Archive - Jul 25, 2007
An interesting article in The Washington Post of the same title by Michelle Boorstein ran last Saturday. It examines a new "anti-proselytizing" policy at Georgetown University and the tension between "faith-sharing and intolerance." A few excerpts:
In adopting the policy, the Jesuit school joined a growing number of colleges and universities trying to spell out what constitutes acceptable evangelism in an America that is increasingly religiously diverse and less comfortable with absolutes.
John Borelli, special assistant for interreligious initiatives in the Georgetown president's office, was the main driver behind the new policy's language, which was announced in May. The difference is clear, he said, between evangelizing and banned actions, which include "moral constraint," and depriving people "of their inherent value as persons."
"It's not about the conversation being uncomfortable, it's about tearing down another person's church in order to show how superior yours is," he said.
Stephanie Brown, 22, who graduated from Georgetown in the spring, embraces the gist of the new edict: Respect other people's religious beliefs. The Kansas City, Mo., native takes seriously the Bible's edict to personally represent Jesus, so she doesn't want to offend anyone.
But as soon as she starts talking about the policy, which forbids "any effort to influence people in ways that depersonalize," the words seem to defy obvious translation. How do you express that Jesus is the only way to salvation without sounding judgmental? How do you deal with the question of what happens to a nonbeliever in eternity?
Terrence Reynolds, a Georgetown theology professor who chaired the advisory committee overseeing the development of the covenant, said the precise line between acceptable and unacceptable practices is not clear. For example, he said, what's the difference between saying that "Christ is the only way to salvation," and saying, "I believe if you don't accept Christ as the way to salvation, you will go to hell"?
David French, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund who advised InterVarsity during this dispute, said the "haziness" around the policy could still chill evangelicals from speaking about their faith.
"People talk about all kinds of other stuff -- politics, sports, all kinds of contentious things. Then someone bring up Jesus, and suddenly . . . "
But there is a difference when it comes to matters of faith, Borelli said. "You're talking about one's convictions as one relates to God," he said. "So you're talking about something profound to our being, our position of faith, to our relations with God. That would be the qualitative difference."
In the National Review Online, French invoked Martin Luther King as he questioned Borelli's logic:
In other words, talk about God â€” since it is "profound" â€” impacts people more and should receive less protection. Yet isn't the entire concept of free speech designed to protect expression that can truly impact (and, yes, change) individuals and cultures? When Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his "Letter from Birmingham Jail," it was so powerful precisely because it related to "one's convictions as one relates to God."
I took Borelli's statement a different way. Not that religious speech deserves less protection because it is "profound," but that religious speech has more potential to inflict harm because it is more significant than other, more mundane issues that spark controversy like politics, sports, etc.
Admittedly, it's hard to precisely define religious speech that is acceptable vs. that which is harmful., but it probably isn't too hard to call it when you see it. Hopefully, these restrictions are more the Fred Phelps of the world who spew hate rather than love.
One of Jesus' primary missions was to minister to the downtrodden, the outcasts of society, the excluded...tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, sinners. Driving around town the other day I noticed some construction workers standing across the street from the construction site smoking, probably because they're not allowed to do so at the work site. Then I noticed a couple workers standing in the back door of a store across the street from the post office and they were smoking. I've often seen people "hiding" there smoking. An article in today's Free Press describes an effort to ban smoking in all Michigan work places, including bars, restaurants, and casinos. It occurred to me that smokers are modern day outcasts. Don't get me wrong. I don't smoke and never have. I don't enjoy being around people who smoke. It seems like a nasty habit to me. That's kind of the point. But this observation about smokers as outcasts prompted to wonder if there are any special ways that churches can minister to smokers. I came across a recent article from the Minnesota Christian Chronicle that examined this issue:
Bud Moore doesn't go to his St. Paul church much anymore. Moore says he never thought he'd be a "backslider," but one of his habits has gotten in the way.
"I'm a smoker, a heavy smoker," he said. "I know most of the people at my church don't care about that, but there are some that look at me like a leper."
Some churches are looking for ways to make smokers feel more welcome to their congregation, some even putting ashtrays outside the buildings while others offer counseling to help kick the habit.
A recent study from John Hopkins University in Baltimore found that religious-based smoking cessation programs, whether at schools or churches, have a much better success rate than someone quitting on their own. The study found that nearly twice as many smokers were able to quit for the long-term than those who received no support from their church or pastor.
While smoking cessation programs are cropping up in small numbers, many churches are choosing to leave the touchy topic to those in the medical field.
The Centers For Disease Control estimates that 44.5 million people smoke at least one cigarette a day.
The Barna Research Group in Ventura, Calif., breaks down the CDC's numbers in a report that estimates that 39 percent of the unchurched smoke, while 20 percent of born-again Christians smoke.
The United States isn't the only place where smoking and the church are an issue.
Grady Higgs, a U.S. missionary who ministers to South America and Russia said that while in America smoking is just seen as a bad habit, in many foreign countries, Christians view it as a disgrace to their belief system.
"If you lit up in front of a church, in some of the churches I visit you would discredit your testimony in a heartbeat," Higgs said. "But, it's not like you'll go to hell for it, but you'll just smell like you've been there and back."
We've had some millipedes invading our house lately. Speaking of pests, check out this story about what's going on in China. It's hard to imagine. From the current issue of The Week magazine:
Billions of mice are swarming across Hunan province, devouring rice paddies and clogging village paths. The mice were driven from their holes last month, when officials opened the sluice gates on Dongting Lake to relieve flooding from other waterways. The annual occurrence usually displaces thousands of mice, but this year, because of the major flooding, the swarm is many times larger. "They are like troops advancing," said farmer Zhang Luo. Villagers have killed an estimated 2 billion mice so far, beating them with shovels or using homemade poison. Tons of mouse corpses are now rotting in the fields and must be collected and buried. The poison has also killed hundreds of cats and dogs.