don't be ashamed to tell me what you believe in
Caught you praying over mozzarella sticks
So I'm wondering if your preference is a deacon
Or you call yourself spiritual-not-religious when you sleep in
Would say I skip church 'cause everybody pretends
But name a place where everybody real
People so fake inside the club, they keep the lights off
Why you think I ain't been in one in a couple years?

Mar 16, 2013

In the days of the ark

Today marks the grand opening of an ark: a San Antonio megachurch's 24,800-square-feet replica of the apocalypse-surviving boat of Genesis 6, 7 and 8. The structure is two-stories, has 13 classrooms and is designed to hold 850 children. It also houses a number of animatronic animals including a talking macaw and a giraffe that raises and lowers its head.

The animals have names like "John Bunyan" and "Dietrich Bonhoeffer."

A facebook page dedicated to The Ark calls it a "place of fun, learning and worship" for toddlers and Kindergarten-age children.

My San Antonio reports:
Called The Ark, it cost almost $5 million and will open to the public Saturday and for church programs the next day. It aims to spur wonderment but also to underscore the Bible's authenticity, said Matthew Hagee, executive pastor. 
"I want them to say it happened," he said. "The Ark was real. Salvation is real. What God desires for Noah, God desires for me. For Noah, it was a boat. And for me, it was Jesus Christ." 
In recent years, churches nationwide have ramped up resources for innovative children's buildings, mindful of their appeal to young families, and Noah's Ark has enjoyed longstanding popularity for such spaces. A Christian theme park in Kentucky is building a full-scale replica.  
But the scale and sophistication of Cornerstone's new facility -- and particularly its collection of electronically controlled animal replicas -- might be unmatched nationally, say experts in Christian children's ministry.
A children's minister at the church told the media the ark is meant to compete with the "whiz-bang Disney stuff," and to send a message to parents: "We don't just want your kids to come here and learn. We want them to experience God."

The imitation boat manages to symbolize a lot of the distinctive messages of the megachurch, including its emphasis on the historicity of such Bible stories as Noah and the ark, and also its emphasis on apocalypticism.

Mar 15, 2013

Mar 14, 2013

American papal ambivalencies

Peter Manseau reflects on the American mass media's historically confused and contradictory relationship with the pope, at once fawning and admiring and also openly hostile:
The first time Time put a pope on its cover -- June 16, 1924 -- it tried to split the difference between the era's rampant anti-Catholicism and the 'Great Man' narratives that were then its stock and trade. Beneath an illustration depicting Pope Pius XI as bespectacled, human, and approachable (literally soft-around the edges, thanks to the artist’s light touch) there appeared words offering a decidedly more ominous message: 'No Popery!' 
The ambivalent relationship between the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the American media has continued ever since. There is no other job opening on earth that would receive so much attention -- despite, or maybe due to, the fact that many prominent journalists are openly hostile to the teachings of the Church.

Much of this is the legacy of the man who boldly put both a pope and 'popery' on the cover of his magazine almost ninety year ago: a Protestant missionary’s son who found himself in bed with the Church in more ways than one. For Henry Luce, there was of course the actual Catholic with whom he shared his home -- Clare Boothe Luce -- but there was also an unabashed affinity for the Olympian authority the Vatican represented, which was similar to the kind which he imagined his publications would offer each week.
Julie Byrne, author of the forthcoming The Other Catholics, takes a look at the currents within contemporary American Catholicism that are really pretty ambivalent about the papacy -- including "Old Catholics," and also the fastest growing contingency of the American church, Latinos. She writes:
According to one recent survey fewer than three out of ten U.S. Roman Catholics says that the “teaching authority claimed by the Vatican” is “very important” to them. 
U.S. Roman Catholicism is now fully one-third Latino, and this is another group that does not simply accede to papal centrality. 
The vitality of devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe, the mother of Jesus manifested at Guadalupe, often far surpasses concerns for the pope. Especially among Mexican-Americans, who make up more than 60 percent of U.S. Hispanics, she is the living center of faith. Only half jokingly, some Latino Catholics say they are not Romans, but Guadalupeans.

Mar 13, 2013

Habemusnt papam

A joke: The Lone Ranger and Tonto are surrounded. Indian warriors are on all sides and there's no way out. The Lone Ranger is panicking. He looks to Tonto and says, "what do we do know?"

Tonto says, "what do you mean 'we,' kemosabe?"

Anyway, they're saying "we" have a new pope.

Parham and the contested boundaries of Pentecostal experience

Charles Fox Parham's historical significance is due to one fact: he was the first to outline and define early Pentecostal theology of glossolali, the experience that Pentecostals call "speaking in tongues." He himself wasn’t the first to have the ecstatic experience of "spirit baptism," and utter unknown words in an unknown language, but rather, as the religious leader at the Bethel Bible School in Topeka, Kansas in 1901 he was the one who theologized the experience of others. He said that the tongues were tongues. He said the experience was the spiritual gift of a new language, the evidence of sanctification, and the tool that God would use to spread the gospel at the end of time. In Ann Taves' terminology, he was the one who deemed the experience of tongues a religious experience. Parham referred to himself as the movement's "projector." In light of Taves' work, he might more precisely be called the "ascriber," as he is the one who set this particular experience apart as special, founding this specific religious tradition with his ascriptions.

Lesser known, but perhaps also significant, is another aspect of Parham's work as founder and leader of the nascent Pentecostal movement. He spent much of his time, from 1901 on, aggressively contesting the validity of Pentecostals’ ecstatic experiences.

After he started the movement, Parham was among its fiercest critics. According to historian Grant Wacker, he dismissed the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles, one of the most successful moments of early Pentecostalism, as "holy-rolling-dancing-jumping, shaking, jabbering, chattering, wind-sucking and giving vent to meaningless sounds and noises." Many ecstatic experiences that others deemed the work of the Holy Ghost were, for Parham, "disorders." He dedicated himself, time and again, to brusque denunciations of experiences he considered to be lewd or racially inferior, manifestations of "the flesh" or "spook spirits" in "wild, weird prayer services."

These efforts to police the boundaries of Pentecostal experience have not gone unnoticed in Pentecostal historiography. Yet, they haven't been foregrounded, either. They have been considered as secondary or even tertiary in the beginnings of this movement, construed normally as curious but not critically important power struggles. Taves' work suggests it might be fruitful for historians to re-focus on these disputes.

Read Other Reasons to Unpack 'Religious Experience', my response to Ann Taves' interview with The Religious Studies Project.

Mar 11, 2013

A materialist account of historical possibility

A materialist account of historical possibility is interested not in motives for action but in the conditions that produce and contour such motives, the conditions in which our actions are iterated, and the conditions with which our actions interact to produce certain effects.... A materialist understanding of history does not imply that economic imperatives 'cause' or directly 'determine' human experience; rather, within a certain order of economic and attendant social relations, there are many possibilities for belief and action. But there are not infinite possibilities.
-- Wendy Brown, "The Sacred, the Secular, and the Profane: Charles Taylor and Karl Marx"

Mar 10, 2013

A theory of famous and forgotten atheists

In the New York Times, in a review of Susan Jacoby's new book on Robert Ingersoll, there's a proposed theory of famous and forgotten atheists, and of why they're famous or forgotten. It's not clear if the theory is Jacoby's or the reviewers' (presumably it's Jacoby's), but this is the theory:
There have been atheists and religious doubters throughout history, but the ones who remain famous after their deaths tend to have been equally famous for something else as well; otherwise, people most notable for their bravery in the face of religious conservatism have to be celebrated by a population equally brave, and that is often too much to ask.
Is this true?

Mar 7, 2013

Judge: pastor not protected from public criticism, accusations

Pastors are public figures, and aren't completely protected from former members' online criticism and accusations, according to a California judge.

Bob Grenier, the pastor of a Calvary Chapel church in central California, is suing his step-son, Alex Grenier, for defamation. The pastor claims he is being attacked and his reputation is being ruined by his step-son's blog and internet activities, activities that Alex Grenier says are designed to call attention to allegations of a long history of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and "ecclesiastical corruption."

According to the lawsuit, "Alex continues to this day to conduct a cyber-bully hate campaign by scouring the internet continuously, hour-by-hour, day-by-day, for the purpose of generating negative posts about his Parents." The suit claims the younger Grenier uses as many as nine websites "aimed at ruining credibility of Parents," regularly accusing the elder Grenier of child molestation and stealing from the church.

Two of the pastor's other sons -- adopted and biological -- have confirmed Alex Grenier's accounts of abuse.

Bob Grenier of course denies these allegations, but the primary case that's being made in the California court is that such allegations should not even be allowed. Similar to the argument that Sovereign Grace Ministries' lawyers are making in a Maryland court, the point is to protect internal affairs from outside scrutiny. In this week's preliminary ruling, however, a California judge rejected the idea that Bob Grenier's purportedly private affairs were really private and should be protected as private.

The judge ruled that the pastor is a "limited purpose public figure," and as such subject to a fair amount of public criticism.

Mar 6, 2013

God's Cartoonist: The Comic Crusade of Jack Chick (full film)

Jason C. Bivens, in Religion of Fear: The Politics of Horror in Conservative Evangelicalism:
Chick writes himself into and out of fallen America, making connections and establishing resolutions that are as succinct as a thought ballon, as emphatic as a trio of exclamation points. The social and cultural history of Chick Publications is a marginal one, both insofar as Chick has doggedly maintained his status as an underground artist fighting 'the world system' and also in the sense that his important contributions to evangelical popular culture have gone largely unacknowledged by scholars of American religions. Yet his sensibility is a powerful one in its widespread accessibility, its longevity, and the influence it has had on several generations of American Christians. No matter how fervently one might seek to ignore them, Chick tracts keep turning up, often in the oddest places.

Mar 5, 2013

Abstracts: regarding contemporary evangelical cultural engagements

The Kincade Case for Kincade: The Painter of Light’s Arguments for His Art 

When Thomas Kincade died in 2012, his images hung in one out of every twenty American homes. His works sold for up to $250 million annually, and were regularly dismissed as kitsch. Kincade, however, continually argued with the gatekeepers of the art establishment about the importance and aesthetic value of his work. He positioned himself as peer to Daimen Hirst and Jeff Koons, and also Walt Disney, refusing to accept that popularity was antithetical to artistic value, or that his ideological embrace of sentimentality meant he could never be taken seriously. This paper traces those career-long struggles.

Previous scholars -- notably in Thomas Kincade: The Artist in the Mall, edited by Alexis L. Boylan -- reevaluated Kincade by considering him in the context of conceptual and transgressive art, problematizing distinctions between art and kitsch. This paper seeks to further that reevaluation, demonstrating that Kincade’s own arguments should be taken seriously.

A Thousand Plateaus

Mar 4, 2013

An emerging alliance in defense of sharia

The attacks on sharia law in American have been vociferous and completely out of proportion with actual instances of sharia law in America. A coalition of conservatives with various concerns have sought to enact legislation prohibiting sharia -- prohibiting state judges from considering religious codes that Muslims believe to be binding and might, e.g., have cited in private contracts, or even going so far as to enact legislation that equates adherence to the Islamic rules for worship with terrorism, so that "sharia organizations," including mosques, would be illegal.

Defenders of sharia against these state prohibitions are now arising from a perhaps unexpected quarter. Sharia has an ally with some Jewish legal thinkers and some Jewish groups concerned about the way these laws infringe on religious liberty.

From Florida:
A Florida state bill targeting a supposed threat from Islamic law may instead end up preventing Orthodox couples from using Jewish religious courts, or batei din, to arbitrate their divorces, according to legal specialists and some Jewish groups. 
The Council on American-Islamic Relations has vowed to fight the bill. So too has the strictly Orthodox umbrella organization Agudath Israel of America.
There are other problems with the proposed Florida law, including the fact it is worded so ambiguously that it's not at all clear how the courts might apply the legislation. One Jewish state representative is arguing that the law is designed to have no legal effect at all, actually, and is merely meant to "generate fear of Muslims," reinforcing some of the political rhetoric of recent days.

What's interesting, though, is this alliance between a religious Jewish groups and Islamic groups. An important feature of fights over religious liberty in the United States is the way that different groups end up politically allied, with common cause. This was true in 1802, when Deists and Baptists came together in opposition to the establishment of religion, and in 1989, when the Native American Church's religious use of peyote was defended by the Traditional Values Coalition, the Christian Legal Society, the National Association of Evangelicals and the American Jewish Congress in their push to enact the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

As the political landscape shifts, groups that might otherwise have little in common come together. Change, in these sorts of affairs, seems to happen by this process of alliances.

Finding Tübingen on a map

From the USA Today:
Back in 1968, when Rev. Joseph Ratzinger was a theology professor in the Bavarian town of Tubingen, a neighbor's cat visited him daily. 
'It even accompanied him to his lectures and to Mass. It was a black cat, a very intelligent pussycat,' the older brother writes.
That's a very nice story about the cat. Dubious, but nice nonetheless. It's very difficult to check the facts on such things.

It's not difficult at all, on the other hand, to check facts about where a city is located. The very simplest fact in this newspaper story is where Tübingen is. Most newsrooms are connected to the internet. If the USA Today's offices aren't, perhaps they could invest in a world atlas.

Mar 1, 2013

'Free exercise' of religion & the covering up of child sexual abuse

The "free exercise" clause of the First Amendment has been used for lots of things. In a lot of different ways.

It's been understood by the Supreme Court to mean that those fired for their religion still have a right to unemployment benefits, and to mean that religious institutions have the right to define "minister" any way they want, and to fire those so designated for any reason. It has been applied to protect the rights of those who sacrifice animals, and those who are required by their faith to distribute literature. The idea that government can't rightly pass a law prohibiting the free exercise of religion has been successfully used to defend those who won't salute the American flag, those who won't send their children to public schools, those who use controlled substances in their worship, etc., etc., etc.

Now Sovereign Grace Ministries, an association of New Calvinist churches led by C.J. Mahaney, are arguing that "free exercise" also means churches can't be taken to court on charges of covering up sexual abuse.

The churches, in an official press release, argue:
SGM leaders provided biblical and spiritual direction to those who requested this guidance. This care was sought confidentially, as is a right under the First Amendment. We are saddened that lawyers are now, in essence, seeking to violate those rights by asking judges and juries, years after such pastoral assistance was sought, to dictate what sort of biblical counsel they think should have been provided. SGM believes that allowing courts to second guess pastoral guidance would represent a blow to the First Amendment, that would hinder, not help, families seeking spiritual direction among other resources in dealing with the trauma related to any sin including child sexual abuse.
On these grounds, the church is seeking to have lawsuits alleging leaders protected child predators and covered-up child sexual abuse dismissed, the Associated Press reports.

According to the lawsuit, the "biblical and spiritual direction" that was offered to help families "dealing with the trauma related to ... child sexual abuse" involved a lot of covering up evidence that crimes occurred.

Sovereign Grace Ministries is accused of forcing abused children to forgive their abusers.

They are accused of disciplining those who wanted to tell legal authorities about the abuse.

And more.