Monday, August 30, 2010

The Mosque

August 30, 2010

A number of you have asked whether I would comment on the proposed Islamic Center to replace an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory store in the vicinity of Ground Zero. The opposition to this work is profoundly un-American in that it is opposed to freedom of religion. This is, as they say, a ‘no-brainer’.

That said, the phenomenon of the opposition itself is interesting. Clearly there is a widely supported antipathy to Islam being expressed. We are also hearing something very like religious fervor about Ground Zero itself when it is described as ‘holy ground’ that is somehow being ‘desecrated’ if Muslims have a community and educational center with a prayer room in it somewhere within a few blocks of what used to be the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

I don’t really know what to make of the Ground Zero Religion except that it seems to be a kind of visceral and American response to disease about people for whom the separation of ‘church and state’ or ‘religion and politics’ is nonsense, people who are engaged actively throughout the world in trying to turn majority Muslim countries into effective theocracies. The religious impulse applied to Ground Zero converts the anti-Islamic sentiment into an issue of one religion’s freedom over against that of another and therefore somehow within the bounds of the common life of those who live in this country.

Akbar Ahmed of American University has offered a kind of ‘Muslim Typology’ in his Journey Into Islam in which he recognizes the mystical strain of Sufism. He bemoans the waning of modernist Islam of which he is a part, and which most Americans would recognize (rightly or wrongly) as inherently ‘moderate’. He sees the majority of Muslims as adhering to traditionalist and anti-modernist expressions of the faith that would include everyone from our friends of the Atlanta Masjid on 14th Street to members of Al-Quaida. If he is right then it is difficult for many Muslim leaders to really and truly distinguish themselves from the kind of Islam that suborns terrorism. It might not be just a prejudice of Western Media that makes the condemnations of murderous violence seem so ‘muted’. This is not a view that pleases me, nor is it one with which my friends who are more deeply involved in interfaith conversation than I am, agree.

The issues of immigration, American identity, the salad bowl full of distinctive identities over against the old melting pot in which everyone eventually assimilates in to something recognizably ‘American’, the relationship of religion to national life and so on are more than can or should be addressed in a short blog piece. The legalities of the proposed Islamic Center seem clear to this non-lawyer. The intricacies of the religious and nationalist impulses revealed in the political football aspects of this issue are complex and worthy of sustained attention and conversation.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Proposition 8 and Ugandan Anglicans

August 10, 2010

I cannot help but contrast the elegant ruling in the case to overturn California’s Proposition 8 which outlawed gay marriage and the Anglican Church of Uganda’s continued support for criminalization of gay and lesbian people. The California ruling systematically examines the arguments presented at the original trial including the ideas that:
· Denial of marriage to same-sex couples preserves marriage.
· Denial of marriage to same-sex couples allows gays and lesbians to live privately without requiring others, including (perhaps especially) children, to recognize or acknowledge the existence of same sex couples.
· Denial of marriage to same-sex couples protects children.
· The ideal child-rearing environment requires one male parent and one female parent.
· Marriage is different in nature depending on the sex of the spouses, and an opposite-sex couple’s marriage is superior to a same-sex couple’s marriage.
· Same-sex couples’ marriages redefine opposite-sex couples’ marriages.

Episcopal Café reports that Jesse Masai has written in an article called “The Word from Kampala’s Anglicans” as follows:

“The church’s position on human sexuality is consistent with its basis of faith and doctrine and has been stated very clearly over the years as reflected in various documents,” she said. “From a careful and critical reading of Scripture, homosexual practice has no place in God’s design of creation, the continuation of the human race through procreation, or his plan of redemption.
“The Church of Uganda believes that homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture. At the same time, we are committed at all levels to counseling, healing, and prayer for people with homosexual orientation. The church is a safe place for individuals who are confused about their sexuality or struggling with sexual brokenness, to seek help and healing.”
On the bill itself, she continued, the COU prefers that current law (Penal Code Cap. 120) be amended, clarifying gaps, protecting all parties from uneven enforcement and from the anti-homosexuality bill’s encroachment into family life and church counsel. Currently, the bill outlaws failure to inform authorities of homosexual activity, much as standard criminal law forbids failure to testify concerning wrongful acts observed. Ugandan law protects underage girls from sexual predators, Onapito explained, but not underage boys.
The COU wants the law to protect, not criminalize, confidential relationships of medical, pastoral, and counseling professionals and their clients, she said. An amended Penal Code must, in fairness and for the protection of youth, specify lesbianism, bestiality, and “other sexual perversions” as targeted behaviors. The free marketplace of ideas must have legal boundaries prohibiting material that “promotes homosexuality as normal or as [merely] an alternative lifestyle.”
Onapito added that while the church’s position may be contrary to Western notions of fair treatment for gays, it hardly poses the desperate risk to life and freedom that gay rights advocates fear. There should be no doubt, however, that the COU wants to ensure that “sexual orientation is excluded as a protected human right.”

Would that a reasonable judge would do the kind of rigorous research and work needed to examine statements such as “The church’s position on human sexuality is consistent with its basis of faith and doctrine and has been stated very clearly over the years as reflected in various documents.” Whether this prejudice is ‘consistent’ with ‘the Church’s basis of faith and doctrine’ is precisely what is in dispute and saying it is so –even while exhibiting the most passionate commitment to the idea-- does not necessarily make it so.

Why have many Ugandan Anglicans and their allies decided to make homosexuality their cause célèbre and align it with anti -Western sentiment? I don’t know the answer, but part of it must be demonstrating that Christians are just as legalistic and vicious as those of their Muslim neighbors who favor the imposition of Sharia. I continue to believe that rather than trying to out-moralize Muslim neighbors, Christians would do better to preach grace and to inspire others by their loving generosity. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword, will they not?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Ann Rice Gives up on Christian Community

August 4, 2010

Ann Rice has recently declared in her blog (with thanks to Scott May and the Episcopal Café):

“For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian. I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”

And later:

“As I said below, I quit being a Christian. I'm out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

There have been a flurry of responses including a group ‘welcoming her to the UCC’ and a copy cat effort to tell her that the Episcopal Church is where she needs to be. It does seem that most people think that what she is really leaving is the Roman Catholic Church.

The various comment streams that I have seen on this suggest that there are many people who feel as she does about the Church but who do not seem to talk about worship or community. Being connected to a community that has deep disagreements in its midst about social and ethical issues also means recognizing that we are all creatures of God. Many commentators sympathize with Ms. Rice’s need to be clear about who she has been created to be without being told that she is wrong on every front by Christians who seem to ‘know better’ and who on every front appear to be ‘hypocritical’.

Even Ms. Rice and those who sympathize with her appear to be falling into the trap of those whom they are rejecting and that is assuming that ‘The Truth’ is both singular and obvious. We live in a series of interconnected and sometimes conflicting imaginative worlds shaped by philosophy, science, the arts and so on. ‘Humanity’ is not the same post Galileo or Descartes or Einstein as it was before them. But it takes a long time for the consequences of such insights to become normative in any sense and then, in time, be supplanted by new movements. All of them affect people of faith along with everyone else.

The consequence of this is that Christian Community becomes a very visible place in which those major shifts in perception are navigated thoughtfully and critically (and often with much weeping wailing and gnashing of teeth). It is not always fun and there are usually power games being played in the process as one group or another seeks to ‘hang on’ to their sense of security and place in the world, fearing that some shift will shake them up. This will be particularly true with any issue that is in any sense ‘ethical’ because in the end, ethics are deeply personal and none of us really like our worlds being shaken. ‘Don’t ask. Don’t tell’ is a compromise that we live with and prefer in many spheres because it means that we can hang on to whatever structures we live within (usually the ‘values’ we were taught in our formative years) without having to make difficult shifts.

In one example: a recent conversation in our staff about how to be more conscious of our using an expanded range of images and language for talking about God and humanity will mean that our children won’t have to do the difficult work of ‘undoing’ or ‘unlearning’ things we have taught them.

So while I wish Ms. Rice well, I choose to stay among people who are gathering around the Communion Table each week in the midst of hearing an enacting the story of what is of true and ultimate worth, together seeking and allowing our lives to be shaped by what really matters, even re cognizing that there are frequently deep disagreements among us about how we would like the world to be. In the end, our common humanity is more ‘real’ tan our differences, but our differences and how we deal with them can have a great deal to do with our (sometimes unwitting) inhumanity to each other.