Southern Religion

Does gay marriage raise divorce or species-extinction rates?

A tentative “no” to the first, says Nate Silver, after an analysis using CDC data.


Overall, the states which had enacted a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage as of 1/1/08 saw their divorce rates rise by 0.9 percent over the five-year interval. States which had not adopted a constitutional ban, on the other hand, experienced an 8.0 percent decline, on average, in their divorce rates. Eleven of the 24 states (46 percent) to have altered their constitutions by 1/1/08 to ban gay marriage experienced an overall decline in their divorce rates, but 13 of the 19 which hadn’t did (68 percent).

There is a lot more, none of which implies that states which permit gay marriage pay a consequent divorce-rate penalty. There is in Silver’s analysis no empirically demonstrated need for Christian groups to rally to support “traditional marriage.”

Regarding gay marriage and environmental issues, Eduardo Peñalver reports that the pope, as a part of his disappointment over failure to reach a climate change agreement in Copenhagen, said:

Creatures differ from one another and can be protected, or endangered, in different ways, as we know from daily experience. One such attack comes from laws or proposals which, in the name of fighting discrimination, strike at the biological basis of the difference between the sexes.

Peñalver sees in this an attempt to link environmental damage and gay marriage. He reasons his way through the associated papal moral logic, concluding:

There seems to me to be a consistent failure here to acknowledge the existence of a point of view that largely accepts the Pope’s suspicion of liberal rights and autonomy talk, but that nonetheless supports gay marriage (and contraception) on grounds rooted in the same traditional beliefs in duty, the family and public morality on which the Pope relies. I don’t support gay marriage because of a radical conception of individual autonomy, but because I don’t think homosexuality is immoral. And, because I don’t think it is immoral, I think the law should encourage and assist gay couples, as it does for heterosexual couples, to root their sexual lives in the stability of legally sanctioned marriage.

Very different paths through altogether different thickets to very similar conclusions.

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Health, Law | , , | Comments Off on Does gay marriage raise divorce or species-extinction rates?

Current law on freedom of religion [Updated]

From Wake Forest University Center for Religion and Public Affairs: Download the landmark Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law [.pdf]

Drafting the document included those associated with faith-based groups as diverse as the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, the Islamic Networks Group, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Queens Federation of Churches, the American Jewish Committee, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Thus the panel included representatives from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh faith traditions.

The document begins:

The place of religion in American public life is a subject of widespread interest and intense debate.

Part of that debate concerns the law that applies to these issues.

The drafters of this document often disagree about how the law should address issues regarding the intersection of religion and government. For example, some of us are actively urging the Supreme Court of the United States to reverse certain decisions in this area, while others of us are vigorously opposing such efforts.

Nevertheless, we have come together to provide a summary of how the law currently answers some basic questions regarding religious expression and practice in public life. However much we differ about what the law should be, we agree in many cases on what the law is today.

Download the 34-page document here [.pdf].

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Law | | Comments Off on Current law on freedom of religion [Updated]

God by any other name

A judge’s ruling in Malaysia that Christians there can use “Allah” to refer to God set off violence against churches with several being fire-bombed or vandalized.

Christian leaders in Malaysia are calling for calm and unity, but some Christian groups there say they will continue to use Allah for God.

Coverage of the attacks focused on Muslim anger over the decision, but some Christians also oppose using Allah to refer to God.

The court decision in Malaysia was the result of a lawsuit filed two years ago by The Herald, a Catholic newspaper. The suit asked the court to set aside a government regulation that only Muslims could refer to the deity as Allah. Enforcement of the ruling is delayed while the Malaysian government appeals.

The Herald’s editor told the London Times that his paper’s references to Allah are not an effort to convert Muslims to Christianity. Other uses of the term, however, clearly aim to evangelize Muslims. One such effort, based on the book “The Camel — How Muslims are Coming to Faith in Christ,” is promoted by the Southern Baptist Convention‘s International Mission Board.

Wade Burleson, a former trustee of the IMB, wrote about discussion of the method while he was on the board in July 2007. He said the book teaches a “unique method of sharing the gospel to Muslims” using parts of the Quran to convince them that the “true” Allah can only be known through his son, Jesus Christ.

Kevin Greeson, the author of The Camel, told the Texas Baptist Standard that the name of the book comes from an Arabic says that every good Muslim knows 99 names for Allah, but only the camel knows the 100th name.

“We tell them we know the 100th name. It’s Jesus,” Greeson said.

Burleson said that during the 2007 IMB meeting Gordon Fort, vice-president of overseas operations for the IMB, talked about why it was essential that the name “Allah” be used for “God” when speaking to Arabic speaking people in their native tongue. Gordon said there is no Arabic equivalent to convey the idea of a Supreme Being other than “Allah” and when missionaries use the word “Allah” for God, they tell the listeners that the only way to know the one true “Allah” is to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

Winston Curtis, another trustee, followed Fort’s remarks by saying that only “Bible” names like Yahweh, Elohim, and El-Shaddai should be used by Christians when referring to God.

Burleson said Curtis used the word “God” 35 times during his remarks, in effect using the English word “God” the way Arabs would use the Arabic word “Allah.” Burleson further pointed out that missionaries who use the word “Allah” for God “are only doing what the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill — starting at the very place the people who need Christ are — and taking them to where they need to go — to repentance from their sin and faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.”

But Bart Barber, a Southern Baptist pastor and blogger, said Paul’s evangelistic efforts at Mars Hill included confrontation.

“Greeson’s book very delicately avoids confrontation with Islam,” Barber said. “Indeed, the fundamental distinctive of The Camel seems to be its way of trying to present Christianity without confronting Islam.”

Others in the SBC have debated the wisdom of using “Allah” to refer to God.

Fred Smith, a professor at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote an article for the blog SBCToday taking issue with a post on the blog SBCImpact written by an anonymous writer identified as “From the Middle East.” The writer’s use of Allah for God was among Smith’s issues.

Smith said that Allah in the Quran is remote from creation, promotes salvation by works, and “begets not, nor is he begotten.”

“This is a completely different person from the God of the Bible who is deeply involved with His people, who calls us to repentance and faith, and who ‘sent His only begotten Son’ that we might be saved. These two beings are not the same god and cannot be!”

In a separate post, the anonymous blogger defends his use of the term, saying that the word was used by Christians before Islam existed and pointing out that Arabic translations of the Bible refer to God as Allah.

Emir Caner, a former Muslim who was then dean of the College at Southwestern in Texas but is now president of Truett-McConnell College in Georgia, wrote a column for Baptist Press in 2007 saying “the god of Muhammad is not the Father of Jesus.”

“The subject in its essence is not a linguistic issue, but a theological matter with eternal ramifications. To say that since Allah is Arabic for God and YHWH is Hebrew for God, Christians and Muslims worship the same God is beyond naive –- it is blasphemous.”

Former SBC president Jerry Vines got national attention in 2002 when he called Mohammed “a demon-possessed pedophile” at an SBC Pastors’ Conference.

“Allah is not Jehovah, either. Jehovah is not going to turn anyone into a terrorist that will try to bomb people and take the lives of thousands and thousands of people.”

But one can refer to God as Allah without equating the Muslim deity with the Christian supreme being. The larger issue is whether missionaries and Christians in general are being completely honest when they use the term in their discussions with Muslims.

If you have to ask if the end justifies the means, the answer is almost always no.

Christians are used to asking “What would Jesus do?” Ruth Gledhill, the religion correspondent for the London Times, asks her readers a similar question in a column about the upheaval in Malaysia.

“What would Allah say?”

Unfortunately many Christians will be too offended by the question to even consider it.

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Religion | , , | 1 Comment

Prominent Legionary Priest bids farewell to Regnum Christi [Addenda]

Regnum Christi

Father Richard Gill, who with other highly respected members of the Legionaires of Christ (LC) called in February for an authoritative intervention by the Holy See, has announced he is “leaving” his post as head of Regnum Christi (RC) in New York to become a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

He writes that after 29 years with LC and “having “participated extensively” in the Apostolic Visitation:

I’m leaving more because the manner in which the Legion has handled the revelations since the Vatican took action against Fr. Maciel in 2006 has left me often frustrated and totally distracted. I’ve tried my best to communicate with the superiors over this past year, and they have been gracious and generous taking the time to listen. I believe I have had the opportunity to get my point of view across to them …

My conclusion is that the reforms needed in the Legion (which the scandals have made clear) simply won’t happen in the foreseeable future with the current leadership’s approach to the matter.

His loss of confidence is a marked change from February, Thomas Peters notes, when as Director of RC in New York he wrote:

I am confident that our superiors are working closely with the appropriate dicasteries of the Holy See to chart the best course forward for the Legion of Christ so it can be of better service to the Church and the Holy Father.

In that letter Gill also wrote, to his credit:

I am deeply sorry to the people who have suffered from these inexcusable and reprehensible actions of Fr. [Marcial] Maciel. No person should have to suffer abuse at the hands of a priest in whom they have put their trust. And his actions have damaged the holiness of the Church and contributed to the alienation many people feel due to similar scandals in the Church.

Gill’s exit was preceded by that of Fr. Thomas Berg, who in February in a letter to RC apologized to Maciel’s “alleged victims” and to all of the members of RC. He resigned in May, saying, “In my opinion, the serious issues within the congregation will require its thorough reformation if not a complete re-foundation.”

The final report of the Apostolic Visitation is due in March, and the roll kept by Exiting Legionaries of those who have left LC/RC, grows. Possibly more quickly as the prominent leave to pursue their priestly vocations elsewhere. And the possibility of meaningful action seems to grow ever more dim.

[H/T: How to get a loved one out of the Legion of Christ & Regnum Christi]


Patrick Madrid explains today that resignations like Gill’s have in the past been carefully hushed up:

Historically, the Legion has been very intent on preventing the news of defections from the order by its priests and seminarians from becoming known among the rank and file membership of the Legion and its lay affiliate, Regnum Christ. The euphemism that “Father So and So has been reassigned to a different front” has long been a standard opaque response given when someone inquires as to why a certain LC priest is suddenly no longer around.

But with Father Gill’s open letter explaining the reasons for his leaving to seek incardination as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, there can be no doubt as to why he left and where he went. I suspect that more than a few of his LC confreres will follow his lead and that of other Legionaries who exited before him because the scandals and the mishandling of the scandals which have engulfed the order over the past year.

In a post written before Gill’s resignation, Gary Stern argued in effect that the strategy of ignoring and hushing up the issue as much as possible was succeeding:

Even Marj Silk doesn’t mention the surest proof that the [Catholic child sex abuse] scandal has faded from public consciousness: the lack of media coverage given the demise of the Legionaries of Christ.

In a small nutshell: Pope John Paul II was enamored with the Legionaries, a fast-growing, very traditional Catholic order of priests that was founded in 1941 in Mexico by Marcial Maciel. The pope ignored allegations by about a dozen former seminarians that Maciel had sexually abused them.

In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI publicaly retired Maciel from ministry, without saying why. But it was obvious.

This past February, the Legion itself disclosed that Maciel had fathered children and lived a “double life.” The Vatican is now investigating the order.

The whole story is set out in journalist Jason Berry’s video “Vows of Silence.”

One can argue that the tale of Maciel and the Legionaries is a microcosm of the larger sex-abuse scandal. Allegations of abuse were made and the church—in this case, the POPE—either looked the other way or ignored the evidence. What did he know? When did he know it?

. . .

The religion story of the decade still inspires curiosity, but no more.

Almost. Except that the inexorable drumbeat of events keeps driving the overarching story back to the surface.

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Catholic, Religion | , , , | Comments Off on Prominent Legionary Priest bids farewell to Regnum Christi [Addenda]

Today’s graph: Obama’s presidential success, measured

Obama has the highest presidential success rate of any president since Congressional Quarterly began scoring presidential success rates in Congress.

January 12, 2010 Posted by | Politics | , , , | Comments Off on Today’s graph: Obama’s presidential success, measured