Friday, July 11, 2014

Signs I'd like to see at next protest blocking buses of immigrant children

“U-S-A! U-S-A!”

My heart swelled when I heard this communal roar of support last week from fans of the U.S. soccer team.

Then, the same week, I heard the very same chant from flag-waving protesters in Murietta, Calif. They turned “U-S-A! U-S-A!” into an angry taunt, directed at 140 women and children from Central America.

This time, my heart sank.

As these protesters illegally blocked U.S. Border Patrol buses, they insisted the undocumented immigrants on board were lawbreakers.

Maybe so, though many were fleeing such dangerous conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras that they may yet qualify as refugees.

Do we have a broken immigration system that needs fixing? Absolutely.

But whatever the legal issues, the protesters’ rush to dehumanize these vulnerable women and children struck this faith and values reporter as a violation of the one rule – the Golden Rule – enshrined by all the world’s great religions.

Watching the protesters on TV and on YouTube, I didn’t see “Love your neighbor” on any of their signs. I did hear one woman, wearing an American flag blouse, chant “Not Our Kids, Not Our Problem.”

Most of the country’s religious leaders have not forgotten that their holy books teach that immigrants, documented or otherwise, are their brothers and sisters. So there’s now a broad faith coalition – including evangelical preachers, Catholic bishops, rabbis and mainline Protestant pastors – that has been lobbying, so far to no avail, for comprehensive immigration reform.

But apparently some in the pews, including the protesters in Murietta, remain unconvinced.

Perhaps, I thought, some competing signs at the next bus-blocking protest could get them to reconsider. Or at least tone down the hostility.

So, to answer “Go Back Home!” how about this sign: “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself. – Leviticus 19: 34.”

To compete with “Save Our Children from Disease” and “Agents: Secure Our Borders, Not Change Diapers,” I’d suggest this: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. – Matthew, 25:35.”

And to counter “Deport Illegals!” and "America is Being Invaded," here’s a sign-worthy sentiment that many seem to have forgotten: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. – The Statue of Liberty.”

-- Tim Funk

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sing along with these happy Muslim women from Charlotte

Charlotte's Rose Hamid has made a charming video.

It's three-plus minutes of fun that she hopes will challenge what she says is a false perception out there about women like her.

The title of her production: "Muslim Women are Happy."

It's a music video, with Muslim women in hijabs, or headscarves, dancing and frolicking to "Happy," that irresistible hit from big-hatted singer Pharrell Williams.

"People have such a misconception of Muslim women, that we're oppressed and depressed," said Hamid, president of the Muslim Women of the Carolinas. "This is to let them see a different side."

Mostly, she filmed her diverse cast of Muslim women (and children) in uptown's Marshall Park and at the Muslim American Society of Charlotte on Shamrock Drive. But that's her daughter on a rooftop in Palestine, dancing as Williams sings "Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof/Because I'm happy."

I've watched "Muslim Women are Happy" several times and it put a smile on my face at every viewing.

Here it is: Enjoy!

P.S. Nearly every time I write about Muslims, I get hate mail. I hope this time is different. 

-- Tim Funk   

Friday, June 20, 2014

Readers weigh in on public prayer

Nearly 50 of you responded to my request for your opinions on the ongoing debate about public prayer.

It’s a subject that’s very much in the news. And my take in last week’s blog was that the clamor for public prayer – before government meetings, in public schools, on the gridiron at public universities – seemed to be more about some trying to establish the dominance of the majority religion, namely Christianity. (FYI: I’m Catholic.)

Here’s what some of you said:

  • “As someone who is not ‘Christian,’ I feel strongly that the only public prayer that is talked about is Christian prayer. I realize many people fight for this because this is how they were raised and what they’re used to. However, the world is changing, and many people worship in a different way, to a different God (or Goddess), or chose to not worship at all. That is a reason why church and state should be separate.” – Laura Reich, Matthews.

  • “The country is losing its identity enough without being concerned about these far-out (protests against) … innocent prayers before games and (at) school. This is still a Christian country. And I don’t believe Christians are trying to make Christianity a majority activity to the exclusion of other religions – they’re just standing up for themselves and (their) Christian activity.” – Charlie Seng, Lancaster, S.C.

  • “As a (Jewish) teenager, it irked me when, at school functions, the prayer was concluded with ‘We pray in Jesus’ name.’ I believe there was no intentional slight, but just the fact that people didn't even consider there might be someone in the audience that made the use of ‘we’ incorrect, bothered me.” – Mark Selleck, Mineral Springs.

  • “I thank God, yes God, that we have legal push-back to say to schools: ‘You will NOT keep our children from Bible reading. You will NOT keep our children from saying Merry Christmas.’" – Gerri  (last name withheld), Charlotte.

  • “Sadly, there are too many Christian leaders who would deny the diversity our democracy established in the First Amendment. Why can’t the public forum be opened with a simple moment of silence, so each in his own words and way may reflect on the concerns of the day?” – Barney Mulholland, Indian Trail.

  • “Christians are not the bad guys here! Christians are not murdering innocent people around the world who do not believe as they do; Mormon missionaries are not strapping bombs to their bodies and Baptists are not desecrating religious symbols. Neither are Christians complaining about prayers in public!” – John Lane, Charlotte.

  • “Public prayer is a wonderful way for religious zealots to show off their faux humility.” – Albert So, Charlotte.

  • “I am Christian and it does not bother me that my children or grandchildren sit next to people who pray in public to another god. My family knows that they are praying to a false god and their prayers do not have any significance.” – Cathy Lefsky, Davidson.

      -- Tim Funk

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top bishop, actor who played Jesus coming to town for Catholic conference

There was a time when North Carolina was considered mission territory by the Roman Catholic Church.

Now so many Catholics call the state home that Charlotte is the host city this week for the Catholic Media Conference, a national gathering of about 250 reporters, bloggers and public relations professionals.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the newly elected president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, will open the conference Wednesday (June 18) with a keynote address.

Another highlight of the three-day conference at the Sheraton Charlotte Hotel: An appearance by actor Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in the box-office hit, "The Passion of the Christ." He'll be in Charlotte on Thursday (June 19) to screen his new film, "When the Game Stands Tall," for the Catholic group.

A sports drama that stresses character and family over winning, the film is about  Bob Lacouceur, who coached the high school De LaSalle Spartans in Concord, Calif., to 151 consecutive wins  -- 12 undefeated seasons. Set to hit theaters in August, it also stars Laura Dern and Michael Chiklis.

The conference will also hear from Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, who heads the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications and is in charge of Pope Francis' Twitter account, which now tops 13 million followers.

The June 18-20 meeting is co-sponsored by the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada and the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals.

More details here.

-- Tim Funk

Friday, June 13, 2014

Is public prayer just for Christians?

Prayer is in the news.

Let me rephrase that: Public prayer is in the news.

As in prayer before government meetings. Prayer in public school. Coach-led prayer on the gridiron.

All have made headlines lately. And it leaves me with a question.

What if, in each of these news stories, we changed a few words?

Many Christians applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 ruling that it was OK for a town council in Greece, N.Y., to open its meetings with a chaplain’s prayer invoking Jesus.

OK. Let’s change a few words: Say the court said it was OK for a town council to open its meetings with an imam’s prayer invoking Allah. How many Christians would also support that?

The ruling would seem to allow it. And a recent survey found that Islam is now the second-largest religion – behind Christianity – in North Carolina and many other states.

I hope I’m wrong, but I fear that some Christians – and I am a churchgoing Catholic – would say that only Christian prayers should be allowed. Or that Muslim prayers should not be allowed.

OK, next: The state General Assembly is poised to pass a bill that would affirm students’ rights to pray in public school and would allow teachers and staff to “adopt a respectful posture” during student-led prayers.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors said it was filed as a reaction to a 2012 case in which a first-grader was forced to remove references to God from a poem about her grandfather.

Clearly, this first-grader was wronged by a constitutional illiterate. But let’s say the first-grader used a different word: Not God, but Vishnu, a major God in Hinduism.

Do you still think the bill would have been filed? Is the legislature as sensitive to minority religions as it is to Christianity?

Next, there was news that an atheist group, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, had launched a complaint against Clemson University’s football program. The group charged that Tigers football coach Dabo Swinney crossed the line separating church from state (Clemson is a public university) when he scheduled team devotionals.

The current edition of “Decision,” the magazine published by the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, cast this as an attack on Christian Swinney’s religious liberty.

What if Swinney were a Buddhist? And he scheduled team meditations? The atheist group may still have filed a complaint against Clemson, but would “Decision” have still run an article?

Don’t get me wrong: I believe prayer to be powerful. And I am all for true religious liberty.

I just wonder if the debate over public prayer is really more about something else: Some who belong to the majority religion trying to establish its dominance, get the government seal of approval and crowd out some other faiths.

That’s what happens in countries like Saudi Arabia. But this is America, and we’re getting more religiously diverse by the day.

OK, now, what do you think?

-- Tim Funk

Friday, June 6, 2014

In new book, Charlotte pastor calls for reaching out to 'nones'

By now, you’ve probably heard of the “nones,” that 20 percent of the U.S. population – and a third of adults under 30 – who have no religious affiliation.

It’s a rapidly growing group that has zoomed past the Baptists (about 17 percent of the population) and is nipping at the heels of the Catholics (23 percent).

The faith community’s reaction to this trend? Some are alarmed, others are in denial, and still others see it as an opportunity.

Pastor James Emery White of Mecklenburg Community Church is in that third category. He argues in a new book – his 20th – that Christian churches committed to following Jesus’ call to spread the Gospel must connect with these nones.

He said he’s been doing it for years: “Meck,” which he founded in 1992, has been a kind of “living laboratory” on how to woo the unchurched.

His non-denominational evangelical church and its satellite sites – all in north Mecklenburg – have about 10,000 active attendees. And 70 percent of its growth, he said, comes from people who had not been active in another church.

In his book – “The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated” – White urges churches to step outside the “Christian subculture.”

“The mission cannot be simply to keep Christians happy and growing,” he writes. “Nor can it be about attempting to lure believers from other churches by having glitzier services and better programs. Our mission will actually have to target the nones.”

White acknowledges that this will not be easy because most nones don’t really want to be targeted by churches.

White compares most churches to airlines trying to get fliers to switch from, say, USAir to Southwest Airlines with a cheaper fare. But with the nones, he told me, “we’re trying to get people who don’t want to fly. And that’s hard.”

So how does White propose to turn them into church-going followers of Christ?

First, understand who they are. Drilling down into the data, White found that the typical none is not atheist or agnostic. Two-thirds believe in God. They just think churches are too focused on money, power, rules and politics.

“They’re the classic ‘I’m spiritual, but not religious’ person,” said White, 52, who didn’t become a Christian until he was 20. “They love to hear things explained. They have great questions (about religion) that are so legitimate. And for whatever reason, they’ve never been answered.”

White’s next step: Try to answer those questions. Not by watering down the Bible’s vision, but by making a positive case for it.

Finally, he said, focus on love, not condemnation. “It’s how you say what you say. It’s being able to enter into dialogue, where people feel talked with, not talked at.”

-- Tim Funk

Friday, May 30, 2014

New game show comes to Charlotte, plays Cupid in the pews

We live in a time when religion intersects with politics, with media, with business ... and now with the Game Show Network.

It already brings us “Dog Eat Dog,” “Family Feud” and Jerry Springer’s “Baggage.”

Next Thursday night (June 5) at 9, it will launch “It Takes a Church.” And the first house of worship to get the spotlight: The Rock Worship Center in Charlotte.

The series lets Christian congregations around the country play matchmaker to one of its single members. People in the church nominate potential mates; the pastor offers wholesome relationship advice; and the finalists try to one-up each by, among other things, invoking the Lord.

After watching the debut, I’d say the makers of “It Takes a Church” follow this recipe: Mix “The Dating Game” with “Survivor.” Then sprinkle in some Bible verses. Stir.

Each week, host Natalie Grant, a Christian music singer, will show up in a different church and call on an unsuspecting single to exit the pews and join her up front.

On Thursday, the bachelorette is Angela Morgan, a 30-year-old engineer who attends The Rock Worship Center, a Pentecostal church at 1113 Fordham Road.

“Your church believes it can help you find true love,” Grant tells Morgan as the congregation roars its approval.

Next we meet the potential mates, as introduced and promoted by matchmakers in the congregation who, during the crisply edited hour, also suggest strategies on how to win over Morgan.

Among the suitors: “Dr. Bradford,” 32, a saxaphone-playing dentist who begins each workday leading a prayer in his office, and one guy whose matchmaking patron is his mother.

Then, as part of the whittling process, Pastor Frank Jacobs invents an exercise that challenges Morgan to trust and tests the mettle of the finalists.

There’s even a glimpse or two of Patrick Cannon – apparently he was still Charlotte’s mayor when the episode was shot.

I steer clear of spoilers, but I can tell you that Morgan is courted during a horse-and-buggy ride uptown, and that one of her dates blesses the food before their postgame dinner at Strike City bowling alley.

The show has some laughs, some tears and some good lines – including the teasers before cutting to commercials: “Will she listen to her church and open up her heart?”

On June 19, the show moves to Rock Hill’s The Well: Agape International Ministries, led by Pastor Maurice and Katie Revell. The bachelorette: Valerie Odom.

Click here for more info on the series -- and a preview video.

-- Tim Funk