Home » Religion » Recent Articles:

The Pledge of Allegiance

July 4, 2008 Media, Religion 4 Comments

We recited the pledge as children in school and occasionally as adults. It has meaning but it has also changed over the years since first written in 1892. The pledge did not become officially recognized by the U.S. government until June 1942 (wiki).

Comedian Red Skelton was in his late 20s by this time but he still had recited the pledge in school. He recalled the pledge on his show in January 1969:


When Skelton was in school our nation only had 48 states.

The words “under God” originated with the Knights of Columbus in NYC in 1951 and by 1954 they became official. Personally I think the pledge, originally written by a minister, was better without reference to a deity. Recent court cases have challenged the “under god” phrasing. At least one bill has been introduced in a prior session of congress that would have forbidden the Supreme Court from ruling on challenges the the wording or mandating of the pledge. Of course Congress can’t pass a law prohibiting the Supreme Court from ruling on constitutional matters.
Happy Independence Day!


Anti-Gay Gay Politicians Make Me Sick

We are in the midst of the political season so of course the issue of gay marriage is brought up as a wedge issue, mostly by Republicans against more open minded Democrats. What is interesting is how often the anti-gay politician turns out to be gay himself.

I’ve been out of the closet now for 25 years so I’ve seen quite a few of these guys fall from grace. In the last few years it seems to have accelerated.

Prominent on the list is Senator Larry Craig, who has said he is not gay but was arrested in an airport bathroom for allegedly tapping his foot for something. Of course we have US Rep. Mark Foley sending emails & IM’s to underage male pages. Being gay is fine but targeting minor kids is not. Doing such while speaking out against child predators is the ultimate in hypocrisy. Of course it is not just elected officials caught in a conflict between their words and their actions. Ted Haggard, an evangelical leader that gave spiritual advice to President Bush & top advisors. There are many more and each week the list seems to add new names.

These men have a strong level of self hatred that drives them to speak out against gay rights so strongly in public yet in private live a very different life. Many people are opposed to the concept of gay marriage so while I disagree I must respect their viewpoint. But when that person has built a career opposing gay rights only to turn out to be gay themselves then they’ll get no respect from me. Be in the closet and keep your trap shut.

Personally I think the government needs to be out of the marriage business altogether. If it is this sacred religious institution then let the various religions manage how that is administered. For those that want to simplify issues of property rights, next of kin status and so on they can all have civil unions. Leave “marriage” for church.

Just do me a favor and get the self loathing right-wing windbags to a therapist to deal with their internal issues so they stop spreading their hate to folks that otherswise might be more open minded.

As you might expect this has also impacted more liberal Democrats as well. A few years ago the then New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevy disclosed that he was gay. In his own words:

I’ve never been much for self-revelation. In two decades of public life, I always approached the limelight with extreme caution. Not that I kept my personal life off-limits; rather, the personal life I put on display was a blend of fact and fiction. I invented overlapping narratives about who I was, and contrived backstories that played better not just in the ballot box but in my own mind. And then, to the best of my ability, I tried to be the man in those stories.

In this way I’m not at all unique. Inauthenticity is endemic in American politics today. The political backrooms where I spent much of my career were just as benighted as my personal life, equally crowded with shadowy strangers and compromises, truths I hoped to deny. I lived not in one closet but in many. (source)

At least he wasn’t out there saying one thing and doing another.

For a good take on this topic I turn to openly gay US Rep Barney Frank in an appearance on Bill Maher’s program:



Archbishop Burke, Noting Time Savings, Excommunicates 87.3% of Catholics in St. Louis

burkeFor a number of years now St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke has been very inefficient about driving people away from the Catholic Church by making demands and excommunicating members as individual incidents arise. For example, the ongoing issue of the last several years over control of millions in property and cash by the lay board of St. Stanislaus, supporting women as priests, and most recently pro-choice comments made by U.S. Citizen Rick Majerus — Majerus is an employee by Saint Louis University (Men’s basketball coach). SLU is not under the control of Burke, nor is it controlled by Catholics, per the Missouri Supreme Court. Burke, angered by the lack of people following the Pope’s instructions as channeled through him, took things to the next level — here is a statement released today by spokesperson and former TV anchor Jeff Fowler:

“I’ve had it with all of you sinners! I’ve done the math and I am excommunicating 87.3% of the Catholics in the St. Louis Archdiocese due to support for such things as killing babies, supporting homo marriage, researching human tissue, masterbation, women becoming priests, pre-marital sex, and the like. Doing this upfront, all at once, will save me considerable time. The rest of you, the 12.7% that remain, don’t even think about doing stuff as simple as laughing at a re-run of Will & Grace.

I want to become a Cardinal someday and get the hell out of here — this public defiance is not helping me at all. Of course, the priests who screwed up the lives of many of our youngest members will simply be transferred, not excommunicated.”

Of course, I’m just having a little fun with Burke. For those who are parody-challenged — I made up the above.

What must this guy be thinking? That he can just demand that a private employer (St. Louis University) will allow him to determine how and when an employee is disciplined for exercising his right to free speech when off the clock? Uh, hello — reality check please! Yeah, SLU is in the “Jesuit tradition” but to get those millions in public dollars for, ironically the new basketball arena, they had to convince the court that Catholic dogma didn’t rule the day at the university.


Letting Go of God

December 24, 2007 Popular Culture, Religion 25 Comments

The wonderful Julia Sweeney, perhaps best known from “It’s Pat” on SNL, talks about her explorations of her faith and beliefs in the monologue, Letting Go of God. She did an excerpt, just over 16 minutes in length, on TED:

Ms. Sweeney, raised Catholic, is currently on the Advisory Board of the Secular Coalition for America:

The Secular Coalition for America is the national lobby for atheists, humanists, freethinkers and other nontheistic Americans. From our office in the nation’s capital, our full-time lobbyist and support staff engage public policy makers and the media to increase the visibility and respectability of nontheistic viewpoints and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all.

Her personal journey is a very interesting story.


Downtown Reverend Speaks Up on Feeding the Homeless in Public Parks

September 5, 2007 Downtown, Guest, Homeless, Religion 23 Comments

A guest editorial by Rev. Karen Fields:

Over the past year or so, I have been a part of the St. Louis Downtown Residents Association’s meetings that have focused on the safety issues that face those who have chosen to make downtown their home. Recently, I attended a similar meeting convened by Alderman Kacie Starr Triplett. As a clergyperson whose church has opened the doors to the homeless, I went to these meetings already on the defensive. I had an idea of how the residents might feel about the population that walks through our doors everyday looking for a meal, a restroom, or a phone. I knew that they didn’t know me, my motivation, our program, or even very much about the people we serve. I didn’t say much at these meetings. I wanted to assess the prevailing sentiment.

I have to admit that I did hear some of what I went expecting to hear. I heard the voices that said that the presence of the homeless in the parks and on the streets was hurting their property values. I heard the voices that said that there needed to be more security measures in place to protect residents and their investments. But I have to also admit that these voices were dwarfed by the voices of those who were looking for safety and security for all downtown residents, not just the ones sleeping in a loft. There was evidence of compassion for those with whom they share their neighborhood. It is hard, however, to hold compassion and the desire for safety and security in tension; especially when you have compassion for those whom you feel threaten your safety and security. It was obvious that it is in that tension that most of the St. Louis downtown residents live.

None of the homeless service providers created homelessness nor did they bring homelessness to downtown St. Louis. This population was downtown long before the first developer decided to invest in gentrification. They made their homes in abandoned warehouses, in tunnels under the city, in the parks, and along the riverbank, long before the warehouses were reclaimed for profit or there were pets to walk in the parks. The service providers responded to a human need that existed. They are still responding to human need.

Working with this population, I have learned a great deal about the human condition. There is no one definition of the characteristics of a homeless person. Stereotypes are as wrong for them as they are for any other minority. I have learned that they are a microcosm of the larger society from which we all come. Just like in any neighborhood across the metro area, some of the members of the homeless population are extremely intelligent. Some are intellectually challenged. Some are creative and artsy. Some are linear and analytical. Some need to be on medications to maintain a balanced temperament. Some are diabetic. Some have high blood pressure. Some have families that love them. Some are estranged from their past. Some have criminal tendencies. Some try to be model citizens. Not one wants to be a failure. Not one dreamed of someday living on the streets. Not one of them wants to be invisible. All of them want to love and be loved. Not all of them know how.

As part of the neighborhood, Centenary Church decided two years ago that we have a responsibility to step into the tension and become part of the solution. No matter how well intended a suburban group might be, it is not a safe and healthy practice to feed people in our parks. There is no control over how the food is prepared, served, or disposed of. The homeless population risks illness and the parks suffer from trash and rodents. Centenary has a large dining hall with an inspected kitchen and lots of trash cans.

No matter how much downtown residents and business owners dislike the problem of public urination, the fact remains that there are few public restrooms available for a homeless person to take care of this most basic human need. Centenary is in the process of completing the construction of new public restrooms that will be available for anyone’s use. It is the hope that in the near future, we might be able to acquire the funds necessary to also offer showers.

No matter how hospitable the library is to the homeless population, most are not using it for the purpose for which a library is intended. Centenary will be open from breakfast to dinner most days, so that the homeless have a place of respite from the elements – to get in out of the rain or snow or to escape the heat, a place to get a cold drink of water or a hot cup of coffee, a place to rest feet or wait for an appointment.

I have heard rumor that some have said that we are nothing more than a City-sponsored Methodist jail. I have been asked how I feel about the City requiring people to join Centenary in serving evening meals or they will be ticketed. Neither one of these accusations could be further from the truth. Centenary Church has opened its doors to help ease the tension and help find ways that diversity can co-exist. Nobody is required to join us “or else.” Nobody is being forced to spend their day in our building.

The re-development of downtown St. Louis is exciting. Dry bones are beginning to come to life. Downtown living offers something that can be found no place else. Centenary Church has been a downtown church since 1839. It has chosen twice in its history to remain a downtown church; even as other churches have packed up and moved west. It did not go to the suburbs and decide to move back downtown. It has always been here. Centenary knows what a great place downtown St. Louis can be and is committed to being a place of hospitality and grace to all of the residents of the neighborhood.

At the last meeting I attended, the question was asked about what people could do “right now” to address the issues that homelessness causes for the community. I said it then, and I will say it again. Come join us at Centenary. Help us build bathrooms. Help us provide a safe place to eat. Come help us serve a meal. Come have a conversation with one of your neighbors. You might find that they are more human than you thought.

Reverend Fields is an Associate Pastor with Centenary United Methodist Church located at 1610 Olive and is the Program Director of Centenary CARES. For more information go to centenarystl.org. To volunteer time and/or money please contact Rev. Fields at 314.421.3136 ext. 106 or k.fields at centenarystl dot org.