Frontlines

Now we Get It

Democrats searching for explanations for their disappointing results in the November 2002 elections should be talking to the Christian Coalition of America. It is taking credit for the Republican successes.

CCA President Roberta Combs issued a press release in celebration, saying her group was able to “train, register, educate, and mobilize Christians and people of faith to cast an informed vote.” “From our recent and largest Road to Victory Conference, in which this year’s theme was combining ‘faith with action,’ to the distribution of millions of voter guides and scorecards, last night’s results serve as a great capstone to our efforts in turning out Christians to vote,” she noted.

Combs went on: “We are also very encouraged that left-wing initiatives and amendments across the country suffered overwhelming defeats. Even in liberal Nevada, over two-thirds of the citizens voted against making homosexual marriages and the use of marijuana legal. When people of faith pray and vote, pro-family candidates and initiatives win.”

Be forewarned: the CCA, which claims two million members and is the country’s largest grassroots Christian organization, doesn’t anticipate resting on its laurels. “We must now turn our attention to the 108th Congress and working with the White House and other congressional leaders to move ahead our common-sense legislative agenda to protect families and innocent human life, lowering taxes and educating our children,” said Combs. “The Christian Coalition is now positioned with its largest and best-equipped lobbying team in its history. We will continue to make a tremendous difference by combining the power of prayer with action.”

— Andrea Szalanski

Mormons and Evangelicals Fastest Growing U.S. Faiths

Although Catholics make up the largest denomination in the United States, Mormons and evangelicals are coming up fast, according to a new survey. The last decade saw the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints expanding more rapidly than any other religious group, followed closely by Pentecostal Assemblies of God.

The results were reported in the 2000 Religious Congregations & Membership study, conducted by the Catholic Glenmary Research Center. The Center, which does this survey every ten years, gathered membership data from 149 participating religions. In addition to the increase in the membership in the above religions, the study found a decline in numbers of adherents to liberal Protestant religions. Other results: religions failed to increase their percentage of total population especially in the West; Los Angeles was the most diverse city with 106 denominations, and Illinois was the most diverse state with 120 faiths.

Here are the top fifteen faiths in the

United States, according to Glenmary:

1. Catholicism — 62,035,045 members (up 16 percent).

2. Southern Baptist Convention — 19,881,467 (up 4.9 percent).

3. United Methodist — 10,350,629 members.

4. Jewish — 6,141,325 members.5. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — 5,113,418 members.

6. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints — 4,224,026 members (up 19 percent).

7. Presbyterian — 3,141,566 members (down 12 percent).

8. Assemblies of God — 2,561,998 members (up almost 19 percent).

9. Lutheran Missouri Synod — 2,521,062 members.

10. Episcopal — 2,314,756 members.

11. American Baptist — 1,767,462 members.

12. United Church of Christ — 1,698,918 members.

13. Churches of Christ — 1,645,584 members.

14. Muslim — 1,559,294 members. 15. Christian Churches — 1,439,253 members.

SIDE/LINES

They’ll Take Them However They Can Get Them—The Catholic Church may not give its approval to gay marriage, but it’ll be more than happy to claim the offspring to swell its ranks. The Catholic Diocese of Lexington, Kentucky, agreed to baptize the quadruplets of Thomas Dysarz and Michael Meehan after the men agreed to raise the children as Catholics. We predict conflicts between the parents and the children if the Church’s teachings, especially those regarding homosexuality, are taken to heart.

Fatwah on Falwell—The Reverend Jerry Falwell’s comment on CBS’s 60 Minutes last fall that the Islamic prophet Muhammad was a “terrorist” has not sat well with Middle Eastern clerics. “The death of that man is a religious duty,” noted the representative of Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Falwell was a “mercenary and must be killed,” said an Iranian cleric. Falwell had explained that he came to his conclusion after reading both Muslim and non-Muslim writers.

French Refocus Halloween—The Christian “The No to Halloween Collective” worked with the Diocese of Paris to entertain young people with rock concerts on Halloween and encourage them to instead observe the Catholic holiday All Saints’ Day, which falls the day after. Catholics were to honor their ancestors and visit cemeteries. Food was also used to persuade Catholics to shift their celebrations, as the Church gave bakeries a recipe for All Saints’ Day cake, which was to be sold more cheaply than other goods.

Unforgivable Sins—A Canadian nun has been sentenced to eight months in jail and three years’ probation for assaulting five children when they were between the ages of seven and twelve years with a wooden paddle. Lucille Poulin, seventy-eight, remained unrepentant during the trial and quoted from the Bible that “the blueness of bruises (will) cleanse away evil.” The beatings were administered at a Christian fundamentalist commune where Poulin resided. The “bad behavior” that was being punished included laughing, sneaking a cookie, and falling asleep at inappropriate times.

Fat in the Fire—Despite objections from the United States, Egypt is going ahead with plans to televise a thirty-part series based on the anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Horseman Without a Horse will feature a prominent Egyptian actor and is scheduled to be shown in the first half of Ramadan. The U. S. State Department is still trying to discourage other Islamic governments that are also considering airing the program. Protocols was created by the secret police of Russian Czar Nicholas II as a way to blame the country’s problems on Jews.

Problem Solved?—Sex abuse of children by Catholic priests has been a problem for decades, and the Church’s official response has been slow and unsatisfactory. But perhaps technological advances will contribute to reducing unwanted contact in the years to come. The World Future Society predicts that, by 2004, parishioners may be making confessions to artificial intelligence “priests.”

Conserving for Jesus—What would Jesus drive if he were alive today? The Evangelical Environmental Network says it knows—a small, ecologically friendly car. The Network is lobbying automotive industry executives, taking out print and television ads, and has established a Web site to get the message to the public that sports utility vehicles and trucks guzzle too much gas. Network spokespersons say that to this group “transportation is a moral issue.”

Have We Seen Everything Now?—The Bible has been published in many versions and languages, and now the surfers of Australia have their own. Siebrand Petrusma of the Bible Society in Australia is offering them The Surfers Bible, featuring a cover illustration of a surfer in action, four-color graphics inside, and the testimonials of nine Christian surfers. Wrote one: “I’m stoked to be able to thank Jesus Christ for everything.” An earlier project of the Bible Society, Grommet’s Guide to God, sold 60,000 copies.

Hope He Plans to Raise Them—Pope John Paul II has called upon Italians to have more children. Calling the country’s low birthrate a “crisis,” his comments before the Parliament were boycotted by some members, who said his appearance undermined the secular

When Birds of a Feather Fight

Constitutional issues have split Mormons in Salt Lake City, and they may argue all the way to the Supreme Court. At stake is the public’s right of free speech.

In 1999, for $8.1 million, the city sold the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Main Street Plaza, popular with residents and tourists for its fountains and flowers, but also the connector between the church’s main temple and world headquarters. The deal came with a public easement. And while closing the area off to all but pedestrian traffic was O.K. with the city, the church’s attempts to control what those pedestrians say and do in Main Street Plaza is not.

Initially the city agreed to ban actions that both sides agreed were offensive, such as loitering, indecent exposure, distributing literature, picketing, and playing loud music. But Salt Lake City Groups and the American Civil Liberties Union sued over the restrictions. They were struck down, and as the city retains its public easement the case has progressed through the courts. The Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has the next crack.

Mamas, Don’t Let Your Boys Grow Up to Be Promise-Keepers

The Christian men’s organization Promise-Keepers has seen troubled times in recent years as membership has fallen off. But the leadership hopes to reverse that trend by targeting teen-age boys.

Promise-Keepers is pitching boys a celebration called “Passages,” which features rock bands, hip-hop artists, extreme sports exhibitions, testimonials, and fast-paced videos. The goal is to help teenagers bond with their faith and and families.

“If the current trend continues, we’re going to be a heathen nation,” said Promise-Keepers founder Bill McCartney.

In the Fall 2002 Free Inquiry, Christopher Hitchens wrote about a lawsuit pending against French writer Michel Houellebecq (“The Most Stupid Religion”). Houellebecq was accused of inciting racial hatred when he was asked about his personal feelings about religion in a September 2001 interview on the literary magazine Lire and he criticized Islam. We are pleased to report the case against Houellebecq has been dismissed.

Author Again Targeted by Islamic Zealots

Writer Taslima Nasrin has once again raised the ire of officials in her native Bangladesh with her new book, Utal Hawa Pol (Wild Wind). The government has called for her arrest and banned the publication, sale, distribution, and collection of the book, which is written in the Bengali language. The police have been ordered to confiscate all available copies. According to the Home Ministry, the novel “contains anti-Islam sentiments and statements that could destroy the religious harmony of Bangladesh.”

Nasrin, who is a senior editor of Free inquiry, wrote the book as the second part of her autobiographical novel Amar Meyebela (My Girlhood), which appeared in 1999 and was also banned. Both books were published in Kolkata, India.

Since 1994, Nasrin has lived in exile in Europe and under threat of a fatwa from fundamentalists and government charges of blasphemy for her writing. Her novel that brought her fame in international circles and danger at home, Lajja (Shame), has since been translated into English and all major European languages.


Now we Get It Democrats searching for explanations for their disappointing results in the November 2002 elections should be talking to the Christian Coalition of America. It is taking credit for the Republican successes. CCA President Roberta Combs issued a press release in celebration, saying her group was able to “train, register, educate, and mobilize …

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