Category Archives: Government & Politics

Nixon felon and evangelical icon Charles Colson dies at 80

Chuck Colson in prison. Photo via Religion News Service archives.

By DAVID MARK and ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Charles W. Colson, the Watergate felon who became an evangelical icon and born-again advocate for prisoners, died Saturday (April 21) after a brief illness. He was 80.

Despite an early reputation as a cutthroat “hatchet man” for President Richard M. Nixon, Colson later built a legacy of repentance, based on his work with

Prison Fellowship, a ministry he designed to bring Bible study and a Christian message to prison inmates and their families.

Colson founded the group in 1976 upon release from federal prison on Watergate-related charges. Prison reform and advocating for inmates became his life’s work, and his lasting legacy.

Colson had undergone surgery on March 31 to remove a pool of clotted blood on his brain. On Wednesday (April 18), Prison Fellowship Ministries CEO Jim Liske told staff and supporters that Colson’s health had taken a “decided turn” and he would soon be “home with the Lord.”

Due to his illness, for the first time in 34 years, he did not spend Easter Sunday preaching to prisoners, his ministry said.

”For more than 35 years, Chuck Colson, a former prisoner himself, has had a tremendous ministry reaching into prisons and jails with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ,” said evangelist Billy Graham in a statement. “When I get to Heaven and see Chuck again, I believe I will also see many, many people there whose lives have been transformed because of the message he shared with them.

He will be greatly missed by many, including me. I count it a privilege to have called him friend.”

In many ways, Colson’s life personified the evangelical ethos of a sinner

in search of redemption after a dramatic personal encounter with Jesus. He also embodied the evangelical movement’s embrace of conservative social issues, although often as a happy warrior.

Today, Prison Fellowship has more than 14,000 volunteers working in

President George W. Bush listens to Robert Sut...

President George W. Bush listens to Robert Sutton, left, a graduate of the Prison Fellowship Ministries InnerChange Freedom Initiative, during a roundtable discussion in the Roosevelt Room Wednesday, June 18, 2003. The initiative is is part of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice System and the new prisoner reentry and treatment program proposed by the Department of Justice. White House photo by Tina Hager (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

more than 1,300 prisons across the country. More than 150,000 prisoners participate in its Bible studies and seminars every year.

The organization founded by Colson also provides post-release pastoring for thousands of ex-convicts, and supplies Christmas gifts to more than 300,000 kids with a locked-up parent through its Angel Tree program.

Colson also founded Justice Fellowship, to develop what he called Bible-based criminal justice, and advocate for prison reform. In 1993, Colson won the $1 million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and donated the money to his ministry.

As recently as February, Colson was still contributing to political debates, writing an open letter with fellow evangelical leader Timothy George that criticized the Obama administration’s health care contraception mandate.

”We do not exaggerate when we say that this is the greatest threat to religious freedom in our lifetime,” he wrote with George, comparing the mandate to policies of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

In 2009, Colson was a chief architect of the “Manhattan Declaration,” which advocated grass-roots resistance to abortion, euthanasia and same-sex marriage. He called the manifesto “one of the most important documents produced by the American church, at least in my lifetime.”

”The Christian’s primary concern is bringing people to Christ,” Colson told Christianity Today magazine in 2001. “But then they’ve got to take their cultural mandate seriously. We are to redeem the fallen structures of society.”

Colson also was a key figure in Evangelicals and Catholics Together, a network of religious leaders who found common ground supporting a “culture of life” and reaffirmed their stance in 2006 when they called abortion “murder.”

Religion was far from Colson’s mind during his early adult life, when his main passion was politics. A Boston native, Colson showed early signs of political acumen as a star debater in high school.

After graduating from Brown University, Colson enlisted in the Marines and rose to the rank of captain. Following law school and a stint in the Pentagon, Colson worked on Capitol Hill as a top aide to Sen. Leverett Saltonstall, R-Mass.

After serving on Nixon’s 1968 election team, Colson was appointed by the newly elected president as special counsel to the president. During Nixon’s first term, he was known as Nixon’s feared but respected “hatchet man.”

Colson once bragged of a willingness to “walk over my grandmother if necessary to assure the President’s reelection,” and was roundly known within the Nixon administration as the “evil genius.”

”I was known as the toughest of the Nixon tough guys,” he said in 1995.

Nixon himself described Colson as one of his most loyal aides. “When I complained to Colson I felt confident that something would be done, and I was rarely disappointed,” the former president wrote in his memoirs.

Among other activities, Colson helped set up the “Plumbers” to plug news leaks. The Plumbers engaged in illegal wiretapping of Democratic headquarters at the Watergate apartment complex, triggering the scandal that took down the Nixon White House.

Colson was also involved in the creation of the Special Investigations Unit, whose members broke into the office of Dr. Lewis Fielding, the psychiatrist of Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, who had given copies of the Pentagon Papers, a secret account of U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, to newspapers.

Nixon aides justified the break-in on the grounds of national security, but

Colson later admitted that the agents were trying to dig up damaging information about Ellsberg before his espionage trial.

As the Watergate scandal mushroomed, Colson pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in 1974, and the felony led him to serve seven months of a one- to three-year sentence at Alabama’s Maxwell Prison as Prisoner 23226.

Colson later said he became a Christian before going to jail, and his time behind bars cemented his faith.

”There was more than a little skepticism in Washington, D.C., when I announced that I had become a Christian,” he said in 1995. “But I wasn’t bitter. I knew my task wasn’t to convince my former political cronies of my sincerity.”

In addition to his work with Prison Fellowship, Colson authored more than 30 books that sold more than 5 million copies, including his seminal 1976 autobiography, “Born Again.”

Colson became an evangelist for better prison conditions and championed what he called “restorative justice,” in which nonviolent criminals should stay out of jail, remain in the community where they committed their crime, and work to support their families and pay restitution to the victim.

Colson also forcefully advocated President Clinton’s impeachment and removal from office in 1998 over what he called perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from the Monica Lewinsky affair.

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COMMENTARY: Mass hysteria – taking our political pulse

By Blogger David Scott
Politics + Religion

I can only hope it’s temporary, this acute case of social influenza that has gripped our country.

Writer Rob Schofield with North Carolina Policy Watch puts it this way: “Combine a measure of legitimate grievance, a kernel of truth, big helpings of distorted history lessons, and rigid, half-baked ideology along with healthy dashes of paranoia, racism, and religious fundamentalism and then cook it for a few years over the heat and fear generated by globalization and a vexing recession and what do you get?”

The answer is a national mental illness, said Schofield in a Feb. 15 N.C. Policy Watch post.

This “social malaise” shows its bizarre and alarming symptoms every day and has become all too evident in the modern American mindset. Look closely at how we perceive the world, what we’re teaching our kids, what we learn at school and church, our politics, and at how our institutions have bought into this new paradigm of malignant thinking.

In Schofield’s column, he called it “fear of change and the future.”

One of our two major political parties has fallen in love with “the America of yesteryear”–the days when men were men and women were barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen. It’s a politics based on a distorted and rose-colored image of the past when minorities stayed quiet and everybody owned a ’55 Chevy. Back to the future.

“Contempt for science and intellectualism.”

Even the educated in this group have chosen arbitrarily to pick the facts that fit their convenience and to disregard the remainder as a hoax or sinister plot against their status or way of life. People ignore global warming so they can continue to drive their Hummers guilt-free. Some fundamentalists have decided evolution is synonymous with godlessness. Citizens thumb their noses at public education so they can teach their kids whatever “facts” they have chosen to accept. People consider intelligence with suspicion and the scholarly as snobs.

This cancerous worldview has now spread to our political, judicial, and religious leadership who are busy working hard to advance policy positions that dismantle effective public programs and structures – programs and structures that enhance everyone’s freedom and quality of life.

If this scenario weren’t so tragic, it would make for great theater. This production won’t win any Oscars and will hopefully have a short run at the box office.

If you’re observing something different, I’d like to hear about it.

How do you read the political pulse of America this election season?

Mitt Romney on the cusp of making major Mormon history

By THOMAS BURR and PEGGY FLETCHER STACK
c. 2012 The Salt Lake Tribune
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) With Rick Santorum’s exit from the White House race, Mitt Romney stands on the cusp of history as the first Mormon to appear at the top of a major party ticket in a general presidential election. Romney, a Brigham Young University-educated, Mormon-family scion and beloved Utah figure, is now the inevitable Republican nominee and will take on President Obama this fall.

The news is sure to bring a surge of excitement unseen in Utah since Romney led the triumphant 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and helped usher the state — and the Mormon Church — onto the world stage.

“Romney has family here, he’s lived here, he’s worked here, he went to school here,” says Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who has campaigned this year with the former Massachusetts governor. “It feels like he’s one of us.”

He is the seventh Latter-day Saint to attempt a presidential bid — six others, including former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman this year, and church founder Joseph Smith in 1844, fell short.

Many Latter-day Saints feel connected to Romney, says Darius Gray, former head of the Genesis Group, a support organization for black Mormons, and others will believe that “Mormonism has arrived.”

For so long, Latter-day Saints have had a “sense of being the underdog, due to our history and persecution we’ve experienced in our 182-year history,” Gray said. “For some, (Romney’s nomination) will be a kind of vindication. But with it will come great scrutiny about who we are as a people.”

Gray’s advice to Mormons: Don’t overreact to questions about the faith’s past and its present.

“We should not be thin-skinned,” he said. “It will behoove all of us at all levels to be prepared to answer well and fully questions that are bound to arise.”

Regardless of the fallout, Gray looks forward to “an interesting confrontation between visions of the future — that of Brother Romney and that of President Obama.”

Romney’s quest for the Oval Office already has seen rumblings of anti-Mormon sentiment carry over to the ballot box. He lost much of the evangelical-dominated South. Some prominent pastors have dismissed Mormonism as a cult. Others have questioned the faith’s exclusion of full membership for African-Americans until 1978.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is likely to see more scrutiny than it did during the Olympics — now through a political lens. Ben Park, a Mormon doctoral student at the University of Cambridge in England, said Mormons will face a host of new perspectives.

“Prior to this,” Park wrote in an email, “it’s only been evangelicals and the religious right. … This will be the first time they confront thoughtful secular criticisms — the kind that can’t be shrugged off as anti-Mormon bigotry and will actually cause reflection.”

That may prompt a bit of a pause with some of the Mormon faithful, who find themselves hopeful for a candidate but also wary of the spotlight.

“There is a curious mixture of excitement and apprehension among Mormons, whatever their political persuasion,” said Mormon writer and blogger Jana Riess in Cincinnati. “We are hyperaware of our minority status in America and concerned that increased public scrutiny of our faith will prove painful.”

However faith surfaces in the fall campaign — Obama’s team has said Romney’s Mormonism will be off-limits despite GOP allegations that it won’t be — the candidate’s newfound stature pushes the LDS faith into a new political stratosphere.

Romney’s nomination is “the outcome of the many changes to Mormonism since World War II,” says Jan Shipps, a respected historian of American religions. “It is a key episode in the life of the Utah-based faith.”

That’s true even for non-Romney supporters.

State Sen. Ben McAdams, a Salt Lake City Democrat and devout Mormon, conceded that having a Mormon presidential nominee is an exciting prospect that will create national exposure for the church.

“I’ve long maintained that as America gets to know my faith, they’ll find a lot of virtue and value in who we are, and we have a lot in common with the American people, and we have a lot to bring to the table,” McAdams said. “As Americans will learn during the course of this campaign, Mormons are mainstream America.”

McAdams says he wants a Mormon as president — though he doesn’t want Romney to be that Mormon.

Nationally, nine in 10 Mormons (86 percent) in the GOP-dominated faith give Romney positive marks, according to a poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life earlier this year. Even 62 percent of Mormon Democrats have a favorable view of their fellow believer.

Shipps, who is writing about post-World War II Mormonism, is now waiting to see how the presidential showdown ends.

“I can’t finish my book,” she said, “until this plays out.”

(Thomas Burr and Peggy Fletcher Stack write for The Salt Lake Tribune. Robert Gehrke contributed to this report.)

COMMENTARY: For the grace of God

By Blogger David Scott
Politics + Religion

Early one morning, while I was purchasing my daily newspaper at a local convenience store, I noticed the clerk had a concerned and almost frightened look on her face.

Usually, I simply plunk down my money and leave. That morning, I decided to engage this woman in conversation, sensing she needed to talk.

She told me she had been working at this store for 13 years and was still working for minimum wage. Her employer had recently cut back her work time to two days a week. She now made a total of $58 per week. She looked to be in her early forties and has two children. She does not have another source of income nor prospects for another job.

She went on to say she was going to resign her job, finally realizing she would never get the opportunity for promotion or a higher income. It was clear from her expression she was personally and spiritually demoralized. I tried to be upbeat with her, but I knew my faint encouragement was too late. I was seeing for myself a real, live, breathing, sad human being who was about to fall “between the cracks.”

Reluctantly and with a sense of helplessness, I said goodbye to this woman and left. I am still haunted by her expression, knowing there are millions of other Americans in her same terrible situation.

Many, and probably most, of these people are victims of circumstance. They were born poor and were not given the opportunity to excel. They didn’t have positive and supportive role models who encouraged them. Their families had no money to send them to college.

As I’m accustomed to doing when reaching home with my paper, I settled into my favorite chair to read the headlines and digest the day’s news. It was then it struck me. In vivid and in painfully realistic color, I was observing why our country is in trouble.

The stark contrast between the warring ideologies in Washington suddenly became clear to me. Before, I  had simply mused that our society was broken. Now it was clear why.

The headlines told the story. One political party was not going to extend unemployment insurance for those without jobs unless the other party agreed to extend the federal tax cuts to the wealthy, the top 2 percent of our population. In a country where the top 1 percent owns 30 percent of the wealth, we were quibbling over preventing people from going without food, lodging and paying for medical care.

As we as a country spend billions of dollars each month fighting foreign wars, we are allowing our own citizens to endure hardships through no fault of their own. We are endlessly debating as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. No one is born aspiring for poverty and misfortune. Being poor is not a sin; it is a shame.

As a country, we pride ourselves as being “exceptional.” We claim that fate has favored us with a unique gift. We imagine ourselves as God’s Chosen People and purveyors of freedom and generosity.

We think so highly of ourselves as the only world superpower, but we are neglecting the very people who have made us great—–our middle class, especially those who have “fallen through the cracks.”

We have forgotten the adage, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Q conference seeks to present different face of evangelical activism

Q founder Gabe Lyons, who will present the sixth annual Q conference in Washington. RNS photo courtesy of Waterbrook Multnoham Publishing Group

By YONAT SHIMRON
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Gabe Lyons thinks Christian culture warriors are on the wrong path.

His sixth annual Q Conference, which opens Tuesday (April 10) in Washington, D.C., is an attempt to do things differently. With 700 participants gathered in a stately downtown auditorium, Lyons will play host to a distinct kind of Christian conference, one that seeks a respectful, constructive conversation on a host of issues confronting the nation.

Q, which stands for “question,” will allow 30 different culture leaders — from New York Times columnist David Brooks to Florida megachurch pastor Joel Hunter — to present their ideas for the common good during a two-and-a-half day confab.

“We feel we have a role to play in renewing the culture and holding back the effects of sin,” said Lyons, founder of Q, a nonprofit organization based in New York City. “We’re not to do it in an antagonistic way. We hope to do it in a hopeful way that gives witness to the rest of the world in how things ought to be.”

Part Clinton Global Initiative, part TED Talk, the conference is designed to highlight the best ideas rather than condemning the nation’s ills. Presenters are allocated three, nine, or 18 minutes to talk. Participants sit at round tables instead of rows, and time is built in for participants to reflect and talk about what they’ve heard.

That kind of format allows Q to include both Richard Land from the religious right and Jim Wallis from the religious left; both will share the stage Tuesday to discuss areas of potential agreement.

Lyons, a Liberty University graduate, said he realized nine years ago how little most Americans respected Christianity. That realization prompted him to acknowledge that the nation’s religious pluralism was here to stay, and that if Christians wanted their views to be given a thoughtful hearing, they had better quit resisting and start creating a culture that allows God’s love to break though.

His 2010 book, “The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America,” was a kind of manifesto calling Christians to quit cursing the darkness and start lighting a candle.

Land, who heads the Southern Baptist Convention‘s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he appreciates Lyons’ point, but thought it was overly simplistic. “Jesus called us to do both; He called us to be salt and light,” Land said. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time.”

Land said his own denomination, which is often cast as a judgmental culture agitator, is also among the nation’s largest providers of emergency disaster relief. In addition, its members give a higher proportion of their incomes to charity.

But Q participants are not about to compromise their evangelical convictions. On Thursday, participants will fan out across Washington to press Congress, the White House and the State Department on issues they deem important.

The difference, Lyons said, is the tone.

“It’s more civil, less fear-based,” he said. “There’s more appreciation for the intellect and a commitment to let the best ideas win out.”

(The Q Conference will provide a free video stream of its opening day sessions from 9 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. and from 7 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. at http://www.qideas.org/live/)

In reversal, board OKs contraceptive funding

Abigael Collins, 6, holds up a during a protest against New Hanover County Commissioners' original vote rejecting a state family planning grant. On Monday night, the commissioners voted on the grant again, this time accepting the funds. Photo by Jeff Janowski/StarNews

By Shannan Bowen
Shannan.Bowen@StarNewsOnline.com
Copyright 2012 StarNewsOnline.com
Reprinted with permission

Sitting before a standing-room-only audience Monday night, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners narrowly voted to approve the state bonus money for contraceptive supplies – a controversial funding request that the board first turned down last month.

Commissioners Brian Berger and Jason Thompson were opposed to accepting the $8,899 bonus funding, which the health department planned to use to purchase intrauterine devices (IUDs), a long-acting form of birth control inserted directly into a woman’s uterus.

Last month, the five county commissioners voted unanimously to turn down the funds for contraceptive supplies after a couple of commissioners said they didn’t think taxpayers should foot the bill for IUDs that they argued would be used by women who were irresponsible with other family planning methods.

Before Monday’s vote, close to 100 people gathered by the steps of Wilmington’s historic courthouse to protest the commissioner’s earlier stance and urged the officials to reconsider.

Chairman Ted Davis attributed last month’s vote to a lack of information presented about the health department’s budget and the need for IUDs.

“This whole process took approximately six minutes,” he said about last month’s meeting. “I do not apologize for my vote, because I voted based on the information I had at that time.”

Davis then apologized for statements he made at the March meeting, including that the county wouldn’t be in the situation “if these young women were responsible people and didn’t have the sex to begin with.”

But Davis received applause from audience members – a majority attending in support of the funds – when he said Monday night, “I now realize that a woman is being responsible when she seeks contraception from the health department.”

County officials had received a flood of emails and calls about their denial of the funds, and Davis said he wanted to reconsider the funding request with more facts presented by health officials.

In a presentation about the health department, New Hanover County Health Director David Rice said more than 60 women were on a waiting list to receive IUDs for birth control, but the health department does not have any IUD devices in stock because the only staff members experienced in providing the service left the department last year. He added that the health department recently filled that provider’s position and can offer the service again.

But Davis pointed out that the county’s health department, which is funded by federal, state and local funds, already has the ability to purchase IUDs and other forms of birth control from its budget for supplies.

“It’s not about denying women access to contraception, because the health department has been providing this in the past and they have the capability to do it now,” he said.

During a public hearing after the health department’s presentation, five people had time to speak in the 15-minute limit in support of the commissioners accepting the funds. Only one person spoke against the commissioners accepting the funds.

Rebecca Trammel said she thought IUDs would encourage young people to take more sexual risks, and she emphasized that IUDs do not prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

In speaking in favor of the acceptance of the funds, Brandie Stork, a health care provider, urged officials to put politics aside when voting on the issue.

“The previous decision to reject this funding shows the members of this Board of Commissioners are seriously out of touch with the needs of New Hanover County voters,” she said to applause from the crowd.

Despite a turnabout by Commissioners Davis, Jonathan Barfield and Rick Catlin, Thompson said he opposed the motion to accept the funding because health officials did not answer questions he had about the department’s budget and supply stock.

Berger said he was concerned with the notion of using taxpayer money to fund the supplies.

“There is no bonus money,” he said. “It is taxpayer money that is simply being returned to the local community from the state after the state has taken their cut.”

Barfield had changed his mind about his position shortly after the March meeting, saying that a conversation with his wife helped him see his vote was wrong.

The commissioners’ decision last month provoked a local protest and national blogs and media criticized the vote. At the protest held an hour before Monday night’s meeting, politicians, candidates for office and activists chanted and held signs with slogans related to women’s rights.

Planned Parenthood staff members, who helped organize the protest, handed out pink shirts and passed around a petition in support of eliminating insurance co-payments for birth control.

Shawnetta Wilson, a University of North Carolina Wilmington student, gave her own rendition of the popular play The Vagina Monologues by including the county commissioners in the script.

“My vagina? It wants the county to stay out of it,” she said in closing.

Shannan Bowen: 343-2016

On Twitter: @shanbow

Copyright © 2012 StarNewsOnline.com

N.C. Catholics make appeal to Raleigh legislators now reviewing state’s immigration laws

Msgr. David D. Brockman, Vicar General of the Diocese of Raleigh, presenting a statement on behalf of North Carolina’s Bishops to the House Select Committee on Immigration. Photo by Frank Morock

Editor’s Note: Writer Frank Morock works for the Catholic Diocese of Raleigh.

By Guest Contributor Frank Morock

The North Carolina House Select Committee on the State’s Role in Immigration Policy held a meeting at the N.C. Legislative Office Building in Raleigh, Wednesday (March 28), to hear public comment on immigration in the state. The 12-member committee, appointed by House Speaker Thom Tillis, is charged with studying and examining state immigration laws already in effect as well as best practices in other states.

The Rev. Msgr. David D. Brockman, Vicar General of the Diocese of Raleigh, presented a statement to the Committee on behalf of the Most Reverend Michael F. Burbidge, Bishop of Raleigh, and the Most Reverend Peter J. Jugis, Bishop of Charlotte. The statement explained Catholic social teaching on formation of a just immigration policy.

“This teaching is twofold,” Brockman explained. “First, we support the role of the federal government to regulate migration and to defend its borders and laws; and secondly, as Catholics, we advocate for the recognition that immigrants, as members of God’s human family, are deserving of and must be granted the appropriate dignity as our brothers and sisters in the Lord.”

The monsignor also noted how the Bible “clearly demonstrates that this God-given dignity is given to refugees, migrants, and to all those who are immigrants. Jesus himself was a refugee as a child and an itinerant during his public ministry. He taught us to welcome the stranger (Matthew 25:35) and to realize that in welcoming the stranger, we are welcoming Christ himself.”

The testimony presented at the hearing represented both sides of the issue. It clearly demonstrated the urgent need of the federal government to undertake major immigration reform. In his remarks, Brockman said without action by the federal government, states throughout the nation have attempted to address the issue legislatively on a local basis.

Pointing to a 2007 document issued by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Brockman cited the five principles featured in a document from both bishops that could serve as a guide in creating either a national or state immigration policy.

“Both Bishop Burbidge and Bishop Jugis acknowledge that there are many emotions which are often ignited by the immigration debate,” Brockman said, “ but together, they call on ‘all people of goodwill to continue to debate in the spirit of mutual respect, ever mindful that together we must work for peace and protect the dignity of each and every person.’”

At the conclusion of the meeting, Committee Co-Chair Rep. H. Warren announced that the committee will not delay its report to the House speaker until later in the year. He explained the decision is based upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s pending review of the Arizona immigration law during its current session and will hand down a decision by June. Rep. Warren said the committee will take the Supreme Court’s decision into consideration in preparing its recommendation.

BRIEF: Nicaragua peace and freedom lecture at UNCW on March 26

The University of North Carolina Wilmington will present the “Nicaragua Photo Testimony” photographic documentary work of Oregonians Paul Dix and Pamela Fitzpatrick at a lecture at 6 p.m. Monday (March 26) in 100 Morton Hall.

For nearly 20 years, Fitzpatrick and Dix have documented the effects of the U.S.-funded Contra War on the poor of Nicaragua. Their work was overseen by Quaker meetings in Eugene, Ore., and Bozeman, Ore.

Luz Mabel Lumbí Rizo - 1987, age 22 months, in Jinotega. Photo courtesy Paul Dix.

After taking photos in the mid-1980s and early 1990s, Dix and Fitzpatrick returned to re-photograph many of the same people who were affected by the war there.

Their work is documented in a photo book, “Nicaragua: Surviving the Legacy of U.S. Policy” and on their Nicaragua Photo Testimony web site.

The event is co-sponsored by

Luz Mabel - 2003, age 17 years, with daughter, Luz Noelí, in La Unión. Photo by Paul Dix.

UNCW’s Department of Foreign Languages & Literatures, the Coastal Carolina United Nations Association – USA, and UNCW Amnesty International.

Details: boomershinea@uncw.edu

-Amanda Greene

Franklin Graham apologizes for questioning Obama’s faith

Evangelist Franklin Graham preaches during a recent crusade in Mobile, Ala. Religion News Service photo by John David Mercer/The Press-Register in Mobile, Ala.

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Evangelist Franklin Graham apologized Tuesday (Feb. 28) to President Obama for questioning his Christian faith and said religion has “nothing to do” with Graham’s decision not to support Obama’s re-election.

Graham’s apology came after a group of prominent black religious leaders criticized the evangelist for saying he did not know whether Obama is a Christian and suggesting that Islamic law considers him to be a Muslim.

Graham, president of the relief organization Samaritan’s Purse and the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, said he now accepts Obama’s declarations that he is a Christian.

“I regret any comments I have ever made which may have cast any doubt on the personal faith of our president, Mr. Obama,” he said in a statement.

“I apologize to him and to any I have offended for not better articulating my reason for not supporting him in this election — for his faith has nothing to do with my consideration of him as a candidate.”

Graham said he objects to Obama’s policy stances on abortion and same-sex marriage, which Graham considers to be in “direct conflict” with Scripture.

More than a dozen members of a religious subgroup of the NAACP had accused Graham of “bearing false witness” and fomenting racial discord.

“We can disagree about what it means to be a Christian engaged in politics, but Christians should not bear false witness,” the NAACP statement said. “We are also concerned that Rev. Graham’s comments can be used to encourage racism.”

When asked in a recent MSNBC interview if Obama was a Christian, Graham responded, “I cannot answer that question for anybody.” He went on to say that because Obama’s father was a Muslim, “under Islamic law, the Muslim world sees Barack Obama as a Muslim.”

By contrast, Graham said there is “no question” that GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum is a “man of faith” because “his values are so clear on moral issues.” Santorum has also faced criticism for saying the president has a “phony theology” that is unbiblical.

“By his statements, Rev. Graham seems to be aligning himself with those who use faith as a weapon of political division,” the NAACP said. “These kinds of comments could have enormous negative effects for America and are especially harmful to the Christian witness.”

Signatories of the open letter included presidents of the National Baptist Convention, USA; the National Baptist Convention of America; the

African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

The seal of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Image via Wikipedia

Progressive National Baptist Convention; as well as bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church.

Experts challenge Santorum’s remarks linking college to faith loss

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

Rick Santorum speaking at CPAC last year. Image via Wikipedia

By CATHY LYNN GROSSMAN
c. 2012 USA Today
Reprinted with permission

WASHINGTON (RNS) Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum‘s claim that U.S. colleges drive young Christians out of church is facing scrutiny from Protestant and Catholic experts.

Santorum told talk show host Glenn Beck on Thursday (Feb. 23) that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.” He also has called President Obama a “snob” for wanting more Americans to attend college.

“There is no statistical difference in the dropout rate among those who attended college and those that did not attend college,” said Thom Rainer, president of the Southern BaptistsLifeWay Christian Resources research firm. “Going to college doesn’t make you a religious dropout.”

A 2007 LifeWay survey did find seven in 10 Protestants ages 18 to 30 who went to church regularly in high school said they quit attending by age 23.

The real causes: lack of “a robust faith,” strongly committed parents and an essential church connection, Rainer said.

“Higher education is not the villain,” said Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio. Since 1986, D’Antonio’s surveys of American Catholics have asked about Mass attendance, the importance of religion in people’s lives and whether they have considered leaving Catholicism.

The percentage of Catholics who scored low on all three points hovers between 18 percent in 1993 and 14 percent in 2011. But the percentage of people who are highly committed fell from 27 percent to 19 percent.

“Blame mortality,” D’Antonio said, “The most highly committed Catholics are seniors, and they’re dying out.”

Dennis Prager, a conservative writer on religious and political issues, decried secularism in Western universities in the National Review in April. He concluded, “With all the persecution that Judaism and Christianity have survived over the centuries, an argument that cites America’s Top 310 Colleges as a first order adversary is hard to credit.”

(Cathy Lynn Grossman writes for USA Today.)