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Guthrie interned at Faith in Public Life in Spring 2011.

Reconciling Revelry and Righteousness

May 4, 2011, 5:33 pm | By ggraves-fitzsimmons

I feverishly ran to the White House late Sunday night. I sang the Star-Spangled Banner with thousands of spontaneously gathered revelers. I chanted “Yes We Did.” I personally witnessed to what I considered justice for a mass murderer. I found no correlation to just war, but instead look to law enforcement. I did not celebrate one man’s death, but rather victory over evil, an evil that has defined my lifetime thus far. It will hopefully now not define the rest of my life. I danced on no grave, but for a nation that met in this instance the collective call of humanity to protect civilians and obtain justice.

I returned to my apartment and discovered countless tweets and Facebook statuses decrying the celebrations at the White House and across the country. I read status after status quoting scripture. Scripture I knew well; I preached a sermon several years ago questioning if my congregation actively prayed for Osama bin Laden. I read the now debunked Martin Luther King Jr. quotation that spread like wildfire across social media. I read my colleagues at FPL quote a chorus of faith leaders I admire condemn the celebrations.

But I also reread Dietrich Bonheoffer and listened to President Obama tell the nation, ‎”[bin Laden's] demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity…Tonight we give thanks to the countless intelligence and counter-terrorism professionals who have worked tirelessly to achieve this outcome.”

Today, Joan Walsh of Salon offered the best commentary I’ve read so far:

I personally had a hard time seeing bin Laden’s death as something to celebrate, but I didn’t judge those who did. The 9/11 attacks were of such enormity, rippling out to reach so many people in such different ways, we’re all entitled to our subjective reactions; it was everyone’s tragedy, and everyone grieves differently…

You can believe fervently in the power of King’s words about love, and hate, and violence — as I do — and still accept that President Obama did the right thing, based on the knowledge he had before him.

Walsh warned us not to “outsource our moral decision-making,” and without outsourcing my own thoughts to Walsh, I tend to agree. My reaction of patriotic fervor was my own, rooted in a deep commitment to stopping injustice.

On the moral question of whether Americans (and citizens of the world who are now safer) should rejoice over the killing of Osama bin Laden, I think people need the space to react in their own way, and it’s important to be respectful of diverse reactions and mindful of our collective commitment to pursuing justice.

Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is an intern at Faith in Public Life.

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Royal Wedding Wisdom for Washington

April 29, 2011, 5:24 pm | By ggraves-fitzsimmons

Westminster_Abbey-original-7.jpgWhile media coverage of the Royal Wedding spectacle today focused on what dress Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge wore, the message coming out of the service itself was more substantive. The homily by Dr. Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, spoke to the common good and interdependence:

We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.

Such a message is pertinent not only to the newlyweds and the audience of millions, but also to political leaders. The United States Congress, for example, faces a moment full of promise and peril in the current budget debate. If politicians increase their loving reverence for life, and for the earth, and for one another, real progress will be made towards passing a budget that reflects our morals.

Bishop Chartres closes with a prayer written by the royal couple themselves: “In the business of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy. Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer.”

Here’s hoping Washington heeds the call from Westminster to fight for the common good.

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Collegiate Faith Gets Better

April 19, 2011, 3:10 pm | By ggraves-fitzsimmons

This past October, we collected and published messages from faith leaders as part of our “Faith Gets Better” project. Faith leaders spoke directly to LGBT youth, reassuring them that they are accepted and have a place in faith communities. Today in the New York Times, Erik Eckholm looks at faith leaders at Bible colleges who are doing the opposite:

…[G]ay students are running up against administrators who defend what they describe as God’s law on sexual morality, and who must also answer to conservative trustees and alumni. Facing vague prohibitions against “homosexual behavior,” many students worry about what steps — holding hands with a partner, say, or posting a photograph on a gay Web site — could jeopardize scholarships or risk expulsion.

“It’s like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object,” said Adam R. Short, a freshman engineering student at Baylor University who is openly gay and has fought, without success, for campus recognition of a club to discuss sexuality and fight homophobia.

While it’s disheartening to see some religious institutions openly target LGBT students through expulsion and denial of students’ freedom of association, the Times editors who formulated the story’s headline “Even on Religious Campuses, Students Fight for Gay Identity,” went too far in generalizing about Christian colleges. Eckholm, highlighting the diversity of religious schools, profiles one seminarian who left a discriminatory school for a welcoming one:

David Coleman was suspended by North Central University in his senior year in 2005, after he distributed fliers advertising a gay-support site and admitted to intimate relations (but not sexual intercourse) with other men. He calls the university’s environment “spiritually violent.”

Mr. Coleman, 28, is now enrolled at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities in New Brighton, Minn., which is run by the more accepting United Church of Christ. He still dreams of becoming a pastor. “I have a calling,” he said.

Coleman’s story uncovers the choice faith leaders in academia have: exclude students on the basis of sexual orientation, or welcome all who feel called into ministry. As more colleges and denominations choose to embrace all people, we can see collegiate faith getting better.

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A Generational Gap from Hell

April 15, 2011, 3:48 pm | By ggraves-fitzsimmons

Torture_Inquisition.jpgI grew up watching war. Only eleven years old on 9/11, I came of age with my country fighting two wars in distant lands. I understood terrorists threatened my way of life and that my country would take any steps necessary to win the war on terror.

I grew up watching 24. I cheered as Jack Bauer tortured terrorists and always saved innocent people from death. In between bomb explosions, Jack always found time to make the argument that the ends justify the means.

But I also grew up in a strong faith community. I learned in Sunday school to pray for my enemies. I read my church’s Social Principles that state point blank: “the mistreatment or torture of persons by governments for any purpose violates Christian teaching and must be condemned and/or opposed by Christians and churches wherever and whenever it occurs.” My faith counteracted the culture. WWJD led me to ask what Jesus would do, not what Jack would do.

My peers appear to be asking themselves what Jack would do. A painfully alarming study released this week by the American Red Cross shows that young people approve of torture more than adults. Daniel Stone at The Daily Beast investigated potential cultural reasons:

Legal scholars see societal influences that may be responsible for de-stigmatizing torture, including increasingly graphic media. “I think it suggests the national conscious is becoming more and more corroded and more accustomed to the violation of fundamental principles of human rights and international law,” says Lawrence Tribe, a constitutional law professor at Harvard, who blames programs like 24 that trivialize serious issues.

We, the young generation raised on war, have had the benefits of torture seared into our minds for as long as we can remember. We appear as a whole not to believe in the other side of the story: the dignity of life, the respect for human rights, the religious doctrine against torture. Hopefully it’s because we haven’t heard the other side. The case for torture played throughout our youth every Monday night at 8. Hopefully Sunday mornings at 11, we can get the faith side.

Guthrie Graves-Fitzsimmons is an intern at Faith in Public Life.

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Poll of the Week: Organized Religion’s Power “About Right”

April 15, 2011, 10:53 am | By ggraves-fitzsimmons

A new Gallup poll out today (which you can find in FPL’s Pollspot database) finds that Americans believe lobbyists, major corporations, banks, and the federal government all have too much power, while state and local governments, the legal system, organized religion and churches, and the military possess the right amount of power.

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The poll’s findings on organized religion and churches differed along party lines. Only 12% of Republicans thought organized religion has too much power, while 34% of Democrats believe so. Both of those percentages though pale in comparison to other groups: 73% of Democrats believe major corporations wield too much power, while 75% of Republicans believe the federal government does. As a whole, a large plurality (46%) of Americans tend to believe organized religion and churches possess the right amount of power, and people who think religion is either too powerful or not powerful enough are equal in number. For all the talk about how polarizing religion is, it’s interesting to see that it generates less controversy than so many other institutions.

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