Getting religion in the public square

the cross in americaThe most recent edition of PBS’ Washington Week included an interesting exchange between a member of the audience at the Aspen Ideas Festival and a panel consisting of leading journalists from Time, The Atlantic and NBC News:

Q: I would like to ask how can we keep religion out of government and politics?

MS. IFILL: How can we keep religion out of — how can we or should we?

Q: Hell, how should we? (Laughter.)

I was a bit taken aback by the bluntness of the question. To some, it’s not a matter of whether religion should be involved in public life, but a matter of how it can best be eliminated.

Ifill quickly passed that question to Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ chief foreign affairs correspondent, who referred the audience member to American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by Jon Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek. Mitchell said the book shows the role of religion among the Founding Fathers, how religion was not completely excluded from our civic society and how it does have a role.

No, really?

I haven’t read Meacham’s book yet, but it is highly respected and has has helped shift popular Washington opinion toward the understanding that religion can indeed have a role in public society.

But as with all matters of religion, some people disagree.

Peter Slevin of The Washington Post has written a 1,400-word viewpoint, I mean news article, on an organization dedicated to keeping religion in the public square:

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — A 29-foot war memorial shaped like a cross should be allowed to remain on public land. A teacher should be able to emphasize references to God in the Declaration of Independence. Protesters should be permitted to approach women near the doors of an abortion clinic.

These courtroom fights and dozens of others pending across the country belong to the portfolio of the ambitious Alliance Defense Fund, a socially conservative legal consortium. It spends $20 million a year seeking to protect what it regards as the place of religion — and especially Christianity — in public life.

Considering itself the antithesis of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Scottsdale-based organization has used money and moxie to become the leading player in a movement to tug the nation to the right by challenging decades of legal precedent. By stepping into the nation’s most impassioned debates about religion in the public sphere, the group aims to bring law and society into alignment with conservative Christianity.

religion in the public squareNote now the article portrays the group as on the offensive. But if you read through the article, all of the examples place the group on the defensive. Rather than attempting to move American law to the right, the group seems more determined to keep the law where it is.

This impression of advancement was helped along by ADF founders Alan Sears and Jeffery Ventrella. The group has a financial interest in proclaiming this version of reality. American values and cultural mores have already been trampled underfoot. And they are the ones, if we can get a check, to bring them back from the brink:

Alliance executives say they are on solid ground when it comes to history and the law, and they insist that the pendulum is beginning to swing their way. Sears said the group, “by grace,” expects to grow 20 percent a year.

“Over and over, there’s a search-and-destroy mission for religious expression,” Ventrella told the trainees in Chicago. “Do we want to forget our religious heritage? When we abandon God, we will forget man. So what’s God got to do with it? Everything.”

The article does an excellent job of documenting the group’s attempts to inflame situations using impassioned rhetoric, but I wonder if the Post would have examined similar efforts by just about any other interest group. I receive ACLU and Sierra Club fundraising letters with rhetoric that could give the ADF a run for its money.

So, why the ADF? The Post article briefly mentions Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law & Justice and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty Counsel. Those groups, and the Rutherford Institute, surely would appreciate similar front-page treatment.

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Leafy green sacrament

ganjaFrequently we discuss the troubles that mainstream media have with covering traditional religious thought. But religious outliers, while gathering senationalist news coverage, also suffer from poor media coverage. That’s why I was glad to see Arizona Daily Star reporter Stephanie Innes’ look at the Church of Cognizance, a group that advocates the use of marijuana. Reader Charlie Lehardy sent the story along.

It would be easy to fill such a news piece with Cheech and Chong references or, on the other hand, take an approach that ignores the weirdness of such a group. Innes strikes a good balance:

The Church of Cognizance, which has quietly operated here since 1991, has an unusual tenet — its worshippers deify and use marijuana as part of their faith.

Until federal authorities charged them with possessing 172 pounds of their leafy green sacrament earlier this year, church founders Dan and Mary Quaintance say they smoked, ate or drank marijuana daily as a way of becoming more spiritually enlightened.

But now, with added conspiracy charges, the Quaintances face up to 40 years each in prison in a case they call religious persecution.

The piece looks at the argument of federal prosecutors who say that religious freedom does not permit the use of illegal drugs. She also looks at the Quaintances’ belief that a recent Supreme Court decision allowing a religious group to use a banned hallucinogenic tea protects them. In that case, she notes, groups such as the Arizona Civil Liberties Union, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Union for Reform Judaism filed briefs in support of the religious group. Innes looks at the crux of the debate:

“Marijuana is the averter of death,” [Dan Quaintance] said. “The energy and spirit that is in marijuana is God. You consume the plant and you consume God. You are sacrificing your body to the deity.” . . .

“Religion is basically putting your faith in what you rely on,” he said. “Jesus started his church because of what he believed and learned.”

He filed a “declaration of religious sentiment” on behalf of the Church of Cognizance with the Graham County Recorder’s Office in 1994, though Dan, his family and other members say the church dates to 1991. . . .

Still, Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the Virginia-based First Amendment Center, says any group seeking an exemption to the nation’s drug laws, even for religious purposes, has a “hill to climb.”

One never knows how these cases will turn out. But, should a case like this proceed through the court system, it would have ramifications on other religious groups. That’s why such disparate groups worked to help out the O Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao Do Vegetal (or UDV), which advocated drinking hallucinogenic tea.

Innes’ piece is full of direct quotes from knowledgeable or interested parties. With complex religion stories, it’s better to quote the players themselves than to convey their views inaccurately. I also like how she took the time to explain more about how the courts determine religious sincerity:

The U.S. Constitution contains no legally recognizable definition of religion, but courts still can apply a test of sincerity, said Jeremy Gunn, director of the Freedom of Religion and Belief program for the American Civil Liberties Union, which supported the UDV church.

If, for example, a group of prisoners calling themselves the Church of Cabernet and Filet Mignon argued religious belief as a reason to be served wine and better food, the government would have a right to question the sincerity of their theological belief, he said.

Mmm. Cabernet.

Photo via Viceroy321 on Flickr.

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We’ll tell you what to think about female ordination

Lutheran ordinationThe latest issue of Newsweek has a story on the ordination of females. Writers Holly Rossi and Lilit Marcus, who I believe are bloggers at the excellent Beliefnet, wrote the story for the mainstream publication. They ask what the election of Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the head of the Episcopal Church means for women seeking a similar path. If they were blogging, the bias of the piece would be just fine. But I’m not sure if they quite have the impartiality necessary for a mainstream news magazine. Let’s see what we think about their tone:

Women make up 61 percent of all Americans who attend religious congregations, but they still struggle for their place in some denominations. A national study led by researchers at Hartford Seminary found that only 12 percent of the clergy in the 15 largest Protestant denominations are women. And some 112 million Americans belong to denominations that don’t ordain women at all, including Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Southern Baptists, Mormons, Muslims and Orthodox Jews.

Emphasis mine. Now maybe it’s because I’m Lutheran and we follow the historic Christian practice of ordaining only select men after rigorous education and training, but, um, I don’t think there’s any question how the writers want us to feel. We have the words that direct the reader — but, only, at all!

The story also has a chart on various religious groups’ policies on the ordination of women. But the chart, at least in my synod’s case, is wrong. It says we permit females to preach in the church. Actually, we don’t. We believe that preaching is a function of the Office of Holy Ministry, which is not open to females. Sure, our bureaucratic leader may have expressed a desire to the contrary, but we haven’t gone down that road yet.

Anyway, back to the bias in this Newsweek piece:

But there are indications that times are changing. . . .

But according to Adair Lummis, coauthor of the recent Hartford Seminary study, it might be easier in 20 years for women to earn top positions like Jefferts Schori’s than to increase their presence as senior clergy in many local congregations, where congregants’ attitudes might still favor male pastors. The stained-glass ceiling “has certainly been punctured,” said Lummis. But it’s yet to completely shatter.

I mean, the writers didn’t even really try to be fair to the ancient, orthodox view. They didn’t even lightly explore the biblical or traditional basis for why the vast majority of Christians ordain men. Heck, they didn’t even explore the attitudinal sexism they credit to congregations who desire male priests and pastors. Sigh. The reason why some churches ordain women and others don’t is because there’s a doctrinal division. Maybe mainstream media should look into that.

Photo via Flickr.

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Rick Warren will “use” North Korea?

rick warrenSarah Price Brown of Religion News Service scored a nice scoop in a June 27 report that Rick Warren of The Purpose-Driven Life fame was headed to North Korea to speak in a 15,000-seat stadium.

With one of the world’s last remaining Communist regimes pulling all sorts of geopolitical stunts these days, one would think this type of news would be picked up by the mainstream press, but so far there has been nothing. Here’s the RNS story posted at Beliefnet:

LAKE FOREST, Calif., June 27 — Evangelical pastor Rick Warren has been invited to preach this summer to some 15,000 Christians in North Korea, a communist country infamous not only for its nuclear threats but also for its religious persecution.

Warren, author of the bestselling book, “The Purpose-Driven Life,” said he would make the trip as part of a nearly 40-day journey to meet with the leaders of 13 foreign countries.

“I want to ask you to pray for me,” Warren told about 5,000 worshippers at his Saddleback Church on Sunday (June 25). He said he would be embarking on a “grueling” tour, meeting with presidents, business leaders and pastors in countries such as Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, Rwanda and South Korea, where he would preach at the world’s largest church.

And then, he told the crowd, “I’ve received another invitation.” Warren said North Korea would allow him to preach in a stadium seating 15,000, but that he could preach in a larger venue if he could fill the seats.

Quick question: there are 15,000 Christians in North Korea? I guess that number would be difficult to verify, considering that the country restricts the flow of information so tightly.

Associated Baptist Press and the Christian Post were quick to pick up on Billy Graham comparisons, ABP focusing on Graham’s 1982 visit to Communist Russia and the Post focusing on Graham’s trip to North Korea over 10 years ago, but the nature of this trip still seems a bit vague and the international reaction limited due to the lack of media coverage.

Warren attempted to deflect criticism that the trip will be highly staged, as past trips by religious leaders to North Korean have been:

“I know they’re going to use me,” Warren said, responding to a question about whether he was concerned that the invitation could be a set-up, a ruse to draw out Christians so that the government could punish them.

“So I’m going to use them.”

Great. So Rick Warren now has Superman-like powers? Exactly how does he plan to use them?

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What is today Istanbul

1142553 Map of Constantinople IstanbulA 74-year-old Catholic priest was attacked this week in Turkey. A man, who was described as mentally ill, was arrested in the knifing of Father Pierre Brunissen. The previous two were linked to Islamic opposition to Christian clergy. This, however, may be a personal case. Here’s what the BBC wrote:

The man had allegedly made complaints about Fr Brunissen trying to convert people to his faith.

Reports said he was attacked in a busy street about 1km from his church.

“I hope this has nothing to with Islamic fundamentalism,” Monsignor Luigi Padovese, the apostolic vicar for Anatolia, told the Associated Press news agency .

“The climate has changed… it is the Catholic priests that are being targeted.”

Anonymously-sourced alleged complaints notwithstanding, this story really could have nothing to do with religious intolerance. But the secular situation in Turkey is very tenuous and worthy of deeper coverage. When I came across this article, I was also pointed to a months-old Washington Post story that looked at the situation in Turkey with a bit more depth. It showed how Muslims believe Roman Catholic missionaries are paying young Muslims to convert to Christianity. It also had this very amazing line:

The tension dates at least to the 13th century, when Christian Crusaders sacked what is today Istanbul.

Really? That’s where the Muslim — Christian tension in Istanbul comes from? From before it was a Muslim city? Interesting.

See, I thought that the great and ancient Christian city of Constantinople (or, as the Post says, “what is today Istanbul”) withstood dozens of attacks from Muslims before finally falling to Sultan Mehmet II in 1453. I mean, yes, soldiers in the Fourth Crusade took over Constantinople — from the Byzantine Christians. I don’t think that’s where Muslim-Christian conflict came from. And the Western-Eastern divide was centuries older, besides. However, I seem to recall there was a particularly brutal final 54-day siege and capture of the city.

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A Mormon for president?

RomneySo the Los Angeles Times has a great idea for a poll, and interviews 1,321 adults about whether religious views would affect their votes in the presidential election. And this is very interesting right now because Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and making a bid for the presidency. So what did the Times find?

Thirty-seven percent of those questioned said they would not vote for a Mormon presidential candidate, and 54% said no to the prospect of a Muslim in the White House.

In addition, 21% said they could not vote for an evangelical Christian.

Fifteen percent said they would not vote for a Jewish presidential candidate, and 10% were unwilling to cast ballots favoring a Catholic chief executive.

While this poll result may not be terribly surprising — American voters have expressed their uneasiness about voting for Mormons previously — that 37 percent is a huge number. It would be great to break that number down and learn a bit more about why so many voters are disinclined toward anonymous Mormons. Is it Mormons’ belief in a multiple godhead? Is it their history with polygamy? Is it Orrin Hatch’s music? But the report takes rather a view from 50,000 feet, interviewing political consultants, academics and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Here are the nut graphs dealing with religious beliefs:

A great-grandfather had five wives, but the church now opposes polygamy, as does Romney. The Mormon Church has about 12.5 million members worldwide, according to the church website; a little under half are in the U.S.

Romney is reticent about his religion, citing privacy and contending that candidates should not be judged on their “brand of faith.” But he regularly describes himself as a Christian, saying, “Jesus Christ is my savior.”

Some branches of Christianity do not embrace the Mormon Church. On its website, the Southern Baptist Convention includes Mormonism in a section called “cults, sects and new religious movements.” Kenyn Cureton, a vice president of the Baptist convention, says his church does not regard Mormons as Christians.

“They are not orthodox in their beliefs,” Cureton said. “They have additional books that they add to the Bible, which evangelical Christians believe is God’s word. They believe that there are many, many gods and that you too can become a god in your own world. It sounds good, but unfortunately it is not based on sound teaching.”

Cureton praised Mormons as “very moral, very family-oriented people.” Southern Baptists, he said, “would appreciate that angle. But as far as our beliefs, we would have disagreements.”

Those paragraphs are a bit inadequate. The poll did not specifically measure whether Christian voters would only vote for fellow Christians. However, if the sample size represents the American electorate, which is three-quarters Christian, it’s obvious from the poll that some Christians would vote for a non-Christian Jew but would not vote for a Mormon. So pointing out that most Christians (or “some branches” as our reporter puts it) don’t recognize Mormon beliefs as Christian (or “embrace the Mormon Church,” as she puts it) doesn’t in any way illuminate the poll. It is conceivable, for instance, that some Southern Baptists would believe that Mormons are not Christian and at the same time vote for Romney. There is no inherent conflict there.

Again, what is it about Mormons or voters that yields this poll result? Unfortunately, the survey doesn’t ask and this report fails to answer the question.

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The status of religion in politics

obamaDid a Democratic version of Mike Gerson start working for Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill.? I ask the question because his speech earlier this week at the Call to Renewal conference is about the best attempt to articulate the struggling movement known as the “religious left.” Not that it was that impressive. It’s about time a Democrat came up with something beyond the talking points on religion and its involvement in the public square.

In the meantime, Slate is all over the crack-ups of both the “religious right” and the “religious left.” But more on that later. Here is the Associated Press version of the Obama speech:

WASHINGTON — Sen. Barack Obama chastised fellow Democrats on Wednesday for failing to “acknowledge the power of faith in the lives of the American people,” and said the party must compete for the support of evangelicals and other churchgoing Americans.

“Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation. Context matters,” the Illinois Democrat said in remarks to a conference of Call to Renewal, a faith-based movement to overcome poverty.

OK, enough of that. It’s a relatively bland AP report on what seems to be just another speech. But it seems to be more than that. It’s time for some analysis. First, read this column by The Washington Post‘s E.J. Dionne, who gushes that Obama’s talk will ultimately be seen as a “road map for Democrats struggling to speak authentically to people of faith.” Um, haven’t we heard the term road map before?

Andrew Sullivan chimed in here with regards to the little-noted comments by Obama on abortion and his own past statements. To me they are some of the most revealing elements of the entire speech, and something that most reports are missing. They are definitely worthy of discussion, but not for now. Back to Dionne, who leveled his own criticism at the AP for missing key aspects of the story:

Here’s what stands out. First, Obama offers the first faith testimony I have heard from any politician that speaks honestly about the uncertainties of belief. “Faith doesn’t mean that you don’t have doubts,” Obama declared. “You need to come to church in the first place precisely because you are first of this world, not apart from it.”

In an interview yesterday, Obama didn’t back away. “By definition, faith admits doubt,” he said. “Otherwise, it isn’t faith. . . . If we don’t sometimes feel hopeless, then we’re really insulating ourselves from the world around us.”

On the matter of church-state separation, Obama doesn’t propose some contrived balancing act but embraces religion’s need for independence from government. In a direct challenge to “conservative leaders,” he argued that “they need to understand the critical role that the separation of church and state has played in preserving not only our democracy, but the robustness of our religious practice.”

It’s always easier to write about a speech a few days after it was given, isn’t it?

For another second-day story on the speech, check out this commentary by the WaPo‘s Dana Milbank. He makes an interesting comparison of Obama’s current status with that of George W. Bush’s political standing in 1998. There’s also some quality color commentary from the events surrounding Obama’s recent speech.

clintonSen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., also made a big speech on religious issues, but as the lack of media coverage and blog buzz shows, she is not quite as in touch as Obama. She actually had a nice touching story to share, but perhaps it’s her failure to concede issues the way Obama did that puts her one notch below her Midwestern colleague?

While those in the “religious left” camp rally to Obama and, to a much lesser extent, Clinton, the movement is showing signs of cracking just as it discovers its leader.

Martin Edlund’s in-depth report in Slate on Michael Lerner, editor of the interfaith magazine Tikkun, and the Rev. Jim Wallis, the evangelical editor of Sojourners, is a rather devastating piece for those hoping for a convergence of religious lefties and a rather sober wake-up call to those of us who have had to rely on the Post‘s coverage of the movement:

Lerner and Wallis often get lumped together, and frankly, the religious left has been so marginal until now that it hasn’t much mattered. The confusion is understandable. Both are veterans of the student movements of the 1960s who have been agitating ever since for a progressive politics consistent with their reading of scripture. They more or less agree on the big liberal faith issues, poverty, pacifism, the environment. After the 2004 election exposed a yawning “God gap” favoring Republicans, both penned brisk-selling books, often jointly reviewed, that challenged the religious right’s exclusive claim to speak for people of faith and the Democrats’ reluctance to speak to them. More recently, they’ve each begun setting up congregational networks to promote their ideas and consolidate their influence, much as the fledgling religious right did decades ago.

But as their movement becomes a bigger target for the religious right and Republican Party they may have to start keeping their distance from each other in order to continue building it. …

This is a smart move because to succeed, Wallis needs to remain credible with evangelicals. His cozy relationship with Lerner and the [Network of Spiritual Progressives] crowd, on the other hand, risks making Wallis appear unorthodox by association. The criticism has already begun. A piece in the Baptist Press noted that Wallis attended Lerner’s conference and pointed to the choice of venue — All [Souls] Unitarian Church — as proof that liberals don’t understand “people of faith, in particular evangelicals.” R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, railed on his blog against efforts “to replace the Christian faith with an empty ‘spiritual’ shell” and directly criticized Lerner for his idea of universal “spiritual yearnings” that make no “reference to some specific truth claim.”

While the “religious left” struggles with its identity — and its very existence as a political force — the “religious right” is showing cracks as well. Not that this is news. A good reporter understands that the movement is anything but uniform in its beliefs.

This Slate piece by Russell Cobb, which is a review of Michelle Goldberg’s book Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, echoes the previous piece and inadvertently borrows some of our own criticism of the mainstream media’s coverage of Islam as a monolithic force:

As evangelical Christians gain more political clout within the Bush administration, the ideological gaps between the factions of the Christian right are becoming more pronounced. It’s not just environmentalism. Even gay marriage, that touchstone of the religious right, is a source of internecine tensions. Michael Farris, the founder of Patrick Henry College — an elite breeding ground for conservative Christians — opposed the latest constitutional amendment against gay marriage because it didn’t go far enough in stripping gays of their rights. But the strains within the evangelical movement don’t get much play in the secular media. For liberals, there’s little difference between a Dobson, a Robertson, and a Cizik: They’re all wing nuts in flyover states with bad hair and a gay obsession.

The specter of an American theocracy, the title of Kevin Phillips’ broadside against the Bush administration, has obscured the signs of dissent in what can look like a Christian monolith. Michelle Goldberg, a Salon reporter and the author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, misses some of the signs, too, in her otherwise astute study. It’s not just that she blurs the more fringe personalities, lumping together conspiracy-minded nut jobs (like theocrat Howard Phillips, who believes that “enemies of Christ in this fallen world must be conquered”) with veteran conservative blowhards like William Bennett. As she describes how the Christian Right moved from the margins of acceptability to the Republican mainstream, she also overlooks generational tensions and large-scale dissatisfaction with the Bush administration among many conservative, white evangelicals (only 34 percent of whom, according to a June 6 Pew research poll, “strongly back” the president).

time cover of reedCobb takes Goldberg to task for failing to note the growing distinctions in the “Christian nationalism” movement (“In Kingdom Coming, Patrick Henry comes off as a boot camp for young culture warriors marching in lock step to a unified vision and lacking a basic grasp of critical thought”), citing the recent “controversy” at Patrick Henry College and the White House’s failure to implement its promised “faith-based” initiatives.

To wrap things up, Slate delivers what attempts to be the eulogy of the “religious right” in politics, stating that “the fears of a Republican party dominated by monolithic religious zealots are as overblown now as they were when Reed was on the cover of Time. Haven’t we read this piece before somewhere? Apparently, because the Republicans are headed into a period where their political ventures are not so victorious, they may be looking for another, um, passion:

But remember that in the elections of 1998, candidates backed by Ralph Reed’s Christian Coalition did poorly. This may be why Reed sent Abramoff a letter days after the election saying he needed the lobbyist’s help making contacts because he was “done with electoral politics” and “I need to start humping in corporate accounts!” That was not a quote from scripture.

The article centers on Reed, who has been sliced and diced by World (why this publication has not been mentioned in coverage of the “religious right” is beyond me), and how conservatives are realizing that politics isn’t what Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, or James Dobson say it’s all cracked up to be. This may or may not be true, but I do believe the media have also failed to understand exactly what Falwell, Robertson, or Dobson are cracked up to be.

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Missing Hamas developments?

israeli soldierNews reports on the exploding conflict in the Middle East surround the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier by “Palestinian militants.” On the surface there are few religious issues in play here, but a little digging will indicate that the religious convictions of two groups of people are central to the region’s conflict.

There is the obvious fact that one side is Muslim and the other is Jewish, but the tough questions lie in the differing factions in these two groups. For starters, someone might explain the political (theological?) differences between Hamas and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba. Then there are the left-leaning and right-leaning parties (also theological) in the Israeli government. Then there are those shades of grey.

The views of the Israeli political parties are well known. One side wants aggression against the Palestinians, the other wants to work things out. Coverage of the Palestinians is less thorough.

For instance, here is one thing I would like a reporter in the Middle East to explain to me: why do some Palestinians, usually given the bland term “militants,” continue to lob rockets with the intent of hurting people and then get all surprised when the Israeli military punches back? I am sure there are several answers to this question, depending on who you ask, but it deserves at least an attempt at an answer.

Two articles — the first by The New York Times and the other by The Washington Post — do little to explain the all-important differences, but that is OK since there’s little room for background in a fast-developing news story.

palestinian terroristFor help, I want to turn to The New Republic, which (with Martin Peretz at the helm) has been fairly consistent on the Middle East. Here is part of TNR‘s report filed by foreign correspondent Yossi Klein Halevi, who has highlighted a key shift in the Hamas government:

Resuming assassinations against Hamas’s political echelon is, of course, a declaration of war against the Hamas regime. But given its official sanctioning of kidnapping, Hamas has already declared war against Israel. Hamas’s adoption of the tactics of Al Qaeda in Iraq comes as no surprise. After the killing of Zarqawi, Hamas issued a statement mourning his death and urging continued “resistance,” thereby making the Hamas regime the world’s only openly pro-Al Qaeda government. Unfortunately, the international media missed the significance of that moment.

That lapse in media judgment is worth recalling in the coming days, when much of the media will be presenting the “prisoners’ document” — a set of demands drawn up by Hamas and Fatah members imprisoned in Israel — as a historic Hamas concession, offering “tacit” recognition of Israel. In fact, the document does nothing of the sort. Nowhere does the document recognize the right of Israel to exist. Instead, it calls for Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders, followed by the “right” of Palestinian refugees to resettle in Israel and demographically overwhelm the Jewish state. The prisoners’ document, in other words, is a plan for the phased destruction of Israel — precisely why Hamas can endorse it.

The article provides a good amount of history and a bit on the theology behind Israel’s seemingly harsh reaction against Hamas for the kidnapping, but the item that caught my attention the most was that Hamas has shifted toward Al Qaeda. Is this merely a political move? Why so little coverage? Where is the theological connection between the two groups that would make this union work? Or is a connection even necessary?

Top photo courtesy of Flickr.

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