Church & State

Hot Trump-era issue: Should national flags or patriotic songs be allowed in church?

Hot Trump-era issue: Should national flags or patriotic songs be allowed in church?

THE QUESTION:

Should national flags be displayed, or patriotic songs be sung, during Christian worship?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This issue comes to mind amid the seasonal fuss over professional football players’ political protests during the pregame National Anthem. Not to mention veterans organizations’ indignation when non-veteran Donald Trump temporarily refused to lower the White House flag to half-staff in honor of the late prisoner of war John McCain.

Considering the emotions in such secular situations, it’s unsurprising that the perennial religious questions above continually provoke lively comment on the Internet and elsewhere. Some weeks ago, a friend in The Religion Guy’s own congregation (Christian Reformed) asked why we don’t display the American flag up front like other churches do. I didn’t know but that brought to mind other situations.

The Guy’s daughter was flummoxed by a Southern Baptist service in North Carolina on a July 4th weekend. It began with a military color guard marching forth with the American flag, whence the worshipers recited the Pledge of Allegiance. She asked the old man, isn’t Christian worship about a different allegiance?

The Guy is familiar with an evangelical summer camp that parades the U.S. flag along with other nations’ flags at worship to symbolize foreign missions. The ceremony gives Old Glory prominence above the other flags, which disregards protocol in federal law and military regulations requiring equal respect.

The Guy has visited innumerable churches that give the U.S. flag the place of ceremonial honor to the pastor’s right with the Christian flag (a 1907 American invention) relegated to the left.

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Gay legislator and an evangelical prof struck a compromise: Los Angeles Times explains most of it

Gay legislator and an evangelical prof struck a compromise: Los Angeles Times explains most of it

Earlier this year, a homosexual California legislator produced a bill to halt any counseling efforts to help gays to not gay, getting a fierce reaction from local Christians as to what the real effects of this bill might be. 

I reported on this in April in a blog post asking why so few media were covering it.

The bill was killed at the last minute on Aug. 31. The Los Angeles Times had the best wrap-up of the behind-the-scenes machinations. This is a very complex issue, so it's important to pay attention to which points of view make it into the story and which ones do not.

The author of a high-profile measure to curb paid “conversion therapy,” which purports to change a person’s sexual orientation, said he is shelving his bill Friday in hopes of finding consensus with religious communities that vigorously opposed the proposal.

The bill by Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), which would have designated paid “conversion therapy” services as a fraudulent business practice under the state’s consumer protection law, easily cleared prior legislative hurdles thanks to large Democratic majorities in both chambers, as well as a handful of Republican votes.

This is a very unusual piece of legislation; in effect, a bill eliminating what it believed to be consumer fraud involved in conversion therapy literature. 

But after religious groups assailed the proposal, calling it a threat to their right to practice their faith, Low went on a listening tour to meet with clergy across the state. Low ultimately decided to pull Assembly Bill 2943 before final approval in the Assembly, he said.

“I believe we are on the side of the angels on this issue,” Low said. “Having said that, in order to get it right, why wouldn’t we want to engage in meaningful, thoughtful, transformational relationships and conversations?”

This story is a much bigger deal it appears. This law was in the can, ready to be passed. But Low pulled defeat from the jaws of victory (at least in the eyes of those backing the bill) by realizing the evangelical Christian opponents might be onto something in terms of their First Amendment rights.

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Spot the ghost: Idealistic doctor from Catholic college seeks to build hospital near Ave Maria

Spot the ghost: Idealistic doctor from Catholic college seeks to build hospital near Ave Maria

If you have followed GetReligion for a decade or so, you know that one of our goals is to spot "religion ghosts" in mainstream news coverage.

What's a "ghost"? Click here for our opening post long ago, which explains the concept. The short version: We say a story is "haunted" when there is a religious fact or subject missing, creating a religion-shaped hole that makes it hard for readers to understand what is going on.

I received a note the other day, from a longtime reader, that pointed me to a perfect example of this concept. In this case, we are talking about a solid, timely New York Times story about an effort to build a new hospital in a rural corner of Florida that certainly appears to need one. Here's the double-decker headline on this long feature:

A Rural Town Banded Together to Open a Hospital. Its Foe? A Larger Hospital.

Even when a town wants to open a new hospital to make up for a lack of health care, the challenges can be enormous.

Here is the overture. Can you spot the ghost?

IMMOKALEE, Fla. -- Not long after Beau Braden moved to southwest Florida to open a medical clinic, injured strangers started showing up at his house. A boy who had split open his head at the pool. People with gashes and broken bones. There was nowhere else to go after hours, they told him, so Dr. Braden stitched them up on his dining room table.

They were 40 miles inland from the coral-white condos and beach villas of Naples, but Dr. Braden said that this rural stretch of Collier County, with tomato farms and fast-growing exurbs, had fewer hospital beds per person than Afghanistan.

So when he proposed starting a 25-bed rural hospital to serve the 50,000 people who live in the farming town of Immokalee and the nearby planned community of Ave Maria, people rallied to the idea. They envisioned a place where mothers could give birth and sick children could get 24-hour help -- their own novel solution to an exodus of hospital care from rural America.

Wait a minute. Is that THE controversial Ave Maria community that has been at the center of so much news coverage through the years? 

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Ban my Valentine: Bible verses on homemade cards at center of free speech lawsuit vs. college

Ban my Valentine: Bible verses on homemade cards at center of free speech lawsuit vs. college

While shopping at Wal-Mart on the day after Labor Day, I noticed workers putting together candy and costume displays for Halloween.

Yes, it will be time for trick-or-treating in just eight short weeks. Or something like that.

Speaking of retail holidays, readers of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel might have been surprised to wake up this morning and find a front-page centerpiece on ... Valentine's Day!?

It's not exactly the time of year when newspapers typically do Valentine's Day features. But this isn't a feature. It's a meaty free speech story involving a federal lawsuit filed this week. And yes, there's a strong religion angle:

All Polly Olsen wanted to do was carry on a family tradition of handing out homemade Valentines with Bible verses on Valentine's Day.

So, as she had done in previous years, the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College student went to campus in a red dress this past Valentine's Day and began delivering heart-shaped religious Valentines made out of construction paper to fellow students and college staffers.

This time, a security officer stopped her for "suspicious activity" and told her she was violating school policy by sharing unwanted, potentially offensive messages.

Among the messages:  "You are special! 1 John 4:11," "God is love! 1 John 4:11," “Jesus Loves you! Romans 5:8;" and "You are loved and cared for! 1 Peter 5:7." 

The 29-year-old Green Bay woman filed a federal lawsuit late Tuesday against the college where she is studying to become a paralegal, claiming campus security officials and others there violated her free speech rights by blocking a custom she described to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as "caring for others."

The Journal Sentinel — which I had forgotten was bought by Gannett two years ago — does an excellent job of simply presenting the facts of the story, relying on both the lawsuit petition and an interview with Olsen.

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It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's not just DC and the Vatican: Saudi Arabia and Indonesia make worrisome news

It's time for an update on the inseparably braided political and religious goings-on in two key Muslim nations; Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation, and Saudi Arabia, Islam’s birthplace and site of the recently concluded hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca that is one of the world’s largest religious gatherings.

As you may expect, it’s not good news.

Moreover, it’s news that’s in danger of going under-appreciated because of the undeniably more alluring headlines -- for American news junkies, at least -- related to the Catholic Church’s sexual corruption cover up, and the Trump administration’s equally crumbling cover up of sexual, financial and all-around political corruption.

Let’s start with Indonesia, which once enjoyed, and capitalized on, a reputation for being one of the most politically moderate and religiously open-minded of Muslim nations.

These two pieces provide a refresher, should you require it. The first is a news report from Reuterswhile the second is a previous GetReligion analysis by editor Terry Mattingly ("That wave of attacks on churches in Indonesia: Is the 'moderate' Muslim news hook gone?"

Now, it seems, the situation in the Southeast Asian archipelago nation has gone from bad to worse, and perhaps to the absurd.

Here’s what The Washington Post reported last week.

A Buddhist woman’s conviction this week on blasphemy charges has alarmed many in Indonesia who were already worried about the erosion of religious pluralism in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.


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Time for a big think on Catholicism’s moral authority and culture of dissent  

Time for a big think on Catholicism’s moral authority and culture of dissent  

That didn’t take long.

On August 2, the Vatican’s doctrine office announced that Pope Francis ordered a revision of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to proclaim that “the death penalty is inadmissible” and the church “works with determination for its abolition worldwide.”  

On August 15, 45 Catholic conservatives joined in a bold public appeal to all members of the College of Cardinals, beseeching them to convince Francis to “withdraw” the teaching and end “this gravely scandalous situation.” In ensuing days, dozens added their endorsements by e-mailing appealtocardinals@gmail.com.

The dramatic rebuke of the pope’s teaching occurred one fortnight after the 50th anniversary date of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical defining birth control as immoral (apart from the natural or “rhythm” method), which sparked  far broader dissent worldwide.  

Reporters will observe that liberals contend the birth-control decree undermined the church’s moral authority because so many lay parishioners could not agree -- and still do not. Conservatives argue that maintaining traditional teaching is necessary to uphold the church’s moral credibility. Another angle here is that opposition to executions has hardened partly due to Catholicism's "pro-life" concerns over abortion and mercy-killing. 

There’s been similar conservative angst over Francis’ ambiguous suggestion of openness toward communion for divorced Catholics in second marriages. 

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Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

Trinity Western University caves on sex and marriage, but no one calls them on it

I’ve been reporting for some time now on the legal woes that Trinity Western University has been having with its bid to be the first Christian law school in Canada. Like many other Christian colleges, it has a doctrinal covenant students must sign that includes a promise to abstain from sex outside of traditional marriage.

LGBTQ rights folks decided that this doctrinal stand was rampant discrimination and were successful at dislodging TWU’s bid, even as the battle went to the country’s highest court.

Then Trinity moved the chairs around a bit this past week.  

The best-written article on this change was from the National Post with a head reading: “Still seeking law school, Trinity Western drops sexual ‘covenant’ for students." It ran along with a sympathetic YouTube video about TWU, which appears with this blog post.

A Christian university in British Columbia that lost a Supreme Court battle to create an evangelical law school has dropped its controversial requirement for all students to sign a contract that forbids any sex outside heterosexual marriage.

Many observers, including some who intervened in the court case, saw this as a preliminary step toward a renewed push for an accredited law school. Trinity Western University, in Langley outside Vancouver, first announced plans to offer legal degrees in 2012, only to find itself locked in litigation with law societies in Ontario and B.C., which refused to accredit it.

The school’s new motion, passed last week but only released Tuesday, reads: “In furtherance of our desire to maintain TWU as a thriving community of Christian believers that is inclusive of all students wishing to learn from a Christian viewpoint and underlying philosophy, the Community Covenant will no longer be mandatory as of the 2018-19 Academic year with respect to admission of students to, or continuation of students at, the University.”

The decision removes the primary problem considered by the Supreme Court in its June decision, which was the mandatory nature of the “Community Covenant.” 

Further down, you get the school’s denial that the change was done with ulterior motives.


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Monday Mix: Reeling Penn parish, un-Celebrity Jimmy Carter, Satan in Arkansas and more

Monday Mix: Reeling Penn parish, un-Celebrity Jimmy Carter, Satan in Arkansas and more

Welcome to the Monday Mix!

What's that? Well, nine months ago, we introduced Friday Five, an end-of-the-week feature highlighting important and interesting links from the world of religion news. Readers have responded positively to that approach.

So today, we add this feature as another avenue to offer quick information and insight, focused on headlines you might have missed from the previous weekend and late in the week. You see, lots and lots of religion news gets published on Saturday and Sunday, when readership of this blog tends to fade a bit (some people go to lots and lots of baseball games, for example).

Frankly, there are times when it's hard to keep up, pointing readers toward some of what comes out over a typical weekend. Thus, we're trying out this new feature.

Please note: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

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A time for anger? Some Catholic bishops worked hard to limit exposure of their sins and crimes

A time for anger? Some Catholic bishops worked hard to limit exposure of their sins and crimes

It's impossible to step into the sickening whirlpool of that Pennsylvania grand-jury report, covering seven decades of Catholic priestly sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses, without feeling angry.

Right now, anger is the element of this story that I think will be the hardest for journalists to handle and to cover accurately and fairly.

First and foremost, there is the anger and grief of the victims and their families. That's a story.

Then, we also need to admit that journalists who have been on the beat for a decade or more face anger issues of their own. In many cases, reporters are facing a tough reality today -- they now know that they were often manipulated by bishops and diocesan staffs that were hiding hellish crimes.

Now they are seeing some bishops produce updated websites and public statements that -- let's face it -- look a lot like the PR campaigns of the past. Is this a story?

Also, what about the all-to-familiar flashes of anger and the sense of betrayal that many priests and bishops must be feeling today? Imagine what it feels like to be going to work right now while wearing a Roman collar.

Years ago, a friend of mine -- when he was ordained as an Episcopal priest -- said that he was shocked at how many people gave him looks of disgust when he walked the streets in black clerical clothing, thinking he was a Catholic priest. Having even one person spit at your feet is a shattering experience.

This is a story for many, many valid reasons, not the least of which is how these horrors will continue to shape efforts to handle the growing shortage of Catholic priests in parts of the world, including America.

With that in mind, read (hat tip to Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher) this remarkable set of tweets from a priest whose entire ministry has been surrounded by headlines about priests abusing children and teens:

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