Religious Right to Newsweek: ‘Woe to [You] for Even Printing This’

Newsweek ‘Goes for Gay Marriage’

In addition to provoking religious conservatives and lighting up the right wing side of the Internet, Newsweek magazine appears to have accomplished something that few print publications have been able to in recent times; create buzz without putting a celebrity on its cover.   

The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins pointed out that Lisa Miller’s cover story in the December 15 issue reads “like a Human Rights Campaign op-ed” that “takes the Bible for a joy ride.” The Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber called it “biblical relativism on steroids.” Bob Knight, director of the Culture and Media Institute, said the magazine published a “cartoon version of Scripture that is a gay activist’s dream.” The title of Albert Mohler’s turgid response is “Turning the Bible on its Head—Newsweek Goes for Gay Marriage.”   

While the cover reads “The Religious Case for Gay Marriage,” it was Lisa Miller’s piece that set off the firestorm in conservative Christian circles. Miller, the magazine’s religion editor, contributed a long piece titled “Our Mutual Joy,” subtitled “Opponents of gay marriage often cite Scripture. But what the Bible teaches about love argues for the other side.” Her piece maintains that “traditional marriage,” as it is trumpeted by conservative Christians, did not exist in biblical times. “First, while the Bible and Jesus say many important things about love and family, neither explicitly defines marriage as between one man and one woman,” she writes. “And second, as the examples above illustrate, no sensible modern person wants marriage—theirs or anyone else’s—to look in its particulars anything like what the Bible describes.”  

Liberty Counsel’s Matt Barber told OneNewsNow, the news service of Donald Wildmon’s American Family Association, “You know, scripture says woe to those who call evil good and good evil, and I say woe to Newsweek for even printing this drivel.” Barber added: “Christ was very clear as to marriage. He said it is between a man and a woman. The Apostle Paul in the New Testament points out that homosexuality is one of the sexual sins among which, if people engage in that sin, they cannot, quote, ‘inherit the kingdom of God.’”

In the December 9 issue of Tony Perkins’ Washington Update, Perkins, the president of the Washington, D.C.-based FRC, wrote: “As with most joy rides, few beyond the driver find it entertaining. The public is endangered and the vehicle is almost always devalued in the process. This ride is no exception. Newsweek’s credibility is severely damaged by Miller’s reckless treatment of scripture.”    

“It would be one thing if people promoting the homosexual agenda just said, ‘Look, the Bible says it’s wrong. We don’t buy into the Bible’s authority, and so we don’t agree with you.’ But to try to take the Bible and make it say something it flat-out does not say is journalistic malpractice,” argued Bob Knight, a longtime anti-gay critic, and director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of L. Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center. “You’re talking about the religion editor at Newsweek magazine and a cover piece twisting scripture, using every gay talking point out there without any effective rebuttal.”  

Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary—the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention, has penned a rejoinder titled “Turning the Bible on its Head—Newsweek Goes for Gay Marriage.”

A recent Newsweek poll found that:

  • 55% feel that we should have legally sanctioned gay unions and partnerships but by the same percentage think that we should not have legally sanctioned marriages.
  • The majority of Americans still feel that gay unions should have the following: social security benefits (67%), health insurance and other employee benefits (73%), hospital visitation rights (86%), and adoption rights (53%).
  • Other than not allowing for gay marriages, an overwhelming percentage of voters believe in equal rights for gays. For example, 87% want equal rights in terms of job opportunities.

Christianity Today, which has been covering the debate over same-sex marriage for more than ten years, offers all of its editorials, op-eds, and articles on legislative and court battles.  

New Reports Take Measure of Bush’s Faith-Based Initiative

While it may not be front-page material in a time of financial crises, bailouts, extensive layoffs, and reports of a massive number of housing foreclosures, there is little doubt that President-elect Barack Obama is also thinking about how to fulfill his pledge to rethink President Bush’s faith-based initiative and create effective government/community/faith-based partnerships through his Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Earlier this month, the Washington, DC-based Brookings Institute entered the discussion with the release of a new report titled “Serving People in Need, Safeguarding Religious Freedom.”  

Co-authored by Washington Post columnist and Brookings senior fellow E.J. Dionne, and Melissa Rogers, director of the Center for Religion and Public Affairs at Wake Forest University Divinity School (formerly executive director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and general counsel of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty), the report provides an extensive set of recommendations on how governmental partnerships with religious and community organizations ought be approached.  

According to Dionne and Rogers, “the key questions facing the next administration are: How will those partnerships function and how will the president-elect push for his agenda in this area to be institutionalized?”      

“As you would expect from those two… [the report is] an extremely thoughtful and well-meaning effort, often taking excruciating pains to be even-handed and understanding of the two sides in the contentious debate over President Bush’s faith-based initiative,” Mark Silk pointed out at Trinity College’s Spiritual Politics blog. Dionne and Rogers strongly suggest that Obama veer away from the Bush approach that included the blurring of church-state boundaries, the politicization of the initiative, cronyism in awarding grants, and a lack of oversight. Instead, they encourage “more accountability, more transparency in how grants are administered, and a concerted effort to make sure that government funding goes to programs that work and are constitutionally sound.” The report “urge[s] extensive efforts to evaluate programs that receive government funding, and also favor a systematic study of the general practice of contracting out public services.”     

However, it appears that Dionne and Rogers punt on at least one vexing issue: the question of religious organizations’ hiring practices. Should a religious organization that receives government funding to provide social services be allowed to discriminate in its hiring practices? Dionne and Rogers’ answer to this vexing question is a recommendation that Obama set up a commission to study the matter. Silk isn’t as fuzzy: “The government’s purpose in funding must be secular, so anyone willing to work for that purpose should be eligible to be hired. If the religious institution feels that its religious identity will be watered down by hiring outsiders, then it is asking the government to subsidize its religious identity. And the government shouldn’t be in the business of doing that.”  

Another report of interest—“The State of the Law-2008: A Cumulative Report on Legal Developments Affecting Government Partnerships with Faith-Based Organizations”—was released by the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy, a project of the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, on December 2. Written by Ira C. Lupu and Robert W. Tuttle, co-directors of Legal Research for The Roundtable and Professors of Law at George Washington University, the report, the latest in a series since 2002, looks at the cumulative “state of the law pertaining to government partnerships with faith-based organizations.”  

Lupu and Tuttle examine key legal developments since the inception of President Bush’s faith-based initiative in January 2001 and look closely at the most significant legal developments during the past year. Interestingly enough, Lupu and Tuttle point out that “The hiring freedom of FBO’s in partnership with government remains, as it has for eight years, embroiled in political passions. This has been and will continue to be fought out in the arena of politics and policy.”  

Lupu and Tuttle note that the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the elevation of Samuel Alito to the Court “raises the possibility that the Supreme Court could adapt less restrictive rules on direct aid for religious activity.”

It’s the Christmas, er Hanukah, er Kwanza, er Festivus season… Are We Having Fun Yet?

As the 1945 ditty written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne has it: “Oh the weather outside is frightful, But the fire is so delightful, And since we’ve no place to go, Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”  

In this season of holidays, in some parts of the country actual snow—wet and white—is mounting in fields and streets. However, in some parts of the country the only snow on the landscape is a snow job of massive proportions, perpetuated by the scolds on the religious right. Welcome to the 2008 version of the “War on Christmas!”  

“As in years past, religious right groups are using the Christmas holiday to divide Americans and stir up animosity by falsely claiming that there is a ‘War on Christmas,’” read a recent press release from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. “[I]t is ironic to see these groups using a season dedicated to peace and understanding to foster conflict.” The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, suggested that “The best holiday present we could get this year would be for the religious right to stop using Christmas as a club to bash others. The religious right is making a mockery of the season with a litany of stunts cheaper than dollar-store wrapping paper.”  

One of this year’s hot battlegrounds in the so-called “War on Christmas” is Washington State, where government officials have allowed the Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist organization, to display a sign promoting non-belief near a Nativity scene in the Legislative Building in Olympia. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly has made the Washington fight his own personal Battle of Stalingrad (let’s hope that the only casualty is limited to a stolen—and later replaced—atheist sign).  

Local religious right leaders, led by longtime conservative evangelical and former National Football League player, Pastor Ken Hutcherson, have been mobilizing their troops and viciously criticizing newly re-elected governor, Christine Gregoire.  

However, as the holiday season proceeds, Americans United suggests that Americans might “keep in mind the following”:

  • “It is not the job of government to promote religion: Christmas has both secular and religious aspects. Governments at all levels are constitutionally barred from promoting religion. People who want a religious experience at Christmas time would do better to go to a house of worship, not city hall.”
  • “Private groups may be permitted to display religious symbols on government property if the property in question is a public forum but that means all groups must be given the same access: The Supreme Court has ruled that private citizens and groups can display religious symbols in areas deemed ‘public forums.’ But this right must be granted to other groups as well, religious and non-religious. The government cannot discriminate against groups just because some people might find their message offensive.”
  • “American society is diverse, and we should strive to get along. Religious pluralism has exploded in America. We have Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhist, Hindus, Wiccans, non-believers, and others among our ranks. Christmas ought to be a time for building bridges of understanding. The religious right’s divisive campaign and attempt to take rights away from certain groups is counter to American diversity and our constitutional order.”

Apparently, just plain silliness is not only a characteristic of only the most aggressive “War on Christmas” battlers. On the other side of the trenches comes the story of a Jewish mother in North Carolina who recently complained that there was way too much religion in “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer!”—a song scheduled to be performed at the annual Christmas concert at her daughter’s school. Although mom wanted a Hanukah song added to the program for “balance” (not necessarily a bad idea), grown ups on the school board ruled that “Rudolph” was really not a religious song (has someone told Gene Autry?). This opened the way for darling Rudolph to once again guide Santa’s sleigh.” (As might be expected, Fox News was on top of the story.)

RD Tidbits

Religious Groups Experience Layoffs and Cutbacks: It is inevitable that in this time of economic hard-times, the recession would hit the religious sector. In addition to the more than 200 laid off in mid-November at James Dobson’s Focus on the Family (about 15% of its staff), earlier this month David Briggs, who for the past ten years was the religion reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was among those laid off by the paper. Christianity Today’s Ted Olsen pointed out that he wasn’t sure if the Orlando Sentinel, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, San Diego Union Tribune, East Valley (Ariz.) Tribune, “and other papers ha[d] replaced the religion reporters there who have been laid off or bought out, but [he didn’t] think so.” In addition, Christian book publisher Thomas Nelson cut 10 percent of its workforce (60 of nearly 600 employees) in early December. Wendy Lee of The Tennessean reported that sales of religious books alone have declined by 8.9 percent year to date. CT also noted that Zondervan, another Christian publishing company, cut 18 positions earlier this year.  

Gay marriage in Iowa: The battle over same-sex marriage has plunked itself smack dab in the middle of the country; Iowa to be exact. Last week, “the Iowa Supreme Court hear[d] arguments in a challenge to the state’s ban on same-sex marriage,” the Associated Press reported. The Iowa case, filed on behalf of a half-dozen gay couples, “has been moving through the legal system for more than three years, and it could take a year or more for the state Supreme Court to issue a ruling after hearing oral arguments.”

“Prop. 8—The Musical”: If you aren’t among the nearly 3 million people that have already logged on to the Funny or Die website and viewed Tony award-winning songwriter Mark Shaiman’s “Prop. 8—The Musical”—the song and dance send up about the California ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage featuring John C. Reilly, Neal Patrick Harris, and Jack Black (as Jesus)—check it out below. A press release dated December 4, issued by the Culture and Media Institute, the cultural division of L. Brent Bozell’s Media Research Center, was headlined “Jack Black and Time-Warner are Anti-Christian Bigots.”  

Prop. 8 Gear & Info: If you want friends, neighbors and relatives to know exactly where you stand on same-sex marriage, do your holiday shopping at: United Against H8, which bills itself as “a collective of creative types and computer geeks who are committed to restoring gay marriage rights in California.” For up-to-date info on campaigns, activities and events, check out the No on H8 Myspace page.

Congressman Anh “Joseph” Cao: In a surprising turn of events, Anh “Joseph” Cao has become the first Vietnamese American to serve in Congress, having defeated beleaguered Congressman William Jefferson in Louisiana’s 2nd District and becoming the first Republican elected to Congress from that district since the late 19th century. According to OneNewsNow, Gene Mills, president of the Louisiana Family Forum, “says [that] Republican sources have assured him that the congressman-elect holds to a traditional conservative perspective on life, marriage, employment non-discrimination, and smaller government.”

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