Is Pro-Life also Pro-Damnation?

Hardly a week goes by in my peaceful reflections on the faith when I don’t find myself distracted by the Christian Charity of the Republicans. To be honest, I can already hear half of my two readers going, “There he goes again, Republican bashing for Jesus.”

That’s exactly how I feel whenever Republicans get indignant about some little thing, which is just about every half hour.

What would Jesus do? He would say, “Get over it. The kingdom of God is greater than this.” But I was raised a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK), where indignation is a product of both inbreeding and indoctrination. Not cousin inbreeding; indignant Christian inbreeding. The day we Baptists don’t find something to get indignant over is the day we die, and then we’ll probably get indignant if St. Peter doesn’t show up to escort us personally into God’s throne room.

Only Baptists don’t believe in Saints, that’s a Catholic thing. So, St. Peter’s definitely not going to show up for us, and we’ll have to be doubly indignant because the insult is our own damn fault, and even though we only have ourselves to blame, it’s easier just to blame liberals. (After all, Jesus forgives Christians. He doesn’t forgive the Left.)

Remember the story of the good Samaritan? The guy who took care of the sick and injured man when nobody else would? The Samaritan in the story would be the equivalent in today’s society of a Moslem or secular humanist. The nobody else in today’s society would be Christians, who just walked by willing to let the poor guy lay there and suffer or even die.

An example of this is the recent Republican rider in a Texas bill on hospital funding. The rider would deny funding to hospitals if they pay for elective abortions. In other words, in the name of Jesus and life, we will deny health care funding to those in need, mainly patients who have no influence on hospital policy, because we think that policy isn’t Christian.

And that means they would deny care to many fellow Christians. That’s right, Republicans would let their fellow Christians, not to mention poorer Republicans, lose access to hospital services because a not-quite baby might die.

But last week they hit a wrinkle. After the bill went to committee, it came back with an amendment. Hospitals could pay for abortions if there is “an irreversible abnormality that is incompatible with life after birth.”

According to the American Statesman, Republicans have split over this new language and that could jeopardize the bill’s passage. Rep. Brian Hughes has thinks this new language would create too big a loophole thanks to the powerful hospital lobby. A lobby that has been so powerful they couldn’t prevent hospitals losing their funding if they pay for elective abortions.

Hughes has a interesting rationale for his position. “We want to err on the side of life. The language is so broad that it would compel tax payers to pay for abortions on disabled children.” (my emphasis).

Well, not exactly. Isn’t that one of those super-superlatives like “most excellent” or “better than perfect?” Are we honestly going to say it’s worse to kill a disabled child than a child who would otherwise be healthy? This seems dangerously like mindless spin. It makes no sense whatsoever, but it sure triggers the heartstrings of faith.

It irritates many Christians to be reminded that the Bible is essentially silent on the question of abortion. Jesus never thought it was important enough to go on record (although, admittedly, he never went on record about anything) and, if he did express his thoughts on the subject, none of the Gospel authors thought it was important enough to write down.

Paul, who did go on the record by putting his thoughts in letters, never thought it important enough to mention. Nor did any other New Testament writer. Paul didn’t even list abortion in his long catalogue of sins (where homosexual behavior, adultery and gossip were all catalogued as equally culpable). So clearly Paul thought gossip was worth mentioning, but abortion wasn’t.1

I do know Jesus never forced his morality on anyone. His philosophy was, if they don’t like you, dust off your feet and move on.

I do know Jesus would have held Christians accountable for the children they brought into this world. And I suspect he would say, if we make a mother bring a child to term, we now become that child’s parent—which means we feed, clothe, educate and raise them in the faith.

Here’s what I don’t get about the supposed pro-life position. If a child doesn’t come to term, he or she is off the hook as far as salvation goes. God takes care of the unborn and infant children, welcoming them directly to his bosom.

But if Christians force a mother to give birth, and then fail to adopt the children and raise them into the faith, aren’t they, in essence, putting their very souls at risk? These children, often raised in poverty, also often grow into lives of crime.

Steven Levitt, author of Freakonomics, suggested a definite correlation between abortion and crime rates. The theory is controversial and he would be the first to say this is not an argument for legalizing abortion. Of course, a lot of people have suggested his study isn’t on the level.2 But if you were to ask anyone if they believed a child, especially a Black or Hispanic child born into poverty, isn’t at risk for gang membership, a life of crime and the chance of being killed in the barrio or hood, they would have to be delusional to say no.

Even worse, if the soon-to-be-born are the children of rich spoiled women too lazy to be mothers (assuming they won’t pay for their own abortions elsewhere), aren’t the children likely to grow up neglected, jaded and ultimately liberals?

In other words, there’s a good chance that this gift of life is also a ticket to damnation, forced into their hands after stealing their free pass to heaven. If God considers the souls we saved in the final accounting, should he not also consider the souls we forced into life and then abandoned on the highway to hell?

So I have to wonder why so many Christians feel it’s their responsibility to bring unwanted children to term, yet are strangely willing to abandon their physical and spiritual needs as living beings. In the parable of the good Samaritan, the Samaritan realized it wasn’t enough to simply rescue the fallen man. He knew he was responsible for nursing him back to health and seeing to his needs.

And you, Rep. Hughes, and all of your like-minded representative buddies, should consider the morality of denying funding for health services to hospitals, denying children (including children forced to term), Christians, Republicans and Texans access to care for policies they have no power to change.


1Actually, Paul’s point was that sin is sin, and gossip is as heinous in the eyes of God as adultery. Or, to be more specific, without God’s grace we’d all be in deep shit, so don’t get on your high horse. Two church ladies clucking over Pastor Ellison’s possible indiscretions sin every bit as much as homosexual drug addicts stealing money from grandmothers to pay for the babies they want to adopt and raise into their flagrant flaming (or battle axe butch) lifestyles. back

2Nor should it be surprising that there are arguments about his methodology. In fact, I can’t recall a single controversial study that have people arguing over methodology from the Laffer Curve and Peltzman’s killer seat belt studies to studies linking tobacco to cancer and heart disease and studies on global warming.back


First stop President, next stop Messiah

Not more than a day after the Republican Presidential debate improved Rick Perry’s chances without him having uttered a word, he fell to the occasion by claiming he was Jesus.

Perry’s exact words? “I say that a prophet is generally not loved in their hometown. That’s both Biblical and practical.” Not to mention completely ungrammatical. But what can you expect of someone who graduated from one of the nation’s poorest performing states in education?

You can find the statement just about anywhere on the web. I’m citing 1
Rick Connelly in the Houston Press.

His remark came in answer to a question about his unpopularity in Texas. And he is unpopular. I don’t know anyone who likes him. But that doesn’t matter because the only person Texans hate more than Rick Perry is any Democrat who opposes him. Especially now that Obama has tainted the purity of the Democratic bloodlines.

Rick Perry’s new official self-portrait, commissioned after his “prophet without honor” press conference.

All Perry had to say was, “If I’m that unpopular, why have they reelected me so damn many times?” Admittedly, this is a question that puzzles me as well. But he didn’t provide it. He chose to imply that he’s unpopular because he’s a prophet.

Not just any prophet, mind you. He took the words right out of Jesus’ mouth. So even though he didn’t technically refer to himself as Jesus, it’s hard to avoid drawing the conclusion. Either way, if you believe Hal Lindsay and Rapture theologians, this claim would qualify him as the AntiChrist, or the prophet of the AntiChrist.

If he actually becomes President.

If he loses, he would just become another delusional heretic like David Koresh or Jim Jones, leading his Texas flock to metaphorical suicide (which is pretty much the way things are going down here).

But here’s the thing, Rick. A prophet is without honor in his own country, but so are fools, liars and panderers. Jesus was held in contempt because his friends and family members remembered him before he began his mission. This was their first encounter with him after he felt the call.

People hold you in contempt after you’ve actually completed several turns as governor. Nobody remembers you before your election; we know the man in office. Texans might argue that you are without honor in your own country because you’ve proved time and time again that you have no honor personally.

Ironically, Perry won’t suffer from his comment at all. Why? Because Republicans will forgive him just about anything since you can’t be Republican and not also be an Ambassador of Christ. Democrats already think he’s little more than George Bush’s Mini Me.

I find this ironic because Republicans howled at Obama’s use of messianic language (e.g., “bringing people together,” and, even worse, “I’m asking you to believe.”) The World Net Daily went so far as to suggest Democrats would coronate him Messiah based on reports of an Obama painting.2

To me, Perry’s statement is little more than another indication of how easily people use their faith to put blinders on their politics (and vice versa).

When I turned 18, a member of the first class of 18-year-olds to vote, I supported George McGovern. The pastor of my church and most of the elders told me I shouldn’t support McGovern, not just because he was against Jesus but because Christians shouldn’t get involved in politics. Never mind the fact that McGovern was a devout Methodist and former president of Wesleyan University.

Eight years later, those same Christians would join the religious right and vote born again Christian Jimmy Carter out of office, to replace him with a man who would never profess Christianity personally, but only admit that he “believed in a higher power” and didn’t attend church because he didn’t want people to be endangered by assassins trying to kill him. 3

I didn’t understand why so many evangelicals hated McGovern, because at the time I thought Methodists were partners in the Alliance of Light (Methodists, Baptists and Congregationalists—maybe Presbyterians) against the spiritual Axis of Evil (Catholics, Communists and Counter Culturalists). In retrospect, I can see the handwriting was on the wall. Methodists were so close to the center they would inevitably be lumped in with Episcopalians.

The Christian Right doesn’t want to separate faith from politics because it allows them to divert the faithful from the truth. There is big money in corporate politics, Republican campaigns and mega-church evangelism. Not all mega-churches are evil, but sooner or later growth becomes the bottom line in faith as well as business. More souls saved means bigger churches, more influence politically and more money raised.

The early church was about the nurturing and care of Christians as much as it was about evangelism. If the church didn’t continue to serve the physical and social needs of new believers (most of them poor), they would drift way.

In the book of Acts, the twelve Apostles in Jerusalem did not evangelize, they spent their time in prayer. They appointed deacons to physically serve the needs of the fellowship. Unfortunately, as always, the evangelists got the glory.

Even Paul’s work as a tent maker, while he spent months supporting himself to build churches and make sure the money went to the poorer members (and to support the church in Jerusalem), gets lost in the tales of adventure and evangelism.

The Christian Right is a profitable enterprise, and you can bet Rick Perry will capitalize on the brand to promote a political ideology that has impoverished Texans, Christian and non-Christian alike.

When Carol first read about Perry’s claim, she posted on Facebook: “I know Jesus, and Rick Perry isn’t Jesus.”

None of these guys are, so maybe we should put aside the filter of faith when listening to politicians. We want to elect politicians whose policies show care and concern for the least of us, as did Jesus. We don’t want politicians who turn faith into another corporate brand.


1If you’re not sure why the passage isn’t grammatical, you probably graduated from a Texas school just like Rick Perry’s. So move to a state with good schools while you can, because Perry and his cronies in the Legislature are determined to even reduce universities to football powers and academic wastelands.
Pro analysts complained that UT national champion and quarterback Vince Young could barely read the playbook. By the time the current cuts are finished, he would qualify for Texas MENSA (which handicaps applicants from Texas by adding 80 points to their IQs).

2 If you read the article, it’s clear that the painting that provokes the messianic coronation article was never intended to deify Obama. The article includes the obligatory artist’s comment without actually stopping to think what he’s actually saying.

“More than a presidential portrait,” writes D’Antuono on a website touting the painting, “‘The Truth’ is a politically, religiously and socially-charged statement on our nation’s current political climate and deep partisan divide that is sure to create a dialogue.”back

It reminds me of the “Jesus (heart) George and Osama” bumper sticker I wanted to make before Carol convinced me some asshole would trash our car in a fit of Christian charity.

3He made the statement in a Presidential debate against Mondale.back


Innocence of children, not ignorance of dolts

When I visited my grandparents, my grandfather would always share with us how important is was to possess the wisdom of Solomon. He usually told these stories to explain how he had caught my uncle and me in yet another fool proof scheme to commit mischief and mayhem.

The wisdom of Solomon helped him ferret out where we stashed the cigarettes (in the tool shed with the deck of cards), who kidnapped my sister’s and cousin’s Barbie dolls and who dressed them in my GI Joe combat outfits (after they had dressed them up in finest princess style so they could give a Barbie fashion show for the entire family).1

He figured out who used the oven door for a pea shooter target (more about this in a later post),who hid the switch that he kept above the coat closet door as a warning to children who planning pranks and misdeeds, who ate the pumpkin pie the night before thanksgiving and who told my sister and cousin that the home made grape juice they just drank had fermented into wine.2

When I started teaching kids for the Texas corrections system, they were just as astonished at how I knew they had been smoking dope in the alley, gone to the convenience store for beer when they swore they were going to the library, and every time they came to class hungover. I could attribute this to the wisdom of Solomon (and he does deserve his due) but the honest truth is that I had long ago figured out how my grandfather became so wise.

Not only did he have his own childhood misdeeds to draw upon, but those of his children and grandchildren as well. And truthfully, I knew how what those kids were up to because I had figured out ways to do the same things. Without getting caught. And, I must confess, the few times I was caught, I figured out how to be such a smart ass they almost wished they hadn’t caught me.

But Solomon wasn’t just a wise ruler, he was a learned ruler as well—his “wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore.” (1 Kings 4:29) He was an incredible biologist and an accomplished writer and poet. (32) These don’t come with “common sense,” but were gifts of learning and discernment.

I mention this because of Sarah Palin’s recent blunder over Paul Revere. I’m not bothered by the fact that she could only place him at the time of the American Revolution, but didn’t know exactly what he did. Many students couldn’t do that much.3 I’m bothered by the fact that, according to the news reports, she had just finished viewing a presentation on Paul Revere.

Sarah, it seems, holds learning in such disregard that she couldn’t even be bothered to pay attention to the presentation she attended to promote her non-Presidential campaign. (Do I need to italicize this? No, I’ll just repeat it. Sarah Palin holds learning in such disregard that she couldn’t even pay attention to a presentation she attended to promote her campaign.)

Now I’m saying it a third time, only in the caption. Forgetting who Paul Revere was isn’t a crime, half of Americans probably have, including some Democrats and Episcopalians like me. But Sarah Palin holds learning in such disregard that she couldn’t even pay attention to a presentation (a presentation explaining who Paul Revere was) that she attended to promote her campaign.

Source: public domain

I’m hardly surprised, since I grew up in a culture that holds secular learning in contempt. It’s part of being raised as a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK). Just about every Christian I knew assured me that they didn’t need “book learning.” They only needed their Bibles and common sense.

In this model, Solomon’s wisdom could not have been the work of study and effort (and exposing himself to the wisdom of other cultures). God just shoved that wisdom in his head by the power of the Holy Spirit. The fact that his knowledge included the physical sciences of the time doesn’t seem to enter the picture. But, if we are to believe the book of Kings, he was as learned as Aristotle and by today’s standards we would want to say, “even Einstein marveled at his grasp of the laws of the universe.”

Solomon wouldn’t have ignored Darwin and the theory of relativity, or even quantum mechanics. In spite of his faith, he would have been conversant.

Instead, many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians want to shield children from such knowledge (and without knowledge, there can be little wisdom). They pull them from public schools and home school them or send them to private schools. And, thanks to laws like “No Child Left Behind,” home schooled students and students of small Christian schools don’t have to take the standardized tests to graduate.

Our kids have to suffer through training for tests at the expense of real learning, while fundamentalists can shield their kids from any such learning and graduate without taking the tests. (And then politicians like Sarah Palin can complain about how unfairly Christians are treated.)

For some reason, many Christians equate ignorance with faith. I know it’s an old joke but I have, in reality, heard evangelists say (with all seriousness) that the King James is the Bible the Apostle Paul carried with him on his missionary journeys. Southern Baptist ministers are expected to attend seminary, but I have met many ministers in small, independent churches who were proud they never made it past high school (if that far).

I would never say education is a cornerstone of faith. Many of Jesus’ disciples were uneducated. But not all of them were. Luke, the author of a Gospel and the book of Acts, was a physician. Paul, who wrote most of the original letters contained in the New Testament, was educated as a Pharisee and quite literate. The authors of John’s Gospel, and the books of Revelation and Hebrews, were aware of Greek and Roman literary traditions.

Nor does scripture ever frown on literacy and knowledge. We owe the origins of American public education to Christian evangelists such as John Wesley and Robert May. Christians needed to be educated to read the Bible, and Shakespeare was as much a part of their vocabulary as scripture. Many even read Whitman, who proudly wrote of his homosexuality.

The sad truth for Christians is, the more we read the more we can detect bull shit, and we get so much of it from liberals, conservatives and Christians that we need our bull shit detectors finely honed. Christians can get upset when I accuse them of bull shit, but that’s exactly how they feel about the teachings of Christians who disagree with them.

Or worse, if it isn’t bull shit, it comes directly from the devil. And if that’s the case, we need to hone those detectors even more. And it can’t just be reading the Bible, because the same verse in the Bible is often used to justify three entirely different beliefs about faith (e.g., “This is my blood.” Real blood, spiritually infused blood, or merely symbolic?4).

If you read only one book that claims to be true, you have no way of knowing if it is, in fact, true. And if all the books you read are by writers who read and cite the same writers, you have no way of knowing whether or not they actually know what they’re talking about.

And if you’re ignorant of history, you might never know how many Christians contributed to modern scientific knowledge (and continue to do so) and who continue to be Christians, even if they don’t believe in either creation or intelligent design. You might never know that the Catholic Church embraced the Big Bang theory (only to back away when some scientists objected).

If I hadn’t read many of the original fundamentalist documents, I wouldn’t know that many fundamentalist writers had no problems with evolution even in the first couple of decades of the 20th century.

Evangelical Mark Noll made a similar case in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians devalue learning, to their detriment. This didn’t seem to deter his evangelical leanings or his faith. Evangelicals like Jim Wallace embrace the writings of educated writers, and even much of modern science, without experiencing any crisis of faith.

I think Christians equate education with learning about Santa Claus. Many Baptists believe it’s wrong to teach children about Santa Claus because once they learn Santa isn’t real, they might doubt Jesus too. They also believed swimming, dancing and cards were of the devil. And when swimming became acceptable, mixed swimming (boys and girls in the same pool at the same time) took its place on the list.

Similarly, they think learning something in school (like evolution) will lead children to throwing out Jesus. They act as though faith is built on a fragile chain, and losing one link will break it all. Faith is more like a web, or woven cloth. Breaking a thread doesn’t bring down the structure. It allows it to be repaired and even made more sturdy in the process.

Do people reject God and Jesus because they discover evolution is credible? Yes, but much of that is because Christians insist (with many scientists and atheists) that evolution is the link that breaks the chain. They believe that if every word in Genesis isn’t literally true, then the entire Bible is a lie. So naturally, if you believe the chain is broken, you abandon it.

Faith is built on personal experience. It is the ultimate form of empirical knowledge. We believe in the power of Jesus because we’ve experienced the power of Jesus. Just as empiricism is the basis of science, it’s also the foundation of faith.

Does that mean all experiences of faith are authentic, and that all accounts are reliable? No, only the test of time and experience will prove that. The proof of faith is like the proof of an experiment. It must be repeated over time.

Will others’ results differ? Absolutely, just as scientists discover new conditions which call older experiments and theories into question. But that doesn’t make either faith or science invalid. Or the pursuit of philosophy in examining questions of faith (e.g., the book of Hebrews, and many of Paul’s reflections). Or the pursuit of history in discovering how faith has led people astray and also renewed the kindling of the spirit into revival.

I studied Catholicism because my first wife wanted our marriage annulled so that my son Bryan could be embraced by the church. Catholics believe (or at least the ones who taught me believed) God speaks to Christians not just through the Bible, but through people, through nature, through history and many other media as well.

I have no reason to doubt them. This is exactly how God spoke to his followers in the stories of scripture.

Sometimes, he speaks to us directly. Sometimes, we fail to get the message or get it wrong entirely. That’s why we judge each message with all of the tools at our disposal. In short, we need as many bull shit detectors as we can because we can easily confuse the voice of God with our own (or someone else’s) crap.

The problem with politicians like Sarah Palin isn’t that she’s ignorant of facts but that, as a public figure (and, even more disturbingly, an apparent role model for Christians), she shows so much disdain for learning. She isn’t wrapping herself in faith, but a cocoon to protect her from realizing she might be wrong. And when you can’t possibly be wrong, you can’t hear God telling you just how wrong you might be.


1There is a pretty obvious clue here in case you’re wondering exactly how he did it. It wasn’t so obvious to me, however, and I remained in awe of that one at least until I was in high school.back

2By the end of the evening, after drinking a couple of glasses, both Beth and Debbie went to grandmother and confessed how drunk they were. According to Debbie, “I can really feel it.”back

3Primarily because the standardized tests are now so complex and the state mandated curriculum requirements so incredibly micro-detailed that high-school aged students can’t possibly be expected to master them. I know this because I was a consultant on both the Texas standardized texts, and helped to catalogue the curriculum requirements for a dozen states for textbook publishers. In my own field, English, several of the requirements were at a level my professors didn’t cover until graduate school.back

2Another small irony. Have you noticed that fundamentalists, who insist every word of the Bible is literally true, insist that “This is my blood” is merely symbolic? I suspect that’s because the Catholics, who believe much of the Bible is symbolic or allegorical, already claimed that verse as “literal.” Except for this bizarre historical accident, Baptists would have come up with the doctrine of transubstantiation.back


Graduation prayer: learning the wrong lessons

Being raised Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) means being raised with a set of stories all Baptists share. Each of these stories illustrates an important principle of faith that we must hold close to our heart. We never question these stories because they are written into scripture and therefore they usher forth directly from the mouth of God.

Famous bible stories

One of those stories came from the book of Daniel1, the story of Hananiah (חֲנַנְיָה), Mishael (מִישָׁאֵל) and Azariah (עֲזַרְיָה). Most Baptists won’t recognize these three because Baptists call them by their Chaldean slave names Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Gustave Dore’s rendition of the triumphal salvation of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. Most Baptists won’t recognize those names even though we learned about them in countless Sunday Schools.

I find this ironic because the story is about cultural oppression and forcing people to submit to the cultural expectations of society at large. Somehow we overlook this and still refer to these Hebrew heroes by their slave names.

In the story, our three heroes are ordered to follow the religious practices and cultural customs of the empire. But they don’t. They don’t eat spiced meat (aka steak with salt and pepper or A1 sauce) or drink spiced wine. But the worst atrocity was forcing our heroes to pray to the Chaldean Gods.

These guys could have done the safe thing and simply bowed their heads when the Chaldeans prayed, and pretended to go along with the show. But real Hebrews didn’t do that, and they chose to be burned to death rather than appearing to pray to Babylonian gods. The Hebrew God saves them, of course, but that isn’t the point of the story.

And the moral to the story is….

The point of the story is that the faithful are willing to die rather than bow their heads in prayer to a God (or god) they don’t worship. And sorry, Christians, but I have to include Jews as the faithful because the story was about them and not us. We’re just an afterthought to scripture.2

Baptists always took a second, subtextual lesson from the story. In a Christian society (i.e., America) we shouldn’t be forced to pray to other gods.

But I think we should see an additional, parallel lesson. Imagine how American Christians would feel if we were forced to participate in meetings where the speakers led us in prayers to Allah. We would be furious, and rightly so.

How dare they?

American Christians would be equally distressed if we were asked to bow our heads and experience the wonder of a universe without a god, but driven by natural forces and laws. We would blow our stacks if the speaker lead the audience in thanking the randomness of nature for the probabilities that came to pass that allowed us all to gather in this place in this time.

I know this because as an arts and political activist I’ve had to work with groups who expected me to participate in shamanistic prayer and drum ceremonies, visualize the spirit of Gaia working on the world around us, thank the goddess for her feminine blessings and allowing us to reject our masculine nature, or channel whatever spiritual being was in vogue that year.

Once I even had to sit through a session where the facilitators consulted the I Ching to resolve a disagreement. Ironically, the I Ching said we should do what I had been saying all along. But now it was a message from the universe itself and not just my opinion. So I got no credit at all.

Each time I thought: This is bull shit. This meeting isn’t about spreading the universal consciousness, it’s about arts funding or organizing an action against the city council or developers. Still, I did it out of respect, not for the vision of the month club, but for the work we needed to do and my partners in the work.

After all, I was raised BPK and remembered how many times Christians made people sit through prayers at civic meetings, or my family expected Jewish friends to say the blessing at dinner.

Had my school, or university, or the City of Detroit or Austin made the participants rise and chant to Seth, however, I would have been the first to say, “Excuse me, but this has no place in a government sponsored forum.”

I’m not talking about a school sponsored seminar on New Age religions or a city sponsored round table of religious leaders concerned about policy. This is America and everyone has the right to say, “I’m Christian and I believe evolution is wrong,” and every one else has the right to say, “You’ve got to be kidding me. Did God ask you to cut out the left side of your brain while you were thinking about it?”

I’m referring to a speaker asking everyone in the audience at a graduation ceremony to stand up and join in a prayer to Allah, or the Divine Spirit, or the random and godless universe. Who would be the first to piss and moan and call out the lawyers and Republican legislators before the diplomas were even handed out?

Christians. And Rick Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

So why is it that when a Texas court says Christians can openly avow their faith, but they can’t tell an audience to participate in the rituals of our faith, those same Christians and Texas politicians are the first to howl at the moon as though we had all been publicly circumcised without anesthetic?

The prayer wars erupt in Texas

This week a San Antonio court ruled that valedictorian Angela Hildenbrand couldn’t lead the audience in a prayer during her graduation speech. Now, in Angela’s defense, she claims she just wanted to pray while delivering her speech, but that means we all pray with her.

I somehow doubt Angela wanted to say, “As Christians we pray things like, ‘Dear God help us be all the Christian we can be.'” She wanted to pray a real prayer, not an example prayer, and Christian protocol dictates that when one of us prays publicly we all pray publicly.

By Thursday evening the Austin local news was reporting that Angela was even receiving death threats for her virtuous stand. I’ll confess that it’s possible someone called and said, “I hope you die, bitch,” but I couldn’t find any record of these death threats in the reporting online (and our local newscasters are often given to exaggeration and hyperbole).

According to Reuters, even though the court ruled that affirmative religious statements were permissible, Gregg Abbott retaliated with the following: “This is part of an ongoing attempt to purge God from the public setting, while at the same time demanding from the court increased yielding to all things agnostic and atheistic….”

The article reported that Abbott believed the “ruling would allow a student to ‘bend over in honor of Mecca,’ but not lead a prayer to the Christian God.” Sorry, Gregg, but the judge said nothing about Mecca, and the ruling covered all state-sanctioned religion, including Islam.

Forget the courts, WWJS?

So let’s review three emphatic teachings of Jesus that may shed light on the situation:

  • Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
  • Don’t pray in public. Pray in private where only God can hear you.3
  • Don’t judge others or God will judge you as harshly.

I take this to mean the following:

  • If you don’t want to be asked to publicly to pray to gods you don’t accept, don’t lead audiences at civic forums (whose members might not be Christian) in public prayer to Jesus. That’s what church is for.
  • You shouldn’t be praying in public anyway. That’s just showing off your piety, which, ironically, isn’t piety when you’re showing off.
  • Don’t judge others for not wanting to participate in your public prayers, especially since you would be offended if they expected you to participate publicly in theirs.

Angela, God bless you. If your faith is part of your life you should be proud to say so in your speech. But if you think you have the right to tell me I should be Christian and expect me to pray just because I came to see my nephew graduate, then ask yourself what you would do if I asked you to bend over toward Mecca in my valedictory speech.

Or used my valedictory speech to tell you that Christians who don’t believe in evolution aren’t Christians, they’re morons. Or told my audience why Episcopalians are better Christians than Baptists or Catholics.4

Are you beginning to see how Corwin Schultz might feel when he has to listen to you telling him what a loser he is for being agnostic? Especially when he has to listen before he can get his diploma? With the school’s sanction no less, which in essence is the local government saying “We endorse Angela’s message that you’re an agnostic loser who doesn’t deserve to get his diploma without being reminded of that?”

Personally, I’m immune. I heard that stuff all my life. I get it, my Jesus isn’t as good as your Jesus. I’ve got it all wrong and I’m going to suffer for it, and they only tell me this because they love me and it’s for my own good.

And, fortunately, I’m an adult so I don’t have to sit and listen to it anymore. I get to choose who I respect enough to be expose myself again—whether they be Christians, Wiccans or Bill Maher. Or my Baptist Preacher’s Family.

It may not be over

It’s my understanding that the higher court merely lifted the injunction against prayer at the graduation ceremony, they didn’t dismiss the suit. So it’s quite possible that the Schultz family will win the suit and this furor will start all over again.

Jesus never forced anyone to pray, nor did he demand it or even expect it. He preached from hillsides, and people were free to leave at any time. He never spoke during a state sponsored assembly where audiences were compelled to listen. And if his audiences didn’t want to listen, he just moved on to another town.

He knew there would always be someone who wanted the good news. There was no need to force it on those who didn’t.


1A designation that probably proves I have lapsed beyond redemption (although technically that can never happen to Baptists). A true member of the Baptist faithful would never type book of Daniel even as a typo. It’s Book of Daniel.back

2This thought may upset a few Christians even more, but New Testament writers did not consider their writing scripture. And Jesus certainly didn’t. To them our guide was the Law and the prophets. Nowhere did they invoke the new believers to study “our writing” or give their correspondence any special status.back

3I’m not going to cite chapter and verse. You know damn well he said it.back

2We aren’t, I just can’t help but thinking that being Episcopalian is like eating at a four star restaurant instead of MacDonalds. Or reading War and Peace instead of the Cliff Notes. Or drinking a fine Shiraz instead of Annie Green Springs. Or watching Doctor Zhivago instead of Dumb and Dumber.
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