When Christians Attack!

The High Point, N.C. City Council meeting is not normally a hot ticket. The only other time I’ve attended was as a correspondent for a magazine, and there were perhaps a dozen people watching, and not very attentively at that. But Monday night was different. A local pastor had thrown down the gauntlet to the City Council in the form of a letter to the editor. He and his flock would be there to represent Jesus in the meeting. I felt it was my civic duty to at least get a look at them, so I headed down to City Hall. Conveniently enough, my husband works there, so I was able to hand off the baby on my way up to Council Chambers.

The history of the dispute is pretty straightforward. Apparently, the council had been opening with prayer that included Jesus until an unnamed troublemaker called the ACLU. According to the local paper, this happened in November, but it seems to have come to a head in the past couple of weeks. The city obtained legal advice which resulted in a policy of non-sectarian prayer until the ACLU’s lawsuit against a nearby local government is settled. After that, High Point’s council may change the policy again if it seems prudent.

Well, Jesus’ faithful were not amused by the omission of His name from the prayer. They all sat politely through the opening prayer (which didn’t mention Jesus) and the city’s other business of the day—a house demolished, a sewer pipe extended, yada yada. Then the fireworks began. Councilman Alexander offered a resolution to change the prayer. It had obviously been vetted by a team of lawyers and was quickly seconded as the Christians booed. Then their hero, Councilman Pugh, offered a competing resolution which would allow each council member on a rotating basis to offer his or her own prayer without restriction, “according to the dictates of his or her own conscience.” The crowd applauded. Then the Mayor asked for a second, and there was none. You could have heard a pin drop. The Mayor declared the resolution failed, and Councilman Wilkins spoke up, saying that he agreed with Pugh’s resolution. Wilkins is a minister of some sort, I believe. The crowd was furious! “Why didn’t you second the motion?” several shouted. I’m not sure he ever gave much of a reason, but I’m assuming he was swayed by the legal arguments in favor of the other resolution. During the comments period, Wilkins was chided for “denying Jesus.”

I sat scribbling in my notebook, looking like a reporter. It seemed prudent to seem impartial. I was definitely in the minority. During the cheers and standing ovations, I was one of maybe a dozen people out of the 200 or so who didn’t join in.

You know, I could make fun of the Christians. I wrote down some pretty snarky comments in my little notebook. But, in the end, I couldn’t help being charmed by them. Their enthusiasm and dedication are truly admirable. If they were on the side of the Constitution rather than the Bible, we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in today. Heck, even if they all just understood that the two are not mutually exclusive, we’d be in better shape.

One commenter said something that really made me think. “You have just established a state religion,” he said to the council. “By telling us how to pray, you’ve just done what you think you’re trying to prevent.” I wanted to shout, “Amen!” (Really, it’s catching, especially for someone who grew up in the Baptist church.) The meeting often took on the tenor of a sermon, with nodding heads and whispers of “yes,” and “praise Jesus.”

I found myself, to my great astonishment, on the protesters’ side, firmly against the non-sectarian prayer idea. I’ve never been more sure that prayer does not belong in a taxpayer-funded public meeting. By sanctioning any sort of prayer at all, the City is indeed establishing a religion. One of the reasons given for opening with prayer was to “solemnify” the event. In other words, some religion is better than no religion. But, isn’t saying a watered-down prayer to a vague deity a waste of time? Not to mention a nauseating mixture of church with state. Both are cheapened in the mingling. Another believer said, “By not allowing a Christian to pray in Jesus’ name, you are disparaging his faith.” That makes perfect sense to me. I might say that, by forcing me to listen to any kind of prayer at a city council meeting, you are disparaging my faith in the Constitution…the Enlightenment…Reason Itself even!

Of course, there were the predictable diatribes against the ACLU. I think we officially jumped the shark when somebody mentioned NAMBLA. They think it’s okay for grown men to have sex with 9-year-old boys! The ACLU would allow pornography in the schools! Their sole intent is to destroy Christianity! (Councilman Pugh said that last one. I had to fake a cough to disguise my laughter. It was the only time during the night that I lost my poker face.)

A good deal of the anger in the room could have been defused had the comment period been held before the vote on the resolution. People were standing and shouting in frustration. I doubt we’ve seen the last of this group. It was quite a diverse crowd. There were teens, senior citizens, African Americans, good ol’ boys--a pretty good cross-section of High Point, or at least the middle-to-low end of the economic scale. But, make no mistake, the speakers were not rubes. They were quite well-spoken and informed, citing court cases more than Bible verses. They came prepared.

I was disappointed that, despite the taunting letter in the paper, no progressives showed up, or at least not in enough numbers to feel comfortable speaking out in such an unfriendly crowd. I considered signing up to speak, but when I saw that I’d likely be the only church-state separationist, I caved and played reporter.

Cross-posted at Dailykos: http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2007/7/17/201051/527

Comments

Sometimes You're Hard Pressed -

it's often difficult to be the one with the open mind.

But that is a reporter's job.

From the 2004-2005 edition:

Republican Christians - Modern Day Pharisees

Your party has won the election. You're overjoyed and hopeful that the morals and values of the American people will be addressed and strengthened in the next four years. You may be right. America can only hope that you are right but the betrayal, indifference, hostility, and down right insulting attitudes displayed to another section of Americans - the Democratic Christians, must be addressed.

The arrogance of the Republican party - the Republican Christians specifically have alienated and offended a huge population of potential allies who are also your brothers in Christ.

I stopped writing after that. I think I was too angry to continue. I think you can understand.

No progressives?

I'm not surprised, because frankly this is an issue I think most of us don't care a whit about. We care about Republicans running the country into the ground in "God's name". We care about Republicans using Christianity to support their hatred of anyone in the minority. But, it is a pretty small minority that gets worked up about prayer at meetings, "private meditation" before school, or a group prayer before a football game.
I would bet there are more Democrats that support hard-core gun control than there are Democrats who care about whether or not there is a prayer before a town council meeting.
One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it. - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Actually, it's something I care a lot about.

But I'm weird that way.

High Point is a tough town for progressives, though, isn't it?


Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

And, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that.

It's just my guess that you're in the minority, which the crowd makeup at the event above tends to confirm. I think Christians shoot themselves in the foot not pushing for, or accepting, "quiet meditation" when these fights come up.

One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it. - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Definitely in the minority.

No question there. As for the quiet meditation thing, you'd think that would be the obvious solution, or "Please give thanks (or whatever) in the way in which you're accustomed", or something similar. Hard core Christians I've worked with have been offended by that and have said that no prayer at all would be better than that.

Which I find very difficult to understand. It's a paradigm I've resigned myself to not understanding.


Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

You should tell them...

that what they think doesn't matter, because according to the Pope they don't belong to a real true church.

It restates key sections of a 2000 document the pope wrote when he was prefect of the congregation, "Dominus Iesus," which set off a firestorm of criticism among Protestant and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation."

In the new document and an accompanying commentary — which were released as the pope vacations here in Italy's Dolomite mountains — the Vatican repeated that position.

This is the thing about "national" religion. What religion?
Christianity = about 75% of Americans, so there is 25% left out.
Catholicism makes up about 10%, so they are left out because we know OUR state religion will be protestant.
But, which protestants? All those Anglican churches that allow gay marriage, gay priests, and support single parents? Not on GWB's watch.
What you are left with is about 25% of the population being the "right kind" of Christian for our "national" religion. THAT doesn't even take into account the stupid reasons these churches all schismed in the first place.

One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it. - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Then They're Stupid and

They need to go back to school. It's obvious they missed Civics and American Government.

Hard core Christians I've worked with have been offended by that and have said that no prayer at all would be better than that.

This is where I think

the Quakers have got it right. They await in silence. To me, it seems to be an elegantly simple concept: you can't hear G'd (or anyone else) if your mouth is flapping.

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
Mohandas Gandhi

A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.
Mohandas Gandhi

I've wanted to attend a meeting for some time

Since I read a great book about the philosophy of Quakers. Let's see, over at Street Prophets, I think my sig line is still....
Walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone. - George Fox

I find that a powerful thought, whatever deity or force you choose to believe in, that there is something of IT in everyone.

One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn't have to understand something to feel it. - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Jesus Swept ticked me off. Too short. I loved the characters and then POOF it was over.
-me

Very very well said.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi

We've had this brewing in Forsyth, too

I'm ready to throw in the towel on the Triad. With the exception of Greensboro, which I found quite boring when I lived there, the rest of the area is a hotbed of fundamentalism. If a Martian landed here, he'd think that the American president was the greatest of all time. Esp because he's a man of prayer.

Jesus

War is over if you want it.

War is over if you want it.

Cloaking ones self in religion for political purposes is not new

The Republicans have mastered the art, but that should not detract from those who's hearts are sincere and looking to a creator for the answers and purpose of our existance.
I am a life long Democrat. I am a Christian. The conclusions one may draw from that, or the judgements one may render upon me as a result of my Christianity is irrelevent to me as a person, as a believer.
The Republican Party has made an art of demonizing Democrats and the Democratic Party based on their belief that God is a Republican supporter. If one is foolish enough to buy that, then let them. I guess ignorance can be bliss afterall.

Marshall Adame
2014 U.S. Congress Candidate NC-03

You know what, Marshall?

You are a wise man. I think you've got one heck of a shot at this.


Be the change you wish to see in the world. --Gandhi