July 21, 2006
July 24, 2006

July 22-23, 2006, weekend


The man who led the global Human Genome Project describes how he went from being a non-believer to being a man of faith. Do you have a similar story about yourself?

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As turmoil in the Middle East continues, I'll try to give you some additional resources to understand various aspects of the situation. Click here for a Voice of America report on Hezbollah. Click here for the Library of Congress' "Country Studies" report on Lebanon. For an Australian newspaper's report on the declining influence of the U.S. in the Middle East, click here. For the views of longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, click here. And click here for a Boston Globe columnist's criticism of Israel in all of this. What I'm giving you is just a taste of the opinion and analysis that's out there. So don't stop trying to learn just with this.

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In the last year or so, I've been giving speeches in which I've bemoaned the failure of many Christian churches to be prepared with formal liturgy and prayers for the inevitable brokenness of our lives. (My guess is that other religions don't do much better at this, but I'm willing to be educated.)

Episcopal_shieldFor instance, as I've noted, my first marriage began in a church but ended in a courtroom. Where was the church with a ceremony of some kind to bless me on my way as I sought to recover from the trauma of that experience and move into the rest of my life?

In my speeches, I've said that for people really to feel cared for by their congregations, those faith communities must be ready ahead of time to offer formal words of blessing and prayer at all kinds of transitional and trauma times -- from the birth of a developmentally disabled child to the news that a long-time employee is being downsized out of a job. For the most part, congregations fail at this.

But I'm happy to report that the Episcopal Church, USA, at its recent General Convention, paid attention to this failure and is working to do more to fix it. The Episcopalians, perhaps more than any non-Catholic Christian denomination, have led the way for a long time at the task of creating liturgies for special occasions. But now they're going to do more. Good for them.

To read a copy of the resolution that mandates this work, click here. As you will note, the intention is to beef up the church's "Book of Occasional Services."

This work is being done by the church's Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music. Click here to read its convention report. If you scroll down in that report to Page 10, you will find a detailed discussion of the need for such new liturgies. I hope you'll spend a little time understanding what's said here and thinking about what it would take to get your faith community to take this kind of work more seriously.

The language found in ceremonies doesn't solve everything. In fact, it can become a substitute for real pastoral care if a church is not careful. But when a church is prepared to use such carefully thought-out words to mark special occasions -- of either joy or sadness -- the people involved get the sense that the church cares and that their lives are being taken seriously.

If congregations -- of whatever faith -- can't do that, what good are they?

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My Saturday column, written from Vermont, is about pastoral care given by non-clergy.)


Joe Barone

In regard to the "Faith and Athiesm" thing--One of the most perceptive books I ever read was Eric Hoeffer's The True Believer. People who are true believers in one area tend to become true believers in others, and probably all for the same reason. Hoeffer, of course, would include people like the Apostle Paul and Jesus in the True Believer catagory.


Our Church saw a serious failing in the organization of a ministry last year. It was horrible, but we isolated the problem: the Church leadership never prayed over and officially blessed this ministry, and I don't think that God respected what we were doing. Why should God respect what we were doing if it meant nothing to the Church?

So confusion resulted because no one knew what the real direction should be, even though each had their own idea. I don't think God blesses a particular direction without asking, especially when it will affect the rest of your life or the work of the Kingdom. And how can God bless a direction if you haven't even prayerfully sought direction with those who are to look over you, especially God.

The process of trying to discern the direction for your life, you Church, or your ministry and to ask God and your Church to bless this direction are powerful and meaningful.

Next, I must know and even pry to know if your divorce was "Biblical," because if it was not then I feel a need to make sure to know that you are sinner. Hmmm....that didn't sound much like love, did it? Oh, but you understand that this approach is really love, right? Because you know love is me making sure to condemn your behavior when you sin, right?

Ruth from Tucson

What does "faith based" mean?

Our minister - in great great scholarly detail - described what his book is saying about the work this "faith based" oganization is doing to save the lives of migrants and help them. He acknowleged that the people in this faith based organzation came from many religions and non religions like atheists.

He feels the government should support such faith based ventures (and our local government does to a limited extent). Saving people's lives is surely worth while.

So many words were going back and forth, I did not get a chance to express concerns about what Bush means by tax support for faith based organzations.

Bush sounds as if he sees groups like those to "save" marriage and to protect stem cells from being used for research - as "faith based" groups because they base their views on their intepretation of the Chrisitan faith.

Our congregation disagrees with Bush on these issues. Our minister is a leader in the effort to defeat the AZ "marriage protection" initiative.

People in this blog disagree on these issues for religious reasons which is ok. Who is going to define which organizatns are "faith based".

So I am uncomfortable with the idea of government support of faith based groups. Keep the camels' nose out of my tent.

He has written whole chapters explaing this but unfortunately I don't think well in chapters. I could not elicit from him a short defintion of "faith based".

Can any of you?


"Faith-based" is often used as a euphemism for "religious", in order to avoid the thorny issues of separation of church and state.

Generally, but by no means exclusively, a faith-based organization will be philanthropic in nature, constituted as a charity or non-profit, and aligned with one of the world's major religions.

An organization's autonomy and legal rights can be altered by taking such money. This is legal because nobody forces the organization to take such funds. For example, they cannot feed people and force them to listen to a Christian message while eating. Various non-discrimination policies are also enforced, especially when it comes to hired workers. Many Churches have a policy against accepting faith-based initiative money.


Ok, I’ll make this as brief as I can. Although it is maintained for our gullible consumption in this country that Islam, as defined in the Qur’an, requires great respect be shown to women and that it somehow provides enlightened norms of honoring women, the more I research and the more I travel, the more I find this is definitely not the case.

I am simply not interested in reading Islamic apologetic propaganda by Anglophones, nor by Islamic converts in this country who have never seen the outworking of that religion in the real world, where shar’ia law is the governing corpus of law. For every 10 authors Mr. Tammeus advocates reading on the pro-Islamic side of the ledger, I can counteroffer 20 authors of previous Islamic faith and heritage that disparage their former faith and write to inform Westerners of the true nature of Islam.

Those that immediately come to mind are Emir Fethi Caner and Ergun Mehmet Caner who were brought to this country by their father for the express purpose of establishing mosques and converting Americans to Islam… they came to Christ with the result that their father expelled them from the family forever…. So much for freedom of religion/ freedom of the individual to choose…

Another is Ibn Warraq, who wrote: Why I Am Not a Muslim… the list goes on and on.

Or you might go to Dhimmi Watch http://www.jihadwatch.org/dhimmiwatch/ and read about the execution this month of a mentally deranged girl of 16 years of age who was hung from a crane in Tehran…. Her crime?…. She was raped…

Or you could read the Reuters report http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060719/od_nm/saudi_marriage_dc_3 on temporary marriages (misyar/ mut’a).... a practice that permits men to “legally” marry a woman for a night or two and then dissolve the marriage…. A convenient way of fornicating without the sticky inconveniences of incurring the sin of “adultery”….. This is on the rise in Saudi Arabia, but is not new to the Islamic world (India’s West coast is another hot spot for this type of “sanctioned consummation”…)

But let’s dispense, for the moment, with anecdotal lines of evidence and go to that which defines any religious community—their holy scriptures. Their “divine” word communicated from God to mankind with the purpose of defining normative behavior.

A previous reader challenged Mr. Tammeus to defend his assertion that Islam is in many ways liberating to women, and to do so from the standpoint of the Qur’an and “not some double-speaking imam”.

Tammeus did go to the Qur’an (the surah I brought up) and I agree with his conclusion that the Qur’an advocates beating disobedient wives. He spoke of going to Washington, D.C. earlier this year and listening to Asra Q. Nomani, who addressed Surah 4:34. which advises the Muslim husband to beat disobedient wives. Tammeus says "In other translations, the word "beat" is softened to mean, essentially, a threatening or light-touch gesture. But Nomani was clear that she thinks there is NO GOOD WAY to interpret the verse and that a reformed Islam would strike it as IMPOSSIBLE TO LIVE WITH…. And yet Nomani has not left her faith. She believes women in Islam can be whole and free and believes the Prophet Muhammad meant for them to be exactly that.”

Two points: (1) I find it tragic that a woman who acknowledges that the ONLY correct and truthful translation of surah 4:34 is to physically BEAT the disobedient wife would STILL cling to her faith… positing her hope that somehow, and despite the revealed word of Allah, Muhammad would somehow not want this to be the case. Everywhere else I research, Islamic theologians are adamant that Muhammad was devoted to the words of the Qur’an and its most perfect adherent….

(2) This continues to leave us with the problem that the Qur’an gives husbands the right to physically BEAT their wives subject to their OWN interpretation of what constitutes “disobedience”… they are not required to take their suspicion to a court or judge [not that even THAT would lessen the dilemma for those Muslim women who wish to live free, un-bullied lives…]

I again challenge Tammeus to defend his oft-repeated mantra in this blog [that Islam treats women with dignity and respect], and to do so from the basis of the Qur’an and not those who argue from what they “want” to be the case… or what they want us to hear…

Bill, I would kindly suggest that your intellectual responsibility in this case [as a religious blog editor and as an “interfaith expert” for the Kansas City Star] is to provide an authoritative, logical, and well-reasoned defense for the compassionate version of Islam you frequently peddle.

I can show you, in countless verses, how the God of the Bible elevates women higher than any other human system of religiosity, for example:

Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her… [Christ loved the church SO MUCH that He went to the Cross and was crucified for her!] THAT is the HIGHEST standard of love one can bestow upon a wife—and a standard that none of us ever attain, but are commanded to tirelessly work towards in our own marriages. In other words, spouse abuse and chauvinistic bullying is expressly off limits in the Christian marriage.

Ephesians 5:28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives AS THEIR OWN BODIES…

Can ANYONE point me to similar ayats in the Qur’an? Anything in the Qur’an that even approximates this kind of high standard for spousal treatment?.........

Another reader responded that in Islam, per the Qur’an, women have the same legal rights as men. Either he thinks we are just exceedingly ignorant in this country and lack basic skills of simple research, or HE is unacquainted with the facts. Bottom line is that women do NOT have the same legal rights. Their testimony in court does NOT equate to the testimony of a man.

Surah 2:282 …and call to witness, from among your men, two witnesses. And if two men be not (at hand) then a man and TWO women, of such as ye approve as witnesses…. [In this case a women’s testimony equals HALF a man’s.}

Surah 2:228 …and women shall have rights similar to the rights against them, according to what is equitable; BUT men have a degree (of advantage) OVER THEM.

Surah 53:21-22 What! For you the male sex, and for him, the female? Behold, such would be indeed a division MOST UNFAIR!

How about inheritance? Surah 4:11 Allah (thus) directs you as regards your children’s (inheritance): to the male, a portion equal to that of TWO FEMALES…

And finally, the last point I’ll touch on this evening, is that of the afterlife. I challenge anyone to find for me a surah/ ayat that describes heaven in terms a woman would appreciate…. No, what you will find are sensuous descriptions of heaven that appeal to MEN! They are waited upon by lovely virgins….. Any passages describing virgin men waiting upon faithful Muslim women in the afterlife? Not a ONE.

Surah 78:31-33 Verily for the Righteous there will be a fulfillment of (the heart's) desires; Gardens enclosed, and grapevines; And voluptuous women of equal age; [another translation says: “damsels with swelling breasts for companions…]

Surah 55:54-56 They will recline on Carpets, whose inner linings will be of rich brocade: the Fruit of the Gardens will be near (and easy of reach). Then which of the favors of your Lord will ye deny? In them will be (Maidens/ virgins), chaste, restraining their glances, whom no man or Jinn before them has touched…

There are several other such passages, but I will not waste time printed them up here. You may go to http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/ the USC/MSA website to look up multiple translations of the Qur’an and Hadith in order to research the Islamic faith for yourself.

Let’s recap just a FEW of the points I brought up in this brief rebuttal:

1. Husbands may beat their wives per 4:34 as Tammeus acknowledges and has no answer for.
2. The Islamic world (Sunni AND Shi’a) participate in the practice of temporary marriage in order to sidestep adultery.
3. Muslim women, per the Qur’an, do not have the same weight of legal witness as a man
4. Muslim women, per the Qur’an, are not entitled to the same inheritance as a man
5. Heaven, as described in the Qur’an, is a sensuous place of sexual pleasure geared for the MAN; there are no lascivious heavenly descriptions that would appeal to a Muslim woman

I did not, at this point, choose to get into the topic of polygamy [which the Qur’an endorses and the Bible deplores], nor of the prophet Muhammad’s taking of a nine year old girl as a wife; nor of the prophet’s convenient securing for himself the “special right” to take more wives than other Muslim men…

Islam respectful of women? I still await a decent case to persuade me…


Quotes From President Bush:

"America rejects bigotry. We reject every act of hatred against people of Arab background or Muslim faith America values and welcomes peaceful people of all faiths -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and many others. Every faith is practiced and protected here, because we are one country. Every immigrant can be fully and equally American because we're one country. Race and color should not divide us, because America is one country."

"When it comes to the common rights and needs of men and women, there is no clash of civilizations. The requirements of freedom apply fully to Africa and Latin America and the entire Islamic world. The peoples of the Islamic nations want and deserve the same freedoms and opportunities as people in every nation. And their governments should listen to their hopes."

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