Human Rights

Thoughts on Holy Week: Identifying with Jesus and the Temple Cleansing

A child laborer. Image via gary yim/shutterstock.com

A child laborer. Image via gary yim/shutterstock.com

Among Christians who practice Lent, the Holy Week timeline is a time for reflection on the practices of Jesus in his last days prior to his death. Reflecting on Holy Week can be a spiritual practice to consider the place of those practices in our own lives. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus followed his triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday by taking time on Monday during that week to publically drive out and speak against temple-based financial exploitation.

The cleansing of the Temple is documented in all four gospels. Three place it during Holy Week. Scholars have written that this event occurred in the area of the Temple known as “Solomon’s Porch,” which was open to Jewish and Gentile worshippers alike. It was a marketplace for the purchase of items needed for worship — pilgrims attending Passover celebration, unfamiliar with Jerusalem, may have purchased sacrificial animals at a higher price than elsewhere in the city. Poorer individuals, unable to afford a lamb, may have purchased overpriced sacrificial doves. Foreign currency, forbidden inside the Temple, could be exchanged, for a fee, for local currency to pay the annual Temple tax.

It has been argued that the High Priest may have received a percentage of the profit from the money changers and merchants, so their removal from the Temple would have caused a financial loss to those in power. It has been argued that the noisy marketplace atmosphere may have been disruptive to the atmosphere of worship. The text is unclear about the exact nature of the sin. However, it is clear that when Jesus saw the market, he became angry and turned over tables, driving out those exploiting the people and publicly calling them “robbers.”

Whatever the exact nature of the financial sin was that was occurring in the Temple at the time, the text in Mark suggests that after this act of clearing the Temple, those in power began to earnestly plot Jesus’ arrest and death. Jesus’ opposition to the money changers was directly related to his arrest and crucifixion later in the same week.

While I would like to identify with Jesus in this story, I realize I am more often in the position of the watching crowd. Or am I the merchant, lining my own pockets with the misfortune of others and making profits or receiving benefits from practices that exploit?

Disciples of Christ Look to Pull Convention From Indiana Over Religious Freedom Bill

The Rev. Sharon Watkins and the Rev. Geoffrey Black offer a Litany of Response.

The Rev. Sharon Watkins and the Rev. Geoffrey Black offer a Litany of Response. Image via RNS/United Church of Christ/Flickr

Though the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) has made Indianapolis its headquarters for nearly a century, the denomination is considering pulling its next biennial convention out of Indiana over a new state law that allows businesses to turn away gay customers.

Gov. Mike Pence signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act on March 26, the day after receiving a letter from church leaders pleading with him to veto it and threatening to move their 2017 General Assembly outside the state.

The bill protects business owners who invoke their religious beliefs to deny service to LGBT customers. A photographer, for example, may refuse to take pictures of a lesbian wedding on the grounds that his faith rejects gay marriage.

“Purportedly a matter of religious freedom, we find RFRA contrary to the values of our faith — as well as to our national and Hoosier values,” stated the letter, which was signed by Sharon E. Watkins, the church’s general minister and president, as well as the leaders of its overseas and domestic missions.

“As a Christian church, we are particularly sensitive to the values of the One we follow — one who sat at table with people from all walks of life, and loved them all.”

The General Assembly will bring more than 6,000 church members to whatever U.S. city the church decides upon and is expected to generate about $5 million in tourism dollars. After Pence signed the law, ministry leaders said they are weighing the costs of moving not only the General Assembly, but smaller meetings — such as the more frequent gatherings of the 125-member board of directors — which most often meets in Indianapolis.

Associate General Minister and Vice President Todd Adams said the church’s board will decide whether to yank the General Assembly from Indianapolis at its next meeting, which begins on April 10.

Other businesses and conventions, including Gen Con, the world’s largest gaming convention, which brings an estimated $50 million to the state each year, have also threatened to find another place to hold their events.

California Attorney General Asks Judge to Halt Initiative to Kill Gays

Photo via REUTERS / Robert Galbraith / RNS

California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Photo via REUTERS / Robert Galbraith / RNS

California Attorney General Kamala Harris asked a state court March 25 for an order allowing her to avoid processing a citizen-proposed anti-gay ballot measure that calls for executing gays with “bullets to the head.”

Harris said the so-called “Sodomite Suppression Act” proposed and named by Huntington Beach attorney Matthew McLaughlin “not only threatens public safety, it is patently unconstitutional, utterly reprehensible and has no place in a civil society.”

She filed an action asking the court for declaratory relief and judicial authorization allowing her to avoid issuing a title and summary for the proposal. An official state title and summary are necessary steps in authorizing a ballot initiative’s sponsors to seek the signatures needed to be placed before voters.

Without the court order, Harris said she would be compelled by law to proceed with the measure, which would authorize the killing of gays and lesbians in the state.

Examining Anti-Semitism on U.S. College Campuses

UC Berkeley Sather Tower. Image via Chao Kusollerschariya/shutterstock.com

UC Berkeley Sather Tower. Image via Chao Kusollerschariya/shutterstock.com

Is anti-Semitism rising on U.S. college campuses?

According to most statistics, yes — but the phenomenon is far more complicated than it first appears, primarily because everyone oversimplifies it.

The data, and the anecdotes, are shocking. In a study conducted in spring 2014 (notably, before the Israel/Gaza conflagrations of last summer), 54 percent of Jewish students said they had personally witnessed or experienced an anti-Semitic incident. And in just the last two months, swastikas have been painted on walls at the University of California’s Berkeley and Davis campuses and at New York’s John Jay College.

But what do these incidents mean? There is a great reluctance even to engage with the question.

Among liberals, even though it is obvious that many of these incidents are motivated in part by Israel/Palestine politics, no one wants to give hatred a pass. A swastika is a swastika, graffiti is graffiti, and collective guilt — in this case, blaming all Jews for specific actions of Israel — is always wrong.

Conservatives, meanwhile, routinely conflate anti-Israel and anti-Semitic speech. The far-right David Horowitz Freedom Center, for example, recently released its list of the American college campuses with the “worst anti-Semitic activity.” But many of those activities were protests of Israel. Extreme, perhaps, and unfair; but not really the same as anti-Semitism.

The fact is, the borders of anti-Semitism are permeable. Human speech does not divide neatly into “hate speech” and “political speech.” Thus, if we are to avoid the over-generalizations, we must be more rigorous in our definitions of the phenomenon or we risk diluting the evil of anti-Semitism itself.

In fact, a swastika is not just a swastika. Consider an anti-Israel protest that depicts an Israeli flag with a swastika on it. Offensive, to be sure. But what is it saying? It’s saying that Nazis are bad, and that the Israeli government is Nazi-like.

Now consider an anti-Semitic incident in which someone sprays a swastika on a synagogue door. Also grossly offensive, to say the least. But it is saying something very different. It is saying that Nazis are good, and we should finish the work they started.

The same symbol thus has two nearly opposite meanings.

Despite Rising Anti-Semitism, Jews Thrive in Central Europe

Cafe Elfenbein in Berlin, certified to be Kosher and serves foods like bagels an

Cafe Elfenbein in Berlin, certified to be Kosher and serves foods like bagels and rugelach. Image via RNS/USAToday.

In Cafe Elfenbein, which opened last year in a trendy Berlin neighborhood, two businessmen wearing yarmulkes — Jewish skullcaps — chat away.

The aroma of freshly brewed coffee and homemade rugelach pastry fills the shop, where a rabbi has certified that all its food is kosher.

The hip addition to the city points to a trend obscured by rising anti-Semitism and terror attacks in France and Denmark that have alienated Jews. In central and Eastern Europe, Jewish life is thriving.

One major reason is that a young and more confident generation is shaping a new Jewish identity.

“Jewish life is flourishing in Berlin and the rest of the country,” said Jutta Wagemann, spokeswoman for the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

The Jewish community in Germany remains small, about 200,000 out of 80 million people. It has grown significantly from its postwar population of 37,000 in 1950 because of immigration from the former Soviet Union. The community is putting its stamp these days on the country’s cultural landscape.

In the East German city of Cottbus, an area known for right-wing extremists, a disused church was recently turned into a synagogue, providing space for the 460 members of the Jewish-Russian community.

Bob Jones III Apologizes for Old Stone-the-Gays Remarks

Bob Jones University President Bob Jones III on CNN’s Larry King Live in 2000. I

Bob Jones University President Bob Jones III on CNN’s Larry King Live in 2000. Image via RNS/Reuters.

The former president of Bob Jones University, one of the nation’s bastions of Christian fundamentalism, has apologized for comments he made in 1980 that gays and lesbians should be stoned to death.

Jones, who stepped down as BJU president in 2005, made the original remarks while visiting Jimmy Carter’s White House, delivering a petition with 70,000 signatures opposing greater legal protections for gays and lesbians.

“I’m sure this will be greatly misquoted,” Jones said at the time.

“But it would not be a bad idea to bring the swift justice today that was brought in Israel’s day against murder and rape and homosexuality. I guarantee it would solve the problem post-haste if homosexuals were stoned, if murderers were immediately killed as the Bible commands.”

In a statement issued by the university on March 21, Jones called his earlier comments “inflammatory” and “reckless.”

“Upon now reading these long-forgotten words, they seem to me as words belonging to a total stranger — were my name not attached,” he wrote.

“I cannot erase them, but wish I could, because they do not represent the belief of my heart or the content of my preaching. Neither before, nor since, that event in 1980 have I ever advocated the stoning of sinners.”

The Critical Part Of Orphan Care That Adoption Culture Has Totally Missed

A child sits alone. Image via Olesia Bilkei/shutterstock.com

A child sits alone. Image via Olesia Bilkei/shutterstock.com

For the past 20 years or so, adoption has grown to become a staple of much of Christian culture in America. So much so that one could actually argue that adoption has become trendy within evangelical circles. As I’ve said before, if something were to become trendy, I’m glad that helping kids in need is one of them — though the trendiness of adoption has certainly led to some negative outcomes as well. While I won’t get into all of the aspects where adoption culture has gone wrong — that could take a series of posts — I do want to address what I feel is the most critical oversight we have made, and how we begin to fix it.

Orphan care is critical to the life of a Christian whether one is called to adopt (and trust me, not everyone is called to adopt — it’s not all rainbows and sunshine kisses). Caring for orphans is something we see consistently expressed in both the Old and New Testaments. In fact, James goes as far as saying that caring for widows and orphans is the only religion that God finds acceptable. While Christian culture for the past few decades has certainly taken that calling seriously, I think it is time for adoption culture to shift its focus in order to take the issue more seriously and to more effectively address the real issue at hand.

How did we miss the most important aspect of orphan care? This stems from a misunderstanding and misdiagnosis of the problem. Much of adoption culture has been led to believe that there is an orphan crisis in the world today with somewhere around 153 million children being orphaned. On the surface, this number of 153 million (provided by UNICEF) understandably leads one to believe that tonight there will be 153 million children who will go without the loving embrace of their parents. It’s a number so staggering that one can easily understand why culture mobilized and began adopting these children at rapid pace.

Utah’s New Law a ‘Toolkit’ for Fighting LGBT Discrimination, Say Activists, Legal Experts

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert displays Senate Bill 296 after signing it into state law.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert displays Senate Bill 296 after signing it into state law. Image via RNS.

Utah’s new law extending employment and workplace protections to LGBT people and conscience protections to individuals, churches, and faith-based associations extends an olive branch to both groups, even as it misses one key sticking point.

Panelists for two discussions hosted by the Brookings Institution on March 16 described key features of the legislation, noting that it is:

  • Unique to Utah, with its distinctive religious and political history, not a template for other states or for federal legislation.
  • A measure of healing between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and LGBT people.
  • A law that says nothing about whether bakers, florists or other vendors must accept customers planning a same-sex wedding, even if such marriages violate their religious beliefs.
  • A layer of robust protections for religious groups.

Even though other states may not replicate this law exactly, it can serve as a toolkit for orchestrating opposing forces to find common ground, legal and political, experts said.

Former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, a Mormon who cautioned that he was not a spokesman for the church, called the legislation “a great victory for the protection of conscience.”

Leavitt said the LDS church convened the effort to write the legislation with LGBT activists in an effort to heal the tensions between the two communities, inflamed when the church joined efforts to ban same-sex marriage in California in 2008.

“It is a doctrine of the church that marriage is between one man and one woman and it will not change,” said Leavitt.

But it is also a doctrine of the church that “Jesus Christ would not abide by the withholding of shelter or sustenance or care.”

Mormons Free to Back Gay Marriage on Social Media, LDS Apostle Says

The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. Image via RNS.

The Salt Lake Temple in Salt Lake City, Utah. Image via RNS.

An LDS apostle reaffirmed recently that Mormons who support gay marriage are not in danger of losing their temple privileges or church memberships — even though the Utah-based faith opposes the practice.

In an interview March 13 with KUTV in Salt Lake City, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said that individuals in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would be in trouble only for “supporting organizations that promote opposition or positions in opposition to the church’s.”

Backing marriage equality on social media sites, including on Facebook or Twitter, “is not an organized effort to attack our effort, or our functioning as a church,” Christofferson said in the interview.

The KUTV interviewer asked further if a Latter-day Saint could “hold those beliefs even though they are different from what you teach at the pulpit?”

Yes, the apostle answered.

“Our approach in all of this, as (Mormon founder) Joseph Smith said, is persuasion. You can’t use the priesthood and the authority of the church to dictate. You can’t compel, you can’t coerce. It has to be persuasion, gentleness and love unfeigned, as the words in the scripture.”

Christofferson echoed this sentiment in two January interviews with The Salt Lake Tribune.

Debate Over Gays in St. Patrick’s Parades Roils Irish On Big Day

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan at the the 253rd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on Ma

Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan at the the 253rd annual St. Patrick’s Day parade on March 17, 2014.

St. Patrick’s Day is associated as much with Roman Catholicism as it is with Irish-Americans, but this year some of the faithful aren’t happy with the inclusion of gays and lesbians marching under their own banner for the first time in parades in Boston and New York.

The Knights of Columbus of Massachusetts and a local Catholic school declined to take part in the Boston parade on March 15 after two LGBT groups — the military veterans service group OutVets and Boston Pride — were invited following decades of lobbying and court battles.

“The saint’s venerable name should not be cheaply misappropriated by nominally Catholic politicians and anti-Catholic organizations with a same sex agenda,” said Catholic Action League head C.J. Doyle, a leader of the opposition.

The New York parade marches down Fifth Avenue on March 17, the saint’s feast day, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan is facing renewed calls from conservative Catholics to step down as grand marshal because an openly LGBT group is taking part for the first time.

When it was first announced last September that an organization of LGBT employees at NBC — the network that broadcasts the popular event — would be marching, Dolan voiced support for the parade organizers and prayed “that the parade would continue to be a source of unity for all of us.”

Critics ripped Dolan for his stance, and they ramped up their efforts as the day approached.

“Now there can be no doubt — Timothy Cardinal Dolan has been played for a sucker by the organizers of the 2015 New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade. He must step down as Grand Marshal,” Matthew Hennessey wrote at the website of Crisis magazine, a conservative Catholic media outlet.

“(B)y personally leading the procession, he blesses the whole shameful affair,” he concluded.

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