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Religious bigotry in politics: 10-19-11

It's really pretty shameful that even though the U.S. Constitution says there will be no religious test to hold public office, many Americans institute exactly that on their own.

MormonsNew polling shows that less than half of all Americans are "comfortable" with Mormonism when it comes to electing a president. Mormonism, of course, is the faith of GOP presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman.

This is simply religious bigotry that has nothing to do with how either man would perform in the Oval Office.

I am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  (I'm a Presbyterian). And there are aspects of the Mormon faith that are quite a ways outside my personal theological boundaries and understandings. But if we're going to talk about the values that Mormonism teaches, I can find no reason to imagine that an otherwise-qualfied Mormon could not serve as president.

Unless candidates open themselves up for questions about the details of their faith, the only legitimate religious question for voters to ask is how the faith of candidates might affect their public policies and actions.

To reject a Mormon candidate (or a Muslim, a Jew, a Hindu, a Presbyterian etc., etc.) because of theological differences is simply prejudice that is unbecoming to Americans. And as our religious landscape becomes increasingly diverse, we would do well to get over this moral failing.

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The kind of ignorance and bigotry I wrote about above here today is forcefully denounced in this engaging piece by two evangelical Christians. They are particularly hard on politicians who, on the basis of misguided faith, denounce science and secular knowledge. The authors put it this way: ". . .when the faith of so many Americans becomes an occasion to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas, we must not be afraid to speak out, even if it means criticizing fellow Christians." Bingo.

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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it click here.

Training Muslim leaders: 10-18-11

One of the worries for Muslims in America has been how to negotiate their way into being an accepted part of the culture.

BarzinjiHadsellCertainly other minority groups have struggled with this same issue over the centuries and have found various ways to maintain their identity while becoming an accepted and welcome part of society.

But with religion it's a bit different -- especially if your religion has been blamed for encouraging the kind of terrorism that walloped the U.S. on 9/11.

Muslim leaders have found that they need all the help and training they can get to guide their people toward societal acceptance.

And now a major American seminary is stepping in to help.

Hartford Seminary has just announced a Graduate Certificate in Imam and Muslim Community Leadership.

If any American seminary were to do this, Hartford is the most logical. It has offered education in Islam and in Christian-Muslim relations for a century.  And in the last decade it has introduced other programs related to Islam.

There are some Christian seminaries in the U.S. that wouldn't be caught dead doing this. Instead, they spend time training their students in ways to convert Muslims to Christianity and, in some cases, they spend energy denouncing Islam. (On the other hand, some Muslim leaders want little or nothing to do with non-Muslims and they, too, are part of the problem.)

But to live in a truly pluralistic religious landscape, as we do, it's important for the leaders of all faith communities to be able to communicate with and respect other groups. The Hartford program should help with that and benefit not just Muslims but everyone. So good for Hartford.

(The photo here today shows Hartford Seminary president Heidi Hadsell with Jamal Barzinji, vice president of the International Institute of Islamic Thought.)

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The other day here on the blog I took note of some Christians getting engaged in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. That phenomenon has sparked this interesting discussion about the role of people of faith in this movement -- and especially the question of whether the Occupy Wall Street movement has the potential to morph into a mega-church movement for people who identify themselves as politically or theologically liberal or progressive. Much about this matter still is unclear, not unlike some of the desires of the people protesting. But it's a fascinating development to watch and has the potential to become a major movement in religious circles.

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P.S.: Don't miss what promises to be a fabulous musical presentation this Sunday, Oct. 23, and again a week from Sunday, Oct. 30, "Lament for Jerusalem: A Mystical Love Song," a new coral/orchestra work by John Tavener. The Oct. 23 performance will be at 5 p.m. at Village Presbyterian Church, 6641 Mission Road, Prairie Village, while the Oct. 30 performance will be at 2 p.m. at Our Lady of Perpetual Help--Redemptorist Catholic Church, 3333 Broadway in Kansas City. The music will be performed by the Village Church Choir and Orchestra along with the William Jewell College Concert Choir. There's no charge, but donations will go to benefit the Kansas City Interfaith Youth Alliance.

What Bishop Finn got wrong: 10-17-11

The remarkable charges announced Friday against Bishop Robert W. Finn (pictured here) and the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph of failing to report child abuse resulted from the bishop's apparent failure to practice what he preaches.

FinnI don't want in any way to prejudge the legal case against Finn and the diocese. The courts will make a finding about that.

But I do want to suggest that even to get a grand jury to issue such charges, its members had to be convinced that something went terribly wrong.

Even the recent independent investigation of the diocese -- authorized and ultimately accepted by the diocese -- said as much: "Diocesan leaders failed to follow their own policies and procedures for responding to reports. . ." relating to two priests.

But what, exactly, went wrong with Finn's own handling of this situation?

Yes, as the independent report notes, there was a systemic failure that resulted in no action being taken against a priest whose behavior was raising red flags (red flags that were being ignored by the bishop and others even when they were informed of them). But more to the point, there was Finn's personal failure to apply to the sexual abuse scandal the lessons of ministry he regularly articulated for his strong anti-abortion position.

Let me give you examples from just two speeches he made in 2009.

The first quote from Finn comes from an April 2009 speech he gave to a pro-life convention in Kansas City.

Among other things, he said: ". . .in the end the measure of our society is in how we treat the most vulnerable in our midst.”

Finn's reference, in context, was to babies in the womb. But if we can't include born children threatened by sexually abusive priests among "the most vulnerable," the term means little or nothing.

The next quotes are from an address Finn gave in August 2009 to pro-life volunteers in Kansas City.

He began this way: "What a beautiful mission we have: to bear witness, even to the point of some suffering, to the truth of the innate value of human life, and the dignity of every human person."

Again, Finn's focus was on fetuses who might be at risk of abortion, but doesn't "every human person" include children in Catholic churches and schools who are having to defend themselves against predatory priests about whom people in positions of authority know or should know?

In the same speech, Finn said, that "Human life must be safeguarded from its very first moment, through all the travails, joys and challenges we share, even to the moment of natural death."

Safeguarding human life surely must mean more than keeping people breathing. Surely it must mean giving every child an opportunity to live a healthy life unthreatened by priests who want to take pornographic photos of them.

And imagine what Finn and other diocesan officials might have done had they applied this quote from that Finn speech to vulnerable children under their care:

". . .an ill-formed conscience can give license to destructive tendencies within our lives, and can even cause people to neglect, or take advantage of others – particularly those who are vulnerable."

Or this:

"In our work we must do much good and – just as important we must act against what is clearly evil. We must take this responsibility. It is possible to commit sins of omission where there is grave responsibility."

That's exactly what Finn and his diocese now are charged with -- committing "sins (in secular terms, crimes) of omission where there is grave responsibility."

I am aware that all humans -- even bishops and popes and imams and pastors and rabbis and journalists -- are flawed and cannot be expected to do everything right.

But it seems to me that if you're going to give speeches and sermons outlining what you believe is required of people of faith, the burden of living up to those standards is more obvious for the one doing the sermonizing.

Finn's apparent myopia about abortion seems to have blinded him to his responsibilities to those already living and under his care. It may cost Finn a penalty in court. It already has cost children much more than that.

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I find it reassuring to learn that as the nation celebrates and dedicates the monument in Washington, D.C., to the late Martin Luther King Jr., some folks are paying attention to King's theology and the reality that the civil rights movement was driven by people of faith. The second link in the previous sentence will connect you to a newspaper story from Anderson, S.C., about presentations having to do with King and Howard Thurman, whose writings influenced King.

A mystic for our time: 10-15/16-11

Almost every religion has a mystic tradition, which is to say each has people who have valued -- and say they have had -- a direct experience with God.

Catherine-sienaThe mystic path in Judaism is known as Kabbalah.  In Islam the mystic path is Sufism. Christianity, too, has its mystic path, and one of the people most closely associated with it is Catherine of Siena, subject of an enlightening and well-written new book, Catherine of Siena: A Passionate Life, by Don Brophy.

I once asked Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph (by the way, Finn and the diocese were charged with Class A misdemeanors Friday in a case related to the priest sexual abuse scandal) to describe a Catholic understanding of mysticism. His reply, in part:

"Catholicism certainly embraces an authentic mysticism. It would be difficult to compile any list of saints that do not include mystics (both from contemplative and active life). Indeed the Universal call to holiness emphasized by the Second Vatican Council was a reminder that we are all called to a deep intimate prayer which urges us – by the action of God’s grace in us – to transforming union. . . Catholic understanding of Mysticism excludes ideas of the 'annihilation or absorption of the creature into God,' but emphasizes rather a living presence and intimate union with God the Creator, Who is contemplated by the creature in His Divine essence."

What intrigues me is that this desire for an internal, personal, deep experience of God seems to be present as much today as it was in the 14th Century, when Catherine of Siena lived and wrote and taught -- a life that in 1970 earned her the high title of "Doctor of the Church," designated by Pope Paul VI. Indeed, the biblical witness suggests that humans have longed for this mystical experience from the very beginning.

So Brophy's new book can and should speak to a new generation of seekers.

What Brophy does so well in this work is to recreate something of the atmosphere of the 1300s in Italy -- a time when religion set the agenda in all of life, when it may have been a bit unusual but certainly not unique for people to see visions and to dedicate themselves to spiritual practices in profoundly committed ways.

That's the atmosphere into which Catherine -- one of 25 (count 'em, 25, not all of whom survived childhood) children -- was born. She turned out to be a remarkable woman: smart, dedicated, insightful, strong. As Brophy notes, it would be out of place to call her a feminist because she would not even have understood the term as we use it today. But she certainly has been a model for some today who do what has been called feminist theology.

If mysticism in general and Christian mysticism in particular has ever interested you, Brophy's new book would be an excellent way to dig deeper into the subject. And along the way you will meet a fascinating woman whose words and thoughts still matter today.

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Here's one more reason I'm glad I live in the United States. Now Kazakhstan is restricting religious freedom more. Why do the leaders of so many nations fear religion? Oh, I know there are religious extremists who are causing the world all kinds of headaches, but does attacking them mean everyone has to have less freedom?

America's religious puzzle: 10-14-11

A huge majority of Americans say they believe in God. Most identify themselves as Christian, in fact. And from the outside, the American religious landscape looks pretty homogeneous.

Friends, looks are deceiving.

Here's what the summary of the recently released Baylor Religion Survey accurately says:

"American religion seems monolithic. In fact, under the surface American religion is startlingly complex and diverse. Americans may agree that God exists. They do not agree about what God is like, what God wants for the world, or how God feels about politics."

Yes, and we overlook this reality at our own peril.

The truth is that the American religious landscape is always changing, always in flux, always unpredictable. And yet some of the people who study religion in America note that Protestants, once upwards of 75 or 80 percent of the population only a few decades ago, today have slipped just below 50 percent. And it's quite possible that by the end of this century Christians in America no longer will be a majority, just a plurality, of the population.

In the meantime, the traditional idea that Americans are made up of Christians plus a small group of Jews is giving way to the reality that Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Zoroastrians, Shintoists and many other faiths are becoming part of the picture, as, of course, are atheists and agnostics.

And within each faith there are divisions that produce a complex and at times puzzling picture.

As the press release announcing the latest "Wave III" Baylor findings notes, "Entrepreneurs pray more, worriers are less likely to attend religious services, Southerners are more likely to see their work as a mission from God and liberals are less likely to believe in an afterlife — particularly one in which they will be reunited with loved ones." All of this and more is revealed in the Baylor work.

I won't go into that work in more detail here but you can look at the links I've given you and can click here for a Baylor press release about it.

What I ask you to remember is that religion in America is a complex business, no matter how simple it might seem from 35,000 feet.

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This report on Catholic teaching and theology concludes that "Over the last half-century hell has moved from being a fixture of the Catholic landscape to something that exists far over the horizon." And, in my experience, this is true not just of Catholics but also of Mainline Protestants, who perhaps never preached hell as much as Catholics used to but who hardly ever mention it now, preferring to share a message about God's love and compassion.

Christians take to the streets: 10-13-11


Some of the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters were surprised, it's reported, to see a group of Christians show up in support of the movement.

Seems odd to me that there's surprise about this. Who, after all, led the protests in the civil rights movement? Mostly Christians. Who has been prominent in anti-abortion protests? Mostly Christians, although in that case they are Christians who probably weren't too active in civil rights matters and who probably won't be seen supporting the Occupy Wall Street folks.

The Christian faith, after all, calls its followers to be engaged in the issues of the day and to view those issues through the lens of faith.

The problem, obvious to all, is that some Christians come to conclusions completely opposite from the conclusions about those issues drawn by other Christians. Go figure.

There actually are many reasons Christians are not in lockstep when it comes to political issues. They range from the different ways they read scripture to the occasional confusion between religion and patriotism. Patriotism and religion are two pretty different things, but not everyone seems to know that. In addition, of course, people often simply reflect the culture around them without taking much time to discern whether their Christian faith might have something to say in opposition to -- or at least clarification of -- what's happening in that culture.

All of this reminds me of a sign that Duke theologian Stanley Hauerwas once told me he keeps in his office. It offers, he said, what a calls a "modest proposal," which is that "Christians should stop killing Christians."

Oh, what a crazy, radical notion. I bet I could find a bunch of Christians who'd be willing to organize a protest against that idea.

(The photo here today is by the Associated Press and can be found at the Huffington Post site to which I've linked you in the first paragraph above.)

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I found it odd and telling that when Iran's supreme leader, a religious cleric, responded to the news about Iran directing an assassination plot against a Saudi diplomat in the U.S., he pointed to the "Occupy Wall Street" movement as evidence that the West is in decline.  The Iran plot news, he said, was just the U.S. government's way of distracting people from the dissatisfaction. The reality is that historically Iran's population has been pro-Western in sympathy and that many of the Iranian people chafe under the rule by theological thugs coupled with political whack jobs. Indeed, notice in the story to which I've linked you a quote from a top member of Parliament there blaming "an American-Zionist plot." This is not-very-hidden code language for the antisemitism Iran's goofy president, a Holocaust denier, regularly displays. In fact, Iran has long been much more of a threat to Western interests than Iraq ever was.

Celebrating a faith "Superstar': 10-12-11

Sometimes it takes music to deliver a spiritual message. No other medium can do it in the way that music can.

JC-Superstar And today is a good day to be thinking about music and faith because it was on this date in 1971 that "Jesus Christ Superstar" had its broadway debut. Forty years later it's still among my favorite pieces of pop culture faith music, despite criticism of it from some Christians who considered it sacrilegious.

The opera -- and why not call it that? -- had been performed in various places around the country and the album had sold 2.5 million copies before it hit Broadway. But there's something about making it to Broadway that gives a work authority and visibility that it would not otherwise have.

Andrew Lloyd Weber and Timothy Rice turned our some extraordinarily memorable and moving music for this work -- songs that still are listened to by a large audience.

Here's a link to a YouTube version of the lead song from the musical as it appeared in the movie version. Notice the key question: "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, who are you? What have you sacrificed?"

It's the old question from the New Testament that Jesus asks Peter: "But who do you say that I am?"

In the end, that's the question that anyone who hears about Jesus must answer, whether the person answering decides to be a follower or not.

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Speaking of music, I don't usually review music here or point readers to good new music, but today I want to introduce you to an intriguing new CD, "Everything Is Everywhere," by Carrie Newcomer. She has combined here American folk tradition with the music traditions of India (where I lived for two years as a boy and where I learned to love Indian music).  I received the CD several weeks ago but hadn't had a chance to write about it until today. In the meantime, my friends over at recently did a piece about Carrie Newcomer and her spiritual music. To read about that, click here.

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Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, by Fr. James Martin. This past Sunday at my church we sang a hymn in which the words include a plea for the appreciation of "laughter's healing art." In effect, that's what this author, a Jesuit priest, is asking for in this attractive and useful book. He argues that many people of faith was way, way too serious, even though he acknowledges that the life-and-death issues with which religion deals can be deeply serious. But, he says, we need not take ourselves so seriously. We can, instead, engage in laughter's healing art. And a light-hearted approach to spiritual matters is not just for Christians. Martin is wise enough to include other traditions in his treatment, too. For instance, he quotes the Qur'an as saying this: "It is God who causes your laughter and your tears." Islam even has a tradition in which it is said that Allah laughs. From personal experience, we know laughter can heal. So why don't we allow more laughter into our spiritual lives? (I try to do that here now and then by devoting a day to religious jokes. It's been awhile since I've done that, so this book is a helpful reminder that I owe you some yuks.

More on church disagreements: 10-11-11

I am always intrigued by the ways in which faith communities ultimately are unable to control the conversation about ideas that arise from their members. (Consider this a follow-on to my previous two blog entries.)

Priest-collar Ideas the community officially may consider heresy or at least unwanted rarely seem to go away completely, and when those ideas address what appear to be continuing problems within the group, they are even less likely to disappear.

One such idea is that of opening up the Catholic priesthood to men who are married. The church's commitment to a celibate priesthood is not one it considers forever unchangeable. There have been times when priests were married and there may yet be such a time again in the future, though current church leadership opposes the idea -- at times quite rigorously.

But an organization called FutureChurch is committed to promoting the idea of a priesthood open to married men, and is using Oct. 30 as a day to honor all priests and to call attention to the need for married priests.

"Our goal as FutureChurch is to honor not only the ministry of celibate priests but to also advocate for a return to permitting married priestly ministry," Emily Holtel-Hoag, FutureChurch special projects coordinator, said to me in an e-mail.

I invite you to look around at the FutureChurch Web site to see the group's various activities, but while you're there you might look at its section on the shortage of priests.

I looked up there the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and found some statistics that showed that the  number of diocesan priests in the diocese had dropped from 126 in 1976 to 96 in 2009.

Diocesan spokeswoman Rebecca Summer tells me that the January 2011 figure for diocesan priests was 98, of whom 70 are in active ministry, while 28 are retired. The FutureChurch figure of 126 diocesan priests did not count 29 it listed as "retired, sick or absent." So the comparable figures for diocesan priests appear to show that there were 126 active in 1976 and 70 active today. By my math, that means the diocese has only about 55 percent of the available, active diocesan priests that it had in 1976. (This count doesn't include priests of various religious orders working in the diocese.)

The shortage of priests is one of the arguments for having married priests.

Well, this debate may go on for many more years, but in the end a church without enough ordained leaders to sustain it will suffer. What we don't yet know is how much suffering the current top of the Catholic hierarchy is willing for the church to accept to be able to maintain a celibate priesthood..

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The recent violence against Coptic Christians in Egypt has been a disaster for the interim military government. The world watches as the country's armed forces crush an already oppressed minority, and everyone wonders why any of this had to happen. Coptic Christians, a people with a long, long history, make up from 6 to 15 percent of Egypt's population, depending on what source you consult. Theologically, Coptic Christians differ from traditional Christianity in that they reject the idea that Jesus had two natures and was, thus, both fully human and fully divine. Copts accept that Jesus was both human and divine but insist that these were united in one nature. It may seem today like arguing about angels dancing on pinheads, but over the centuries such arguments got lots of people killed. I have been twice to Egypt and have visited Coptic sites. I admire the faithfulness of the Copts.

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Belieber!: Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber, by Cathleen Falsani. The author, an excellent religion journalist (whom I've heard speak), is clearly and unabashedly a fan of pop singing star Justin Bieber. It's not that she's a lady ga-ga over Bieber's music but, rather, is profoundly impressed with his willingness to acknowledge to the public that he's a person of faith who wants everyone to know about and feel God's love. And, really, that's a pretty admirable quality in a 17-year-old who just a few years ago was an unknown kid from a small town in Canada. Falsani, whose own Christian faith shines through this book, describes Bieber's astonishing rise to fame and fortune and his commitment to his Christian upbringing. It's so amazingly easy for fame to erode one's moral center. Falsani wants us to know that has not happened with young Justin. She describes him not as a zealous Jesus freak who wants everyone in the world to see faith the way he sees it but, rather, as a committed Christian who has experienced God's embracing love through an unusual family (Bieber correctly notes that there may be not be "any such thing as a 'normal' family.") and who wants others to have the opportunity to know that God loves them unconditionally. (Speaking of his family, his mother got pregnant with him as a drinking, partying teen who later found a welcoming church.) So along with the improbable story of a Jewish manager discovering Bieber on YouTube and helping him shoot to stardom, we get the story of Bieber's commitment to faith. I certainly had heard of (and even heard) Bieber before this book, but hadn't bothered to learn much about him. I'm glad Falsani's book moved me to do that. I bet you will have much the same reaction.

Out anti-gaying a preacher: 10-10-11

Over the weekend here on the blog, I described how two pastor friends of mine were carrying on a policy disagreement with civility and respect.

GAY-christian Today I'd like to show you a bit of a contrast to that -- which is to say one pastor taking on another one publically without any apparent effort to talk with the one with whom he disagrees to settle things or at least clarify things. And a case in which both pastors are misguided.

Al Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, and he does a lot of writing about faith and life.

He's an interesting guy but someone with whom I pretty regularly disagree.

In this longish, sort of snide piece, he writes about the well-known televangelist Joel Osteen and Osteen's recent interview on the Piers Morgan show on CNN.

Mohler is all atwitter about several things Osteen said (or mumbled) in the interview, and he is pretty unsparing in his critique.

At one point Mohler reacts to some of Osteen's TV remarks this way:

"This is beyond mere incoherence. It is moral and theological nonsense. More than that, it is a massive statement of ministerial malpractice."

What both pains and amuses me about all of this is that in some ways both Mohler and Osteen have chosen to be on the wrong side of history for reasons that are not theologically sustainable. Which is to say that both of them believe the Bible calls homosexuality a sin. (For my own views on that subject, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)

So when Osteen inconsistently says homosexuality is a sin but he'd attend a same-sex wedding if the couple were friends, Mohler jumps all over him for not being a purist about it. In the 1950s and '60s in the South, certain politicians were described as trying to "out-seg" opponents, which is to say that they sought to be more rigid segregationists than the next person.

And many people observing that tawdry stuff simply shook their heads and understood that eventually this ridiculous racism would give way to something more moral and coherent. The same is true of anti-gay preachers who are trying to out-anti-gay the next preacher, as Mohler is trying to do to Osteen.

Much of the rest of the world looks on and shakes its head, wondering when people of faith are going to get on the right side (I would argue the biblical side) of history. And as a result of the kind of Mohler-vs-Osteen argument, the cause of faith is dealt one more harsh blow it need not have suffered.

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The controversy among Republicans about whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and John Huntsman belong, is a cult is just sad. This is a debate that grows out of prejudice and hate, not decent politics or decent theology. It is much more a theological question than a political one, but it's one that grows out of a need to separate and isolate not to understand. The instincts that lead one to denounce Mormons as cult members (look up the various meanings of the word cult sometime) are misguided and just mean and such instincts should be anathema to any people of faith, including Christians.

When people of faith disagree: 10-8/9-11

This post may seem to be about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the ways in which my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has found itself (or made itself) entangled in aspects of the controversy.

Israeli_palestinian But it's really only tangentially about that. Instead, it's about how people of the same faith who disagree about important issues can (and should) engage each other in respectful civil discourse instead of degenerating into trash talk and personal attacks of the kind we often find in the political world.

People of faith should be showing the way, and two friends, the Rev. Scott Myers and the Rev. Brian Ellison, both Presbyterian pastors, have been demonstrating how to show that way recently.

Here's the crux of the matter:

A Presbyterian Church (USA) committee that Ellison heads decided recently to recommend next year to the denomination's national governing body that the denomination consider adding Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions to its list of companies it won't invest in because Caterpillar, in the view of Ellison's committee, profits from the "non-peaceful" use of its products by Israel against Palestinians. (I've linked you to the Religion News Service story about this matter. To read the JTA [Jewish Telegraph Agency] story about it, click here.

Ellison, pastor of Parkville Presbyterian Church in suburban Kansas City and chairman of the denomination's Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee, thinks his committee's recommendation is the right way to go.

Myers, pastor of Westport Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Mo., and, like Ellison, a long-time proponent of and participant in Christian-Jewish dialogue, disagrees.

So soon after the committee's recommendation was made public, Myers sent an e-mail to several people, including me and Ellison, asking people to join him in opposition to the move.

"I am very much opposed to this recommendation. I hope you will help to oppose this recommendation and defeat it when it is voted on by the upcoming General Assembly. Why? Here is a morally cloudy and complicated situation, in which both Israelis and Palestinians share blame, exhibit serious flaws and major fault."

Scott added other reasons, too.

A good thing Scott did in sending the note was to include Ellison on his list of recipients.

Which prompted Brian to respond. Here's part of what he said:

" I believe you are completely wrong about this recommendation, and--respectfully--I think you have gravely misunderstood it. I believe our very specific recommendation is a positive step for seeking a just peace and ensuring the security and wholeness of all Israelis and Palestinians. If you would like to talk with me further about it before issuing further public correspondence on the topic, please know I am willing to do that any time, and I'm just up the road in Parkville."

To which Scott said, yes, let's talk. We should always talk.

I don't know where this disagreement will come out, (and, for the record, although I have found merit in the arguments of both sides, I have tended to side with Scott on this matter) but I do know that this is how difficult matters on which people of good faith disagree should be handled.

We need not question each other's motives. We need not attribute to the other side ignorance or stupidity or anything else. We can simply air our differences, make our best case and -- in this case -- let the larger church decide.

Good work, Scott and Brian.

(To read the denomination's news release about the committee's recommendation, click here. To read the committee's full report, click here.)

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I am increasingly awed by the cosmos -- and by how little we know about what makes it up and how it works. When the Nobel Prize in physics just went to scientists whose work has to do with dark energy and dark matter, it was a reminder, says this engaging New York Times op-ed by a leading research scientists, of how little we know. More than that, however, the work these scientists are doing continues to make people who believe the Earth is only a few thousand years old look foolish. Such faith-based positions are part of what is driving some young people away from fundamentalist churches that stand in the doorway of scientific discovery, refusing to let their students enter for fear that a literal interpretation of Genesis will be challenged. How sad that some people of faith reject almost everything about modernity, to say nothing of post-modernity. And how sad that we seem unable to talk about this openly and respectfully the way Scott Myers and Brian Ellison talk about divestment in Israel.