Category Archives: Christianity

He’s Not Racist BUT ….

Good grief, don’t know how I missed this one from last week:

Filmed at the church April 24, the 17-minute video has racked up nearly 40,000 views on YouTube in less than two weeks, and it has some websites asking whether Reagan is the most racist pastor in America.

“My god has nationalities outside the city,” Reagan says in the video, going into the gist of his argument that he doesn’t consider it right to marry white people with black people, continually calling such relationships “hybreeding.”

“Hybreeding, hybreeding, oh, how terrible, hybreeding,“ he says. “What white woman would want her baby to be mulatto, made by a colored man? Let’s stay the way God made us. I believe it’s right.”

This lunacy comes from the pastor of the Happy Valley Church of Jesus Christ in, you guessed it, Johnson City, Tennessee.

This gets me:

“I feel terrible,” Reagan said. “I’ve been sick since it came out and haven’t eaten in days.”

As terrible as Reagan feels, he’s not backing off the message. He said he’s seen the hardships those in biracial relationships have felt, and though he admits a lot of it has to do with being in a conservative area, he wouldn’t officiate biracial weddings in other parts of the country either.

Wow. Wonder if it ever occurred to this racist fuckwad that the hardships biracial couples experience are a direct result of the words and actions of people like Brother Donny Reagan?

But ya know, it’s so cool that he reminds us that he’s not racist and even has some black friends. Got it.

Watch the sermon here:

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Filed under Christianity, racism, religion, Tennessee

Proving Jesus’ Point

No wonder Jesus said we will always have the poor with us:

Billionaire Home Depot founder Ken Langone has a warning for Pope Francis.

A major Republican donor, Langone told CNBC in a story published online Monday that wealthy people such as himself might stop giving to charity if the Pope continues to make statements criticizing capitalism and income inequality.

Pity the poor billionaires.

If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a thousand times: when Republican religion clashes with Republican political ideology, it’s always the religion which is wrong.

No, Mr. Langone. Pope Francis is not alienating the rich. You’re alienating yourselves.

Mark 12:41-44
New International Version (NIV)
The Widow’s Offering

41 Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42 But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

43 Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44 They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

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Filed under Christianity, Pope Francis, Republican Party

Speaking Of Charlatans

Last week that smarmy huckster Joel Osteen Tweeted this:

Osteen

Umm …… no. Just …. aaagh. What an idiot.

I can’t believe this fraud has such a huge following. Then again, yes I can. Look at all the idiots who re-tweeted and favorited this bullshit.

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Filed under Christianity, religion

Christian Healthcare Just As Obnoxious As The Regular Kind, Of Course

I swear, there must be some kind of conspiracy whereby NPR knows the 15 minutes each week I listen to Marketplace and schedules the programming most likely to give me an aneurism for that time slot.

Anyway, today I caught this bit about the “Christian alternative to Obamacare”. It’s basically a healthcare co-op for Christians, or to put it another way:

“It’s a group of people, in this case Christians, who band together and agree that they want to share one another’s burdens,” says Andrea Miller, medical director for the largest Christian health-insurance alternative, Medi-Share.

Their “case study” is a guy and his wife from Chattanooga who would have racked up tens of thousands of dollars in healthcare bills in recent years were it not for this “health sharing ministry.” And there’s some personal attention too, such as:

“The night before my surgery, the lady who’d helped me locate the right providers and everything called me back and said, ‘Would it be OK if I prayed with you for your surgery tomorrow?'”

Three days later, she called back to ask how the surgery went.

Okay, that works for me, I buy into the socialisticky- “see how they love one another” ethos at play. It’s my hippie-dippy version of Christianity at work. Rock on.

Then we get to the requirements of being part of a “Christian healthcare ministry”:

There are a few requirements to fulfill before participating, Miller says. The first is that you have to be Christian. “Second, you need to agree to living a Christian lifestyle, including no smoking, including not abusing alcohol or drugs,” she says.

Yeah, that’s kinda annoying, folks. I missed the part of the Bible where the “Christian lifestyle” is described in those terms. After all, Jesus turned the water into wine (indeed, wine is probably mentioned in the Bible more often than any other foodstuff). But beyond that, there’s a superiority implied by such a statement, as if Christians are somehow healthier/better than non-believers — as if, somehow, Christians are immune to the issues of addiction that plague everyone else.

Really, guys? If Christians did a better job of avoiding substance abuse problems and every other pitfall of the human experience, Christian rehab centers wouldn’t be a booming industry.

And that begs the question: do they not cover rehab services? Mental health services? I’d love to know.

But anyway, I was still ready to give them a pass until we got to this part:

“We do not share in every medical need that a person has,” Miller of Medi-Share says. “Some of the things we don’t share in are related to lifestyle issues, such as an abortion. But others of them are related to things that the members have agreed that they would rather pay for themselves.”

Wait, wut? Abortion is a lifestyle issue? Are you serious?

Calling abortion a “lifestyle issue” is basically buying into the whole judgemental “those sluts must be punished” approach to abortion we always hear from the anti-choice folks. Judge not lest ye be judged, y’all.

Even worse, classifying abortion among the things “members have agreed that they would rather pay for themselves” is really saying, members don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to know when it comes up as an issue and they don’t want to know about it during and after, either. All of that “would it be OK if I prayed with you” stuff is fine for kidney surgery but not fine for abortion, even a necessary one.

In short, they don’t want to hear anything that challenges their pre-ordained idea that abortion only happens to “those people” who live “that way” “over there” in “those places.”

At a time when a family could most use the prayers and support of their community, you’re all agreeing to just shove all that under the rug.

“Christian” healthcare ministry? Pffft.

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Filed under abortion, Christianity, health insurance, healthcare, religion

Williamson County You Still Suck A Thousand Ways

God, I am so over the good, white Republican Christian folk of Williamson County. You people suck:

original

A waitress at a Red Lobster in Tennessee posted this photograph of a receipt left from her customers with a special, racist note written in the total portion.

This was, as the photo shows, at the Red Lobster in Franklin, just south of Nashville. To be more specific: it’s the Red Lobster in Cool Springs, a very prosperous shopping community dominated by a gigantic mall, dozens of strip malls, and every restaurant chain ending in apostrophe-S you can think of. Cool Springs used to be farmland but decades ago it got developed and now it’s a shining ode to Consumer America. It is severely conservative, hard-right Republican, sanitized, cookie-cutter, mega-church, soccer mom suburbia: the kind of place people move to because “it’s a good place to raise a family.”

Yes, because racism is such a great family value. /sarcasm

It’s the kind of place where both the chair and first vice chair of the county Republican Party can openly and vocally speak out against a school breakfast program for poor kids, and feel no shame whatsoever.

There are places like it all across America, but I daresay Williamson County is both petri dish and microphone for the conservative worldview. Its Congressmonster Rep. Marsha Blackburn is a regular on Fox News. It’s the home of the Christian music industry, the Gospel Music Assn., and Thomas Nelson Publishers. Dave Ramsey is headquartered here. TCOT got founded here. Hell, Victoria Jackson lives here. ’nuff said.

So let’s not fein surprise that it’s racist as hell, too. Racism, intolerance and contempt for the poor are not Christian values but they sure do seem to be widespread in the modern conservative movement.

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Filed under Christian Right, Christianity, racism, religion, religious right, Tennessee

Competition Is Not A Christian Value

Nashville’s homeless street newspaper is The Contributor. The paper is produced and sold by the city’s homeless and formerly homeless. The content is phenomenal, with stories addressing what life is like on the streets, the issues of poverty and homelessness, first person stories, etc.

The way it works is, vendors purchase the paper for 25-cents, and sell it for $1 (or more — most people I know throw in an extra buck or three.) Vendors keep everything over that initial 25-cents; many have found this simple job a way to get off the streets and gain some economic stability. More to the point, it puts a different face on our community’s working poor and homeless. It allows those of us who are the “haves” to put a friendly face, a smile, a daily wave behind the folks who are usually presented to us as statistics. As an example, check out this story from early August, in which downtown bank employees threw a retirement party for the Contributor vendor who had worked their street corner for years. There are dozens of stories like it. It’s a way of forging a relationship, bridging that gap between people who are usually marginalized and the rest of the community.

But, as the Nashville Scene chronicled last week, the paper has hit on hard times. The Contributor has been enormously successful — the circulation is 120,000 papers a month now — and with rising circulation comes rising costs. The paper costs way more to produce than 25-cents an issue.

On top of that, the paper lost a major lawsuit (I wrote about it here) filed by one of our more, ahem, prosperous communities, where the delicate sensibilities of the lilly-white Republican churchgoers were, ahem, offended by those dirty street people who had the nerve to not stay in the shadows where they belong. Why look, George: there they are, out in public! For all to see! The very nerve! Why I do declare, it’s enough to give one the vapors!

Ahem.

The upshot being, cities can now ban vendors.

So in light of all this, you can imagine how much this story really ticked me off:

There’s some competition in Nashville’s homeless streetpaper business. A church-sponsored publication called Faith Unity Outloud uses roughly the same business model as The Contributor, as well as some of its old vendors.

Faith Unity Outloud looks like a newspaper, but it’s really filled with Christian-themed lessons and articles. It’s published monthly by Gene Boros of the Global Vision Bible Church in Mount Juliet.

More than a hundred vendors now buy the papers for 50 cents and sell them on the roadside for a dollar, plus tips. Many previously worked for The Contributor, which has become one of the most popular streetpapers in the country.

“What can I say?” asks William Adams. May the best paper win.”

Wow, not really seeing the “unity” here, guys. Sorry, Gene Boros, you are doing it wrong. If you really wanted to help the homeless, it seems like this church would have devoted its resources to working with the Contributor, not in competition to it. But no, that’s not what they want.

Check this out:

Like Adams, many had a falling out with The Contributor, which enforces a code of conduct for its vendors. They can’t sell the paper while intoxicated, there are assigned corners at busy intersections and they have to go through a training program prior to hitting the streets.

Anthony Hicks says Faith Unity Outloud is different.

“We don’t have a strict set of rules,” he says. “You have to have a photo ID to sign up, but once you do that, you can sell it wherever you want. You can go wherever you want to sell it.”

They don’t care about the homeless or the working poor at all. That’s not their message. They just want to evangelize. They just want to spread the Jesus stuff — and charge the homeless 50-cents a paper for the privilege. They’ve completely missed the point.

No training? It’s okay if you’re intoxicated? Vendors can fight over high-traffic street corners? No problem! Bible stories? Sure, we all need more of those!

Well, there goes the community outreach. I wonder if that downtown bank would have thrown a retirement party if their vendor had been stinking drunk half the time, for example? If there had been petty “turf wars” for a high-traffic street corner among different vendors? How many people want to buy a paper that talks about religion, as if we don’t have enough of that rammed down our throat in this state?

(Let me take a moment here to point out one thing: I know that some vendors sell BOTH papers. Whether they are supposed to do that, I do not know.)

Faith Unity Outloud? Bah. If these people had any real faith, if they really wanted unity, they’d have rolled up their sleeves and helped out The Contributor in its time of need, helping the community understand the plight of the homeless and working poor. Instead it’s more religious noise. Guess that’s the “LOUD.”

I’m so over Evangelical Christians, who think somehow people haven’t heard about Jesus. Seriously, I am sick of you people. I’m not going to say church people don’t do a lot of good — heck, The Contributor got started in a church, and many of its staff are church people. I’ve also worked with enough homeless and marginalized folks in this town to know the vast majority of them are deeply religious. So this is not me being hostile to religion.

But if your church mission begins and ends with spreading the word then you are the very definition of Doing It Wrong.

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Filed under Christianity, homeless, Nashville

“Our Life Together Can Be Better”

Rev. Jim Wallis was on The Stephanie Miller Show today. I just caught the last few minutes of the interview but someone pointed me to it over here on Soundcloud.

I recommend giving it a listen. Wallis is so refreshing. He’s a much-needed counter to the frothy-mouthed “gays and feminists caused x, y, z disaster” we usually get from religious circles. He’s promoting a new book about bringing back the old ethos of social responsibility and the common good; in fact, he told Miller the first line of the book is, “our life together can be better.” I really like that. I think we forget sometimes that we really do have a part to play in all of this. If we want everything to be better for more people, we can actually make it happen. We can, you know.

Wallis is supposedly of the evangelical persuasion, but he seems to spend all of his time and energy preaching about caring for the poor and marginalized and building a just society. Most evangelicals who cross my path seem to spend 99% of their energy trying to lead people to Jesus and little time worrying about them beyond that. If that’s all you get out of the Bible then I have no time for you.

Also, something I’ve noticed lately — and maybe it’s just because I’m somewhat disconnected from that world — but it seems like there’s been a real lack of Jesus-y stories in the aftermath of the Boston; West, Texas; and Newtown tragedies. You know how whenever there’s a horrible tragedy we always hear stories about how God stepped in and performed some kind of miracle? And then all the parties involved appear on The 700 Club and such to talk about it? And Christian musicians write songs about it? Martyrs pulled from the rubble and all that?

I’m thinking of Columbine shooting victim Cassie Bernall, who supposedly was asked if she believed in God with a gun to her head. The story was that Cassie responded yes (later versions of the story in Christian media had her being told to deny her religion and be spared, and Cassie refusing). Michael W. Smith wrote a hit song about it. Other witnesses disputed these accounts, but it didn’t matter, the story was trotted out as an evangelism tool. We got a similar story after the Heath High School shootings in Kentucky and the Aurora theater shooting.

Anyway, I haven’t heard any stories like this after any of our recent tragedies. Maybe I’ve missed them, or maybe this brand of religion is truly dying. It certainly doesn’t seem to be doing much for the people it’s supposedly trying to help — and yes, glossy multimedia marketing campaign, I’m looking at you. Those annoying “I Am Second” billboards have started popping up all over Nashville and people, they are everywhere.

I’m just trying to figure out how an artsy black and white photograph of Scott Hamilton or Darrell Waltrip topped by the words “I Am Second” is supposed to help someone working at the local multiplex who’s just had their hours cut because Regal Entertainment would rather give their CEO a 31% pay raise than pay for their employees’ health insurance.

This is the kind of stuff that worries people like Jim Wallis, and it should worry more church people. This is the kind of issue that makes the church “relevant,” not the production values on a multimedia marketing campaign. Just sayin’, guys.

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Filed under Christianity, religion, Sojourners

Suckers

I know Christians like to think they’re better than everyone else, at least the ones around here do. But is there some evidence that they’re healthier than anyone else? If there is I sure haven’t seen it. But Kentucky is poised to pass a “Christians-only” healthcare plan that singles out Jesus people:

House Oks Christian health care plan for Ky.

[...]

The proposal would exempt the Medi-Share ministry from state insurance regulations. A Franklin County circuit judge ordered the ministry to shut down last year at the Kentucky Insurance Department’s request. The bill in its current form would require members to sign a notice acknowledging they’re aware they may not have their claims paid.

The plan resembles secular insurance in some ways but only allows participation by people who pledge to live Christian lives with no smoking, drinking, using drugs or having sex outside of marriage.

Whew boy. First of all, this just reeks of a scam to me. Hey, let’s give insurance companies another reason to deny people claims! You missed Bible study on Wednesday! No bypass surgery for YOU! And let me say, the idea that people who don’t drink or smoke or have sex outside of marriage or use drugs are living a “Christian lifestyle” is just hilarious. Why not have a health care plan for vegans and exempt them from state insurance regulations? Seems like there’s actual evidence that a vegan diet is healthier than the gravy-slathered deep-fried fat balls most good Southern Christian folk I know shove done their gullets on Sundays.

But look, the whole dang point of being a Christian is not that you’re somehow better than everyone else and living a perfect, sinless life so you get the earthly reward of cheap health insurance. That’s not what the freaking Bible is about, people! It’s about a relationship with God. It’s about things like forgiveness and community building and welcoming your neighbor and caring for the vulnerable.

It’s not about being perfect and if you stumble you don’t get your insurance claim paid, and we get to do the personal responsibility happy dance.

Cripes I’m so over Jesus people these days. This just screams exploitation and grift to me. The marriage of faith and commerce is absolutely antithetical to real Christianity. Any sucker signing up for this is asking to get ripped off.

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Filed under Christianity, health insurance, healthcare

Does Jesus Really Want A $750,000 Church Marketing Campaign?

I am loathe to write another religion post, seeing how swimmingly it went the last time (/sarcasm) but this story was plastered all over the front of my daily fishwrap today, and I just had to say something.

For those of you who can’t get past the firewall, the story is about I Am Second Nashville, a marketing campaign featuring Nashville celebrities in slick, stylized videos talking candidly (“giving their testimony” in Christianese) about how their faith in God helped them overcome big challenges. It’s an offshoot of the I Am Second campaign launched in Dallas last year by Norman Miller, chairman of Interstate Batteries.

The Nashville campaign, the story says, will launch next year and cost a whopping $750,000. It will include billboards, radio and TV ads, and — of course! — there are companion books published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Because there’s always a companion book, amiright? So, it’s sorta like those “Pass It On” ads by the Foundation For A Better Life, but with more Jesus, more consumerism, a bigger production budget, and a heckuva lot hipper.

And after reading about it and watching some of the videos I just think .. aagh. Here we go again. You know what? This kind of media-genic, cross-platform, consumer-oriented marketing campaign is exactly the kind of stuff that turns me off about the contemporary church. It made me sick to my stomach in my brief foray in Christian music, and it’s a huge turnoff to me now. The professional Christian media loves this stuff, though: I suspect because it makes them feel “hip” and “relevant” and shows they can “tackle the tough issues” and “be relatable.” But it all just seems a tad too contrived for me.

Long ago the contemporary church adopted the value set of secular pop culture; there seems to be this belief that if they just modeled themselves after that, they can stop the bloodletting in their congregations, change lives, make everything hunky dory, etc. etc.

I’ve watched a few of these videos (you can see some here), they’re well done and some of the stories are quite compelling, don’t get me wrong. But for my money, hearing people talk about their faith isn’t nearly as effective as seeing them act on it. I got more fuzzy-warm “God-is-good” feelings from that picture of NYPD Officer Larry DePrimo giving a homeless man a $75 pair of boots than I do from a $750,000 mega ad campaign for God. I have no idea what DePrimo’s faith is — he could be a Buddhist, atheist, or fundie Christian for all I know. But I don’t need to know.

And I guess that’s the nut of it. I’m okay with people having whatever kind of spirituality they want. I read that story about formerly homeless Iraq veteran Curtis Butler paying the utility bills of the other people in line with him at the Georgia Power office and I don’t need to know that God told him to do it (though for the record, Butler does credit his church with helping him overcome PTSD). I just like knowing there are good people out there in the world helping their neighbors. I kind of think that’s how God works in the world, an eternal, powerful energy flow of good, unbounded by time or space, that is a part of us and also separate from us. You can call it Jesus or your Guardian Angel or Karma or Yahweh or a Flying Spaghetti Monster of a lamp post: it doesn’t matter because it’s so much bigger than us, that what we call it is a mere human construct, and I sure don’t need crosses and swelling hymns and “Touched By An Angel” backlighting all around it. But I know it when I see it, I think we all do.

And by the way, I sure don’t want to be told I’m going to hell for thinking this way. A big part of this campaign is getting people eager to “learn more” and then bringing them into “small groups” for further indoctrination discussion. I wonder how that’s going to work. If you’re struggling with your gender identity, what is your small group going to do? That will be interesting.

Like the Republican Party, Evangelicals need to understand that the problem isn’t the medium, it’s the message. Stop hating on gay people. Stop telling people who don’t believe the same as you that they’re “not saved” and are outside God’s family. Stop telling women that if you have an abortion you will live a lifetime of searing emotional pain, but somehow carrying a fetus to term and giving up a baby for adoption leaves no psychic scars whatsoever. Stop telling people that all they have to do is accept Jesus and all of their problems go away, and any new problems that may arise are wonderful blessings, all part of His glorious plan to share your testimony in a glitzy $750,000 marketing campaign.

You know what? I think maybe my biggest problem with Evangelical Christianity is the “evangelism” part. Seriously, y’all? A $750,000 campaign? This is what Jesus wants for Christmas? It just doesn’t sit right with me.

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Filed under Christianity, religion

We Didn’t Leave The Church, The Church Left Us

My daily fishwrap has a front page story on the demise of the Religious Right (I’ve linked to the same story in another, non-firewalled publication, just FYI.) I found the story interesting but it’s also nothing we haven’t talked about here for years.

So, check this out:

Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a national Religious Right leader, said the election was an “unmitigated disaster.”

He believes the country will become much more secular and look more like Europe. “It is going to be a chastening, humbling moment for American Christians to realize that we are going to be in the position across this country of speaking as a minority,” Mohler said. Today, about 1 in 5 Americans has no religious affiliation.

That doesn’t mean that the faithful will give up on politics or on trying to shape American culture to fit their values. But it does mean they need to pay more attention to the Bible and less to the GOP, said author and speaker Stephen Mansfield.

[...]

To remain relevant, Mansfield said, conservative Christians also have to learn how to express their views in a way that appeals to the general public, not just like-minded believers. They can’t just hold up the Bible and expect people to agree with them, he said.

No, that’s absolutely wrong. The problem is not the way you express your ideas. The problem IS your ideas. Many of which, let me point out, are not even Biblical, nor are they the church’s historical position. For example, back in the ’60s, evangelicals were pro-choice:

In 1968, Christianity Today published a special issue on contraception and abortion, encapsulating the consensus among evangelical thinkers at the time. In the leading article, professor Bruce Waltke, of the famously conservative Dallas Theological Seminary, explained the Bible plainly teaches that life begins at birth:

“God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: ‘If a man kills any human life he will be put to death’ (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense… Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”

The magazine Christian Life agreed, insisting, “The Bible definitely pinpoints a difference in the value of a fetus and an adult.” And the Southern Baptist Convention passed a 1971 resolution affirming abortion should be legal not only to protect the life of the mother, but to protect her emotional health as well.

I would love to get my hands on a copy of that vintage 1968 Christianity Today, wouldn’t you? I bet it’s been purged from the archive.

Isn’t that interesting, though, that what is considered a cornerstone of conservative Christianity today — being “pro life” — is a complete reversal of what the church believed 40 years ago? I find that fascinating. I guess, like Scott DesJarlais, conservative Christians have “evolved” on this issue. (Wait — I thought they didn’t believe in evolution?)

The church changed for political reasons, not theological ones. Until Jerry Falwell came along, Christians largely stayed out of politics — it was, in fact, a guiding principle of Southern Baptists and other denominations to not get involved in worldly things like lobbying Congress and launching boycotts and showing up on the evening news in a frothy lather over some imagined offense like a War on Christmas. Falwell changed all of that, and 40 years later the church finds itself no longer relevant. To think these two things aren’t somehow connected is ludicrous.

And before Al Mohler starts fearmongering again about European-style secularism destroying Christianity, he needs to read this old post of mine. I wrote it after another of his anti-Europe rants in 2009:

Mohler and his kind are most ignorant in their favorite tactic of using Western European countries as their warning of what’s in store for America if we don’t DO something, quick, like stop teaching evolution in public schools and outlaw abortion. These folks like to talk about how secular Western Europe is, all the tolerance for nasty things like teh gaii, but they fail to mention that many of their worst secular offenders (Scandinavian countries, for example) have a state religion!

This astonished me when I was in “secular, liberal” Norway last spring. In fact, it was just one year ago next week that the Norwegian government changed its constitution, so that the Lutheran Church is no longer the state religion.

Yes, that’s right, up until last year, every person born in “secular, liberal” Norway was automatically born a Lutheran. If you wanted to raise your kids Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Baptist or atheist, you had to petition the government. Can you believe that?

The Norwegian government still finances the Lutheran Church, and until last year appointed church bishops. In other words, the government had authority over the church. Can you imagine? Can you imagine your tax dollars funding church salaries?

The surest way to kill a religion is to make it your state religion — to remove that wall of separation. A generation ago religious people in this country knew that, they knew the wall separating church and state protected the church from the state, as much as the other way around. But along came Jerry Falwell and the rest of the ignoramuses of the Moral Majority, and here they are.

I find it all incredibly, hilariously ironic.

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Filed under Christianity, religion, religious right