August 17, 2011 - 2:13 pm

Child preacher Kanon Tipton has been receiving a lot of attention for his spirited sermons at his father’s Pentecostal church in Mississippi.  His parents claim “the hand of God is on him in a special way,” but I am skeptical as to just how divinely-inspired this 4-year-old is.

I had a lemonade stand as a 4-year-old.  I kept a tally of all the money I brought in, counted up the change, and said things like, “Thank you for your business.”  But, alas, the National Geographic Channel never featured me and my precocious entrepreneurship on a special, and the Today Show never sat me on their couch to ask about my inspiration.  Everyone understood I was imitating a business.  Though it was very real to me, I was a child enacting a routine I had seen adults perform thousands of times.

Instead of saying, “Thank you for your business,” little Kanon is shouting, "The Lord is here tonight and his name is Jesus!" Instead of counting change and smiling, Kanon is jumping up and down and dabbing sweat off his brow with a handkerchief.  Both of us were acting like the adults we saw and studied in our daily lives.

It would be surprising if Kanon, growing up with a father and grandfather who are preachers,  wasn’t familiar with the cadence of a sermon, the gestures of a minister, and the common phrases used to engage a congregation.  Still, people are apt to believe Kanon is more than a bright, confident kid.

A congregant who has seen Kanon preach says,

I see nothing but Jesus in a little boy that would make anybody happy. I can't compose myself when he (sic) up there.

Comments found at the bottom of articles featuring Kanon have a different take on the matter.  Words like “indoctrinated,” “brainwashed,” and “exploitation,” are tossed around. 

While I’d hope that his parents are giving him the care a 4-year-old deserves, that is hard to believe considering all the attention he has been getting.  His father says,

I think everybody has their own opinion.  The Bible does say, ‘Train up a child the way it should go, and when they get old they will not depart from it.’ All that we have done is involved him in church and he himself has taken upon this passion, and so we’re not pushing him. (We) don’t have an agenda. We don’t travel with him.

This nice sentiment would have us believe the parents are careful to not exploit their child’s preaching prowess.  However, claiming, “We don’t travel with him,” seems disingenuous when saying it on the Today Show in New York, more than 1,000 miles away from Mississippi.

As we have seen in the past, the reality of child preachers can be quite different than it appears.  The Oscar-winning film Marjoe tells the story of an acclaimed child evangelist who was abused, verbally and physically, and relentlessly coached by his parents.  After leaving the ministry in his teens, he returned to the evangelical speaking circuit to document the tricks of a preacher and expose the behind-the-scenes corruption.

When Marjoe was a child preacher, admirers never thought that his parents were exploiting him for their own gain.  The claim that God was the only motivation for Marjoe’s sermons was simply not true.  The reason Marjoe and his parents were able to deceive the masses is because there is a market for miracles.  If people understood that these are merely talented children, the “demand” for them and the subsequent “supply” of them will go away.

Watching the rehearsed moves of Kanon it hard not to see their eerie likeness to Marjoe’s.  Perhaps this proves that a child preacher is not so miraculous after all.

July 20, 2011 - 4:51 pm

Republic Presidential hopeful Herman Cain thinks he supports the separation of church and state, but in reality he has no idea what that phrase means.

Here’s what he said on Fox News this weekend, while speaking in support of communities having the right to ban mosques:

Our Constitution guarantees separation of church and state. Islam combines church and state.

When asked if a community should be allowed to ban a mosque, Cain responded,

Yes. They have a right to do that. That’s not discriminating based upon religion.

For logical people, it may be hard to understand how someone could promote mosque-banning and the separation of church and state at the same time, but perhaps I can add some insight.  According to Cain, Islam combines a set of laws (Sharia law) with religious beliefs.  Combining a set of laws and religious beliefs is mixing church and state, which U.S. law keeps separate.  Therefore, a community can ban that which combines church and state (e.g. a mosque).  Never mind that the phrase is actually designed to prohibit government from endorsing a particular belief system or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

What makes this flat-out religious discrimination, despite a claim to the contrary, is that Cain refuses to apply his logic to any other religion besides Islam.  During his interview, Cain supported his claims by arguing,

They’re objecting to the fact Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, Sharia law. That’s the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes.

Apparently the Ten Commandments, a codified list of moral imperatives found in the Judeo-Christian Bible, do not meet the threshold for “a set of laws” in Cain’s eyes since he is not allowing communities to ban churches as well.  If Cain truly supported his version of separation of church and state, every chapel and synagogue would be unconstitutional.  Earlier this year, he explained why the Bible’s set of laws is superior and allowed to mingle with state and federal law.

I support American law. Our laws were derived from principles that are biblically based. Maybe not said in the same words that are in the Bible, but our laws are derived from principles based upon the Bible.

Attempting to reconcile the varied and contradictory statements made by Herman Cain is futile.  He makes these statements because he is a zealot pandering to people that have been convinced their way of life is being attacked by anyone different from them. 

Herman Cain’s full remarks on mosque-banning can be viewed below.

 

June 23, 2011 - 2:01 pm

At least 44 percent of Americans believe there is evidence that we are in the “end times,” according to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in March.  While people are free to believe what they want, other people are also allowed to be wary of those beliefs

and the effects they can have on the rest of us who don’t expect Jesus to descend from heaven on a white horse. When evangelical Family Radio minister Harold Camping’s failed Judgment Day prediction earlier this year was mocked as an irrational falsehood, it wasn’t simply because the idea of the Rapture was absurd: it was mocked because Camping had the audacity to name a specific date.  It is similar to calling a person who sees a unicorn foolish, because we all know unicorns are invisible. Both ideas are ridiculous.

Judging someone based on their religious affiliation is inappropriate, but when someone is running for elected office, any actual beliefs that may have a bearing on their actions as government leaders are fair game. That’s because these beliefs may lead to actions that affect all Americans.   Religious beliefs may have an effect on policy and so we, the voters, should be aware of the candidates’ beliefs and what choices they may make because of those beliefs.  For example, being a Catholic does not make a candidate more or less qualified to be an elected official. However, the impact that a candidate’s Catholic faith could have on their views regarding issues such as private school vouchers, abortion, contraception, gay rights, and restricted access to health care should be fundamental concerns to voters.

Mayor Linda Thompson of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, for example, has decided to let her religious beliefs affect her actions as a secular leader.  The city is on course to end the year with a $3.5 million budget deficit (which will increase to $10.4 million by 2015) in their $58 million budget mainly largely because of an unsuccessful incinerator project in 2003 that went millions over budget and is still costing the city $18 million a year.  So what’s the mayor’s plan to reduce the deficit and get the city back on track? She’s going to spend three days participating in a fasting and praying campaign.

Things are above and beyond my control, I need God.  I depend on Him for guidance. Spiritual guidance. That’s why it’s really no struggle for me to join this fast and prayer.

If only they had planned the prayer campaign in 2003, they could have asked for God’s guidance on whether or not to invest in the incinerator project, and “He” could have let them know how catastrophic it would be!

By turning to God because “things are above and beyond [her] control,” Mayor Thompson is escaping any accountability (at least to herself) because, after all, she no longer has control over budget problems – God does.  Voters should be wary of people who replace pragmatism with prayer.  It is a problem for constituents when an official stops the difficult search for real-world solutions to claim lack of control over anything that happens.  A 3-day financial summit involving economists and financial advisors collaborating on possible solutions, for example, would have more promise than a 3-day prayer and fasting campaign, which will, in reality, accomplish nothing.

At a 2006 fundraiser for a controversial Christian punk band that proselytizes in public schools (which is a whole different can of worms), now-presidential candidate Michele Bachmann offered a prayer.

Lord, the day is at hand! We are in the last days! The day is at hand, Lord, when your return will become nigh. Pour a double blessing, Lord, a triple blessing on this ministry.

A belief that we are in “end times” can have a huge impact on policy. What type of prudence would a person have if she thought she was going to die tomorrow?  What type of prudence would a policy maker have if he thought the world would be ending inside of 20 years?  Issues such as pollution, global warming, and energy sustainability need to be addressed by someone who believes the world and humanity have a future and who wants to fight for it.

Political leaders are supposed to help set a path for our society.  I for one want that path to lead to a healthier and happier planet, not the total destruction of the earth.  For those of us who do not want or believe in “end times,” we need to find someone who can lead us into a future that we want – not throw their hands up and hope that God will sort it out.

June 14, 2011 - 4:29 pm

Roughly halfway through last night’s Republican debate on CNN, candidates quit talking about the economy and how awful Obama is to talk about faith.  Here are some excerpts that I found particularly interesting followed by some commentary about what I think makes them noteworthy.

Question:

Just what role does faith play in your political life?

Answer:

I think the key to the success of this country, how we all live together, because we are a very diverse country -- Madison called it the perfect remedy -- which was to allow everybody, people of faith and no faith, to come in and make their claims in the public square, to be heard, have those arguments, and not to say because you're not a person of faith, you need to stay out, because you have strong faith convictions, your opinion is invalid.

     -Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum

Nonbelievers got a shout out! Even if it was from Rick Santorum, who decries the "secularization" of our society and denies that the Crusades were Christian aggression towards non-Christians; it was still an acknowledgment of our group. Nonbelievers, or “people of no faith,” are increasingly becoming more visible, and that is the way it should be.  Roughly 15 percent of Americans claim no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic.  That’s 46 million people. We deserve more recognition on the national stage.

Question:

I'm just wondering what your definition of the separation of church and state is and how it will affect your decision-making.

Answer:

Well, the protections between the separation of church and state were designed to protect people of faith from government, not government from people of faith.   

     -Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty

Exactly – except that it was meant to protect people of faith and no faith from government.  So why is it OK, in Pawlenty’s eyes, for the government to establish Days of Prayer or give tax money to groups that proselytize? Where are nonbelievers’ protections from government actions promoting religion? Perhaps Pawlenty does explicitly want to protect the people of faith from a secular government and not the government from being used as a proselytizing tool for people of faith. In 2003, Pawlenty praised faith-based initiatives for being able to “change peoples’ hearts.” I was unaware the government should be investing tax money in the heart-changing business.

When asked about abortion rights, Congresswoman Michele Bachman began to speak on the “right to life.”

And I think the most eloquent words ever written were those in our Declaration of Independence that said it's a creator who endowed us with inalienable rights given to us from God, not from government. And the beauty of that is that government cannot take those rights away. Only God can give, and only God can take.

     -Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann

While the Declaration of Independence does reference “their Creator,” does that necessarily mean God? The “Creator” referenced may have been a rhetorical flourish of Thomas Jefferson’s that was not meant to be a factual chronology of our inalienable rights and how we received them.  God never sent me a notice in the mail, giving me my rights, nor have I ever heard of God taking someone’s rights away. I thought I had these rights by virtue of being a human being, the same way I walk on two legs, breath air, and have a large brain because I am a human being. Setting this point aside, Bachmann still does not stand by her assertion that government cannot take away these rights of questionable origin.  In 2003, she introduced a constitutional amendment to the Minnesota constitution that would define marriage as between one man and one woman.  Maybe Bachmann believes God didn’t give gays and lesbians the right to pursue their happiness.


Watch the candidates' full comments on faith and church/state separation here.

 

June 9, 2011 - 9:06 am

Even though the U.S. Constitution explicitly forbids the requirement of any “religious test” for public office, it seems that many politicians today are asking, some demanding, the public to judge their religiosity. 

This “no religious test” clause was meant to protect people being unfairly barred from holding office if they were a religious minority, as Jews and Catholics were in early America.

If this law was to protect politicians, why would they want us to break it?  Because they understand that they need to be tested on something, and if you want to pass a test, the religious test is pretty easy.  It requires little depth to quote the Bible or say “Amen” at the end of sentences.  When politicians get quizzed on fiscal policy, foreign affairs, or perhaps even Paul Revere’s midnight ride, they are much more likely to get a failing grade.  These are difficult subjects and there are varied opinions on them (with the exception of Paul Revere’s midnight ride).  Since the U.S. population is majority Christian, many politicians have realized that Jesus is something on which a large number of people agree.  Therefore, many would rather have their constituents know about their life changing, religious revelation than their plan to raise taxes or cut popular programs.

When we look at Texas Governor Rick Perry, he claims,

Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters.

This is true, and we look to our leaders to solve these problems. Perry counters this obvious assumption with,

As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus,

and,

Some problems are beyond our power to solve.

His religious grandstanding attempts to get him off the hook for this multitude of problems without him actually having to do anything at all. 

Rep. Michele Bachman (R-Minn), who has announced she is running for president in 2012, said in Iowa,

[T]hrough prayer I knew that I was to introduce the marriage amendment in Minnesota,

and that she has a “calling” to run for president.  The implicit points of these types of statements are God is on my side, so you should be, too and God wants me to run!  These expressions almost cross into antinomianism if she truly believes them, a dangerous line that should not be crossed, especially by people with such great power. 

We should be wary of this antinomianism and god-soaked rhetoric as we have already seen a terrifying consequence of it this past decade in former president George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.  In June 2003, he claimed he was on a mission from God.  No secular leader should be on a mission from any god, and Bush’s claim in no way justifies his policy. 

Voters should test their leaders on policies and demand substantive answers instead of allowing candidates to pander to the lowest common denominator.  Understand that we are electing secular officials, not a reverend for their church. As Republican Mitt Romney stated earlier this week,

I'm not here in a religious context, I'm here as a candidate for president, and as a candidate for president or as a president I have to represent the interests of all the people.

Religious beliefs are not to be equated with policy beliefs because it is a public official’s legislation that can be turned into law and not their personal religious beliefs.  Governing is difficult and requires higher marks than those that one scores when simply mentioning The Almighty or talking about their personal salvation.

We let candidates get away with the pandering, because, let’s face it, we aren’t policy experts either.  It is easier to vote for a person instead of vote for policy.  Let’s not take the easy way out, however.  Demand depth from candidates, and then use it.

June 1, 2011 - 9:37 am

A recent article in Salon tells the story of a mother of two who came dangerously close to death while the doctor who was supposed to be treating her simply refused to do so. Had it not been for a brave nurse who called another doctor in to perform an emergency surgery, she would not have survived. Mikka Kendall was denied life-saving medical treatment, and it was perfectly legal for her doctor to do so.

“Everyone knew the pregnancy wasn't viable, that it couldn't be viable given the amount of blood I was losing, but it still took hours for anyone at the hospital to do anything. The doctor on call didn't do abortions. At all. Ever. […]

A very kind nurse risked her job to call a doctor from the Reproductive Health Clinic who was not on call, and asked her to come in to save my life. […] By the time she arrived, I was in bad shape. The blood loss had rendered me nearly incoherent, but she still moved me to a different wing and got me the painkillers no one else had during the screaming hours I'd spent in the hospital. […]

Later I found out that the doctor had taken my husband aside as they brought me into surgery. She promised him she would do her best to save me, but she warned him there was a distinct possibility that she would fail. […]

My two kids at home almost lost their mother because someone decided that my life was worth less than that of a fetus that was going to die anyway.”


Patients can no longer fully rely on their medical providers to do their jobs properly due to “conscience clauses” at the state and federal level.  “Conscience clause” is a phrase that attempts to rebrand the shirking of a professional duty as a noble cause.  These laws make it legal to deny patients a wide range of procedures, not just abortions. New legislation, such as H.R. 1179, the Respect the Rights of Conscience Act of 2011, would allow health care plan issuers to decline coverage based on religious convictions.  Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers would not be required to fully inform a patient of possible options and would be allowed to refuse to acknowledge or provide treatments due to their own religious bias. These treatments are not by any means experimental or under review.  These are procedures that are considered by most in the medical community to be routine and necessary because of their obvious benefits.

We trust doctors with our most valuable possession, our health.  Our health becomes infinitely less respected when medical providers can legally infuse their personal values and beliefs into our care. In no other profession would this be acceptable. We would ask those who refuse to do their job to find other employment; we would not pass a law to protect them. There are standards for what to expect from doctors, nurses, and pharmacists.  These standards include fully treating a patient and not demanding that a patient adhere to their own particular belief system.

Abortion is a difficult choice, but it is nonetheless a legal option for a woman and, in the case of Mikka Kendall, a life-saving option. Ultimately, any medical procedure should be based on the patient’s morals and should not be taken away by a medical provider. At what point can we draw the line of when we allow a professional to opt out of their duties if we allow them to opt out at all?  Does it make any sense to have a pharmacist who refuses to fill particular prescriptions or a doctor who refuses to perform certain procedures? A patient should not have to “shop around” for a doctor or pharmacist who will perform their professional obligations. In some rural areas or in cases of emergency, searching for a doctor or pharmacist to provide certain treatments is not possible. As patients, we expect the right to equal medical care from all physicians regardless of bias, religious or otherwise. When we allow pharmacists and physicians to decide our values for us, we lose our right to choose and protect what we value.

You can learn more about Mikka Kendall’s story here.

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