Friday, January 30, 2015

Religious liberty or discrimination? Think on these cases

We Americans are a divided lot these days. The problem: Too many of us seem eager to fight first and think later.

Take religion, a subject where you’d expect some thoughtfulness, even prayerfulness. Instead, the news is filled with war-like language over everything from same-sex marriage to Islam to persecution of Christians.

So let me ask you to cool your jets for a few minutes and ponder the following cases – some real, some hypothetical. Here goes:

  • A bill was introduced this week in the North Carolina Senate that would allow magistrates and registers of deeds who object to marrying gay couples to recuse themselves for religious reasons. What do you think? How about, say, Catholic magistrates and registers of deeds who may object to marrying people who have been divorced?

  • The mayor of Atlanta dismissed the city’s fire chief this month after he called homosexuality “vile” in a book he self-published and distributed to employees. What do you think? What if, say, the chief had written that Jews were bound for hell if they don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus?

  • What would you think about a Muslim public school teacher who wore a hijab, or head scarf? How about a public school teacher who wore a necklace that prominently displayed a Christian cross?

  • In a case involving Hobby Lobby, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last year that corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage for contraception. What do you think? What about a company whose owners had religious objections to, say, blood transfusions or even hospitalization?

  • Duke University recently sparked an uproar when it planned – than canceled plans – to begin a weekly Muslim call to prayer from the campus’ Christian chapel. What do you think? What would you think if a mosque or synagogue refused worship space to a Christian student group?

  • Saying employees are expected to abide by Catholic doctrine, Charlotte Catholic High School recently severed ties with a popular teacher after he used Facebook to announce plans to marry his male partner. What do you think? What if the high school had severed ties with a teacher because he and his wife practiced birth control – also a violation of church doctrine?

  • Does the violence of abortion clinic bombers and the Ku Klux Klan color your view of all Christians? Does the violence committed by radical jihadis color your view of all Muslims?

  • What do you think of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad? How about cartoons making fun of Jesus?

My point: Us-vs.-them thinking often blinds us to the other side of an issue. If you want others to respect your identity – religious or otherwise – start by respecting theirs.

-- Tim Funk 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Looking for (faith) things to do? Here's list of speakers and more.

Like other news outfits, the Observer does surveys to see what our readers want more (and less) of when they open the paper or visit our website.

Well, survey says … you want more info on things to do.

On the faith & values beat, I interpret that to mean more about upcoming speakers and events.

Below are several I think may have wide interest. But first let me ask you to share with me any lectures, celebrations, seminars and whatever that you think would have public appeal.

Send them to

OK, ready with your calendars?

  • Poet/theologian/artist/author Edwina Gateley will speak at 9 a.m. Saturday (Jan. 24) at St. Peter Catholic Church, 507 S. Tryon in uptown. Her topic: “Discipleship – Giving Birth to God in a Contemporary World.” Free. Register here.

  • Temple Beth El’s 18th annual Comparative Religion Series will continue Tuesdays at 7 p.m. through Feb. 24 at the synagogue, 5101 Providence Road. This year’s focus: “Religion and Science – Can they coexist?”

Here’s the schedule: Tuesday (Jan. 27), the Buddhist perspective from Ryusho Jeffus, Shonin, Myosho-Ji of the Wonderful Voice Buddhist Temple; Feb. 3, the Catholic perspective, from Brother Guy Consolmagno of the Vatican Observatory; Feb. 10, the Islamic perspective from Syed Rizwan Zamir, assistant professor of religion at Davidson College; Feb. 17, the Baptist perspective from the Rev. Russ Dean, co-pastor of Park Road Baptist Church; and Feb. 24, the medical/religious perspective from Dr. Derek Raghavan of the Levine Cancer Institute and Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth El. Free.

  • Davidson College professor Douglas Ottati will speak 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Jan. 28) in the school’s Alvarez College Union (Smith 900 Room). His topic: “Love Your Enemies – The Teaching of Jesus & Dynamics of Reactionary Violence.” Free.

  • In February, several Catholic churches in Charlotte will host courses as part of the winter semester of GIFT (Growing in Faith and Theology). Fee: $30 or $20 for Catholic school teachers and parish catechists. Brochures, course descriptions, dates, places, and registration forms are here.

The courses include: “Three Sacred Pathways to God (Franciscan, Benedictine and Ignatian)”; “Mercy, Jesus, Pope Francis and Me”; “World Religions”; “Short History of the Catholic Church in North Carolina”; “Brew Like a Benedictine”; and, in Spanish, “Los Sacramentos – Fuentes De Sanación." (This last course is free).

  • Poverty expert Donna Beegle will speak at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 3 at Wingate University in the Batte Center's McGee Theatre. The school is in Monroe. Beegle lives in Oregon and is the author of "See Poverty. Be the Difference."

She was born into a migrant family, married at 15, was homeless for 28 years, and is the only member of her family who has not been incarcerated. She went on to get a doctorate and is now president of Communication Across Borders.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Want a good movie about real religion? Go see 'Selma'

If you're looking for a movie with real religion -- as well as historical context, emotional complexity, political savvy and inspiring humanity -- I have a recommendation.

Go see “Selma,” the Oscar-nominated film about the civil rights marches that brought voting rights to African-Americans in the South in the 1960s.

Like the best films about religion – “Dead Man Walking,” “Shadowlands,” “Of Gods and Men” – “Selma” centers on imperfect people struggling to walk the talk of faith.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (played superbly by British actor David Oyelowo) clearly shines as a leader with vision and moral courage. But gifted director Ava DuVernay also lets us see his behind-the-scene battles with doubt, indecision and the tension in his marriage to Coretta Scott King (Carmen Ejogo, also British and also excellent).

Such burdens give rise to a private dream, voiced by King in the opening scene, of a life away from the limelight, as the pastor of a small church in a university town.
But this Baptist preacher, his wife and his lieutenants soldier on, looking to God in those moments of hopelessness, despair – and awe.

Feeling drained and discouraged one night, King calls and wakes up gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, telling her he needs to hear the voice of the Lord. Obligingly, and movingly in the film, she sings over the phone, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”

Then later, after a helmeted Alabama state trooper shoots and kills Jimmie Lee Jackson, a young civil rights worker, we see King, tears brimming, try to console the martyr’s 82-year-old grandfather at the morgue. “God was the first to cry,” King tells the grieving old man, “the first to cry for your boy.”
“Selma” will make you tear up, for sure. With sadness at the evil humans are capable of, but also with joy at the faith-based solidarity so many display.

Take the scene where we see the result of King's call for reinforcements for the 54-mile march to Montgomery. Many thousands from around the country drive and fly to Selma, including Jewish rabbis, Catholic nuns, a Greek Orthodox archbishop and the Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister from Boston who was to be murdered by racist thugs.

Biblical epics and churchy dramas are fine. But for those clamoring for movies that convey the positive power of religion, I say: Go see “Selma.”

Upcoming events

Two of the many Charlotte events marking Dr. King’s upcoming holiday testify to the religious roots of the civil rights movement:

  • The Rev. Clark Olsen will speak Sunday (Jan. 18), 9:15 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., at Unitarian Universalist Church of Charlotte, 234 North Sharon Amity Road. Olsen was a young UU minister in March 1965 when he answered King’s call for clergy to come to Selma and march. And he was there when his friend, the Rev. Reeb, was beaten to death by a white mob.
  • Former NAACP President Benjamin Jealous will be the keynoter at 8 a.m. Monday (Jan. 19) at the YMCA of Greater Charlotte’s 21st annual MLK Holiday Prayer Breakfast. More than 1,100 people are expected at the Charlotte Convention Center’s Crown Ballroom in uptown. Jealous plans to challenge the audience by asking: What is that one big thing you are going to change in your community before you die?

-- Tim Funk

Friday, January 2, 2015

Charlotteans worship God in these languages, too

In how many languages do people in Charlotte worship God these days?

I listed 20 that I knew of in a column last month. I should have said 21 because – as some of you pointed out – I failed to include what’s still the most prevalent worship language in town: English.

Oops! (Since the 1930s, that’s been an English word for acknowledging a blunder.)

My other mistake: I should have said that Haitian congregations here have services in Creole, not French.

I also invited you to alert me about other worship languages here that I was not aware of. Thanks to those who told me about:

22. Burmese. And 23. Hakha Chin.

Refugee congregations from war-torn Myanmar have been worshiping at Park Road Baptist Church and at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church.

24. Portuguese.

Brazilian members have services at Cokesbury United Methodist Church.

25. American Sign Language (ASL).

At Chapel for the Deaf, housed at Ascension Lutheran Church, worshipers pray and sing with their hands.

26. French. 27. Nepali (from Nepal). And 28. Tamil (from Sri Lanka and India).

Jehovah’s Witnesses have meetings available in many languages, including these.

Mass en Español

Speaking of language, I also ran across this fascinating factoid in my reporting:

Nearly 30 percent of Catholic parishes now celebrate Mass in a language other than English – a 7 percent increase since 2000, according to “The Changing Face of U.S. Catholic Parishes” study from the Center for Applied Research at Georgetown University.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, waves of Irish, Italian, Polish and other immigrant groups found refuge in a Catholic Church. The descendants of that first generation of immigrants have long since become part of the broad American mainstream.

But today, new waves of immigrants, particularly from Latin America, are again enriching the Catholic Church in the U.S.

To be sure, many immigrants from traditionally Catholic countries such as Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras are finding spiritual homes in non-Catholic churches – Pentecostal, evangelical, mainline Protestant and Mormon.

By 2050, Hispanics are expected to account for 60 percent of Catholics in the U.S. They already make up about half of the more than 340,000 Catholics in the 46-county Diocese of Charlotte.

-- Tim Funk