Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Right to Arm Bears

The ever-vigilant People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- which recently took Six Flags to task for offering free admission to anyone who would eat a live cockroach -- has now focused its uber-active PR machine on James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family.

While speaking at the Voters Values Summit in Washington, D.C., last weekend, Dobson mentioned he'd shot and killed a bear during a recent hunting trip. PETA fired off a press release bearing (ahem) its own reaction to the story, along with an open letter to Dobson.

"As you know, the Bible's two most famous hunters, Nimrod and Esau, were both ungodly and heretical rebels against God," the letter read in part.

According to a news account published by Scripps Howard News Service that recounted Dobson's hunting story, Dobson wasn't actually gunning for bears: This particular animal, though, came too close for comfort.

"For those of you who don't like hunting and this story offends you," Dobson said at the summit, "get over it."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Changing Face of Family Values

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family and head of its lobbying arm, Focus on the Family Action, railed against Islamic terrorism during the Values Voters Summit last weekend in Washington, D.C., saying, "We're in a war and it's time we recognized it."

The summit, partly sponsored by Focus on the Family Action, was a pre-election rally for social conservatives, many of whom are evangelicals. About 1,700 people attended the weekend rally.

Though Dobson acknowledged that only a small portion of the Islamic world buys into violent, anti-West extremism, he believes that it's enough to cause big problems.

Terrorism doesn't seem to have much to do with the family values on which Focus says it concentrates: The organization has criticized evangelicals who speak out on environmental issues, fearing the evangelical core issues of abortion and same-sex marriage would be diluted.

But Dobson insists terrorism is a family issue: "Because if we don't have security for ourselves, our children, for future generations, there is no future for the family."

Monday, September 25, 2006

First bad spinach, now this

NBC likes talking tomatoes and cucumbers -- as long as they don't get too preachy.

The television network, which recently started airing the popular Christian kids' show "VeggieTales" on Saturday mornings, is editing out some of the show's God talk, according to the Associated Press.

It's not all gone: Most VeggieTales episodes riff off popular Bible stories, and NBC gave a spinoff of the tale of Sampson (where Larry the Cucumber goes off in search of Sampson's powerful hairbrush) a green light. But while Bob the Tomato could explain that Sampson's superhuman strength came from God, NBC struck the line that followed: "And God can give us strength, too." Also forbidden is the show's sign-off: "Remember, kids, God made you special and He loves you very much."

All this has riled some Christian groups, including the Parents Television Council. The good news for folks at the PTC is that the original VeggieTales' videos are still available in stores, unedited.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Chavez was wrong, says NAE

A statement from the National Association of Evangelicals:

"Ted Haggard, President of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE): 'NAE theologians and scholars have conducted a thorough exegetical study of the biblical texts concerning the person, disposition, and earthy manifestations of Satan (Beelzebub, Lucifer, Prince of Darkness). They have ... concluded that, contrary to the assertion of Hugo Chavez, President Bush is not the Devil.'"

Faithful times

Every once in a while, a reader will ask me why journalists are so obsessed with religion. "What are y'all trying to do, convert us?" goes the insinuation.

Here's the easy, personal answer to this: As a religion writer, I'm paid to obsess over religion. But speaking a little more broadly, religion sets the cadence for a good chunk of the nation and the world. Someone once said that law is simply morality encoded, and for most people, morality has its roots in faith. I'm hard-pressed to think of a story that doesn't have some religious or moral context to it. Simply put, religion is news.

Today's Gazette is a great case-in-point: In the front section alone, eight of the 33 stories contained some explicit reference to faith or religion. Stories ranged from the IRS investigating a Pasadena church for becoming too political, to a follow-up to Venezualian President Hugo Chavez calling Bush the "devil," to Christian militants being executed in Indonesia. Another 10 had some obvious religious undertones.

And there's more to come. Starting today, a number of conservative religious groups, including Colorado Springs' Focus on the Family, will gather in Washington, D.C., to participate in a three-day Values Voters Summit.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

What Camp are You In?

The documentary "Jesus Camp" will be hanging out in Colorado Springs for at least another week, likely to the chagrin of some prominent evangelicals in town. The Rev. Ted Haggard of New Life Church -- who made a brief cameo in the film -- has been very critical of the production, characterizing it as a cross between a Michael Moore documentary and "The Blair Witch Project."

He says the movie portrays a very small -- and zealous -- sliver of the evangelical movement, and in that he's right. Evangelical is mainstream, with around a third of the U.S. belonging to what would be characterized as evangelical churches. On the flip side, only a third of people who go to those churches would classify themselves as "evangelical," according to a recent study by Baylor University.

That's an interesting finding -- perhaps reflecting a sense that most evangelicals don't want to associate themselves with the term's baggage: its supposed wild-eyed zeal and its ever-growing association with conservative politics. "Jesus Camp" did nothing to jettison this baggage, and for folks inclined to see evangelical Christians as radical, perhaps dangerous, the film only strengthened those biases.

Still, I was surprised at the evangelical reaction to the film. I expected it to be more hostile than supportive, but not so overwhelmingly hostile. Sure, secularists would have their fears confirmed through this movie, but I think the "small sliver" of the movement represented here would feel they were represented fairly. In fact, the director of the camp where most of the movie was filmed has said as much.

If you had a chance to see the movie last week, or attend this weekend, I'd love to hear what you think about it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Casting a Wide Net

Bishop Michael Sheridan was named as a defendant in a Wisconsin lawsuit related to sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.

That was, in essence, the first paragraph of a press release that came across The Gazette's news desk last night.

What that release didn't immediately point out was that Sheridan was among 194 Catholic bishops named in the lawsuit -- the total number of bishops in the United States.

The suit, filed by the family of a funeral home director allegedly killed by a wayward priest, is designed to force the Catholic Church to release the names and whereabouts of priests accused of child molestation. It's a dicey issue, legal experts say, affecting privacy rights for the church and individuals.

The Diocese of Colorado Springs has largely escaped the sex abuse scandal, in part because it was created in 1984, after most allegations of abuse took place. A former St. Mary's priest has been publically named in a sexual abuse lawsuit, and the Colorado Springs diocese uncovered three instances of possible abuse during its internal investigation. All such instances, though, happened when Colorado Springs was still connected to the Archdiocese of Denver.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Campus Crusade for ...

Religion watchers, mark your calendars for Oct. 18-21, when Colorado College will present a mammoth symposium titled "Religion and Public Life: Why Be Afraid?"

Gary Hart, former state senator and author of the book "God and Caesar in America: An Essay on Religion and Politics," will give the keynote. He'll be joined by other political and religious luminaries, including liberal evangelical the Rev. Jim Wallis, former Bill Clinton religious advisor Phil Wogaman, and Colorado Springs' own omnipresent evangelical, the Rev. Ted Haggard of New Life Church.

It should be interesting. Heck, even the title is worthy of discussion: What does the "why be afraid" mean? That we have nothing to fear, or that we should be very, very afraid? Hart believes the latter, and it appears that many other panelists swing that way, too. Haggard's the only conservative Christian advocate I could identify of the bunch, though perhaps there are others.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Bible dropping

International Bible Society, a local organization that quietly distributes 150 tons (yes, that's right) of Scripture every year, has unleashed a slew of New Testaments on the Canadian city of Brampton, Ontario. More than 116,000 New Testaments were distributed through the local newspaper, the Brampton Guardian, and hit Canadian doorsteps yesterday morning.

The drop was part of IBS' ongoing City Reachers program, which uses local newspapers to spread the "good news," as it were. The newspapers distribute the Scriptures -- just as they sometimes distribute shampoo samples or AOL disks -- for a price. Typically, a coalition of local churches sponsors the distribution through IBS, which in turn coordinates with the local newspapers.

As far as I can tell, the distribution in Brampton came and went without comment -- at least comment from the Guardian. Not so when a similar distribution occurred here (The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.) two years ago. It caused a minor uproar among some residents and stirred discussion among national media. Some believe Scripture should be treated differently than shampoo, and that distributing such products suggests the paper also supports its message -- dicey territory for a secular newspaper.

Still, IBS couldn't be happier with the City Reachers' program. According to IBS officials, more than 100 cities have expressed interest in similar drops.

What do you think?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Playing to the Choir

Third Day and the David Crowder Band will play tonight at Colorado Springs' World Arena. Tickets are still available, which surprises me a little -- but hey, it's a big arena.

The appearance of two of Christian music's most popular acts is another indication that, in the mountain time zone, Colorado Springs rivals Denver as THE hip place to play. A who's who of inspirational recording acts has tromped through the city the last few years, and more are to come: Mercy Me and Audio Adrenaline will perform at the World Arena next month.

Hey, Madonna may not come to town, but bands that sing about the Madonna? We've got that covered.

Thursday, September 14, 2006


Secular media are still entranced by evangelicals -- at once a diverse body of Christian believers and a tightly honed conservative movement. Evangelicals, it is said, were a major reason why George W. Bush won a second term, and many pundits are watching them closely as the 2006 elections near.

But who are these evangelicals and what do they really want? A theocracy? A return to "traditional" American values? Tickets to Friday's Third Day concert?

Two just-released books by secular media heavyweights try to explain the phenomenon to the uneducated, and come to starkly different conclusions. They both, of course, make an obligatory pilgrimage to Colorado Springs.

"Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America," was written by Jeffery Sheler, a contributing religion editor for U.S. News and World Report. He details visits to Focus on the Family and The Navigators -- two area ministry heavyweights -- but also talks with Brent Fuqua of "Hoops of Hope" and the Christian Cowboys Association. His conclusion: Evangelicals are pretty darn diverse, and their motives aren't all that sinister.

"Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement," by journalist Lauren Sandler, makes a stop at Colorado Springs' New Life Church and explores the supercharged youth scene there. She suggests that young evangelicals are radicals, out to change the world -- and anyone interested in more secular, progressive ideals should shake in their boots.

Both are published by Viking, a secular publishing outfit.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What Would Mohammed Do?

It's tough to be Muslim these days. Never mind that the Islamic culture spawned the Taj Majal, beautiful poetry and the mathematical concept of zero; many Muslims feel that their fellow Americans now look at them sideways, as if they might whip out a roadside bomb.

To most Muslims, none of this is particularly funny. But a few have chosen to laugh anyway. Take the Muslims who run "Funny Muslim Clothes," specializing in self-deprecating T-shirts. One says "I'm not a terrorist, I just look like one." Another says "Detain me, I'm Arab."

Are these shirts funny? Politically incorrect? Sad? All of the above?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Faithful fall?

A new religious survey conducted by Baylor University indicates the nation's "nones" -- folks who don't claim any religious preference -- may not be growing quite as quickly as previously thought. But the conclusions are, frankly, a little confusing.

The survey, titled "American Piety in the 21st Century" and partly unveiled at the Religion Newswriters Association conference in Salt Lake City, says less than 11 percent of Americans express no religious preference, down from the 14-16 percent other surveys had tallied. Why the difference? Professors from Baylor said it was because of the way the survey was conducted: It asked participants to identify their religious preference (if any), their religious denomination (if any) and the religious congregation they attended (if any).

Most polls stop at the first two questions, but folks at Baylor say that many folks who said they didn't have a religious preference still went to church services at least once a week, and prayed, and generally lived overtly spiritual lives.

The folks at Baylor haven't quite figured out what it means, and it is a head-scratcher. Are these nonfaithful churchgoers covering their theological bases in case they kick the bucket? Are congregants losing their faith long before they relinquish their spot in the pews? What's going on?

While scholars from Baylor -- a Christian university -- played up the fact that "nones" aren't as large a slice of the pie as previously thought, the study did suggest the nation may be growing more secular. Nearly a fifth of respondents 30 and younger said they were "unaffiliated," compared to just 5.4 percent of respondents 65 and older. Time will tell whether these 20-somethings gravitate to a specific faith.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Looking ahead

This is my last post for a bit. I'm heading out to Salt Lake City for the National Religion Newswriters Conference, where Colorado Springs' own Ted Haggard (New Life Church) will speak. I'm sure I'll have just gobs to write about once I get back Sept. 11.

Until then, take a gander at this.