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200,000 People Call on Lowe’s to Reinstate Advertising on Muslim Reality Show

December 20, 2011, 10:05 pm | By Kristin Ford

Lowe's Home ImprovementEarlier today, local pastors in the Charlotte, NC area delivered over 200,000 petition signatures to Lowe’s (headquartered in Mooresville, NC, outside Charlotte), calling on the company to reverse its decision to pull their advertisements from “All American Muslim,” a new reality show on TLC showcasing American Muslims in Michigan.  Faithful America’s petition signatures were presented alongside similar petitions from CREDO ActionChange.orgGroundswell, Sum of Us, and People for the American Way.

The decision was made by Lowe’s because the show became a “lightning rod of controversy.” According to the Lowe’s representative who spoke today to the media after the petition delivery, the Lowe’s team decided to pull the ads independent of pressure from the Florida Family Association (an anti-Muslim fringe Religious Right group which led a public effort against Lowe’s’ advertisements on the show) and rather based their decision on “negative chatter… on social networks” before they even received an FFA email.

I can’t begin to fathom why Lowe’s thought that “clarifying” the source of the right-wing bigotry the company caved to (random right-wing Twitter or Facebook users versus an organizational effort from the Florida Family Association) would assuage the concerns of these 200,000+ people. More than nonsensical, this explanation is actually insulting to hundreds of thousands of people who are outraged by Lowe’s’ decision.

What’s more, reports from today’s meeting indicate that prior to the controversy, Lowe’s had conversations about how buying a block of advertisements on TLC but excluding the All-American Muslim show would violate their anti-discrimination policy. They failed to explain how subsequently pulling their ads fails to do the same.

Rev. Dennis Teall-Fleming, a Faithful America member and pastor of Open Hearts Gathering in Gastonia, NC, who led the petition delivery, pushed Lowe’s on this explanation, asking whether they would’ve done the same thing if the “controversy” were anti-Semitic complaints about the depiction of a Jewish family or racist objections to a show about African-Americans.

Lowe’s deflected the question, continuing to insist that their decision was unconnected to specific right-wing pressure and instead linked to “general controversy,” a completely unsatisfactory response.

Again, unless Lowe’s wants to produce any evidence to the contrary, there was only one “controversy” here and it was manufactured by a handful of anti-Muslim extremists and their followers. Lowe’s’ decision legitimizes these people’s fringe conspiracy theories and fuel suspicions and discrimination against American Muslims. This is more serious than a simple business decision — it has implications for millions of American Muslims and our nation’s record of interfaith acceptance and cooperation.

Faithful America’s members and the other hundreds of thousands of concerned Americans will be watching — they won’t let Lowe’s off the hook until the company makes clear its commitment to pluralism and tolerance by reinstating their advertising on “All American Muslim.”

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The complicated situation with Occupy Wall Street and Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church

December 13, 2011, 10:16 am | By Kristin Ford

Since the eviction of the Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park in New York City, Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church has been under pressure from people of faith to open their doors and provide sanctuary to the displaced protesters.  With the situation increasingly tense, a retired Episcopal bishop was recruited to engage in what he terms “shuttle diplomacy” between the Occupy movement (and supportive churches) and the staff of Trinity Wall Street.

This weekend, that bishop, Bishop George Packard, posted this to Trinity Wall Street’s Facebook page:

I have this great worry that this venerable parish will be on the wrong side of history in a few weeks. Surely there’s some consummate wisdom in the leadership that can offer Occupiers a chance to express their prophetic destiny in these days. It’s a matter of record that the church is good with the provision of service and succor for the neighborhood; they are unable, it seems, to understand their dynamic needs. Plainly said, this means looking afresh at lease arrangements for a season regarding the Duarte property. Think of it as offering hospitality to travelers from our future who bring the message of “no injustice, no more.” If we really saw OWS for who they are rather than putting up roadblocks in their path we’d truly delight in their coming!

Bishop Packard alleges that the staff at Trinity Wall Street subsequently deleted the comment, prompting his blog post wondering about the church’s involvement and noting that Occupy Wall Street has a “deep bench and a very long attention span.”

The situation appears to have taken a slight turn for the better, with news that protesters worshiped and took communion at Trinity Wall Street on Sunday.

I hope that the Trinity clergy, while serving the Eucharist and worshiping alongside those fighting for economic justice through the Occupy movement, listened and reconsidered their decision to put roadblocks up instead of providing the public gathering space the movement needs.  We’ll keep watching as things unfold.

Photo via Flickr, sfcityscape

UPDATE: Per the comments, a staffer at Trinity disputes Bishop Packard’s assertion that his comment was deleted from the Trinity Facebook page. We’ve updated the post language to reflect that as well.

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Poll of the Week: Addressing Climate Change as a Spiritual Obligation

December 9, 2011, 6:38 pm | By Kristin Ford

Despite constant political attacks designed to dismantle regulations and environmental protections, an exciting new report from the University of Maryland Center demonstrates there is tremendous room for dialogue with members of the religious community on issues of environmental justice. As the report cites, environmental concerns often disproportionately impact the poor and increase the challenges of poverty, issues central to the mission of a broad range of faith groups.

A majority of believers, including majorities of Catholics and Evangelicals, see addressing global poverty as a spiritual obligation and see addressing the risks posed by nuclear weapons and global warming as moral imperatives, even if they do not initially associate these imperatives with spiritual obligations. The study finds little variation between Evangelicals and Catholics on these points. It also finds that a majority of all believers think that the United States should work cooperatively with other nations to reduce poverty, the risks of nuclear war, and the impact of environmental degradation, including the effects of climate change

An increased level of dialogue is needed within congregations to exhibit the high cost facing both the environment and people in poverty if measures are not taken against further environmental destruction. These polling results should embolden religious leaders and congregations to aggressively find new, creative forms of environmental advocacy and work as a unified community of faith for the protection of the earth’s resources.

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Researching the Rise of Religious Advocacy

December 7, 2011, 11:34 am | By Kristin Ford
PICO facebook.JPG

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently released a study outlining the influence of a host of religious groups engaged in political advocacy, including our organization and a number of our allies. The study, which has received widespread media attention, demonstrated the breadth and diversity of religious groups’ advocacy on policy issues.

But the report faced some criticism, mostly in terms of how it classified “advocacy” and the accompanying budget figures.

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops posted a piece on Huffington Post , taking issue with the Pew Forum’s definition of “advocacy” as anything policy-related, though some of the USCCB’s complaint seems to lie with negative associations around the word “lobbying” rather than a quibble over the substance of their work:

Pew lists the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) as spending more than $26 million on advocacy. It acknowledges that it is speaking about advocacy in broad terms, and not what people generally think of when they think of lobbyists. Whatever Pew meant, its title speaks of “lobbying” for the faithful that may conjure up money changing hands. It makes one think of pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL pouring dollars into politicians’ coffers. OpenSecrets.org, for example, says that Planned Parenthood and NARAL stand among “the most generous contributors to federal candidates, parties and committees.”

Technically I don’t think the word “lobbying” does or ought to invoke pro-choice activist organizations or money changing hands, but I do take Sr. Walsh’s larger point about the way the Pew Forum assigned the figures. Sr. Walsh writes:

The entire cost of salary and benefits for the entire USCCB staff in Washington, Miami, New York and Rome is $29 million, somewhat more than the $26 million Pew claims USCCB pours into lobbying/advocacy. If Pew were right there’d be no funds for USCCB’s central efforts in evangelization, liturgy, helping the poor, educating Catholics, doctrine and canon law.

The author of the study, University of Oklahoma professor Allen D. Hertzke responded, also in the Huffington Post, saying, in part:

Those who read the report will quickly see that in no sense is it an attack on the USCCB or any other religious group. It makes clear that the groups advocate on a broad range of issues that are part of their core missions, which is why we include the groups’ mission statements and analyze their various advocacy methods, which include a great deal more than lobbying members of Congress.

The good news is that the back-and-forth seems to have prompted better communication and transparency between the USCCB and the Pew Forum; according to Scott Aleesi at U.S. Catholic, it looks like the USCCB will provide a more thorough spending breakdown and that the Pew Forum may revise the figures they included in the study.

As long as the Pew Forum is re-evaluating their assessment of the USCCB, it looks like there may be reason to revisit the numbers of another group in the report as well. When the Religion News Service story first came out, PICO National Network also posted the story on their Facebook page, with this comment:

This story has some mistakes, including adding a couple zeros to our DC Advocacy budget (a $100 million seems a little high, and I’d call us populist) but we appreciate the recognition of PICO’s growing influence!

From PICO’s Facebook comment, it’s not clear if the numbers reported for their organization were factually incorrect or just the result on unclear or problematic classification of what constitutes “advocacy,” but hopefully PICO can engage in the same dialogue as the USCCB and get a clarification or correction from the Pew Forum.

While the study is not without some flaws, it’s good to see the impact of faith groups on political and policy outcomes chronicled in major newspapers and religious leaders and organizations painted as players who matter in Washington.

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The Religious Right’s Outsized Influence in Iowa and the 2012 Election

November 23, 2011, 11:19 am | By Kristin Ford

Thanksgiving Family Forum- Citizen Link.jpgThis past Saturday, a number of the GOP presidential candidates traveled to Iowa for a “family forum,” a roundtable discussion moderated by GOP pollster Frank Luntz and sponsored by The Family Leader, an Iowa-based conservative Christian organization. The Family Leader, which has courted controversy in the past for its extreme statements on slavery, has since announced they’ve narrowed down their slate of potential endorsees to Perry, Santorum, Bachmann, and Gingrich. (Romney, notably absent from Saturday’s event, is not under consideration for The Family Leader’s endorsement.)

The event was yet another example of Republican candidates bending over backwards to appeal to the sizable constituency of conservative evangelical voters in Iowa. In addition to state-level groups, national Religious Right organizations have sponsored a number of events, like bus tours in Iowa, hoping to leverage the candidates’ attention to conservative religious voters in that state for more national influence and clout.

Faith in Public Life and Faithful America have worked to amplify the voices of progressive people of faith in Iowa, challenging the incorrect conventional wisdom that the only religious voters in the state are conservative.

And mainstream media coverage has also helped uncover the fact that groups like The Family Leader and the Family Research Council don’t always attract crowds or represent the faith community at large. The Des Moines Register covered a recent Values Voter bus tour event with prominent conservative Congressman Steve King (R-IA), mentioning in the lede paragraph that only 15 people were in attendance. And when the first Values Voter bus tour kicked off this summer, both Faithful America’s counter-rally and the media outnumbered actual participants.

It’s a well-worn story: religious conservatives hold the key to GOP candidate’s victory, so GOP candidates court these voters by sharing compelling conversion testimonies, using the right buzzwords on issues like abortion and gay marriage, and kissing the ring of various Religious Right power brokers like Tony Perkins, Ralph Reed, and Bob Vander Plaats.

This story gets trotted out each election cycle with good reason– this is a trend that continues to hold, and the Religious Right has gotten even savvier about integrating themselves into the mainstream of the Republican party and exerting influence. While Religious Right organizations still pay homage to their tried-and-true culture war issues, increasingly they share the stage with anti-tax organizations to tout GOP talking points with no explicit (or even implicit) grounding in religious values. They’re adapting to the current political environment and shoring up their centrality to the GOP coalition. The sway they continue to hold over the presidential race in Iowa, despite their disconnect from mainstream people of faith, is a clear example of this.

Photo of November 19 Thanksgiving Family Forum, via The Family Leader.

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