Fiddler Beneath the Gun
Impaling a head on a pole and putting a cigarette in his mouth? That was pretty bad. Audio tape of “an Israeli officer pumping the body of a 13-year-old girl full of bullets and then saying he would have shot her even if she had been three years old”? Well, there’s always a bad apple. But the line not even Israeli conservatives can cross was drawn when the nation saw video of Israeli soldiers forcing a Palestinian violinist, Wissam Tayem, “to play something sad” while they guffawed. “The rightwing Army Radio commentator Uri Orbach found the incident disturbingly reminiscent of Jewish musicians forced to provide background music to mass murder,” Chris McGreal reports in The Guardian. “Yoram Kaniuk, author of a book about a Jewish violinist forced to play for a concentration camp commander, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that the soldiers responsible should be put on trial ‘not for abusing Arabs but for disgracing the Holocaust.’”

They’re Gonna Ban the Bible! Pt. 3

A week after the Alliance Defense Fund helped California teacher Steven Williams sue his school for alleged anti-Christian bias — claiming that Williams had been singled out for censorship as a Christian and barred by the principal from distributing any document that refers to God, including the Declaration of Independence — the overblown editorials have arrived, applauding Williams “for stepping forth and telling us the Declaration of Independence is now banned in some public schools.” Via The Wildhunt BlogSeeing The Forest calls the ADF out for bearing false witness — the banning of the Declaration just isn’t true — and worse, for planting the controversy just in time to upset everyone’s Thanksgiving dinner.

Sharia Law in England
According to a recent Guardian/ICM poll, 61% of British Muslims want Islamic courts, operating on sharia law, to be introduced into England to settle civil cases concerning family disputes, divorce, custody and inheritance, “‘so long as the penalties did not contravene British law.’”
Faith Deep as TV
What’s wrong with this sentence: “Yet religious sentiment runs deep enough that Friday night comes in Italy with the [TV] adventures of Don Matteo, handsome crime-solving priest.” If the fact of a TV show’s popularity doesn’t strike you as serious evidence of faith, consider these weirdly ahistorical “examples” of what The NYT‘s Ian Fisher characterizes as the paradox of religion in Italy: “Perhaps the most Catholic politician in Italy is not a conservative, as might be expected in America, but Romano Prodi, the former European Union chief and leader of the center-left.” “Italians routinely ignore the conservative Pope John Paul II in matters of private morality, like contraception, divorce or marriage (far fewer Italians are marrying, in the church or out), but admire him deeply for his stands on issues like caring for the poor or his outspoken opposition to the war in Iraq, unpopular in Europe.” Both of these examples point to the enduring influence of the Church’s concern for the poor and social justice. While the compromises many Italian Catholics have made with doctrine may not satisfy traditionalists, they’re hardly unusual, or even very different than those made by millions of American Catholics. But the Times has started from its normal baseline assumption — religion = conservative — and pondered its way from there.
Jesus Christ: Too Hot for Network TV
01 December 2004

Press release from the United Church of Christ:

“CBS, NBC refuse to air church’s television advertisement

“United Church of Christ ad highlighting Jesus’ extravagant welcome called ‘too controversial.’

“CLEVELAND — The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a 30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its all-inclusive welcome has been deemed ‘too controversial.’

“The ad, part of the denomination’s new, broad identity campaign set to begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that — like Jesus — the United Church of Christ (UCC) seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.

“According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples — among other minority constituencies — and is, therefore, too ‘controversial.’

“‘Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations,’ reads an explanation from CBS, ‘and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks.’

“Similarly, a rejection by NBC declared the spot ‘too controversial.’

“‘It’s ironic that after a political season awash in commercials based on fear and deception by both parties seen on all the major networks, an ad with a message of welcome and inclusion would be deemed too controversial,’ says the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC’s general minister and president. ‘What’s going on here?’

“Negotiations between network officials and the church’s representatives broke down today (Nov. 30), the day before the ad campaign begins airing nationwide on a combination of broadcast and cable networks. The ad has been accepted and will air on a number of networks, including ABC Family, AMC, BET, Discovery, Fox, Hallmark, History, Nick@Nite, TBS, TNT, Travel and TV Land, among others.

“The debut 30-second commercial features two muscle-bound ‘bouncers’ standing guard outside a symbolic, picturesque church and selecting which persons are permitted to attend Sunday services. Written text interrupts the scene, announcing, ‘Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.’ A narrator then proclaims the United Church of Christ’s commitment to Jesus’ extravagant welcome: ‘No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.’ (The ad can be viewed online at http://www.stillspeaking.com.)

“In focus groups and test market research conducted before the campaign’s national rollout, the UCC found that many people throughout the country feel alienated by churches. The television ad is geared toward those persons who, for whatever reason, have not felt welcomed or comfortable in a church.

“‘We find it disturbing that the networks in question seem to have no problem exploiting gay persons through mindless comedies or titillating dramas, but when it comes to a church’s loving welcome of committed gay couples, that’s where they draw the line,’ says the Rev. Robert Chase, director of the UCC’s communication ministry.

“CBS and NBC’s refusal to air the ad ‘recalls the censorship of the 1950s and 1960s, when television station WLBT in Jackson, Miss., refused to show people of color on TV,’ says Ron Buford, coordinator for the United Church of Christ identity campaign. Buford, of African-American heritage, says, ‘In the 1960s, the issue was the mixing of the races. Today, the issue appears to be sexual orientation. In both cases, it’s about exclusion.’

“In 1959, the Rev. Everett C. Parker organized United Church of Christ members to monitor the racist practices of WLBT. Like many southern television stations at the time, WLBT had imposed a news blackout on the growing civil rights movement, pulling the plug on then-attorney Thurgood Marshall. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. implored the UCC to get involved in the media civil rights issues. Parker, founding director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, organized churches and won in federal court a ruling that the airwaves are public, not private property. That decision ultimately led to an increase in the number of persons of color in television studios and newsrooms. The suit clearly established that television and radio stations, as keepers of the public airwaves, must broadcast in the public interest.

“‘The consolidation of TV network ownership into the hands of a few executives today puts freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression in jeopardy,’ says former FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani, currently managing director of the UCC’s Office of Communication. ‘By refusing to air the United Church of Christ’s paid commercial, CBS and NBC are stifling religious expression. They are denying the communities they serve a suitable access to differing ideas and expressions.’

“Adds Andrew Schwartzman, president and CEO of the not-for-profit Media Access Project in Washington, D.C., ‘This is an abuse of the broadcasters’ duty to inform their viewers on issues of importance to the community. After all, these stations don’t mind carrying shocking, attention-getting programming, because they do that every night.’

“The United Church of Christ’s national offices — located in Cleveland — speak to, but not for, its nearly 6,000 congregations and 1.3 million members. In the spirit of the denomination’s rich tradition, UCC congregations remain autonomous, but also strongly in covenant with each other and with the denomination’s regional and national bodies.”

(Thanks to reader Rev. Jennifer Garrison Brownell.)

Update: Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo speaks with CBS officials regarding their ad policy.

World AIDS Prayers in Russia
The Russian Orthodox Church is marking World AIDS Day with a large number of priests leading prayers for the health of HIV/AIDS sufferers. Several Orthodox Churches in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus have begun performing these prayers every month, rather than once a year, because AIDS sufferers “need such church prayers every day.”
Hate Crime in Virginia

In a suspected hate crime, a Sikh-owned gas station was burnt in Virginia and the property was defaced with ethnic slurs.