A tale of two religious leaders

One of my greatest pet peeves is bigotry from the pulpit. I feel that it is a misuse of power to use influence from the pulpit to promote exclusion or put down another’s religion. Two religious leaders made the news yesterday about statements they made online or in public. They show the good and bad side of religion. It is my belief when religion is inclusive it is at its best; when it excludes it is at its absolute worst.

On the good side, Pope Francis continued to show that he is a new kind of pope. His interest in addressing the needs of the impoverished and disenfranchised and promoting peace are exemplary. He is slowly turning the battleship in the harbor which is the Catholic Church. He noted that freedom of speech is important, but he cautioned that when one speaks of religion they need to tread more thoughtfully. He is not condoning terroristic actions by extremists, but he is just sharing the counsel of wisdom. The old rule of thumb for peaceful family dinners is you don’t talk about religion or politics at the table comes to mind. The same can be said on a broader scale.

Freedom of speech is valued, but it is not fully understood around the globe what that entails. I remember the line from one of my favorite movies “The American President” when Michael Douglas noted America is advanced citizenship. You have to want it real badly. You have to tolerate someone shouting at their lungs against what you have been shouting at your lungs in favor of. Many around the world are not ready for that. So, when you add the extra passion of faith and someone makes fun of that faith, it is hard to swallow and extremists can be influenced to do unreasonable things. This is a different way of saying there is great power in freedom of speech, so you may want to use it more judiciously at times. You can still indict unenviable and unreasonable actions, but tread a little more cautiously when speaking of a religion.

On the negative side, Reverend Franklin Graham is at it again with his vitriol condemning the entire religion of Islam rather than the extremists. His organization, Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelical organization do so much good around the world, that he only detracts from these efforts when he espouses condemning language. The fact he has 70,000 likes on his comments is also disturbing, which validates my argument. When a faith leader espouses bigotry from the pulpit or from his website, he is misusing his influence to divide. He is actually doing the exact opposite of what I would prefer a religious leader to do. And, to be brutally frank, when I think of WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?), I do not think the Jesus from my bible would condone denigrating others. In fact, Jesus was consistently more irritated with the religious leaders of the day, who in His mind misused the church power and resources.

In my simple mind, it is pretty straightforward. Treat others like you want to be treated. That is Jesus’ advice to the world and echoes that of other religious leaders. The Pope gets this. Even though I am not Catholic, I feel Pope Francis is one of the most important leaders in the world right now. Previous popes had forgotten this power and focused on less important things which diminished the focus on helping people. This Pope is walking the talk and I hope other leaders follow his lead down the better path forward.

17 thoughts on “A tale of two religious leaders

  1. Well said. I would only qualify your statement about the Pope a bit: he is the “most important [religious] leader in the world right now.” And I couldn’t agree more that those in the pulpit that encourage bigotry have violated their calling.

    • Thanks Hugh. Your clarification is correct. The term I was using was on his ability to influence, but I believe I will change the wording as I did debate the one I chose. Have a great weekend.

    • Yes, specifically, but he has made this point a couple of times before, which is why it is more troubling. I was pleased to see about 300 non-Muslims show up anyway at the event at Duke, which was called off due to this and other pressure.

  2. I jumped the Catholic ship and became Quaker, which is simplicity at it’s best. However, I must say I am loving Pope Francis and all the kind and no frills preaching he has brought to the Vatican…he rocks in my book!
    There is NOTHING worse than the WWJD folks, who are clueless to his teachings. We have a minister that comes to our office. He wears what might be a life sized crucifix around his neck, that is scary at best. Well, one day he was spewing his hatred for the president and actually asked us to pray that “those people don’t stay in office” (seriously). That’s all I wanted in that moment was for that giant Jesus to pop off of his neckless, punch him in the face while screaming “stop representing me”! It didn’t happen and I’m still sad.

    • Thanks for your comment. We need to call these people out more with simple questions – do you really believe that? or why would you believe that? You may appreciate a famous quote from Gandhi who said I admire and respect Jesus, it is just Christians I am not to crazy about. The Pope is making a huge difference and is well-received wherever he goes.

  3. Agreed! As a librarian, I am all for freedom of speech. I like your wording, that sometimes it is more wise to use it judiciously. I don’t think that fanning the flames of religious intolerance by being provocative, is helpful. It just makes the point “I am using my right to free speech.” It can be valid to make that point, but not always. There is also some personal choice involved. For example, South Park tried to offend all religions equally! I personally don’t enjoy it and I won’t be Facebook-liking it any time soon.

    • Many thanks for your comment. It is like the Koran burning minister in Florida. Yes, it is his right in America, but why would you do that and not expect backlash? My favorite example of free speech came when a group of people stood in front of the Westboro Baptist protestors at military funerals because the US allows gays in the military. Their purpose was to block the view of the families who were trying to bury their loved ones in peace from the picketing Westboro members, the same loved ones who fought for the Westboro people’s right to protest.

  4. Note to Readers: I watched “Selma” yesterday with one of my sons. It is very well done and provided a good rendering of history. It has taken some flack for portraying LBJ as more antagonistic than he likely was, but he was one of the best politicians around, so he knew how and when to work a room and get things passed probably better than many Presidents. But, he was a politician, so he made trade-offs.

    But, the overarching theme of standing up for the right to vote is the clear message here where African-Americans were denied a constitutional right. The beatings, shootings and maltreatment will make you shake your head in disbelief. I wrote this comment here as we saw two large examples of how religious leaders can support the rights of the disenfranchised or inflame the passions of hatred against.

    After the first Selma bridge beating which was shown on national TV, MLK called out to ministers, rabbis and priests who gladly came in to March with him. One of those priests was later beaten to death as a supporter. But, being present with African-Americans, shows what the power of support can do. As LBJ would later say in front of Congress this is an American problem. On the flip side, is ministers who stayed silent, or worse, found passages in the bible to support the continued maltreatment of African-Americans. Both the silent and negatively active religious leaders were in the wrong. Speaking out against something proved to be dangerous, but if ministers perpetuate bigotry by being silent, then who can feel comfortable to shout out against maltreatment.

    I would encourage all to go see this movie. Let me know what you think.

    • Calvin insisted that humans are born “totally depraved,” as a result of the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Sinners can only hope t be saved by the grace of God — which explains why there are so few humans with a conscience and so many who commit the sins of commission and omission. (No, I am not a Calvinist, but it goes a long way toward explaining the sorts of things you depict!). The sad thing is that the movie you describe suggests little more than an echo of the situation Lincoln faced throughout his presidency. Things seem to change but they stay the same.

      • Hugh, good point. To me the greatest blocker of doing the right thing is fear. The fear of being physically and socially beaten or ostracized for speaking out. We saw it with the religious and good hearted Germans who would not speak up against the Nazis, we saw it throughout the slavery and Jim Crow era (and still see some of it today) when the same folks do not speak out when they see repression and the millions of Muslims who live in close proximity to terrorists, who know if they speak out they and their families might be killed.

        I was reminded of the documentary I saw on the Freedom School where college age students went in the south to educate and help people register to vote. Three of them were killed within a couple of days. I recall the parents of Miss Mississippi inviting the students over to their house to learn more and withing ten minutes there was a knock on the door asking what they were doing. The parents and Miss Mississippi eventually had to leave the state as they were ostracized.

        What bothers me is the more subtle and less subtle ways of devaluing the rights of people of color. These Voter ID Laws that have been ruled unconstitutional and in varying stages of appeal are prima facie evidence of this subtle bigotry to win elections and control.

        Thanks for your comments. I do think Calvin misstated the lack of good in people. It just should not be so hard to be unleashed. BTG

      • You may be on to something. Fear explains a great deal. I’m not sure I side with Calvin, either. But I do like his notion that we are all born “depraved.” It explains a lot. But, as you suggest, it is too sweeping, too broad in scope. Perhaps we can simply say that a great many people have shit for brains? Will that work?

      • I am not sold on Calvin either, but his point is valid in that we are born with natural instincts of survival and have to be taught and molded. Just as bigotry has to be carefully taught, being a good person does as well. If we do not put good ideas into those brains, they may be not worth a bucket of it.

        Maslov’s hierarchy of needs places being safe and secure very high on the list. Here is a test for us westerners – if you were an Afghani or Iraqi who lived away from protection and ISIS or the Taliban threatened your and your family’s lives, what would you do? This is the ultimate walk in someone else shoes test. My belief is many would do whatever it takes to live, even if it goes against their belief system.

        I am moved by the line from “Last of the Mohicans” when Daniel Day Lewis’ character tells Madeleine Stowe’s character to do whatever it takes but stay alive, even submit. “I will find you.”

    • Interesting that Hugh brings up Calvin and the depravity of man, which I completely disagree with. But for the sake of argument, Calvin also believed that man is born with a sense of the divine within him. Franklin Graham has chosen to spread intolerance and fear rather than embrace the Pope’s philosophy of love and acceptance. The darkness and the light, the “duality of man” is apparent here. I believe most of us, barring a mental defect, have the capacity for both.

      • Amaya, I think you reflect the reason why I am not sold on Calvin. I do believe when first born, we are bent on survival and the good or bad in us has to be nurtured and learned. I also believe we have a desire to “belong” due to a communal instinct to survive. I am more in line with us being creatures of habits like Aristotle first observed. We can instill good habits or bad habits. Bigotry or inclusiveness have to be carefully taught.

        As for Franklin, his comments are disappointing and are harmful to all the good he does. I wish his father was more coherent and could counsel him more on being a big tent preacher where all our welcome. IF a preacher promotes exclusion, I have found it is a self-fulfilling prophecy and his/ her audience will decline.

        Thanks for your comments, BTG

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