Sunday, October 3, 2010

He is Christian and Proud

“Say it loud, I am black and proud, Come on Say it loud I am black and proud , I am black and proud.” -James Brown.

Honestly, I was convinced that those lyrics once luminously preformed by the “God Father of Soul “ James Brown , that articulated a since of self-respect within the African American community during the middle of the 20th century , was going to have to be the rally cry of the 44th President of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama However , rather than having to preserve his blackness, he has been on consist defense of his religious conviction and practice. This is a issue that has caused my mind to dwell in a sea of disarray. I can only content that Americans have become apprehensive, when it concerns the religious values of their president due to misguided perceptions of the past and recent traumatic current events that has agitated our nation at its core.

Recently I was scanning several blogs and messages boards across the and discovered that many internet using Americans have a very misguided perception when it comes the past religious ideology of our country and it’s leaders. Americans are conceived that the American political environment and reality has been and should continue to be, divinely ordained. Scholar Robert Bellah agrued that Americans have embraced a customary civil religion with certain fundamental beliefs, values, holidays, and rituals, parallel to, or independent of, their chosen religion. [1] Bellah also stated that some have argued that Christianity is the national faith however few have realized that there actually exists alongside and the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America. [2] Civil Religion is a reality that many people ascribed to in American society. This commitment to God and country is a mindset of many Americans . More than two weeks ago on my personal twitter page I decided to send ten of my followers this question , “Where the American Fathers and establisher of our country Christian”? Seven out of the ten said yes , and that we should get back to those Christian ways of the past. As an ordained preacher I think that is great that people feel that our country should develop a better moral mindset. However as someone who has received a little education, I understand that this is not the way of the past. The reality that I have become aware of through several lectures and research projects is that the religious environment of the people who helped shaped this nation was very diverse in it’s nature. It is unfair for people to claim that our founding fathers where only Christian, when some where Deist and Atheist. Moreover, please do not forget how the people who shaped this nation pushed the Natives of this land to the margins and abused another group people into forced labor. My question is what is actually Christian about of any of those previous statements that I have made describing this history of our nation? So many of us Americans are convinced that every important leader in our past was a born again Christian. We have to move from this misguided reality that depicts every leader of the past as a great practicing Christian. The apprehensive nature of our nation when it concerns the religious values of their president due to misguided perception of the past and past leaders.

Not only does the misguided perception past have our country sitting on edge are the current events have many questioning if the President is Christian. In this post 9/11 society, if a individual shows themselves to be pro Conservative American then he is pro Christian and if that same individual shows he is anti Liberal American then that person is either radically Muslim or non Christian. Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright who was the pastor of President Obama preached a sermon that dammed America for it’s constantly unethical treatment of people of color in 2008. After this many questioned the Christian reality of President Obama and Dr. Wright. “Post-Wright, Obama labored to create a public religious persona of conventionality, as his handlers struck back against birtherism and Manchurian candidate smears.”[ 3] Also recently, apparently President Obama, omitted the words "endowed by their Creator" when quoting the Declaration of Independence. This is somehow evidence according to the “conservative right” the President Obama is either a godless liberal or an anti-American one, or both.[4 ]Now rumors about President Obama being Muslim are dominating blogs and news websites. The Muslim rumors are not about some kind of honest confusion, but rather, an attempt by his opponents to capitalize on the post-9/11 suspicion of Muslims that has recently manifested itself in the controversy over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.”[ 5] A Time Magazine new poll showed that nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, believe Obama is Muslim. That was up from 11 percent who said so in March 2009. The survey also showed that just 34 percent said Obama is Christian, down from 48 percent who said so last year.[6 ]

It should not matter if Obama is Christian or not . I will tell you what should matter, and that is can he fix the unemployment rate that is at 10% or the economy that needs heavy CPR. Christian or not , Mr. President just fix the real problems. Remember Mr. President that Abraham Lincoln was accused of being a Catholic, and Franklin Roosevelt of being Jewish. Therefore ,your accusers are placing you in the same basket with two of America’s greatest presidents. Get the job Mr. President done time is running out.

1. Bellah, Robert Neelly (Winter 1967). "Civil Religion in America". Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 96 (1): 1–21. From the issue entitled "

2. Bellah, Robert Neelly; University of Chicago Press (August 15, 1992). The Broken Covenant: American Civil Religion in Time of Trial. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press

3.*Published in the London-based AL-HAYAT on Sept. 13, 2010.

4. ibi



Friday, October 1, 2010

When Christians Kill

"We are worth more than the worst act we commit," says Sister Helen Prejean, an active supporter in the fight against capital punishment. This quote seems relevant in light of recent developments in the Virginia death penalty case involving Teresa Lewis. Lewis, along with two other conspirators, planned and carried out a gruesome murder against her husband and stepson in 2002. While Lewis plead guilty and received a death sentence in the case, the two men who carried out the crime only received a sentence of life in prison. According to CNN, court officials say that Lewis was sentenced to death because she was the, “head of this serpent.” According to The Washington Post, after multiple rounds of appeals, Lewis’ case finally reached the federal Supreme Court. The justices of the Court handed down their decision on Tuesday denying a stay of execution. TIME states that the Governor of Virginia, Bob McConnell also denied Lewis clemency and said, “Having carefully reviewed the petition for clemency, the judicial opinions in this case, and other relevant materials, I find no compelling reason to set aside the sentence that was imposed by the Circuit Court and affirmed by all reviewing courts.” CNN also reported other officials have stated Teresa Lewis “does not deserve mercy.”

As humans, are we equipped to make the decision of whether someone deserves life or death? Are we also equipped to take another humans life in such an intentional and calculated fashion as the death penalty? This issue is of the utmost importance to those in the Christian faith community. The debate surrounding capital punishment in the Church is not a new one. Ancient biblical scripture has seemingly supported the idea of capital punishment. Among these verses is Genesis 9:5-6 which states, “Surely for your lifeblood I will demand a reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man. From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man.” While this verse is used now to support a positive Christian view of the death penalty, the ancient Jewish people viewed verses such as these much differently. Dennis Sasso in his article entitled, “Capital Punishment Re-Examined,” says that while they recognized this verse as justification of capital punishment, they still considered “execution by the State at the least undesirable, at the most, barbarous.” He also says “the rabbis of two thousand years ago did not slavishly labor under the conception that the Bible categorically favors capital punishment…they went beyond the Biblical tradition. They took the Bible seriously, but not literally.” The context and interpretation of such scripture has changed over time. While some modern day Christian denominations support capital punishment, many have issued strong statements against the practice. The United Methodist Church, along with other religious organizations such as the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the United States, and many other Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim communities have joined together to denounce the use of capital punishment.

We must also consider the effects capital punishment has on our society as a whole. When a person is put to death by capital punishment, it continues the victimization of human beings instead of correcting a wrong in society. While some people in support of the death penalty believe those against it are siding with the criminal, disagreeing with the death penalty is not supporting the actions of the guilty individual. By disagreeing with the intentional killing of another human being I am trying to forgive the sin and treat the sinner with compassion and love that he did not show his victim. Having an attitude of hate towards the criminal does not harm him, but continues to victimize the victim.

After presenting facts around the historical Christian debate of capital punishment, I ask again, are we equipped as humans to make the decision of whether someone deserves life or death? I do not believe we are. We are created in the image of God. In his article “Who Deserves to Live- Who Deserves to Die: Reflections on Capital Punishment,” Norman Dake states “No matter how dimmed or tainted that image may have become because of sin, it remains an essential part of us.” Capital punishment destroys a human being bearing the image of God. Instead of forgiveness, we offer death.

Christianity must decide whether it will stand for or against a state that allows the use of capital punishment. Can followers of Christ legitimately support this practice without calling into question their core beliefs? While the United States is not a Christian nation, there is a Christian community within it. As a Christian community, we are called to a qualitatively different moral standard of beliefs and practices then those necessary to maintain civil order. How will we let those beliefs and practices shape our political lives? Where will we stand in the public spectrum when the question of capital punishment’s merit is raised?

On Thursday, September 23, Teresa Lewis was escorted to the death chamber in a Virginia state prison. She was put to death by lethal injection. Her death, along with countless others, is a sign of a broken system within this country. As her impending death approached, Lewis told the NY Daily News, “I hope that something is going to turn around," she said, but "if I have to go home with Jesus... I know that's going to be the best thing. I don't think there is enough words to even begin to tell her how sorry I am... I want people to know that you can be a good person and make the wrong choice, I want people to know that.”

The Catholic Conscience: Maintaining Equality in a Mainline World

The media – and the political sphere, by extension – often neglects to explore the reasoning behind much of the Catholic Church’s ideologies, choosing instead to thrash out the more “controversial” issues surrounding the issues. The opinions of individuals – and, by a large degree, women – are constantly manipulated by the media into believing that the negation of the Catholic Church to elect women into the priesthood is wrong. My opinion is that these media masses are just as blinded as they accuse the Catholic Church of being, as they consistently starve the public of the nutrients of truth engrained in the Church’s teachings. Male-oriented priesthood is a long-held Catholic tradition necessary to sustain apostolic succession, a tenet essential for the worshiping of the Eucharist, which is the unequivocal core of Catholicism itself. To rebuke the Church’s ideology on women’s ordination, then, is essentially to rebuke the very core of the Catholic Church. The mistake that many media personnel make during all of this is to expect the same secular definition of “equality” that we expect from our political organizations, when in fact the Church’s structuring of equality is, though different, no less present.

In her 2010 New York Times article, “Rome Fiddles, We Burn,” Maureen Dowd discusses her opinion of the current state of events happening within the Catholic Church. According to an unidentified Catholic document recently disclosed, says Dowd, the Church has now placed the ordination of women among one of the “graviora delicta,” or grave offenses, of the Church. As a response to this, Dowd argues, “Letting women be priests — which should be seen as a way to help cleanse the church and move it beyond its infantilized and defensive state — is now on the list of awful sins right next to pedophilia, heresy, apostasy and schism.” Dowd urges the Church to “embrace the normality of equality” by ceasing its subordination of women wishing to be priests, labeling the Vatican’s insistence on the tradition as wrong and “misogynistic poppycock.”

Dowd’s article is not by any means unique. It expresses the long-standing negative opinion that many individuals have of the Catholic Church. Being a media representative, however, Dowd and others of her field should be expected to maintain a certain loyalty to the truth, and not just a biased perspective of it. In this aspect, Dowd inarguably fails. The “equality” that Dowd urges Catholicism to embrace is merely a secular construct; to expect the Church to maintain this worldly definition of equality for men and women simply because “that’s what we’re used to” in the public sphere is tantamount to expecting religion itself to maintain not just this but all the precepts of a political organization.

The absence of Dowd’s secularized vision of equality in the Church does not mean that the Church does not provide equality, however. On the contrary, a closer examination of the Vatican’s teachings shows us that the Catholic Church does more to respect the values of each gender than most denominations. As the head of the parish, the priest acts as the father of the community and as the Christ figure in the Eucharistic setting, which occurs during every Mass. During the Eucharist, the priest, as the father of the church, is “standing in the place” of Jesus during the Last Supper, performing the necessary act of transubstantiation to turn the wine and bread to the literal blood and body of Jesus Christ. The apostolic succession of the Church guarantees that the line of male priests can be traced back to Jesus’ “sending forth” of the twelve male disciples – a tenet that is key to proving the priest’s authority to handle something as precious as Jesus’ body, blood, soul, and divinity.

On the other side of the coin, the equality of women within the Catholic Church is sustained by the opportunities they have within the life of sisterhood. Although it is often difficult for non-Catholics to contemplate an individual finding self-fulfillment within a convent, I would argue that this perspective almost always stems from some false interpretation of nuns that that individual has come across in their lifetime. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The sisters of the Catholic Church are beautiful representatives of what it means to be brides of Christ. Their positions are powerful, taking on the responsibilities of leading thousands of volunteer efforts, school improvement projects, and upholding the dignity of Catholic women across the world. The efforts to divide the roles of the Church between men and women, priest and sister, then, are not meant to diminish gender equality, but rather to honor the natural attributes that God endowed us with. Only a woman can represent the true bride of Christ in the Church, just as only a man can represent the father of the church. This tradition ensures that both sexes have the ideal model for servitude allowed to them. The intent is not to exclude women from ordination but rather to honor the obligation that Jesus entrusted to the male gender.

The media’s right to report controversial issues like female ordination is hampered by its insistent exclusion of verified information. Journalists like Maureen Dowd claim the truth reporting only a sliver of what the Church’s theology on women’s ordination really is. The expectations that we hold for the Church are incessantly tainted by our own secularized view. The media must take responsibility for what information is being left out of the religious packages, and must accept that how they view an issue like gender equality is not necessarily how another division will view it. If media representatives continue to detract from exploring a subject like female ordination beyond the superficial layer (the layer that says that the Catholic Church is wrong simply because most people says it’s wrong), then the average reader will almost inevitably fall short of knowing the truth

We Are Not You: The Problems With American Christian Identity

I’m sure everyone is sick of hearing about the proposed Muslim community center/mosque near ground zero – that was so last September. It seems to me, however, that the major issues emerging from the debate are not those addressing the construction of the community center. The main question I want to ask is: If 71% of Americans, according to an August CBS News poll, believe building the mosque near ground zero is inappropriate, what does that say about who we are as Americans and what we believe?

Surely, no Constitution-minded citizen of the United States could whole-heartedly object to the proposed building; we, as good, freedom-loving Americans, should encourage diversity and at least tolerate religious difference. How, then, it is possible to reconcile with the fact that so many Americans (several among them members of the upstart Tea Party Movement with their Constitutions in their back pockets) deny that this religious group has a right to free exercise and assembly? If most Americans object to this clearly benign attempt to exercise the freedoms that we so proudly tout, what does that say about who we think we are?

For the sake of my own interests, I’m going to approach this from a religious angle. According to a Gallup poll taken last year, 78% of Americans claim to be Christian. Therefore, it is safe to say, the majority of Americans identify themselves as Christians. This is not to say that The United States is necessarily a Christian nation. In reality, however, it is difficult to argue against our deep Christian roots and their significance in our foundation, growth, and how we continually shape our identity.

Indeed, the role of religion in general in American identity is indisputable. As the American sociologist Robert Bellah points out in his discourse Varieties of Civil Religion, we all hold to a kind of civic religion that can be traced to the very roots of our American values. “It was a republican and a democratic religion that not only inculcated republican values,” writes Bellah, “but gave the first lessons in participation in the public life” (16). Moreover, this civil religion is loosely based on concepts and themes found within the Bible – Exodus, Chosen People, Promised Land, and even Sacrificial Death – which, despite the much touted separation of church and state, vaults Christianity to a high status in our collective identity.

If most Americans claim to be Christian and our country somewhat resembles a Christian nation, then why do I feel like we’re distinctly not Christian? In his April article in the online religion blog Religion Dispatches, “What Do ‘The Christians’ Believe? Easter Reflections from a Non-Christian,” Emory University Professor of Religion Gary Laderman asks a similar question to mine, writing, “Over the span of a 24-hour news cycle, one hears about Christians in action with all sorts of spoken and unspoken moral commitments and sacred investments, but at the end of the day it is increasingly difficult to reconcile this array under one theological umbrella.” He notes the recent arrest of a Christian militia and the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church as prime examples of Christians in American acting decidedly un-Christian. In his conclusion, he suggests that perhaps it is time to see Christianity similarly to how we define Native Americans or Hindus: a broad and antiquated classification that essentially eliminates differences and unites a large group of people under one umbrella of identity, and, as he contends, “does not hold up under serious scrutiny and distracts from real-world politics, power, and difference.” In other words, maybe it’s time to stop classifying Christians by their beliefs – presumably of faith, hope, love, and justice – because it clearly doesn’t coincide with real life.

Through this lens, then, it seems as though the identity of the American Christian – and perhaps of the American in general – is one that is not formed by beliefs in Bellah’s civic religion or by the tenets of faith, hope, and love in Christianity. What, then, shapes our identity?

In examining the responses to the proposed Muslim community center in New York, I am reminded of Samuel Huntington’s 1993 article in Foreign Affairs entitled “The Clash of Civilizations.” Huntington asserts that civilizations, rather than countries, will be the main source of identity and conflict in the next era of humanity. In his discussion on the nature of civilizations, Huntington argues: “European communities…will share cultural features that distinguish them from Arab or Chinese communities. Arabs, Chinese, and Westerners, however, are not part of any broader cultural identity. They constitute civilizations” (4, italics added). Civilizations, because of their differences, will create conflict: “The most important conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating these civilizations from another” (5) The underlying assumption of his theory is based on the idea of identity by opposition: in order to have a civilization, one must have an enemy to solidify one’s identity.

Critics of this theory, however, point out this unnecessary facet of negative identity construction and instead assert the need for positive association in the global community. In a world where identities are positively constructed, the outlook is optimism, progress, and peace. One such proponent of this viewpoint is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who in his aptly titled book, The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations, emphasizes the need for religion to be an active force in creating peace. In this discourse, he argues for unity in difference by drawing on the biblical image of the Tower of Babel. In the Hebrew Bible, God destroyed the Tower of Babel, a massive building representing the unity of all humankind, and purposely spread the human race throughout the earth with different races, languages, and cultures. This action, Rabbi Sacks contends, had the intention of “teaching humanity to make space for difference…The unity of God is to be found in the diversity of creation” (53), a notion which he then ties into the fact that “the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to ‘love the stranger’” (58). If heeded, such a viewpoint would forecast peace rather than Huntington’s ominous clash, and the difference is identity based on similarity rather than difference.

I believe that Americans are fulfilling Huntington’s horrifying prophecy. As Christian Americans, we too often construct our identity based not on beliefs found in Scripture, but on whom we believe to be the enemy. If we note the words of Rabbi Sacks, perhaps we would not misconstrue Muslims, homosexuals, democrats, liberals, and anyone else who seems to oppose traditional Christian values as our enemies. Perhaps we could actually claim to be a Christian nation.