Category Archives: Religious Discrimination

Raised Right: Spiritual Warfare Goes Political

Carman

Cover of Carman

Harris begins chapter two of Raised Right with a description of a music video made by Christian pop artist Carman.  As I read her description, I found them eerily familiar, but could not place them until she mentioned the artist’s name.  I spent my teen years listening to and idolizing[1] Carman and I’m sure I saw the video in question.

Harris uses the video to introduce the importance of “spiritual warfare” that was ingrained into her when she was a youth.  She speaks of singing a familiar Sunday school song (“I’m in the Lord’s army”) and learning the importance of fighting Satan.  She describes one event she witnessed:

While Pastor John was speaking, one of my parents’ friends, Greg, came forward and lifted his hands to ask for prayer.  Pastor John reached out his hand and shouted, “I bind you, Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ!”  The moment he said “Jesus Christ,” Greg staggered as if shot through the heart and then fell flat on his back, lying spread-eagled on the floor with a smile on his face.”

While I got involved in a Full Gospel[2] congregation while in college, I was raised in an American Baptist.  My church — and as I understand it, Baptist in general — don’t really believe that “miraculous gifts” such as speaking in tongues, prophecies, or instantaneous healing.  They also tend not to believe in or expect to encounter demons in a direct manner as might be described in This Present Darkness or as recounted by pentecostal/charismatic believers.  So while I too sang “I’m in the Lord’s army,” learned to recite all the parts of the “armor of God,” and was inundated in the same spiritual warfare terminology, I suspect that I took these things things far more metaphorically than Harris and her Sunday school classmates.

Of course, this left myself and my classmates trying to understand the metaphor.  We had an enemy we could not confront directly.  We had no demons to cast out.  So we were left wondering what “I’m in the Lord’s army” really meant beyond being a silly song.  We wondered what it really meant to put on the full armor of God.  Sure, knew we were supposed to invite friends to Sunday school and church.  We knew we were supposed to read the Bible, pray, and be good.  But for what?  Surely these things were never meant to be an ends in themselves[3].

So in many ways, I think I was more primed for the transition that Harris describes as she continues telling her story:

Though I wouldn’t have put it in these words at the time, I came to believe that our battle was not against invisible demons but against evil people who brought the fight into the real world.  They were the spiritual enemy clothed in flesh:  abortionists, feminists, secularists, humanists, the people conspiring to destroy God’s witness by corrupting America.  Finally I had an enemy I could see and point out to others, one that didn’t require a mysterious intuition or the spiritual gift of discernment to identify.

I can understand that, wholeheartedly.  While Harris had an unseen enemy, I had no enemy.  So latching onto a concrete enemy was a gift from God Himself.  Furthermore, this new, tangible enemy offered a tangible strategy for fighting back:  politics.

Suddenly, “fighting the enemy” meant speaking out against abortion, homosexuality, and premarital sex.  It meant voting for the “holy” candidates so that they could defeat the “evil” ones and stop their “evil” plans[4].  Suddenly, there was a way to become a righteous crusader with a clear path.

Ironically, while this gave me a tangible “enemy,” what it did to my perceptions of the “enemy” was almost the exact opposite.  Adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, and all those other people ceased to become people and became caricatures in my mind.  My “tangible enemy” turned into smoke and mirrors again.  I find myself wondering if Harris intended this chapter to explain the need to reconnect with “flesh and blood” people discussed in the previous one.

Related Posts

I have created a separate page to track all the blog posts I’ve made regarding this book.  If this post interests you, I would encourage you to go check out the other posts as well.

Notes

[1]  Well, insofar as a good little Baptist is allowed to idolize anyone or anything.

[2]  “Full Gospel” is the preferred term used certain charismatic/pentecostal churches.

[3]  I strongly believe that even “being good” for the sake of “being good” is meaningless and pointless.  “Being good” is about doing something for others because it has a positive impact on their lives.  It’s about building a better world.  This is not something that I feel is always properly communicated to young Christians, nor do I feel it is emphasized enough.

As a former Sunday school teacher, I’d also like to suggest that this is in part that the much of the teaching materials for chidren and teen Sunday school classes are abysmal.  They do not treat the students like intelligent people who need to learn what it truly means to live a life that expresses the fruit of the Spirit and are ready to do exactly that.  If you are a Sunday school teacher, I would encourage you to re-evaluate your curriculum and honestly ask yourself if it insults, patronizes, and holds back your students.

[4]  I’m engaging in a certain amount of hyperbole here.  However, don’t overestimate just how much.


Investigating a Disturbance at Maine Pagan Pride Day

Earlier today, I ran across the CCL of Maine’s statement that they were removed from Main Pagan Pride Day this past Sunday. The CCL’s comments included accusations of censorship:

League Executive Director Michael Heath remarked, “These same pagans who cling to the First Amendment for their freedom of religion, trample upon it by rejecting freedom of the press. Their audacity and hypocrisy is at the same time stunning and pathetic.”

Jason Pitzl-Waters addresses these claims quite well with a brief civics lesson:

The First Amendment right concerning Free Speech, and a Free Press, doesn’t mean that a (perhaps hostile) reporter can’t be ejected from private property, even if an event on private property is a “public” one. Freedom of the Press was enshrined to prevent governmental censorship or reprisal.

Being curious about the incident and concerned about the possible misrepresentation of the situation on the part of the CCL of Maine, I contacted the coordinators of MPPD. Richard Vinton was kind enough to respond to my inquiry. He assured me that despite my own doubts about that aspect of the CCL’s claims, MPPD made no attempt to restrict what photographs could be taken. Indeed, Richard included in his email the same disclaimer that the CCL displays on their site, verifying it’s legitimacy.

However, Richard went on to explain that Mr. Hein was asked to leave for taking pictures:

He [w]as asked to leave because he was causing a
disturbance. He entered a workshop that was already in session and began
taking photos of the class members and interrupting the instructor. He
misrepresented himself as a member of the press but holds no press
credentials and it became very clear the he intended to continue being a
disturbance.

Given the CCL’s documented past of encouraging harassment and resorting to misrepresentation, it is not hard to believe Richard’s indication that Mr. Hein was activel creating a disturbance. It is perfectly reasonable that the MPPD organizers and security would choose to eject someone for such inappropriate and rude actions.

Richard also speaks highly of how well the situation was actually handled:

What should be noted is the fast and professional response
by our team of Guardians. This entire incident lasted no longer then 10
minutes and very few people in attendance had any idea it took place
before the misleading story on the CCL web page.

I’m inclined to consider this excellent news indeed.

People in glass houses?

Jason Pitzl-Waters made his readers aware the Maine Christian Civics League’s attempts to shame Kennebec County Democrat Chair Rita Moran for being Pagan. Indeed they seem to be quite outraged by the idea that a Pagan hold’s such a position, and go through a great deal of effort to make it sound like a horrific thing.

Of course, from my perspective, I don’t see how anyone can find it all that horrific. Indeed, my reading of the CCL’s diatribe struck me as an attempt to make something out of nothing. They even go so far as to try to make it sound like Ms. Moran has something to hide by referring to her involvement in “underground” pagan worship circles. Indeed, one wonders at the use of the word “underground” to describe Immanent Grove, which is well advertised.

Stranger still is the fact that they report that Moran supports the “Pagan Preserves Project,” a fundraising program designed to finance a long-term goal of purchasing property in Maine for Pagan religious use. Why this is more scary than Christians raising money for a new church building escapes me.

The CCL goes on to reveal their most disturbing bit of news about Moran, and that’s “the involvement of Moran’s Apple Valley Books store in promoting her pagan-worshipping beliefs to Maine’s children.” This kicker is no doubt intended to conjure images of Moran handing out copies of Satanic literature to impressionable young minds directly. However, CCL’s own clarification ruins that image. Instead we are dealing with a bookstore that is listed on the Pagans’n’Parenting website. The CCL describes this website as “a pagan resource for parents to involve their children in pagan worship.” So instead of an unethical figure who targets children behind their parents’ backs, the CCL is criticizing a woman who simply offers resources to parents already interested in teaching their children about Paganism. I find it hard to imagine how any rational person — even one who disagrees with Pagan theology — can find that particularly alarming, let alone sinister.

Originally, I intended to limit this posting to a mockery of the CCL’s “alarming” revelation. To be honest, I still find it entirely laughable and the sign of truly paranoid people who will try to create alarm out of nothing. Unfortunately, an update to Jason’s original post includes and email from Ms. Moran that has given me pause to reconsider. It would appear that as laughable as I find the CCL’s post, it has become a source of actual concern to Ms. Moran and those who would support her. According to her, even worse and potentially more damaging rumors have begun to circulate about her as a result of this “revelation.”

What I find particular sad are the allegations that the organizers of the Maine CCL have been “investigating” some people who have left comments on their site in support of Ms. Moran in order to post additional information about them. If this is true, the only conceivable reason to do so is to encourage their supporters to harass these people in addition to Ms. Moran herself. Quite frankly, this strikes me as entirely unethical behavior, and certainly not behavior that those who are calling other people’s character into question should be doing.

But in the end, one must wonder. Do those involved with the CCL truly have so little faith in their own religion and the victories it promises that they have to resort to such tactics? Is such behavior the best that the CCL has to offer the world? If so, then the CCL and those associated with it are truly empty and devoid of any real spiritual value.

In which case, one must wonder if their criticisms of Ms. Moran is anything more than simple projection.

UPDATE: My friend Lauren left a comment on the CCL site. They decimated the original post and added the links to her MySpace and StumbleUpon pages. They also included her email address in the comment text. (She provided the email address when filling out the comment form as it is required, but did not expect it to be published.)

The full text of Lauren’s unedited comment (with the exception of the last part, which she had to retype from memory due to last minute editing) is as follows:

I’m sorry, what?

As a conservative Christian, I am offended at the picture you attempt to paint of this woman– quite the fanfare for something hardly scandalous.

It is to my knowledge that her supposed “underground” pagan worship circles are actually well advertised.

It is hardly a crime to have a book store where proceeds go to something you support; that is the beauty of our country, and it is her business what she supports, especially when it is concerning what is done on PRIVATE land.

I applaud her for offering literature to Pagan parents. But that’s not the real issue here; since when do Democrats actually allow parents to raise their own children in whichever way they would like? (I digress!!)

I understand what you are trying to do here, and I understand that you wish to allow Christians safe alternatives through education. I also understand you wish to foster Christian values in all areas of life. I understand because I am a firm believer in Christ and I wish to know what I am partaking in, where my money is going, and what I am supporting, in hopes of honouring God. However, it saddens me that this woman is shown as a monster for doing nothing illegal, and nothing but using her own earned money, private property, and supporting parents who have already chosen to raise their children in Pagan ways. These are things she is doing on her own private time.

I presume you know your organisation wields power. The potential for rumours and character destroying information being passed along is very high and that fact is frightening. Perhaps it would have been more effective to show awareness through her organisation or her bookstore rather than through her personal name, that is if I am right, and it is educating you seek to do.

[There is a passage in Galatians where Paul refers to freedom in Christ (chapter 5), which is the freedom to do what is good, what is right, and what is honourable. It is contrasted to the “old man”– a slavery to sin and to the law (chapter 3). It strikes me as fruitless to fight against slavery when one can instead fight for freedom.]

In Christ,

Lauren

As you can see, they did a significant amount of editing.

Religious Discrimination in Oregon

Earlier in the week, I came across a story about a Wiccan who is suing Starbucks for religious discrimination and wrongful termination. According to the original story, Alicia Hedum was asked to remove her “Wiccan cross.” When she refused, she was held back from being promoted or transferred. Her hours were cut, and she was eventually terminated.

I originally didn’t post about this matter due to the lack of information. The article was quite brief and details were scarce. And to be honest, I was a bit concerned about the fact that the article mentioned that Starbucks management had “scrutinized her ‘minor tardines.'” I will fully admit that I was concerned that this was a case of a rightfully terminated employee crying foul. As such, I decided to see if I could find more details about the situation before offering an opinion.

Today, my choice has paid off both for myself and Ms. Hedum. OregonLive has offered an update to this story, this time including details that has done much to alleviate my doubts about Ms. Hedum’s claims. (And on that count, I offer Ms. Hedum my sincerest apologies for ever doubting her.) In this update, the writer reveals that the lawsuit also covers the matter of an improperly handled workers compensation case:

She alleged that after she hurt her wrist at work in August 2005, the store failed to provide a workers’ compensation claim form. She alleged she was dismissed after she refused to come into work because a store manager would not assign her to light duty work as recommended by her doctor.

Failure to allow an employee to properly document an injury received at work is a serious matter. As is terminating an employee for absences caused due to such an injury. The complaint that Hedum’s lawyers filed with the court alleges that Hedum asked for the paperwork necessary to report her injury on two separate occasions, once to her shift supervisor and once to the store manager. On both occasions, she was informed that either the necessary forms could not be found or that the store was out of said forms.

Now, my question is this: What kind of employer “runs out of” workers compensation forms? I’m certainly no expert on labor laws, certainly not those in Oregon. However, it seems to me that providing an injured employee with such forms in a timely fashion would be a legal requirement. I would also imagine that not having said forms on hand (or at least being able to receive new forms via fax or other method within the hour) must either be a violation or border on it.

Also, the legal document sheds more light on Hedum’s injury-related absences. It appears that she contacted the store manager and explained the need for light duty, even describing her doctor’s restrictions. When the manager informed her that no position was available that would meet those requirements, Hedum did the only thing she could: She informed the manager immediately that she would be unable to return to work until her doctor changed her restrictions. The manager’s choice to hold those absences against Hedum and terminate her employment because of them is against the labor laws of the two states I have lived in (Pennsylvania and New York). I cannot imagine the labor laws in Oregon view the matter any differently.

It will be curious to see how Starbucks chooses to handle this matter. Based on the description that the legal complain gives of Starbucks, it sounds like the corporate office is on the hook for the lawsuit. If that’s the case, I suspect that they will probably look for a way to settle out of court. It not only would be the right thing to do, but it would probably save Starbucks from an even bigger blackeye in terms of publicity.

Of course, to me, the bigger question is this: Will store manager Anna Hickey have a job when the dust settles? And if she remains, how will corporate impress upon her the importance that she never pulls a stunt like this again?