Sunday, January 30, 2011

U.S. Army Funds and Hosts Overtly Christian Festival

On September 25th of last year, a "Rock the Fort" event took place at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Christian bands and evangelists performed for U.S. Army troops under the support of the Billy Graham Evangelical Association. While the event was not mandatory for anyone to attend, documents recently obtained from a Freedom of Information Act reveal that the military spent $52,475 on Rock the Fort. One worship leader was reportedly given a $1,500 honorarium. However, these are only disclosed expenditures, and the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), which requested the budget documents, estimates the cost to have been much higher.

Government funding of a sectarian event like Rock the Fort is undeniably in violation of the First Amendment. "Our goal," the director of the event explains in the first link above, "is to share the Gospel with as many people as possible." The First Amendment prohibits the U.S. government from respecting an establishment of religion, and using taxpayer money on an overtly Christian event is doing just that. It does not matter if other religious events would be allowed at the fort with equal financial support from the military, because the First Amendment does not stipulate that it's okay as long as you let everyone participate. The point of church-state separation is that by no one being allowed to participate, no one is left out and no one is favored, and this is far more practical than squeezing in every religion. Government has no business in supporting religion, especially when Billy Graham's organization could have easily covered a $52,000 bill with its millions upon millions of dollars.

Yet even if the military had not funded the event at all, Rock the Fort would still be in violation of the First Amendment, because Fort Bragg is government property. This is the same issue as displaying religious symbols like the Ten Commandments on courthouses. The only way to truly guarantee that all beliefs and views are respected is to keep government neutral when it comes to religion, permitting no group to erect their display or hold their sectarian event on government property.

Of course, one additional point that should be added to this is that government complicity must be reasonably present. A religious group holding a prayer rally on the steps of the capitol would not be a violation of the First Amendment, because that government property is open to the public and the public is free to protest in such a manner, according to the Constitution. In the case of a military base, however, said government property is not public, and so the Army endorses religion when it approves of an event like Rock the Fort on its own private land.

Speaking of protest, an atheist response to Rock the Fort is in the works, called Rock Beyond Belief, tentatively set to feature Richard Dawkins, Dan Barker, Eugenie Scott, and other notable atheists, as well as live music. I think people often misunderstand the point of reactions like these, though, as they are not about competing with Christians or attacking others. The point of atheist Christmas displays, atheist festivals like Rock Beyond Belief, and any equivalent response to violations of church and state separation is to emphasize the need for staying neutral. Where does it end if you allow all groups to participate? Will Fort Bragg let a Rock for Satan happen? Rock for Allah? Rock for Quetzacoatl?

If Rock the Fort had not happened, there would be no need for Rock Beyond Belief, Rock for Satan, or any other event. Once again, when government remains immovably silent on religion, no one will be offended except for those who wish to shove their views down everyone's throats. Unfortunately for them, we are not a theocracy, and they battle against a government that was created specifically in opposition of such tyranny.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tea Party Christians Don't Make Any Sense

Today a rally for the Tea Party was held at the Austin capitol building, where a self-proclaimed "apostle" named Claver T. Kamau-Imani gave a speech on Tea Party values from a biblical standpoint. In his sermon, Claver cites 2 Corinthians 6:14,

"Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?"

According to this preacher, and the many cheering voices in the background, the bible commands Christians not to compromise with non-believers. However, these non-believers include more than just atheists, as Claver calls out liberals, progressives, moderates, and socialists too. The implication here is that only conservative bible-thumpers are 'true believers'. Why? Perhaps Mr. Kamau-Imani thinks conservatives follow the bible more closely than those other groups do. Yet this brings to mind one of the biggest problems I see in Tea Party Christians.

When it comes to politics, the bible leaves no room for revolution or a non-compromising philosophy. Romans 13:1-2 plainly states,

"Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."

Take a moment to let that sink in. Not only are all elected authorities put there by God himself, according to the bible, but anyone who rebels against those authorities is, by extent, rebelling against God and inviting judgment on him/herself. In Matthew 22:16-22, when asked about paying taxes, Jesus famously instructs the people to, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's". The anti-establishment rhetoric of the Tea Party could not be more at odds with the teachings of the bible.

Claver and his ilk cherry-pick passages to support their views that have nothing whatsoever to do with politics. 2 Corinthians 6:14 is about idolatry, how those who worship anything but God can steer believers away from God. If we interpret this in a political sense, anything can be an idol, even the free market system that many Tea Partiers and conservatives seem to place a massive amount of faith in. Yet the real point is that these passages cited by Tea Party members are not a Christian call to revolution. The same (alleged) author makes this very clear in Romans 13.

Tea Party Christians don't make any sense to me, because while many of them claim to accept the bible as the infallible word of God - as Mr. Kamau-Imani stated himself in the speech - they apparently don't consider it important enough to take passages like Romans 13 to heart. Of course, that would disillusion them from their chest-beating radicalism, which I suspect is too enticing for most of them to abandon. The idea of being a 'soldier for God' is probably a lot more exciting than being a doormat for God, however more biblical one may be than the other.