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Dan Nejfelt
Dan Nejfelt, Faith in Public Life’s Messaging and Trainings Manager, worked at Sojourners magazine as part of his graduate study of journalism at the University of Missouri before coming to FPL. Prior to that, he taught remedial reading and writing to 7th and 8th graders in rural Arkansas as a Teach For America corps member. Dan blogs about health care, the Religious Right and budget issues.

Franklin Graham and cable news: partners in frivolity

February 22, 2012, 12:03 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

You’ve probably heard by now that Franklin Graham was yet again impugning President Obama’s faith on a cable news show yesterday. In addition to the usual dog-whistle rhetoric (“He has said he’s a Christian, so I just have to assume that he is,”), Graham overtly dabbled in conspiracy theory. Asked by the host if the president is “categorically not a Muslim,” Graham said “I can’t say categorically because Islam has gotten a free pass under Obama and we see the Arab Spring and coming out of the Arab Spring the Islamists are taking control of the Middle East.”

Franklin Graham casting doubt on the president’s faith is a dog-bites-man story at this point, and Graham doesn’t need my help to make himself look like a demagogue — but it’s worth mentioning just how deeply wrong these attacks are. Not only does he dishonestly impugn the President’s Christian faith, he also advances anti-Muslim bigotry and puts forth a discrediting image of Christian leadership.

A pastor should not go on national television to speculate about the sincerity of other people’s Christian faith – especially to score political points. Franklin Graham should apologize to the President, and cable news shows should stop giving his religious bigotry and dishonesty a public platform. He has demonstrated a clear lack of credibility as a commentator on faith and politics.

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A Blunt Instrument

February 15, 2012, 2:36 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

Later this month, the Senate will vote on the Blunt Amendment – legislation that repeals not only the requirement that employers offer health insurance plans that cover contraception without  a copay, but also allows employers to refuse to offer coverage of any medical service they object to on moral grounds. It’s completely open-ended. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he supports the legislation.

In other words, the folks who warned that “Obamacare” would put a government bureaucrat between you and your doctor have no problem putting Donald Trump in charge of which specific medical treatments his employees may and may not have. Unfortunately, prominent faith leaders are supporting this radical amendment:

Leaving coverage decisions up to each employers’ conscience might create chaos in the marketplace, “but chaos is sometimes the price you pay for freedom,” said Richard Land, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, who is backing the bishops whole-heartedly.

Land’s statement reflects an extremely privileged notion of “freedom.” Arguing that a private employer should be able to impose his moral values on employees to the extent that he controls the specifics of their health care shows a greater concern for the individual preferences of the powerful than for the welfare of everyday people.

Someone with libertarian leanings might say “well, if employees are dissatisfied with their coverage, they are free to get a job elsewhere.” But when jobseekers outnumber job openings 4-to-1 nationwide and almost half of Americans are one economic shock away from poverty, that’s cold comfort.

This isn’t about the consciences of religious institutions, this is about giving every employer – from the most virtuous to the most unscrupulous — power to impose their “morals” on their employees, medical consequences be damned. Given that our society is already rife with examples of business owners abusing their employees, the Blunt Amendment puts families in danger by subjecting their healthcare to the whims of employers who have an economic incentive to make up moral reasons to offer inadequate insurance.

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Faith Leaders, Theologians Celebrate Common-Ground Solution on Contraception, Religious Liberty

February 10, 2012, 2:57 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

In addition to the leaders mentioned in my previous post about religious groups commending the Obama administration’s common-ground solution on conscience exemptions and contraceptive coverage, numerous prominent faith leaders and theologians released a statement lauding the decision this afternoon. The press release and list of signatories are below and available here:

Today, national faith leaders and organizations are celebrating the White House’s announcement of a common-sense, common-ground solution to religious liberty concerns around contraception coverage that protects women’s access to important preventive health care. The regulation expands religious exemptions within the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that contraceptive services be covered without copayment in health insurance plans, while guaranteeing that employees of religious institutions can obtain family planning and other preventive health services directly from their insurance providers. Below is a statement from Catholic and Protestant leaders celebrating the decision as “major victory for religious liberty and women’s health.”

Today the Obama administration announced an important regulation that will protect the conscience rights of religious organizations and ensure that all women have access to contraception without a co-payment. We applaud the White House for listening carefully to the concerns raised by religious leaders on an issue that has provoked heated and often misinformed debate. This ruling is a major victory for religious liberty and women’s health. President Obama has demonstrated that these core values do not have to be in conflict.

Specifically, this new regulation guarantees that no religiously affiliated institution will have to pay for services that violate its moral beliefs or even refer employees for this coverage. Instead, if a woman’s employer is an objecting university, hospital or other religious institution, her insurer will be required to offer her coverage at no cost. This is a sensible, common-ground solution.

In recent days, sound bites and divisive rhetoric have too often pitted the faith community against sound science and public health. The previous regulations caused an unnecessary conflict between the administration, the Catholic Church and other religious institutions. We are encouraged that the Obama administration has developed a substantive solution that addresses the concerns of the many constituencies involved. We look forward to bringing the same level of passion displayed in this debate to other pressing moral issues that face our nation.

Sister Simone Campbell
Executive Director
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby

Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas

Terrence W. Tilley
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology Chair, Theology Department
Fordham University

Rev. Paul Crowley SJ
Jesuit Community Professor of Theology
Santa Clara University

Nicholas P. Cafardi
Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law
Duquesne University School of Law

Vincent J. Miller
Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture
University of Dayton

Douglas W Kmiec
United States Amb. (ret)
Professor of Constitutional Law and Caruso Family Chair in Constitutional Law
Pepperdine University

Kristin Heyer
Associate Professor, Religious Studies
Santa Clara University

Gerald J. Beyer
Associate Professor of Theology
Saint Joseph’s University

Stephen Schneck
Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies
Catholic University of America

Francis Schüssler Fiorenza
Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Theological Studies Harvard Divinity School
Cambridge, MA

John Inglis
Chair and Professor of Philosophy
Cross-appointed to Religious Studies
University of Dayton

Bradford E. Hinze
Professor of Theology
Fordham University
Bronx, NY

David DeCosse
Director of Campus Ethics Programs
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
Santa Clara UniversitY

Todd Whitmore
Associate Professor of Theology
University of Notre Dame

Sr. Paulette Skiba
Professor of Religious Studies
Clarke University

Michael E. Lee
Associate Professor of Theology
Fordham University

Tobias Winright
Associate Professor of Theological Ethics
Saint Louis University

Richard R. Gaillardetz
McCarthy Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology
Boston College

Christopher Pramuk
Assistant Professor of Theology
Xavier University

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
Professor of Theology
Chicago Theological Seminary

The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin
Immediate Past President
National Council of Churches

Rev. Anne Howard
Executive Director
The Beatitudes Society

Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo
United Church of Christ
Justice and Witness Ministries

Rev. Richard Cizik
President
New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

Dr. David Gushee
Board Chair and Co-Founder
New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

Rev. Alexander Sharp
Executive Director
Protestants for the Common Good

Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada

Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston
Director
Disciples Justice Action Network (DJAN)

Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner
President
Skinner Leadership Institute

Linda Bales Todd
Director of Women’s Advocacy
General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church

Jim Winkler
General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church

Rev. Randolph Bracy, Jr.
Senior Pastor, New Covenant Baptist Church
Orlando, FL

Lisa Sharon Harper
Director of Mobilizing
Sojourners

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Faith leaders, women’s health groups support Obama’s contraception solution

February 10, 2012, 2:12 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

This morning the Obama administration announced an important solution to the intense controversy regarding religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that contraceptive services be covered without copayment in health insurance plans. The policy will ensures that religious institutions won’t have to provide coverage of or referrals for contraception, but also guarantees that women employed by these institutions will have access to contraception without a co-pay. If a woman’s employer is an objecting university, hospital or other religious institution, her insurer will be required to initiate contact and offer her coverage at no cost.

A broad range of leaders and stakeholders have welcomed the new exemption policy, showing that it’s a true common-ground solution.

The Catholic Health Association, which runs hundreds of hospitals across  the country, supported the Affordable Care Act, and strongly criticized of the administration’s originally crafted religious exemption, lauded the decision:

We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished. The unity of Catholic organizations in addressing this concern was a sign of its importance.

Read the whole statement here.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America commended the administration for preserving women’s access to preventive health services:

In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women’s health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work.

We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman’s ability to access these critical birth control benefits.

Read the whole statement here.

Religious liberty expert Melissa Rogers, former chair of President Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who criticized the original religious exemption as too narrow, said:

Given the White House description of the revised rule, it both resolves the religious liberty concerns and respects the interests of Americans who would like to have these important health benefits. President Obama and his administration deserve great credit for implementing a solution that honors free exercise rights and fairness. I deeply appreciate the fact that the White House has taken the religious community’s concerns so seriously.

Read the whole statement here.

Catholic United executive director James Salt said:

Catholics United has been calling on both sides of this heated debate to work towards today’s win-win solution. President Obama has shown us that he is willing to rise above the partisan fray to deliver an actual policy solution that both meets the health care needs of all employees and respects the religious liberty of Catholic institutions.

I am eager to see the response of the Catholic bishops, and I hope and pray in their wisdom they see the value of finding a solution. If the bishops are unwilling to recognize the value of compromise, I suspect their opposition is more about playing politics than serving the needs of the people.

Read the whole statement here.

Such a broad range of support demonstrates real common ground, shows that preventive health care and religious liberty are reconcilable priorities, and shows just how ridiculous are the accusations that President Obama is waging a “war on religion.”

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Erick Erickson’s perversion of Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast Remarks

February 9, 2012, 3:07 pm | By Dan Nejfelt

In a rambling post including swipes at Jim Wallis, Barry Lynn, the Social Gospel, the liberal media and Jeremiah Wright, Erick Erickson accused President Obama of “perverting the words of Christ to pursue his tax plan” at the National Prayer Breakfast last week. Here are the President’s remarks that so offended Erickson:

And when I talk about shared responsibility, it’s because I genuinely believe that in a time when many folks are struggling, at a time when we have enormous deficits, it’s hard for me to ask seniors on a fixed income, or young people with student loans, or middle-class families who can barely pay the bills to shoulder the burden alone.  And I think to myself, if I’m willing to give something up as somebody who’s been extraordinarily blessed, and give up some of the tax breaks that I enjoy, I actually think that’s going to make economic sense.
But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required.”

Erickson claims that the President’s allusion to this passage (Luke 12:48) distorts its meaning. Here’s the heart of his complaint:

Christ was not talking about money. The President, in making the case for his tax plan using that passage of scripture, perverts Christ’s meaning. Christ was talking explicitly about the blessings flowing from God to the apostles and us through the Word and the need to proclaim Christ as the Living God.

I’ll leave aside the fact that Erickson fails to explain why Christ would deem it a “perversion” to draw lessons about material stewardship from a parable about spiritual stewardship. It’s not exactly a leap – the parable of the rich fool is in the same chapter of Luke. And rather than proclaiming that the parable definitively means Jesus would support his tax plan, President Obama is simply applying its lesson to his own beliefs on the matter.

What struck me most was Erickson’s self-contradiction. By the standard he lays out, the lessons of Scripture are relevant strictly within the literal confines of their immediate context. Applying a passage’s lesson to other contexts and situations “perverts” it. However, Erickson commits this very act elsewhere in his post by invoking God’s command that Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28) as a justification for opposing contraception.

He thus contends it’s perfectly legitimate to argue that God’s specific command for the first humans to populate an empty world should dictate that millennia later, in a world that is thoroughly populated, women should not use specific methods to control the timing and number of their pregnancies. If it’s permissible for Erickson to apply the lessons of Genesis to 21st-century medicine, why is it impermissible for the President to apply a parable about spiritual stewardship to his personal beliefs about material stewardship? Erickson’s trying to have it both ways — extrapolation by me, but not by thee.

Furthermore, Erickson would do well to dial down the self-righteous lectures. A Christian who finds the electrocution of his fellow children of God spectacularly entertaining ought to reexamine his own understanding of the faith before accusing others of “perverting” it.

I sympathize with Erickson a little bit. I too take umbrage when I believe leaders inappropriately use Scripture to advance their political beliefs. But that doesn’t make it right for Erickson to subject a fellow Christian to half-baked accusations of “perversion” and hypocritical condemnations.

Also: what Tim King said.

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