Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Stang update

A few weeks ago, I wrote a story on an American nun named Dorothy Stang who was murdered in Brazil and her brother, David, who lives in Palmer Lake.

Dorothy was apparently murdered over land.

David says some new power plays are under way, beginning with the release of a Brazilian landowner who allegedly paid $20,000 to have Dorothy Stang killed. Here's a link to the most recent story. Apparently, the fellow can still be tried, but David is "outraged" by the move.

Episcopal exodus?

It's been about a week since the United States' Episcopal Church's General Convention came to a close. But a handful of U.S. Episcopal dioceses, upset with the church's stance on gay clergy and the election of a progressive woman to its highest post, are saying that, at least when it comes to pastoral oversight, they want out.

The Diocese of Fort Worth announced June 19 -- the morning after Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected to become the church's next presiding bishop and primate -- that it was requesting "alternative primatial oversight," which means it was asking the worldwide Anglican Communion (of which the Episcopal Church is part) to let them affiliate with a more conservative province (a pastoral, not a legal arrangement, the diocese said). The dioceses of Pittsburgh, South Carolina and San Joaquin followed suit.

While more defections are possible, perhaps even probable, it's important to note that there are 110 dioceses in the Episcopal Church. Also, the Anglican Communion has yet to officially respond to the church's decisions, and probably won't take real action until next year. Grace and St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Colorado Springs' largest and most conservative parish, says it'll sit tight until it knows how the Anglican Communion will react.

Still, many suspect a split from the Anglican Communion is imminent, and the Episcopal Church -- a denomination that's always prided itself on its diversity and collegiality -- may be torn in two as a result.

We love you and want your vote!

Conservative Christians, who vote in huge numbers for Republican candidates, sometimes feel ignored by the party they give so much love to. But Republican leaders of the House of Representatives aim to reward that adulation through a series of pro-family votes before the year ends.

With the prospects of a rather dismal 2006 election looming, cynics would say these leaders are just shoring up their base. No matter. Colorado Springs' own James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, lauded the congressional effort.

"The House leaders are to be commended for demonstrating their commitment to the issues American families hold dear: marriage, life and freedom of religion," Dobson said in a statement. "The announcement of the 'American Values Agenda' and its 10 priority bills signals that the GOP leadership in the House is in touch with the concerns of the values voters who sent them to Washington."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Religion can be a fascinating and, for many, beautiful thing. Andsometimes, things just get silly.

While researching one religious product (the "Jesus Pan," which bakes an image of Jesus on toast, pancakes, you name it -- look for the story July 8), I came across a Web site dedicated to the veneration of toast.

It's called the Toast Bible, and includes a full-blown creation story: "On the second day," it reads, "God created condiments."

The highlight may be the 10 Commandments of toast. Commandment No. 5 reads "thou shalt eat toast for breakfast or for lunch, but not for dinner. Too much of a good thing is sinful." No. 7 says "thou shalt not stick a fork in a toaster, or suffer God's wrath."

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bad news for Jack Bauer

While Presbyterians and Episcopalians were debating gay clergy in mid-June, a diverse band of faith leaders rallied to decry torture -- and stir just a touch of controversy.

A group of 27 faith leaders paid for an advertisement in The New York Times June 13 titled "Torture is a Moral Issue," and asked the United States to ban torture and inhumane treatment of its prisoners. Faith leaders who signed the statement included the Rev. Rick Warren, founder of California's Saddleback Church and author of the popular book "The Purpose Driven Life;" Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, outgoing Catholic archbishop of Washington, D.C.; and our own the Rev. Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

It's rare you'll see folks like Haggard, also senior pastor for New Life Church, sign the same document approved by former President Jimmy Carter and Sayyid Syeed, the national director of the Islamic Society of North America. Haggard, after all, is often seen as a leading figure in conservative (and politically active) Christianity. And his support didn't go unnoticed by Fox News commentator Bill O'Reilly, who believes accusations of U.S.-sanctioned torture are hogwash. He lambasted both Haggard and another signee, the Rev. Jim Wallis, on his program. It's another illustration that the evangelical world is more diverse than sometimes thought.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Truth and Dare

I attended part of a seminar on "The Truth Project" this Saturday at Focus on the Family. It's a new and unusual initiative by the Colorado Springs-based organization.

"The Truth Project" is, at its core, a push to convince Americans to accept what Focus calls a "Christian worldview." The idea is to create Christian idealists who will shape the culture rather than be shaped by it. From the brief overview I received, it appears to be half apologetics course (laying out rational arguments for Christian belief) and half social advocacy (God frowns upon same-sex marriage, inheritance taxes and a number of other issues).

What I find most interesting about this project, though, is that Focus wants to use a grassroots system of classes to further these views. Focus hopes that many of the 1,100 people who attended this weekend's seminar will take a "Truth Project" DVD set and use it as the backbone of 12-week, home-based small group sessions attended by leaders' friends, neighbors and workmates. Hmmm.

Focus officials admit the program is "risky," and it'll be interesting to see how well it works. Be looking for a larger piece on "The Truth Project" and similiar initiatives to run in The Gazette.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Gay strife

As The Gazette reported this morning, two church denominations made some interesting rulings that will impact gays and lesbians in the church. Many mainline denominations are struggling with where homosexuals fit in their churches -- whether their relationships should be blessed, whether their sexual preferences and lifestyles preclude them from taking leadership roles. And these issues aren't going away any time soon.

Why? Because gay-rights proponents and church traditionalists both see the issue as one of soaring morality. The Rev. Jim Singleton, senior pastor for First Presbyterian Church, deliniated the quandry as well as I've heard lately: He said gay inclusion is a justice issue for liberals -- a long-standing prejudice that followers of Christ are morally bound to address and eliminate. For conservatives, though, this is a "righteousness" issue: Accepting sexually active gays as spiritual leaders goes against the will of God as expressed in the Bible. And while there are plenty of folks who fall betwen those two extremes, it's really hard to find middle ground.

A word we all heard this week in the Episcopal Church's General Convention and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s General Assembly was "calling." Some felt God was "calling" attendees to accept gays fully into the church, or return to his will, or even just grapple with these issues. Obviously, God can't be "calling" people to do all of these things at the same time. Or can he?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Sure, two national denominations made some major news yesterday. The Episcopalians look as if they'll be departing from the worldwide Anglican family soon, and Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., left the door open for individual churches to ordain gay clergy if they want. But I'd rather talk about something REALLY important today: World Cup soccer.

According to an Associated Press story, German churches are trying to attract soccer fans by televising soccer matches and weaving soccer themes into their sermons. A Roman Catholic priest in the town of Freudenstadt started off his homily by referencing Germany's last-minute 1-0 victory over Poland.

"When we think all is lost, there is always hope," he said.

Germany, like most of Western Europe, has seen church attendance plummet in the last few decades. The move is an effort to get Germans to blend worship with winning: Germany is undefeated in match play so far.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Statistics, part 2

Focus on the Family is sticking to its guns regarding its use of statistics from the Canadian youth study by the McCreary Centre Society, which conducted a wide-ranging survey on the health and well-being of British Columbia teens. Focus sexuality and gender analyst Melissa Fryrear says the ministry provided an alternate explanation for the study's correlation between teen lesbianism and teen suicide attempts.

Some teen lesbians, she said, are frustrated and upset that they're attracted to women, not men. And, Fryrear adds, these lesbians are told that they were born this way, so there's nothing they can do about it. They become despondent. Focus teaches that homosexuality comes about through upbringing or even trauma, and that people can stop being gay if they want to. Fryrear, who says she's a former lesbian, believes she's living proof.

"Given my experience in this movement, (on) both sides of the proverbial fence, we have seen different reasons why someone becomes suicidal and depressed," she said.

But Fryrear also says other factors may be at work in the suicidal tendencies of lesbians, too. She says more lesbian women have been sexually abused than heterosexual women, and the study suggests that sexual abuse also increases the liklihood someone will attempt suicide as a teen.

Lies, darnable lies and statistics

A Canadian researcher is apparently ticked that Focus on the Family is using her study to blast "homosexual activism."

The study, done by the McCreary Centre Society, was a wide-ranging survey on the health and well-being of British Columbia teens, dealing with everything from smoking to sexual abuse. One of the items the study touched on was suicide. It found that 8.2 of heterosexual girls attempted suicide, compared with 38 percent of lesbian teens.

Focus reported stats from the report and said, through the organization's sexuality and gender analyst Melissa Fryrear, that the suicide rates were higher because these gay and lesbian teens think there's no way out of their lifestyle.

"Regrettably, they think they have to embrace homosexuality because pro-gay advocates told them that they were born gay," she said in a CitizenLink release. "And that is absolutely not true."

Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, McCreary's research director, blasted Focus in the Canadian press, saying no such conclusions could be drawn from their study. She said discrimination and violence were probably greater factors in determining suicidal tendencies, and noted that American studies have shown that gay teens are more at risk of suicide before coming out of the closet.

"The research has been hijacked for somebody's political purposes or ideological purposes and that's worrisome," she told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Focus hasn't responded to questions from The Gazette about this issue yet, but if and when it does, we'll post its response.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Episcopal emergency

Members of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. have been plenty busy at their general convention the last week. Among other things,they elected the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori as the denomination's presiding bishop (the first woman ever to hold the church's top spot) and discussed whether the Episcopal Church needs liturgies to honor departed pets.

But all this will likely be mere prelude to the big issue on the table: Whether the Episcopal Church will fully "repent" of its 2003 decision to elect an openly gay man as bishop.

The aftermath of that election threatens to tear apart the Episcopal church and its wider, worldwide body, the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church U.S.A. represents a fraction of the Anglican Communion's 77 million believers, the majority of whom now live in developing countries and widely see homosexuality as a sin. Though the Anglican Communion's various churches are only loosely tied and make decisions independently of one another, the 2003 election shocked and angered many worldwide church leaders, and they may kick the Episcopal Church out of the Communion if the Episcopal Church doesn't say sorry and, essentially, promise to not do such a thing again.

Over the next three days, the church will decide whether it will offer that apology -- and, if so, just how far that apology will go. Some Anglicans have said the church doesn't seem to be willing to go far enough to satisfy the Anglican Communion.

This is a big deal for a host of reasons: One, this debate foreshadows what's going on in mainline denominations across the country. Presbyterians, Methodists and Lutherans are also debating human sexuality, and many Christians are deeply torn over the issue. Some believe that accepting homosexuality is just plain contrary to God's will. Others say no, that denying gays and lesbians full church rights is the real sin. Both sides believe they're doing God's sacred work.

On a more pragmatic level, what happens over the next three days could lead to a literal and lawful split of the Episcopal Church U.S.A. We might see two Episcopal churches: the gay-friendly Episcopal Church and a new, more conservative body tied to the Anglican Communion. There would likely be messy squabbles over who owns church property and some public-relations posturing as to which body is the "real" Episcopal church -- battles that would likely play out locally.

If a split comes, Colorado Springs' Grace Church and St. Stephen's, the largest Episcopal church in the state with 2,000 members, would likely fracture off from the Episcopal Church and stay tied with the Anglican Communion. Its rector, the Rev. Donald Armstrong, has been a vocal critic of the church's 2003 decision.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Second fiddle?

"Church & State," the official publication for the religious watchdog group Americans United for Separation of Church and State, printed a top-10 list of "Religious Right Power Brokers" in its June issue. Springs-based Focus on the Family, featuring a picture of its influential founder James Dobson, was No. 2.

The list was apparently put together using 2005 financial revenue of Focus and other organizations deemed part of the "religious right" by Americans United. Focus, which reported revenue of nearly $138 million last year, was beat out by the Rev. Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network, which took in about $186.5 million. The next closest organization listed -- Coral Ridge Ministries -- came in a distant third with $39 million in revenue.

Focus on the Family probably doesn't care a whit where they ranked in Americans United Top 10. But if they did, they might quibble. Robertson's influence has waned in the wake of some pretty weird statements he's made. Dobson -- despite a widely publicized squabble with SpongeBob SquarePants -- retains political heft.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Catching up ...

When I come back from vacation, I never know exactly what's going to be at my desk.

This time, the highlight was a 3-by-4-foot cardboard sign dropped off by a reader, blasting "The Da Vinci Code" via a patchwork crossword. The word "DA VINCI CODE" was written horizontally across the board, with its letters used as springboards for vertically-written epithets like "BLASPHEMY" and "EVIL."

I feel like I need to write a nice thank-you note and send the sign back. But do they make envelopes that big?

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I'm off to Nirvana

Otherwise known as an early-summer vacation. Unless the beastly aura of June 6 gets me (6-6-06), I'll be back before you know it. Take care.