The New York Times reported this weekend that the Ugandan Parliament’s bill making homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment or even death has stalled:
A special committee organized by the president of Uganda has recommended that a harsh antihomosexuality bill that has drawn the ire of Western governments be withdrawn from Parliament, a senior government official said Saturday.
Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has publicly shown concern about the legislation and formed the review committee in February in response to international scrutiny. Though the panel’s ruling is not the final word, analysts saw it as a strong sign that the bill would eventually be dropped.
This is great news for the people of Uganda, and also for people worldwide who stood up to the extreme injustice the bill would have perpetrated. When the legislation was announced late last year, a broad array of American faith leaders denounced it unequivocally and mobilized to defeat it. Among the condemnations of the anti-gay bill was a statement from more than 70 ideologically, racially and theologically diverse Christian leaders, stating in part:
Our Christian faith recognizes violence, harassment and unjust treatment of any human being as a betrayal of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. As followers of the teachings of Christ, we must express profound dismay at a bill currently before the Parliament in Uganda. The “Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009″ would enforce lifetime prison sentences and in some cases the death penalty for homosexual behavior, as well as punish citizens for not reporting their gay and lesbian neighbors to the authorities.
As Americans, some may wonder why we are raising our voices to oppose a measure proposed in a nation so far away from home. We do so to bear witness to our Christian values, and to express our condemnation of an injustice in which groups and leaders within the American Christian community are being implicated. We appeal to all Christian leaders in our own country to speak out against this unjust legislation.
This effort helped not only to raise awareness of Uganda’s anti-gay bill in the faith community, but also to encourage previously reluctant leaders such as Rick Warren – who wields great influence in Uganda — to speak out against it.
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Last week, Franklin Graham was disinvited from a Pentagon prayer service for calling Islam an evil religion. Since the announcement, Graham has gone on a media blitz, playing the victim and reiterating his hateful remarks. Among numerous inflammatory and dubious claims, he had this to say to Newsweek’s Jon Meacham yesterday:
“I am who I am. I don’t believe that you can get to heaven through being a Buddhist or Hindu. I think Muhammad only leads to the grave. Now, that’s what I believe, and I don’t apologize for my faith. And if it’s divisive, I’m sorry. I think yelling “Allahu Akbar” as you’re flying jet airplanes through buildings and killing 3,000 Americans–that was evil and it was wicked. And I’ve not heard one Islamic leader around the world stand up and say that was a terrible thing.”
The only way he could not have heard any condemnation from Muslims is if he’s been covering his ears for the last nine years. For starters, there are things like this…and this…and these. You know what, Rev. Graham should probably just read the whole list.
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Yesterday, President Obama issued a presidential memorandum to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, instructing her to “ensure that patients can receive compassionate care and equal treatment during their hospital stays,” by giving patients the right to designate visitors. This directive addresses the current flaws in our hospital status quo, which can lead to gay and lesbian patients being separated from their families in the toughest of times (like Janice Langbehn, who was barred from entering the hospital room of her partner of 18 years, Lisa Pond, after Lisa suffered an aneurysm and was dying). But this memorandum isn’t just about the LGBT community; it also allows widows, widowers, nuns, priests, unmarried couples, and others to designate their loved ones as visitors, even when not legally connected.
The directive speaks poignantly of the need for compassion and companionship at life’s darkest moments:
There are few moments in our lives that call for greater compassion and companionship than when a loved one is admitted to the hospital. In these hours of need and moments of pain and anxiety, all of us would hope to have a hand to hold, a shoulder on which to lean — a loved one to be there for us, as we would be there for them.
The faith community is speaking out in support of these new guidelines and the way in which they further our society’s recognition of the humanity and dignity of every person. For a list of statements from religious groups and partners, check out the press release here. I thought this statement from Richard Cizik at the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good was particularly powerful:
“It is not only a policy that reflects the compassion of the American people, but it is an across-the-board guarantee to people of all faiths and traditions to have access to their loved ones in times of grave emergency and distress. To have access to loved ones in all conditions of life is something Evangelicals see as compassionate and just.”
Sadly, what should be cause for celebration has been marred by a few fringe organizations attacking the directive as a stepping-stone in a quest to “redefine marriage.”
Today, in a live discussion at the Washington Post, Peter Sprigg from the Family Research Council reiterated his organization’s opposition to the President’s directive, saying:
“Granting patient’s autonomy and self-determination in deciding who can visit them or make medical decisions in an emergency is a good thing, and with advance directives it does not have to be based on a family or marital relationship–or even a sexual one. Unfortunately, this issue has been inflated in support of redefining marriage.”
While we can and should have a civil and respectful conversation about same-sex marriage, it seems abundantly clear from reading the President’s memo that this conversation is entirely separate from the directive on hospital visitation. It seems cruel to deny the reality that many individuals (gay, straight, young, old, nuns, widows, mothers) have suffered through a serious medical trauma alone. This announcement is a welcome opportunity for common ground. Regardless of how we feel about gay marriage or any other issue, can’t we agree that no one should die alone? No one should be separated from a loving partner or a steadfast friend in time of deep pain and distress.
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Quick multiple choice question.
Which of these faith groups is the most politically active?
- White Mainline Protestants
- White Evangelicals
- Black Protestants
- Roman Catholics
If you answered B, you would be … wrong. At least, according to some new analysis from Mark Chaves at Duke Divinity school.
The chart below is making the rounds around the blogosphere, probably because it contradicts the conventional wisdom that when it comes to politics white, mostly conservative, Evangelicals leave all other faith groups in the dust.
While we’ve talked before about some of the reasons the media tend to be much more interested in the political activities of Evangelicals than, say, Mainline Protestants, this chart might shed some more light on the issue.
Painting with the broadest of brushes, Mainline Protestants tend to focus their activities on discussions and meetings, while Evangelicals tend to focus on more direct political organizing.
The kinds of direct activities that Mainline Protestants do participate in are likely to be either small-scale and quiet (lobbying) or so entwined in a greater effort that religious participation goes unnoticed (for example, coverage of an anti-war march will rarely mention the faith community’s presence).
As Professor Chaves says, “differences among religious groups in how they do politics seem more important than differences in how much politics they do.”
For Mainliners and others to close the media gap with Evangelicals, it might be a simple as continuing to employ new tactics in their already robust efforts.
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If the sirens and hubbub outside our office are any indication, the issue of nuclear weapons has rolled into town in a big way– today, President Obama kicked off the 47-nation nuclear summit here in Washington, DC, with heads of state from across the globe.
And this week’s buzz around nuclear weapons builds on last April’s “Palm Sunday speech” in Prague, where President Obama pledged to work towards a world without nuclear weapons, as well as last week’s signing of the START treaty between President Obama and Russian President Medvedev and the release of President Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review.
Former Secretary of State (under President Reagan) George Shultz and former Secretary of Defense (under President Clinton) William Cohen penned an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times, supporting the START treaty and advising ways for the U.S. to work with Russia to ensure we move even closer to a world without nuclear weapons.
Incidentally, George Shultz has been advocating nuclear abolition for quite some time, and last April, he teamed up with the Two Futures Project to help advance that cause. The Two Futures Project, also supported by prominent evangelical faith leaders, such as Chuck Colson, Bill Hybels, and Shane Claiborne, is gaining more and more attention as a faithful voice for the abolition of nuclear weapons. As Dan blogged about last week, they earned some ink around last week’s activity around nukes, and they can now add the dubious distinction of being attacked by the Family Research Council, which claims 2FP is neglecting the need to work for peace through strength…. wait, what? Yes, you read that right– “peace through strength.” Sure is an odd rendering of turning swords into plowshares. (On another odd note, FRC accuses the Two Futures Project of “flawed theology,” and in the very next sentence analogizes nuclear weapons as “God’s instrument to deal with wrongdoers.”)
The broad-based evangelical support for the Two Futures Project belies FRC’s claims that they’re left-wing partisans to be dismissed. In fact, many of the endorsers of 2FP are quite conservative on a host of political and social issues, and their desire to rid the world of nuclear weapons stems from theological conviction, not a partisan agenda.
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