Category Archives: Ethics

After Trayvon Martin case, churches say ‘stereotypes cost lives’

Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service


An umbrella group of Christian denominations committed to combating racism is urging churches to use the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin as a “teachable moment” to speak out against racial stereotypes.

“It is a time to understand the burden that some of us have to live always facing the stereotypes of others and the danger that these stereotypes might cost us our lives,” wrote the 10 leaders of Churches Uniting in Christ in a statement released Wednesday (March 28).

“In humility, we invite the Body of Christ to join in serious self-examination about how our communities by our silence support racial profiling and stereotyping.”

CUIC called on churches to examine laws that may have contributed to the Feb. 26 death of Martin, a 17-year-old African-American who was unarmed. George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, admitted shooting Martin in Sanford, Fla., but law enforcement officials have not charged him, citing the state’s “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.

“We cannot remain silent as our country once again struggles with the senseless killing of an unarmed young African-American boy,” the CUIC leaders said. “We write because we cannot remain silent at the continued ‘criminalization’ of black and brown peoples with laws that give license to people to shoot first and ask questions later.”

CUIC is composed of 10 mainline Protestant and historically black denominations, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church and others, with a special focus on overcoming racism.

Top leaders of the National Council of Churches also called for the aftermath of Martin’s death to be a time for introspection. “All of us — especially those who are white — must engage in urgent self-examination about the ways we react to persons we regard as ‘other,'” wrote NCC President Kathryn M. Lohre and Interim General Secretary Clare J. Chapman.

Some commentators have questioned whether white clergy took too long to add their voices to discussions about the case.

Although the Florida Council of Churches recently issued a statement about the case, “local white faith leaders have been missing from action in the movement for justice for nearly a month,” former Orlando Sentinel religion writer Mark Pinsky wrote in The Huffington Post.

Everyone is beautiful

By Contributor Ernesto Tinajero

So, it has started.

My son was chosen to be the Guild School poster child. We agreed because we love the Guild School and what they done for my son.

We also are trying to combat what my wife has posted about before, the incessant chatter about my son’s looks. He loves people and many times people shy away.

We know he is beautiful. Seeing the image of God in all people remind us how beautiful everyone is.

We were just told that his commercial will start to run for the next month. Watch it and tell us what you think.

Study Shows Giving Finally Rebounding for Majority of Churches

By Tracy Simmons

Numerous churches suffered from plummeting donations after the recession began in 2008. But in the past year, a majority of congregations experienced giving increases because of a better economy, higher attendance and more church teaching on giving, according to a press release.

Trends in 2011 included higher budgets, greater attention to fiscal transparency and board governance and a rise in electronic giving through technological tools.

The fourth annual “State of the Plate” constituency survey of more than 1,360 congregations revealed that 51 percent of churches saw giving increase in 2011, up from 43 percent in 2010 and 36 percent in 2009.

According to the press release, among churches that saw giving increases, 50 percent attributed the rise to greater attendance. Forty-two percent said it was because people gave more after their church conducted financial/generosity teaching initiatives, such as sermons, classes, seminars or distributed devotionals about the subject.

“As giving has improved for many churches nationwide, this survey shows many have made budget decisions that directly care for people,” said Matt Branaugh, director of editorial for Christianity Today’s Church Management Team, a survey sponsor. “Many churches increased their spending for missions and benevolence – two ways churches work to meet the needs of people locally and globally. And pay raises for staff and pastors were a move to care for their own, after many churches were forced to freeze or cut salaries during the recession.”

For an executive summary with charts, graphs and trends, visit

National universal health care expresses faith values

By Contributor Sam Fletcher

Sam Fletcher

Parts of the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare,” could easily end up on the chopping block this week. With it would go the “individual mandate”, or a requirement to either be covered or pay a tax, while expanding Medicare for a portion of the population meeting a certain level of income.

While, in theory, the individual mandate would drive down general insurance costs, this is yet to be tested. It is probable that an individual mandate would simply enrich private insurance companies. Without a competing, public health service available to all, we must take on faith that profit-minded insurance companies would lower their prices for the average American.

A national public health care system, like those found in most Western and Eastern nations, would be a much better solution. An opt-in public system could compete with private companies while providing medical care and support to those in need.

Hospitals and medical care have long been basic tenants of faith praxis. Starting in ancient Greece (the home of today’s modern medicine), temples and priests provided the most advanced medical care available, with clean spaces available and libraries of case studies and medical reports available for research.

Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Muslims have all founded areas where the sick may be cared for, and medical research may be advanced, since the most ancient of times. Pooling resources to care for the sick was seen as the utmost expression of charity, and is universal to all faiths.

Many of our modern hospitals in America were founded by religious denominations, many in an era before health care costs skyrocketed for the private citizen, and medical care could be more widely available.

With Jesus, the gentle healer, as an example for Christians in America, it is thoroughly unChristian and unloving to deny health care to those who simply lack the funds under our pricey and luxurious health care system. People of faith should put their money where their mouth is and demand a public health care system that does not discriminate between the rich and the poor.

Dealing with death

By Contributor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

Facing death in a faith community is always a difficult experience, especially in a culture where death is both trivialized and avoided with a false sense of reality. People today are flooded with a commercialization of death avoidance that oppresses the aging and lies to the young. This multibillion dollar business machine is promulgating empty promises that leave individuals ill-equipped to manage the passing of someone they love.

As a culture we have too few rituals that help us walk through death. Our funeral services are modern attempts to deal with it, built on traditions passed down for generations. In the faith community it’s a struggle to practically deal with these moments that touch the soul and fabric of the community one lives within.
The Bible calls the community to:, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn,” (Romans 12:15). But we are not given many ways within our modern lives to practically do this.
Cards, sentiments and services help to a certain degree but I find it hard to process this within the faith community. To help with this, recently I put together a simple candle ritual for the recognition of the passing of a loved one within the congregation.

Photo by Eric Blauer

I lit one large candle to represent the life of the loved one. Then I had the congregants who have recently lost loved ones light their own candles from the flame of the single candle. I shared how the light of their life has impacted them and they can carry the light of that influence from this moment on into the future. We then extinguished the single candle to represent their loved one’s death and as the smoke ascended, I read  Hebrews 12:1, “we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses” and talked about that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ our loved ones have taken their place within and how we all will be reunited in the age to come. We then placed the lit candles on the altar for the rest of the service and prayed over the grieving members.

It was short ceremony, but the presence of the holy spirit was tangible within the heart of the moment. Their pain wasn’t taken away but it was shared in a simple ritual that we all could experience. It felt good and right to create a time and space to mourn together  in the church and I pray a measure of healing for those grieving.  We are working at ways to express our shared journey, even through the valley of the shadow of death.
 “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die,” Ecclesiastes 3:1

White House proposal gives religious groups more say in birth control mandate

By David Gibson
Religion News Service

President Barack Obama talks with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, whose department is charged with implementing new rules that mandate employers to provide contraception coverage to employees. RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House.

The Obama administration is offering to expand the number of faith-based groups that can be exempt from the controversial contraception mandate, and proposing that third-party companies administer coverage for self-insured faith-based groups at no cost.

At its heart, the newest offering from the White House would allow religious groups — dioceses, denominations and others — to decide which affiliated institutions are “religious” and therefore exempt from the new requirement that employers offer free contraception coverage as part of employee insurance plans.
The proposals are an effort by the administration to blunt criticisms of the controversial regulation, especially by the nation’s Catholic bishops, who have been at loggerheads with the White House since President Obama announced the contraception mandate in January.

Obama was sharply criticized by faith groups for not providing a sufficiently broad exemption for religious groups. On Feb. 10 he outlined an “accommodation” that tried to circumvent most of the problems by having insurance companies — rather than religious employers — provide the birth control coverage through a separate rider and at no cost to the employer.

While that move appeased some concerns, Catholic bishops and others argued that the religious exemption was still too narrow and could set a dangerous precedent by appearing to allow the government to determine what groups within a faith should be considered religious.

Others object that many religious groups self-insure in order to save money, and so having the insurer pay for contraception coverage rather than the employer made no difference because insurer and employer are one and the same.

The 32-page proposal, published late Friday (March 16) in the Federal Register, goes out of its way to state that “this religious exemption is intended solely for purposes of the contraceptive coverage requirement” and does not “set a precedent for any other purpose.”

“Whether an employer is designated as ‘religious’ for these purposes is not intended as a judgment about the mission, sincerity, or commitment of the employer, and the use of such designation is limited to defining the class that qualifies for this specific exemption,” states the proposed rule.

The other main innovation in the new proposal is to have a “third-party administrator of the group health plan or some other independent entity” assume responsibility for the contraception coverage for self-insured organizations, with various proposals for ensuring that self-insured groups with religious objections would not directly or indirectly pay for the birth control policy.

Whether any of these ideas will satisfy the die-hard critics of the contraception mandate is unclear, and perhaps unlikely.

“At the end of the day, no accounting gimmick changes the fact that the mandate forces religious organizations to pay health insurance companies for coverage to their employees with drugs and services that simply violates their religious convictions,” said Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, the spokeswoman for the U.S. bishops’ conference, told National Catholic Reporter she was “surprised that such important information would be announced late Friday of St. Patrick’s Day weekend and as we prepare for the fourth Sunday of Lent.”

Others involved in the negotiations said it would take time to review the proposals properly.

Sister Carol Keehan, the head of the Catholic Health Association, which represents hundreds of Catholic hospitals, said she and her members “will have to give it a careful review” before responding.

Some critics charge that the latest proposals are an effort to “kick the can down the road” so that the administration does not have to issue a final determination until after the November election. Yet the delay in finalizing the regulations could also serve to prolong the debate.

Others believe that the 90-day open comment period on the proposals, known as an “Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking,” or ANPR, could actually function as a kind of cooling-off mechanism for this issue, which has exploded into an election-year debate that poses risks and rewards for all sides.

The ANPR at several points sets out a variety of possible solutions to religious objections, and invites “input on these options, particularly how to enable religious organizations to avoid such objectionable cooperation when it comes to the funding of contraceptive coverage, as well as new ideas to inform the next stage of the rulemaking process.”

By providing new details and extending the opportunity for dialogue, the Obama administration can now begin to shift discussions to the nuts and bolts of addressing the religious freedom concerns and away from rhetorical broadsides that the White House is launching a “war on religion” and can’t be trusted.

Staff members from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops were involved in initial discussions to work out a deal, but those ground to a halt when bishops accused the White House of negotiating in bad faith, a charge the administration strongly rejects.

What I might say if I were externally audited

By Contributor Daryl Geffken

Daryl Geffken

Something about the critique of Invisible Children moved me to a different layer of thought: the distribution of resources. In one way or another, almost every criticism centered on this very topic. Are the organization’s financials transparent? Is its appropriation of funds, well, appropriate?  More importantly, is it spending its energy in a manner that furthers others’ development? It made me wonder, how would I stand up to that scrutiny? How would you?

“I’m not a non-profit, or advocacy organization,” you may respond. Why not? Why don’t you look at yourself that way? Do you really believe what you have is yours and is solely the result of your hard work? Such hubris were not met well by Jesus.

Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, a theology professor, stated loving God and loving others is the human vocation. She suggested, “Love implies active commitment to the well-being of who or what is loved.” It follows, where there is suffering and oppression — whether local or global — such a definition of love requires an aspect of justice. This, in turn, requires challenging social structures that perpetuate such suffering. Based on this logic, Moe-Lobeda claimed many Christians, by their lack of action are, “defying the call to love.”

I have quite a few more thoughts on personal responsibility and the distribution of resources (time, money, relationships and conversation), and I will pick them up later.But for now, let’s just leave it at this question.

Perhaps we could share a deeper level of transparency between ourselves at this moment. In one sentence or paragraph, would you reveal what you fear and hope an external auditor might summarize of your distribution of resources?

I’ll go first: I fear that someone might find in the last two years, working on my degree has provided a justification for the lack of giving myself to others outside my family. And second, I have not found ways to incorporate the development of my family into the discipline of service for others.

Rapture pet rescue business wishes Harold Camping would keep predicting

By Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service

California radio evangelist Harold Camping said the world will end on May 21, 2011 -- a figure he based, in part, on when he believes Noah entered the ark. RNS file photo by Kimberly Winston.

When doomsday prophet Harold Camping conceded last week that his failed May 21 end-of-the-world prediction was “incorrect and sinful,” the average American probably shrugged, perhaps even snickered.

But for Bart Centre, Camping’s mea culpa could have real impact on his bottom line.

The co-owner of a business that promises to care for the pets of Christians who are swept up in the Rapture saw a jump in business last year ahead of Camping’s prediction.

Now he’s sorry to see Camping get out of the predictions business.

“It was obviously a mistake,” said Centre, who runs Eternal Earth-Bound Pets from New Hampshire. “I’m just sorry that he’s not going to be doing any more predictions because it’s good for business.”

Camping’s original pronouncement made some Rapture-ready Christians decide it was time to make arrangements for Fido and Fluffy when their owners were swept up into glory.

Standing at the ready was Centre, a retired retail executive who started his business in 2009, unaware of Camping’s existence. He has booked atheist “rescuers” across the country to recover feathered and four-legged friends who got left behind.

By the end of 2010, he had 170 clients. But once people started talking about Camping’s prophecy, “then we started to see an uptick in business,” he said.

With demand on the rise, Centre did what any smart businessman would do — he raised his rates, to $135 per pet for a 10-year coverage plan. If someone had a second pet, the additional fee rose to $20.

In the first quarter of 2011, business jumped 150 percent from the same time in 2010. In April and May — as the end-of-the-world date approached quickly — the jump was 200 percent, he said.

Total clientele rose to 245 by May 21. With the world still spinning after Camping’s original prophecy failed to materialize, Centre’s business only inched up to 267.

“It really died off really quickly after May,” Centre said.

He’s also had to handle buyer’s remorse. Six customers who signed up just weeks before Camping’s failed doomsday asked for their money back. Centre declined, pointing to the contract.

Centre and his co-owner, a Minnesota police officer, share the income from their fees with the 48 other people they’ve deemed to be suitable “rescuers.” Most, he said, are “atheists who are happy to give people peace of mind.”

With Camping saying he’s done with making predictions, the co-owners of Eternal Earth-Bound Pets are banking on other prognosticators.

“Now the next thing we’re gearing up for is this Mayan calendar end times, which we still believe is going to bring us some substantial business,” Centre said, referring to some interpretations of an ancient Mayan calendar that the world will end in late 2012.

“After the Mayan calendar doesn’t happen there will be somebody else who comes up with a prediction.”

Why I’m afraid to take my son out in public

By Contributor Dr. Lace Williams-Tinajero

Lace Williams-Tinajero

“What do you want people to say?,” a friend asked after I shared my reluctance to go places with my 2-year-old son. Her question continues to bother me and only recently have I understood the reason.

Here’s the scenario. A tumor condition, a missing portion of skull bone, multiple surgeries, etc. etc. etc, has left my son disfigured on the left side of his face. Our family faces yet another crossroad — pull the left eye and put in a prosthetic, or keep the non-functioning eye — not for any medical reason, just to make him look more ‘normal’ (whatever ‘normal’ means). More trips to specialists have been added to the schedule, this time across the country.

Lace Williams Tinajero's son, Tito/Contributed Photo

Awhile back at the grocery store a little boy got frightened when he saw my son. The mom tried to console the child hiding behind her legs, saying, “It’s OK honey, all babies look like aliens when they are little.” One time my son was at the pediatric surgery center awaiting another eye surgery (the fifth or sixth, I lose track). A mom brought her son by force up to my son, and said, “See? I told you he’s not a monster.” Regardless of going to restaurants, the post office, grocery stores, parks, the mall, wherever, we can count on the comments, the whispers, the pointing.

So I revisited my friend’s question to get a sense of why it frustrates me. I thought it was because I had no answer for it. It turns out I do know, but I keep it to myself for fear of coming across as a jerk. I’m good at ignoring and brushing off certain comments. If someone insists on information about my son’s appearance, I suck it up and fork over the details. What do I want people to say? Say nothing. Let our family enjoy eating out together without being approached and told of nurses in Africa performing surgeries on children with, “hideous, monstrous deformities.”

You may wonder what any of this has to do with religion in Spokane. Well, I’ll tell you. Our family was enjoying breakfast at a local coffee shop one Sunday morning before church. A man spotted my son, came up with a wince on his face, and said, “Ooooh, what happened?” We explained, to which the man replied, “You just need to pray for healing. Jesus can heal him. Jesus still works miracles. You need to keep praying.”

Christians who think this way ought to revisit Scripture in general, Proverbs 17:28 in particular. The verse is best translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message, “Even dunces who keep quiet are thought to be wise; as long as they keep their mouths shut, they’re smart.”

As Christians, it is time to rethink what constitutes a miracle. Love is evidence of the divine, not having the right answers.

Go toward the light

By Contributor Laura Kipp

Laura Kipp

A near death experience, or NDE, is a rare occurrence but a common source of fascination. Someone who nearly dies commonly experiences: feeling at peace, separating from their body, seeing a bright light, seeing a tunnel, seeing deceased relatives, entering a heavenly domain or having life review.

NDEs and Religion

The phenomenon happens universally to both spiritual and (previously) non-spiritual people.  In the book, “What Happens When We Die,” by Dr. Sam Parnia, it reads, “Although having a religious theme, NDEs didn’t seem to correlate directly with traditional religious views of the afterlife … people often seemed to interpret their NDE based on their own underlying thought processes. So, for example, a Christian who saw a being of light would identify it as Jesus, while someone of a different faith, would describe it as being a religious figure related to their own faith, while someone of a different faith would describe it as being God himself, and others simply called it a ‘luminous being’ …they (however) seemed to be describing the same concept.”

Are They Real?

Commonly people experiencing a NDE will say they had an out-of -body-experience; they will float above themselves and observe emergency medical procedures being done to them, and when they wake up, they can accurately say what happened to them. Parnia, of the Horizon Research Foundation, is conducting an exciting ongoing study that includes placing a hidden target on the ceilings of hospital rooms that patients might later report if they had an out-of-body-experience.

There are scientific arguments on either side, but skeptics point to biological functions that happen during the dying process that could account for some NDEs. When the heart stops beating, C02 levels rise and fall.  On study found that increased C02 was the only common factor amongst patients who experienced NDEs, but not everyone who had increased C02 had a near death experience. Increased C02 has been associated with hallucinations, including bright lights.

Time slowing, being met by deceased family members and feeling love are commonly reported features of NDEs.  In religious environments, I have definitely heard people share stories about coming close to death, or watching a loved one die, and being aware of deceased family members present, including family members the person never met in life. I have also heard of feeling the love of God, more intense than we would imagine.

Does consciousness stop when the brain stops? Is consciousness completely dependent on, or just related to, the brain? Are near death experiences simply hallucinations? I’m not entirely sure I want to find out.  But the symbolism of going toward the light intrigues me. I want to live in the light of God right now.