Faith and Politics

Christian Nation vs. Secular Country?

AS WE SWING into the 2016 presidential campaign, we Americans can be certain of at least one thing: We will be treated to another round of very public arguments about the role of religion in our republic. If this were a boxing match, and if past patterns persist, the title of the bout would be Christian Nation vs. Secular Country. The sides, more eager to mobilize their own than have a conversation with the other, will happily seek to bludgeon one another.

Thankfully, a number of writers have set out to complicate this picture in a way that adds both color and hope. Peter Manseau’s One Nation, Under Gods and Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Quran are beautifully written accounts of our interfaith country. By interfaith, I mean both that there were people of different faith persuasions present from our earliest days, and that they constantly bumped into one another as they established their communities and sought to build up this country.

That interaction often went badly—the Salem witch trials, the anti-Catholic Know Nothing party, and present day anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are just some examples. As Manseau writes, “The story of how a global array of beliefs came to occupy the same ocean-locked piece of land is more often one of violence than of toleration.”

But there are inspiring threads of pluralism in the American tapestry as well. As Manseau puts it, “the repeated collision of conflicting systems of belief, followed frequently by ugly and violent conflict, has somehow arrived, again and again, not merely at peaceful coexistence but at striking moments of inter-influence.”

Both of these books display the full fabric.

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Building Beloved Communities

ONE OF MY favorite descriptions for the people of God, what the New Testament calls the “body of Christ,” is the evocative language of “the beloved community” used by Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement.

beloved community is a powerful vision of a new coming together, a new community that welcomes all peoples in their diverse ethnicities and nationalities. Everygroup, clan, and tribe is included and invited in. That dream and vision undergirded King’s movement for civil and voting rights, both spiritually and philosophically, and deeply reflected his own underlying moral belief and hope as a Christian minister.

Yet in one of his most famous quotations, King also said this: “I am ashamed and appalled at the fact that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in Christian America.” He said this in 1953, while he was still associate pastor at his father’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. But obviously, and most painfully, that quote is still true today.

Incredibly, prior to 1998 there was no good national data on how many U.S. churches were “multiracial.” In this context, a multiracial congregation is one in which less than 80 percent of members belong to any single race. This definition is now widely used by scholars of modern religion, including Michael O. Emerson, the definitive scholar on multiracial congregations. According to scientific surveys of U.S. congregations of all faiths, Emerson has observed that “7.4 percent of U.S. congregations were multiracial in 1998, [and] in 2010 that figure had grown to 13.7 percent.” In other words, truly multiracial congregations in the United States are still very much the exception to the rule. At the same time, it is highly encouraging that their number nearly doubled in just over a decade.

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An Open Letter to the Supreme Court as You Consider Same-Sex Marriage

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Ikeita Cantu, left, and Carmen Guzman, of McLean, Va., hold signs in front of the Supreme Court. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

People who argue against marriage equality frequently do so for religious reasons, even if they cast their argument in secular terms. While I believe there are strong constitutional arguments for striking down bans on marriage equality, I support striking down these bans because of my faith, not in spite of it.

For too long, religious institutions have contributed to the scourge of homophobia that fuels the discrimination that this case seeks to strike down. Far too many of us are familiar with the discrimination, fear, and violence that gay and lesbian people have suffered while people of faith turned a blind eye or, worse yet, acted as perpetrators.

Rev. Gil Caldwell, a ‘Foot Soldier’ for Civil Rights, Turns His Eye to LGBT Rights

The Rev. Gil Caldwell. Photo via Travis Long / RNS

The Rev. Gil Caldwell. Photo via Travis Long / RNS

Caldwell was a “foot soldier” in King’s civil rights army, and he finally made it to Durham, where he closed out a social justice conference focused on a newer movement — the effort to secure full inclusion of LGBT people in the United Methodist Church.

“In some ways there is a possibility that on gay rights and marriage equality, God is speaking more through the judiciary than God is speaking through the United Methodist Church,” Caldwell said in his sermon at a gay-friendly United Methodist church just three miles away from the seminary he said denied him admission.

5 Faith Facts about Mike Huckabee, Southern Baptist Pastor-Turned-Politician

Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Photo via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is no stranger to the pulpit — or politics. The former Fox News Channel host announced May 5 his bid for the GOP nomination for the White House. Here are five facts about this Southern Baptist’s perspectives on faith.

What Catholics Can Teach America About Polarized Politics

Nothing serves the interests of political parties more than interest groups that use religious rhetoric to promote secular ideologies and add, “Thus saith the Lord.” And Washington is full of them.

American Catholics see how partisan polarization has strained their church and their consciences. Yet unlike religious ideologues of the right and left, they are uneasy with this new development. Neither party offers a platform that stands in solidarity with unborn children, the poor and hungry, undocumented immigrant families, the environment, and people without access to medical care.

Whose Group Sponsored Provocative Mohammad Cartoon Contest?

Photo via Mike Stone / Reuters / RNS

Political blogger Pamela Geller. Photo via Mike Stone / Reuters / RNS

Pamela Geller is good at getting attention.

She’s a celebrity blogger and fiery activist who founded the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which describes itself as a human rights organization that defends freedom of speech by speaking out against global jihad and Islamic supremacists. She runs a sister organization called Stop Islamization of America.

The groups are known for controversial activism against Islam.

Congo-Brazzaville Bans Muslim Women from Wearing Full-Face Veils, Citing Terrorism Prevention

Woman wearing a burqa. Photo via Shutterstock / RNS

Woman wearing a burqa. Photo via Shutterstock / RNS

Although Congo-Brazzaville has not witnessed violence like neighboring Cameroon, it is now the first country in the region to ban the veils.

In Cameroon, Nigeria’s Boko Haram insurgency has carried out deadly attacks in villages and towns. Female suicide bombers in veils have committed some of Boko Haram’s attacks.

“Muslim women can now only wear the full veil at home and in places of worship, but not in public places,” El Hadj Abdoulaye Djibril Bopaka, the head of Islamic Supreme Council of Congo-Brazzaville told Agence France-Presse.

Why Does Islam Ban Images of the Prophet Muhammad?

Photo via Sadik Gulec / Shutterstock.com

Muslims waiting for the call to prayer in Aleppo, Syria. Photo via Sadik Gulec / Shutterstock.com

On May 3 in Garland, Texas, two gunmen opened fire at a “draw the Prophet Muhammad” contest sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiativelisted as an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Police shot and killed the two gunmen. A security guard was injured. Most Muslims consider images of the prophet highly offensive, as Islam prohibits them. The attack comes almost four months to the day that four cartoonists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo were killed by extremists offended at the magazine’s satirical depictions of the prophet.

Why do images of the founder of Islam — even cartoons drawn by amateurs — incite so much anger in some people that they are motivated to violence?

The Parable of Baltimore

Protestors in DC march in solidarity with Baltimore. Image via JP Keenan/Sojourn

Protestors in DC march in solidarity with Baltimore. Image via JP Keenan/Sojourners.

Baltimore, like Ferguson, is a parable — a story that can teach us important lessons. It's one in which we should see that we are, for the most part, still missing the most important lessons.

Decades of bad behavior on the part of Baltimore's police force in relation to the black community were brought to light, as in other circumstances of young black men dying at the hands of police. But the parable of Baltimore needs to go deeper.

 

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