Mapping God’s “fingerprints”?

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Last week NPR listeners got what some of them pay for — a thoughtful, consistently engaging look at the interdisciplinary field of science, and particularly brain science, and spirituality. Those who listened to Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s five-part series on the “science of spirituality” heard a diverse group of (mostly scientists) ponder the ways in which the brain is affected by spiritual events, including those with hallucenogenic drugs, meditation and near-death experiences.

Although her editors allowed her a very big chunk of time (as much as ten minutes) to explore such topics as charting changes in the brains of mystics, any examination of this enormous topic can only scratch the surface. In fact, Bradley Hagerty just published a book, Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality, which apparently examines these topics in detail.

First off, listeners who expect to hear theologians debating scientists will be disappointed. This doesn’t pretned to be a series in which science and religion battle one another, and, frankly, in my opinion, it’s a lot more interesting to hear debate within the scientific realm itself about the import of some of these events. That being said, Bradley Hagerty’s evenhanded approach can sometimes sound a bit tentative, as in these closing paragraphs on whether prayer for other people changes them (the story summary provided on the website isn’t a word for word transcription, but is substantially accurate) :

This idea — that we may be connected at some molecular level — echoes the words of mystics down the ages. And it appeals to some scientists.

But it infuriates others — like Columbia University’s Sloan. The underlying idea is wrong, he says. Entanglement just doesn’t work this way.

“Physicists are very clear that the relationship is purely correlational and not causal,” Sloan says. “There is nothing causal about quantum entanglement. It’s good to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that your brains fall out.”

Radin and others agree that that’s what science says right now. But they say these findings eventually have to be explained somehow.

Tell us what you really think, Dr. Sloan. That’s a great quote. And Hagerty does leave the door open for diverse ways of explaining these phenomena. But she doesn’t clue readers in to what a few of those alternative explanations might be, leaving us with the impression that scientist Radin doesn’t have any theories to explain what he is analyzing. Somehow I doubt that. There’s a certain superficial quality that is probably inevitable when a journalist only has eight minutes to describe a complex topic in what is still basically a new science.

I enjoyed the whole series, but for my money the single most important thing Bradley Hagerty said was at the very end of the last essay, where she’s discussing scientists with contrasting opinions.

In other words, Woerlee and Beauregard looked at the same images and came to opposite conclusions.

I found that dichotomy everywhere as I interviewed experts about the emerging science of spirituality. It’s kind of like a Rorschach test: Some researchers look at the data and say spiritual experience is only an electrical storm in the temporal lobe, or a brain gasping for oxygen — all fully explainable by science. Others say our brains are reflecting an encounter with the divine.

And almost invariably, where a scientist stands on that issue has little to do with the clinical findings of any study. It has almost everything to do with the scientist’s personal beliefs.

Think about the implications of Bradley Hagerty’s assertion for science, as well as for religion, if scientists tend to view their results through the lens of their own beliefs. Do you find what you were looking for to begin with? For the sake of science, religion, and oh, by the way, journalism, I hope we can transcend our own biases — or at least argue furiously with them.

Picture of monks praying is from Wikimedia Commons

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Mainline wars: Do the math

gay-marriage-simpsonsOne of the ongoing temptations here at GetReligion — for the GetReligionistas as well as the reader/commentators — is to focus on interesting events and trends in religion news, instead of keeping our unique focus on how the mainstream press attempts to cover those stories in an accurate, balanced, professional manner.

The bottom line: This is not a religion-news blog; this is a blog about how the mainstream press wrestles with coverage of religion news. It helps to read that “What we do, why we do it” post every now and then.

Now, we also do our “Got news?” posts about stories that journalists seem to be missing. We also comment on op-eds and essays that are directly focused on religion news or trends that shape mainstream religion news (like the victory of European journalism at nonNewsweek battles). If something is linked to religion news, we have to consider writing about it.

For example, consider Godbeat veteran Cathy Lynn Grossman’s short USA Today report the other day: “Survey: Protestant clergy back gay rights, not marriage.”

As the text of her story makes clear, the headline urgently needed another word — an adjective such as “mainline” or “oldline” — to modify that broad, broad word “Protestant.” Note the crucial word “seven” in the second paragraph, as in “seven sisters.” Here’s the top of the report:

Most mainline Protestant clergy do not support legalizing gay marriage, even if they’re not required to officiate at same-sex ceremonies.

It was the only point on which the majority did not support gay rights, according to a survey of clergy from the seven historic mainline Protestant denominations to which 18% of Americans belong. The Clergy Voices Survey, conducted by Public Religion Research, is based on 2,658 responses from clergy from the United Methodist Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Episcopal Church; United Church of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA; American Baptist Church; and the Disciples of Christ.

These are, of course, the major churches of the religious left. Yet on another level, they are not — for the simple reason that there are giant fissures inside these churches between seminaries and local churches, between local pastors and bureaucratic leaders, between pews in red zip codes and those in blue. Consider the Anglican-Episcopal wars, for starters. It is way too simplistic to say that the “seven sisters” are totally on one side or the other, in the battles over basic doctrines in Christianity.

That’s why Grossman’s little poll story is important. In a few lines, it explains why these horrific wars roll on and on over on the Protestant left and in churches to the left of center. When it comes to changing the definition of marriage itself, which essentially means saying that ancient forms of Christianity have been wrong for 2,000 years, then pastors find it hard to shout, “Amen!”

Only 33% say gay couples should be allowed to marry, 32% would allow civil unions, and 35% call for “no legal recognition” for same-sex couples. Support for same-sex marriage grew to 46% if laws specified that clergy would not be required to perform a religious ceremony in contradiction with their denomination’s teachings.

“We find that on these issues, the clergy views are fairly in line with the laity views,” said Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research.

Thus, the story never seems to go away. That’s bad news for people on the left and the right in these oldline conflicts.

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Celibacy wars: In very brief

VATICAN POPE EASTERJournalists who have been around for a few decades may remember one of the “in” jokes that circulated after the birth of USA Today, the joke that claimed that there was going to be a new Pulitzer Prize awarded for the best investigative paragraph.

That joke isn’t very funny for the journalists who are being asked to handle giant, complex topics in smaller and smaller amounts of space on faster and faster deadlines. That joke jumped in to my mind the other day after reading this micro-feature published in Time as a kind of “news you can use” backgrounder in the wake of the Father Alberto Cutié scandal down on South Beach.

There but for the grace of God go we. Right religion-beat pros? Your assignment is to give an overview of the history of clerical celibacy in the Roman church — 300 words or less. Ready? Here is — yes, I fool you not — most of that news-magazine report:

It wasn’t until the 12th century that formal rules were established forbidding clergymen to have sex. According to the Gospel of Matthew, Peter himself had a mother-in-law (which would usually imply a wife as well). The ban had theological roots — abstaining from pleasures of the flesh to demonstrate one’s commitment to the church — but there was a practical reason too: celibacy meant no offspring vying to inherit church property. That’s not to say the rules were always followed, however. Many priests’ spirits proved weak and their flesh willing — notably the sybaritic Pope Alexander VI, who installed his teenage son as an Archbishop in 1493. Fernando Lugo, the current President of Paraguay and a former bishop, is accused of fathering three children as a man of the cloth. And while abstinence does not inevitably lead to child molestation, critics are quick to draw a link between priestly celibacy and recent pedophilia scandals.

At the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, hopes that the church would abandon celibacy were dashed by the election of the conservative Paul VI. A severe shortage of priests may prompt the church to reconsider. Since Vatican II, seminary enrollment has dropped 75%. Cutié, suspended from clerical duties, is grappling over whether to wed his girlfriend of two years. If he takes the secular path, he won’t be alone: an estimated 25,000 former priests are
married and living in the U.S. today.

It’s a compliment to the reporters and editors still at Time that the major problems in this “report” have to do with what is missing, as opposed to outright errors that made it into the text.

Catholic readers! Click comment and tell us what you would add.

But let’s play fair. If you add, oh, 10 words of new content you also have to tell us what you would take out, too. You might want to try using those nifty LeBlanc-esque delete marks with the strike-out line through them.

Meanwhile, our friend Eric Gorski at the Associated Press is out with a wire-service feature on the same topic, which ran in USA Today under the headline, “Celibacy questions haunt scandalized priest.”

fssp-diaconate-ordination-2jpgPeople often use “wire-service writing” as a kind of smear phrase, suggesting that it’s impossible to offer any significant information in the short formats that dominate this form of mainstream news. But look at that Time copy again and then compare it with a short chunk of the AP report:

With few exceptions, becoming a Catholic priest in the Western church requires a vow of celibacy, meaning no sexual relations or marriage. Although celibacy is a tradition dating to the church’s earliest days, it was not made mandatory until the 11th century. The celibate priesthood has been modified over the years. The Catholic church in the West has made room for married clergy from other denominations to become Catholic priests and stay married. Celibacy is optional for Eastern Rite priests.

However, here is the part of the story that caught my attention. This is the kind of complex issue that is so hard to crunch into a small number of words without making serious errors.

A survey in 2003 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University found that 74% of non-Latino Catholics believed married men should be ordained as priests. Just 45% of U.S. Latino Catholics held that position. Two years ago, a Pew survey found a similar result — 44% of nonwhite Hispanic Catholics thought married men should be allowed to become priests.

Those numbers do not tell the whole story about Hispanic Catholics and celibacy, however. The 2003 survey also found that male Latino Catholics were less likely than male non-Latino Catholics to have considered becoming a priest or brother — 13% compared to 24%.

Basically, Hispanic Catholics are believers in the current rules for the priesthood. The men just are not rushing to sign up.

The story goes on to deal with a host of other subjects related to this cultural divide, including the lower-t tradition in Latin America that Catholic priests often have live-in girlfriends, while the members of their flocks look the other way.

How does this mix with more the conservative beliefs held by most of the faithful? How does this affect the tensions in Miami, where the two cultures mix and clash?

Check it out. Then click comment and try to tweak — twit? — that Time story.

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Small, quiet pro-life events (sssssshhhhh)

As I keep reading the waves of media coverage of the University of Notre Dame rites honoring President Barack Obama (click here for a flashback), I continue to be impressed with two facts.

The coverage of what happened inside the building was pretty standard stuff, in terms of analyzing what the president had to say, as he openly and enthusiastically inserted himself (and the power of his office) into this era’s wars inside Catholic higher education. Many readers, especially those who read follow-up commentaries on left and right, had a chance to learn the basics about what Obama had to say.

The coverage of what happened outside the building was a travesty, focusing roughly 100 times more attention on the loud, professional demonstrators who visited the campus to make noise and provide photo ops, while almost completely avoiding coverage of the quiet, constructive and even diverse rites that were organized, for the most part, by members of the university’s pro-life community.

So far, I have found one major-media sidebar about these prayer rites and the Mass held on campus, from the Chicago Tribune. Here is a good chunk of that short report:

It was always intended to be a day of celebration. For the 26 University of Notre Dame graduates and their families who chose to skip the traditional pomp and circumstance on Sunday, it still was.

Instead of marching in with 2,900 other classmates, Michele Sagala and her fiance Andrew Chronister spent time in prayer and reflection with their families, celebrating the gift of life.

“There’s such a sense of joy I can’t imagine being duplicated,” said Sagala, 22, after reciting the rosary and turning her tassel at a service in the Grotto, a Marian shrine at the corner of campus. “Our hope is that it showed the outside world there’s a lot of good here at the university.”

From a mass and rally in the university’s South Quad to the vigil at the Grotto, graduates, their families, faculty and supporters demonstrated their opposition to abortion rights with a mostly peaceful show of solidarity on Sunday — a contrast to protests by activists earlier in the week that included fake blood-spattered props, acts of civil disobedience and arrests.

“The heroes are the young people on campus and the students in the great tradition of John Paul and Pope Benedict,” said Bishop John D’Arcy of the diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, whose jurisdiction includes Notre Dame. The bishop has said he opposes the university awarding Obama an honorary doctorate of laws degree. “Their protest was carried out with love, prayer, dignity and respect.”

Students made it clear that they were not protesting the president by not going to the graduation. They were offended by the university’s decision to ignore the bishops’ instruction against inviting Obama to speak and giving him an honorary degree.

Several questions leap to mind:

* We are told
that the participants in these worship services — families, faculty and supporters — “demonstrated their opposition to abortion rights with a mostly peaceful show of solidarity on Sunday.” Uh, “mostly peaceful”? What did they do that was violent or non-peaceful? This label is pinned on them, but left hanging. There was “non-peaceful” activity in the Grotto? In the Mass?

* What is the number that you remember at the end of this story? For me, it’s 26. That is a small and essential number. Yet, might it also be important that — according to some biased witnesses — the Mass drew 2,000? That the Grotto event drew 1,000 or so, or at the very least “several hundred”? Were these events small, in relationship to the 100 or so at the loud protests by outsiders that drew police and major media attention? Might we seek some verification?

* I am especially interested in the fact that 50 or so Notre Dame faculty, in full regalia, attended the rally. Who were they? Were they linked to any particular organizations or departments within Notre Dame? Why were they there? Has anyone interviewed them?

Just asking. Again.

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Missing the key fact — again (updated)

goldendomendbasicWhen diplomats want to make a specific point or argument, they tend to speak in very precise language in an attempt to prevent misunderstandings. This is especially true when their statements address issues linked to major world powers or leaders — such as the president of the United States.

Thus, it isn’t very surprising that Harvard professor Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, made it very clear why she decided not to accept the 2009 Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, which would have been granted in the same ceremony in which President Barack Obama received his honorary doctor of laws degree from America’s most prestigious Catholic institution. The letter she posted online stated:

… (As) a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.

However, in a Los Angeles Times report on this event, here is the context in which Glendon’s action was explained to readers:

Notre Dame’s president, the Rev. John Jenkins, praised Obama for accepting the school’s invitation, despite knowledge that his views differed from many of those taught by the Roman Catholic Church.

“Others might have avoided this venue for that reason,” Jenkins said. “But President Obama is not someone who stops talking with those who differ with him.”

Obviously, one of the narrow-minded leaders who declined this chance for symbolic dialogue was Father Jenkins’ own shepherd, Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend.

Bishop D’Arcy boycotted the ceremony and suggested the university had “chosen prestige over truth.” Also missing from the ceremony were Mary Ann Glendon, a former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, who turned down a prestigious Notre Dame medal because she did not agree with the university’s decision to honor Obama.

My question is simple: Is that final sentence accurate?

Did Glendon refuse the Laetare Medal because “she did not agree with the university’s decision to honor Obama,” or did she refuse it because she opposed the university’s decision to violate the 2004 policy statement by the U.S. Catholic bishops?

What’s the difference, you say? Glendon would insist that the difference is crucial. At best, this statement of her motive is incomplete. It makes it sound like she was acting alone, based on her own private opinion. It removes the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference (hardly a right-wing organization) from the picture altogether. This, in a Catholic dispute, tosses away a crucial piece of the puzzle.

Which is precisely what happened in the mainstream coverage of this event, at least the coverage that I have seen so far. Has anyone seen a major, mainstream media report that quotes the 2004 policy statement by the U.S. bishops?

But I shouldn’t be too hard on the Los Angeles Times. At least its early coverage included content from the larger, official protests at Notre Dame, as opposed to an exclusive focus on the loud, often rude, in-your-face demonstrations by outsiders.

Bishop John D’Arcy of the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, whose jurisdiction includes Notre Dame, spoke at an opposition rally held before Obama’s arrival.

“John D’Arcy is not important. The office of bishop is very important,” he said. “It must always be like Pope John Paul II, to [stand] for life everywhere with no exception.”

D’Arcy said he had not intended to be on campus Sunday, but wanted to support the student opposition. “The heroes are the young people on campus and the students in the great tradition of John Paul and Pope Benedict,” he said. “Their protest was carried out with love, prayer, dignity and respect.”

Dozens knelt in prayer and lighted candles at the Grotto, a popular place for reflection on campus.

usccb300pxIt even mentioned another quieter, reflective event for those opposed to the granting of this honor to Obama, whose rejection of all limitations on abortion has, so far, been absolute.

At a Mass on the university’s South Quad, the Rev. Kevin Rousseau, a Holy Cross priest on the university faculty, praised the students’ spiritual response to the “debate, confusion and mixed emotions” since the invitation to Obama was announced.

“There is an instinct cultivated here at Notre Dame,” he said. “Our student body instinctively came to the Lord … with rosaries, masses and prayer services as responses to the culture of death.” He added, “We have gathered today to give voice to the vulnerable in society.”

If you compare and contrast numbers quoted in the mainstream stories today, it appears that there were about 100 screaming outsiders on or near the campus, the people who ended up getting arrested and, thus, drawing most of the coverage. Meanwhile, it seems that “several hundred” people attended the prayer services and mainstream rallies.

It would be nice to know more about those events, which represented the actual pro-life community at Notre Dame. I guess those people didn’t make enough noise, saying their prayers and all that. They didn’t fit the template for the day, since they lacked key symbols — such as “baby carriages with dolls covered in fake blood.”

It is clear that the vast majority of students present supported the president in this showdown of symbolic gestures. These students were backed — it appears — by most members of the Notre Dame community at large. Then again, this should not be a big surprise.

After all, as shown in a Washington Post report, larger numbers of people turned out to protest Republican presidents when they appeared on campus to speak.

Obama is not the first president to be met by protesters at Notre Dame’s commencement. About 400 gathered to oppose Ronald Reagan’s stand on capital punishment and Central American policy in 1981 and hundreds expressed their anger about George W. Bush’s support for the death penalty two decades later.

In 1992, Bishop John D’Arcy boycotted the commencement speech by George H. W. Bush because the university awarded a top medal to Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, an ardent supporter of abortion rights.

Might that “top medal” given to Moynihan be the Laetare Medal that Glendon declined? Yes, it was.

You see, Obama had home-court advantage when he came to offer praises for Notre Dame and its heritage of progressive Catholicism (full speech transcript here). That’s the point. That’s the heart of the story and the heart of the conflict between Notre Dame’s leadership and the mainstream pro-life movement on the campus and across the nation.

UPDATE: Just talked to a Notre Dame faculty member who estimated that about 1,000 people attended the prayer service at the grotto and another 2,000 the public Mass held as a counter-point rite to the commencement events.

From a journalistic perspective, the lack of coverage of those events — contrasted with the omnipresent coverage of the much smaller Randall Terry-Alan Keyes events for outsiders, with all of the blunt language and visuals — appears to be the MSM content issue of the day.

UPDATE II: Lots of opinion, but lots of factual observations in this post by Catholic blogger Erin Manning about the mainstream rallies at Notre Dame. Note especially the reference to 50 faculty members at the counter rally.

This raises a question: Were there three pro-life events linked to the NDResponse.com efforts? A rally, a prayer service at the Grotto and the actual Mass? Or was the Grotto prayer event the same thing as the “rally”?

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Girls at the altar

687494590_c1b2f03a26It’s just three little paragraphs in today’s Independent under the headline “Women May Join Papal Swiss Guard,” but it contains so many mistakes, both when it comes to religion and when it comes to journalism.

The problems begin with the very first words:

Women may be as far as ever from gaining the right to become priests or even altar girls in the Catholic Church, but the Vatican’s gates creaked open a chink this week when the new head of the Pontifical Swiss Guard said that female soldiers could join its ranks.

True, women cannot serve as Catholic priests but, as our reader Hugo Mendez points out, altar girls have been allowed since 1994. The reporter for the Independent could have checked his newspaper’s own files to learn of the Vatican ruling that year. If not, he could have just asked any church-going Catholic girl. To her, altar girls are just part of life.

The journalistic error was using an ambiguous phrase like “female soldiers could join.” That can be read as either “they now have permission to” or “someday they might be allowed to.”

If you read on, you’ll find it is the latter. In fact, the whole story hinges on this quote from the commander of the guards: “It could be possible. I can imagine them having one role or another.”

In other words, there’s nothing here but speculation.

It is also curious why anyone would associate the Swiss Guard, who have a ceremonial function in Vatican City, with the liturgical function of serving at the altar. But then it was just three little graphs in the Independent, and I’ve already written double that number, so I will end.

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May LeBron be with you

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Pastors sometimes rebuke congregations by comparing their subdued worship style to the more exuberant displays among sports fans. “The Chosen One,” a report this week on ESPN’s Outside the Lines, reinforces the notion that nobody worships quite like a person sitting in a sports venue. (For whatever reason, the ESPN video is no longer accessible. The video is on this page if ESPN ever brings it back by cultic demand.)

“Every sports town needs a savior,” says the Outline the Lines report on LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers. ESPN reporter Mark Schwarz backs up this quasi-theological statement with multiple quotes from giddy residents of greater Cleveland. The story is largely a well-reported tribute to James as a “one-man urban renewal program,” filled with shots of James’ gorgeous slam dunks.

But my oh my is the religious language ever out of control here. One shot shows a fan holding a sign: “The King Lives in Cleveland.”

A beaming Pastor R.A. Vernon of The Word Church plays along. “I think I can say unequivocally, as a pastor, that after Jesus Christ, then comes LeBron,” Vernon says. “This city needs LeBron James to win a championship.”

“Here’s a guy coming out of our neck of the woods who has a chance to lead us to the Promised Land — in a city like Cleveland, which is a blue-collar, you know, get out and dig for a day’s pay type of town,” says Joe Tait, the longtime voice of the Cavaliers.

But there’s trouble in Paradise: James becomes a free agent next year, and he has already committed the blasphemy of wearing a Yankees cap during a baseball playoff game. What sort of fickle redeemer is this guy?

“For him to leave, I believe that the spiritual morale would drop, the emotional morale,” Vernon says. “He could go to an established team and get the ring, but to take a team that desperately needs a champion, a city — oh my goodness, I would have to be careful as a pastor, because people might start praising him, like he is God.”

“If he leaves us, it’s gonna take our hearts, like so many before him. But if he stays, it kind of reinforces our belief that, gee, God is good and he gave us LeBron,” says Nick Costas, who owns a club in downtown Cleveland.

James says, as clearly as one could expect, that he has no plans to leave Cleveland. I hope that’s true, lest Cleveland suddenly register a surge of newfound atheism sometime in 2010 and wreak terrible havoc on those important reports from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Hat tip: physics geek jesus freak, via email.

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Praise without a “preyer”?

495px-constitution_pg1of4_ac2
In my denomination, as in most other mainline Protestant ones and the Roman Catholic Church, among others, clergy and lay volunteers are required to undergo anti-sex abuse training, which includes a criminal background check.

Given the wariness about sex abuse in the wake of decades of scandal and some highly publicized crimes, how would clergy or congregants feel if a freed sex offender showed up for worship? How do laws differ state to state? Have they been challenged? What’s constitutional and what’s not? Are there alternative ways to minister to released sex offenders?

These were a few of the questions that went through my mind when reading an article on the topic of sex-offender laws in North Carolina from the Citizen-Times.com sent to by Lee, a GR reader. Only a few of them were addressed in the story, which discussed the implications of North Carolina laws that keep sex offenders away from places with youngsters.

Props to writer Jordan Schrader for covering the issue at all — it’s not one I’ve seen examined much in the news. Here’s the punchy lede:

If they want to repent their sins, sex offenders in Buncombe County and elsewhere had better do it at home.

Some church services are among the activities that are off limits because of tough restrictions on registered sex offenders’ movements, passed all but unanimously last year by state lawmakers who invoked a young girl’s tragic murder.

This week, though, the General Assembly will likely start to rethink a ban that keeps sex offenders from going within 300 feet of a place “intended primarily for the use, care or supervision of minors.”

But then things get a little confusing. A Fayetteville legislator is quoted as saying that the General Assembly might have acted unconstitutionally — but the reporter doesn’t quote him or anyone else saying why. The story doesn’t tell us what the legislators are considering doing to change the 300-foot law.

There also seems to be a subtle assumption that all houses of worship in North Carolina are Christian. As reader Lee pointed out, the quote directly addressing whether registered offenders belong in worship is from a legislator, Bruce Goforth. He certainly seems to make that assumption.

Goforth, among the most vocal advocates in the legislature for sex-offender restrictions, said the far-reaching ban was an unintended consequence.

“We want them in church to try to turn their lives toward Christ,” Goforth said, so “they would no longer prey on society.”

Making that the sole reaction on the question of offenders in worship surely doesn’t reflect the breadth of the feelings of worshippers. The article itself doesn’t spend a lot of time going beneath the surface, where lurks a few challenging questions — can sex offenders ever be rehabillitated? In Christian terms, can they be redeemed? What rights do they have? Will this set up a church-state conflict? One gets the impression, from the list of upcoming bill tacked on near the article’s end, that some legislators are moving towards tightening the laws. If a more permissive law about where they can worship is enacted, it will be the exception in North Carolina rather than the rule.

Picture of the U.S. Constitution is from Wikimedia Commons

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