It’s not a new phenomenon. It’s probably been going on since the beginning of time. People have used religion to justify their discrimination for time out of mind. Even the Bible seems to support it: the last plague God visited on the Egyptians (according to the Bible but not according to God 😉 ) was the killing of every firstborn child or animal who resided in a home that was not marked with blood on the the doorpost.
The very reason that the Puritans came to the “New World” was to avoid the persecution they were suffering because of their faith. (Of course, once they got here, they turned around and revisited that prosecution on other faiths, but that’s another story….)
So pervasive was discrimination based on faith that the founding fathers of the newly formed United States of America wrote an amendment to the US Constitution that expressly forbids the government from creating laws that are based on faith. This wall of separation between church and state is hotly contested by religious fundamentalists, but it is clear that it was intended to exist and to prevent religious persecution.
It has not always been successful.
- In many states, beer stores cannot remain open on Sunday because of the Christian faith.
- Until relatively recently, school prayer was allowed to be led by school officials.
- We still have “In God We Trust” on our money (how ironic!) and the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance (in direct opposition to the desire of the Pledge’s author, Francis Bellamy, a socialist pastor who was so disgusted with the infighting and discrimination of the Christian faiths that he intentionally left any mention of God out of the Pledge)
- The only faith to have a holy day as a national holiday (two holy days, actually) is Christianity.
- Laws banning abortion are based on religious beliefs.
- Laws banning gay marriage are based on religious beliefs.
But the separation of church and state is an ideal to strive for that will, when we finally reach it, insure that everyone is free to follow their conscience.
The religious fundamentalist movement has seen the writing on the wall: the courts are overturning laws based on religion and are allowing to stand those that protect freedom of religion. So those in the fundamentalist movement have started using a new tactic: conscientious objector, but with a twist.
The basic scenario goes like this: new laws are passed that give everyone equal rights, triggering fundamentlists to declare they are no obliged to follow the new laws because of their faith. The twist is, that in NOT following the law, they are not only following their faith but forcing thousands if not millions of others to also follow their faith.
Let me give you a few examples.
- Hazelmary and Peter Bull ran the Chymorvah Hotel, Marazion, Cornwall, England. Their Christian faith dictated that only married couples be allowed to rent their rooms. But in 2007, the British Parliament passed the Equalities Act, which prohibited discrimination based on orientation. At the time, it was illegal for gays to marry in England, but they could obtain a civil union, which was supposed to be the “legal equivalent” of a marriage. But this couple refused to acknowledge their civil union as the valid equivalent of a marriage and refused to rent a room to a gay couple.
- Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Colorado, refused to provide a wedding cake to a gay couple, stating he had nothing against gays, but gay marriage violated his religious beliefs.
- Baronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers, refused to provide the floral arrangements for a gay wedding because of her religious beliefs.
- Recently, the state of Utah began issuing gay marriage licenses after a federal judge overturned the law banning gay marriage. Yet there are still some clerks who refuse to issue the licenses based on their personal religious beliefs.
- Similarly, the Catholic Church is behind a push for a “religious exclusion” to the required coverage of birth control under the Affordable Care Act. They claim that being forced to provide birth control to the employees of Catholic business owners violates their religious liberty.
- There are pharmacists who refuse to dispense legal prescriptions for the “morning after pill”, stating religious objection to abortion as their reason. Now that the morning after pill can be obtained without a prescription, there are still pharmacists who refuse to dispense it based on their personal religious views.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. (Google “refused services for gay wedding” and you get more than 4 million hits alone!) These are the ones that make the news. But this goes on daily on a smaller scale all across the United States.
Where do the religious exemptions end? Can a Muslim employer request that he not have to provide health care coverage for someone who gets food poisoning from eating pork? Can a Quaker employer ask for an exemption for someone who seeks health care from injuries suffered in a war? Can an Amish employer request a religious exemption for any injury obtained by the use of “modern equipment”?
Yes, individuals have the right to live their life according to their religious beliefs. But they do NOT have the right to force even one other person to live according to their religious beliefs. An employer who denies employees coverage for birth control because his religion believes it is wrong is forcing his employees to abide by his religions dictates as well. That is why, time after time, these cases of “religious liberty” are being thrown out of court.
Such cases used to anger me and I’d jump on the bandwagon condemning the business owners. But now, knowing that all change is for the better and understanding that everything happens in the perfect time-space sequence, I now see that these cases are pushing the cause of social change along faster than any demonstration by pro-change forces could ever hope to have achieved.
These “conscientious objectors” have forced the courts to be very clear about any “loopholes” that some might try to use to avoid following the law. They also bring to light the utter lack of logic in the reasoning that is used by those in fundamentalist organizations as well as they hypocrisy and fear-mongering in which they engage. It brings otherwise “taboo” topics to the forefront for discussion and for open communication. They expose individuals to topics they might otherwise never be exposed to and force them to think about it and to consider where they stand on the issues.
Given that we are all One, that we are all created by Love, from Love and with Love and that Love is the very essence of our being, many (most?) people are coming down on “the right side of history”. Not only in the the push for equality for all human beings but in other areas that concern all creation as well, such as the stewardship of the planet earth, access to clean water, access to decent housing and access to life-saving medication. The groups that have always supported these causes are obtaining new allies at a rate heretofore unheard of.
All because of a bunch of people who want to claim a first amendment right to discriminate.
Did you know that there is a new book that identifies the 25 most important messages of the 9-installment Conversations with God series? It then offers practical suggestions on how to apply each message in every day life. Powerful and inspirational reading. To see the first seven chapters and hear a one chapter sample of the audio book, click here.
(This is Part VII of an extended series on being part of the change, rather than simply observing the change, that is occurring on our planet right now.)
We said in our last installment here that the first step in becoming a spiritual helper is to:
1. ANNOUNCE OURSELVES TO EACH OTHER
This means that you have to declare yourself, publicly.
This means taking a risk. It is about being a bit uncomfortable. It is about being willing to “look bad” or to “fail.” It is about knowing that “failure”, in fact, does not exist, that it is an illusion, a figment of our imagination.
It is about forgetting the self and putting the highest good of the largest number at the top of our priorities. It is about being able to be counted on. It is about forging ahead, pushing on, even when the bramble covers the path.
Especially when it does.
It is about understandingWho andWhat You Really Are, and determining to express and experience that.
It is about knowing why you are here, and what life is really all about.
And then it is about announcing that.
Hellen Keller famously said, “Do what you can do.” That last ten per cent is about doing what you can do. Nothing more, but absolutely nothing less.
Some practical ways to take Step One
Taking this first step in becoming a spiritual helper is as simple as A-B-C.
A. Get clear on what is true for you . This is the beginning of everything. Clarity precedes action, and sustains it. Indeed, clarity produces action where confusion stalls it. You must, therefore, commit to getting clear about what is true for you…
* AboutWho You Are
* AboutWhat You Choose
* About How YouWill Demonstrate That
B. Find out what is already being done, and by whom. There is more going on in the world than most people are aware of. Causes and movements with which you agree need your support. These days, with Internet search engines such as Google.com and Ask Jeeves , you can find just about anything and anyone you are looking for—including groups of people who a goal in common with you.
C. Create what you cannot find. If you really can’t find anything out there that speaks to the issue of your concern or that is doing what you want to see get done, create it. Stop waiting for some other group to form or some other person to stand up. Form a group or organization of your own. Call a meeting. Hold a rally. Raise your flag and see if anyone salutes.
Now let’s take a look at how you can do this.
This series of articles here assumes that you have already read one or more of the Conversations with God books. If you have not, one of the fastest ways to get clear aboutWho You Really Are, and about your right relationship to the universe, is to read Conversations with God-Book 1 (PutnamPublishing)
Indeed, the entire opening Trilogy in the CwG series is highly recommended.
(The 25 Core Messages of the Conversations with God 9-book series are summarized and expanded upon under one cover in the 2013 book What God Said. This is the first time that such commentaries and observations, spiritual-principle-by-spiritual-principle, have been offered on these remarkable books. Each chapter in What God Said concludes with a list of practical suggestions on how to apply in one’s life the key principle being discussed.)
Everything in the current writing is based on the messages in those books and in the dialogue books that have followed, including:
* Friendship with God
* Communion withGod
* The New Revelations
This booklet is also heavily foundationed in thematerial found inmy 2005 book, What God Wants.
Getting clear on who you are and what you want is not as difficult as it may seem. I have created a program designed to help you do exactly that. It is an intensive (and highly enjoyable and exciting) retreat called ReCreating Yourself.
The intent of the retreat is to provide a space within which you may recreate yourself anew in the next grandest version of the greatest vision ever you held aboutWho You Are. It is offered in a five-day format several times each year.
Many people who have participated in these programs have told us that they have reached a level of personal clarity about themselves, their relationship to God and to Life, and their life purpose, that they never thought they would ever achieve.
You may receive more information about these retreats by clicking on the Neale Donald Walsch circular icon at www.CWGPortal.com, then looking in the Calendar of Events.
It is important to understand that you must be in-the-moment clear about Who You Are and about your true relationship to the universe, to all of life, and to each other, before you can become maximally effective as a spiritual helper.
There are many programs and opportunities in theworld opening up the space for you to do this.
Ours is only one of them. Find a personal growth and spiritual development program or activity that you feel best suits you, that resonates with your current sense of self, and undertake that activity with commitment and deep caring.
If you do, you should be able, in relatively short order, to know and to declare:
* Who you are.
* What you choose.
* How you will demonstrate that.
Embark on a reading program as well. At the conclusion of this series will be an opening list of Recommended Reading for persons seeking a greater awareness of themselves and the world around them. Check this list out when that list comes out, and decide to read at least one book a month for the rest of your life that supports your personal growth and spiritual development.
Remember that the New Spirituality that is talked about in the CwG books is based upon the following assumption:
There is somethingwe do not now fully understand aboutGod and about Life, the understanding of which can change everything.
Many citizens of the United States — and many people watching them from around the world — are shaking their head in disbelief and dismay in the aftermath of the shooting to death of a 43-year-old man in a Florida movie theatre by a former police captain who says he fired the shot because he was afraid he was going to be attacked.
The story of this sad episode has made headlines across the globe and received thousands upon thousands of ‘opens’ on the Internet as people search their hearts to try to figure out why a person trained in the disciplines of law enforcement would fire a gun at another man’s chest at point-blank range after the first man threw a bag of popcorn in his face.
The incident occurred on Jan. 13 at a moviehouse in Pasco County, Florida where, according to various news reports, 71-year-old retired Tampa Bay police captain Curtis Reeves became annoyed when a man in the row of seats in front of him, Chad Oulson, began using his cellphone to tap out a text message with his 2-year-old daughter’s babysitter while the previews were playing before the movie started.
Mr. Reeves asked Mr. Oulson to stop texting, but Mr. Oulson ignored him. According to witnesses quoted in news reports and in the police report filed by the Pasco County Sheriff’s Dept., the two began arguing. Mr. Reeves then left the theatre, apparently to find a management employee.
According to the sheriff’s report, the manager was busy with another customer, and Mr. Reeves returned to his seat.
When Mr. Reeves returned, Mr. Oulson is said to have stood up and asked him if he had gone to management to tell on him. The two exchanged angry words again, and Mr. Oulson threw a bag of popcorn he was holding at Mr. Reeves, the bag apparently hitting Mr. Reeves in the face.
At this point, Mr. Reeves is alleged to have reached into his pants pocket, taken out a .380-caliber pistol, and shot Mr. Oulson point-blank in the chest, the bullet passing through the hand of Mr. Oulson’s wife, Nichole, who was trying to pull her husband away.
Mrs. Oulson’s injury was not life threatening, but her husband was severely injured, stumbled across the movie theatre aisle, fell into the lap of a moviegoer and his grown son, and died after being taken to the hospital. His last words were, “I can’t believe I got shot.”
In court the following day, the attorney for Mr. Reeves, Richard Escobar, portrayed Mr. Reeves as the victim in the incident, saying that Mr. Oulson was the “aggressor.” He said Mr. Reeves, after being hit in the face “with some object” that he could not identify, was afraid he was going to be attacked by Mr. Oulson, and so he pulled his gun — which he had a license to carry — and shot in self-defense, fearing for his safety.
Circuit Court Judge Lynn Tepper did not agree that the evidence gathered by the sheriff’s department and the testimony of witnesses showed Mr. Oulson to be the clear aggressor, and ordered Mr. Reeves not to be released on his own recognizance, as his attorney had requested, but remanded into custody on a charge of second-degree murder.
The whole case has brought to public discussion once again the question of gun violence in America, and in particular has given the country and the world another look at the State of Florida’s now famous Stand Your Ground law, which states that in the case of a reasonable presumption of fear of death or great bodily harm, a person is not required to retreat, but may stand their ground, and use deadly force, if necessary, to do so.
It is not clear if Mr. Reeves and his attorney will seek to use the law as a defense in this case. Law enforcement officers on the scene after the shooting have said to the media that the facts they have gathered do not appear to support its use in this instance.
Witnesses say that no punches were thrown, nor attempted to be thrown, by either of the men, and that their exchange was limited to raised voices, with both men standing up, and then the throwing of the popcorn — until Mr. Reeves allegedly pulled out his pistol and shot Mr. Oulson in the chest from a few feet away.
Many are asking, if Mr. Reeves is a retired police captain, whether he would not have been trained in recognizing when the shooting of another person was absolutely necessary. Observers also wonder why, if he really felt Mr. Oulson was about to climb over the row of seats between them and launch a physical attack, Mr. Reeves did not simply take out his gun and tell Mr. Oulson, “not a step further.”
But the larger question before the American public is, how long will citizens of the United States continue to put up with lax gun laws, easy availability of weapons (including rapid-fire assault weapons), and laws that threaten to turn the country back into a Wild West version of itself, where most men openly pack a side-shooter and where the motto of the day is: “Smile when you say that, brother.”
People across the U.S. are beginning to ask: Is this what civilization is all about?
According to Amy Chua, a Chinese American law professor at Yale and author of the soon-to-be-released book “The Triple Package: Why Groups Rise and Fall in America,” the answer to this question is yes.
According to Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, co-author of “The Triple Package,” there are eight cultural and religious groups that are inherently more likely to succeed because of three specific traits. Not surprisingly, the daring duo happens to belong to two of the groups who made it onto their exclusive list:
- Jewish (Rubenfeld’s background)
- Chinese (Chua’s background)
- Cuban exiles
The underlying message in this book that some groups of people are “just superior to others and everyone else is contributing to the downfall of America” has already sparked a firestorm of controversy and has become a hot topic of discussion in the social media world.
Chua and Rubenfeld explain that these eight “cultural groups” — carefully avoiding the words “racial” or “ethnic” — have three traits in common, the so-called “triple package”: a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control. The sense of superiority allegedly generates a belief in deserving the best, while the underlying inferiority complex fuels the need to compensate for feelings of worthlessness. Impulse control is seen as not only the ability to delay gratification, but also the strength to persevere in the completion of difficult tasks.
As a follow-up to her previous highly controversial book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” where she boldly declared Chinese mothers to be superior, Chua and Rubenfeld are asking their readers to adopt a thought process which is eerily reminiscent of the type of thinking which fueled some of history’s most horrific events, such as slavery and the Holocaust, and which encourages belief systems that, to this day, continue to empower radical groups like the KKK and Westboro Baptist Church, by suggesting that one entire group of people is better than another simply based on race or religion or some other aspect of diversity.
According to the New York Post, “As for why African-Americans don’t make the list, the authors believe that the Civil Rights Movement took away any hope for a superiority narrative, and so the black community is screwed — even as they cite Mitt Romney’s loss to Barack Obama as evidence of Mormon ascendancy. ‘In this paradoxical sense, equality isn’t fair to African-Americans,’ they write. ‘Superiority is the one narrative that America has relentlessly denied or ground out of its black population.’”
“That certain groups do much better in America than others — as measured by income, occupational status, test scores and so on — is difficult to talk about,” Chua and Rubenfeld write. “In large part, this is because the topic feels so racially charged.”
Is it a racial issue? Is it a religious issue? Does Chua make a fair argument here? Are some of us predisposed to live a “successful life” and some of us not? What defines “success” for you? If you happened to have drawn the short straw and were placed into this world within a cultural group other than the elite eight, such as myself, are we truly at a disadvantage and better luck next time?
Believing in the illusion of superiority could be one of the most damaging choices one can make to the well-being of humanity as a whole, not only because it perpetuates the disparity between the haves and the have-nots and fosters a “them” and “us” mentality, but it suggests that if God did not create you as one of the chosen few – or eight, as Chua opines – or if you do not select to associate yourself with the appropriate religion, that, well, you are doomed.
Your thoughts? Your opinions? Your insights?
(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida. To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)
What specific word will spur a child to a life of discovery? What influence, person or otherwise, will cement the ideas by which a child will formulate his or her worldview? What subject in school will lead a child to be a “success?” By what standard do we measure success?
The meanings of questions change as we become more aware of our individual spiritual purpose, our reason for Being. Conversations with God encourages us to embrace a new way of measuring success. In the Old Cultural Story, success was measured by how much stuff you accumulated, often at the expense of another. Scarcity was used as a motivational factor and competition was encouraged.
In the New Spirituality, we learn that Our purpose is to recreate ourselves anew every day in the next grandest version of the greatest vision we ever held about ourselves. Instead of glorifying the scarcity and “do anything to get ahead” mentality, we come to understand that There is enough, Human beings do not have to struggle with each other to get what they want, and The wonderful ways to be are truthful, aware and responsible. In fact, Conversations with God even says that No human being is superior to another. And this is just a retelling of just a few of the core concepts from the CwG body of work.
I recently watched an enlightened young man, Logan LaPlante’s, TEDx University Talk about his ideas about home school education. You can watch it here: http://youtu.be/h11u3vtcpaY
Logan’s parents have allowed him, to a certain degree, to direct his own education based on his interests. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, his answer is simple: He wants to be happy.
He says adults ask the wrong questions. He is unsure what career he will pursue, although he is leaning toward designing outdoors sports and recreation equipment. He thinks focusing on what to be or do in the future is a mistake. He is, instead, choosing to focus on what to be and do now. He believes that the only way to have a fulfilled life is to start by having a happy and fulfilled childhood. So he pursues his interests now, focusing on being happy and learning the things that are interesting. He calls this “hacking” his education.
While I watched, I couldn’t help but see similarities between his ideas about growing up, his education, and his ideas about the future and people on a spiritual path. (That’s not to say that I assume he has read CwG or would agree with its messages.) It shows that children, when allowed to have some self-direction will flourish; that once we remove the walls and restrictions their own ideas and creativity can flourish. This, contrary to old ideas, will not lead to uncontrolled hedonism, it actually leads to growth.
After watching Logan and really listening to what he had to say, I reevaluated my own approach to my daughter’s homeschooling. I noticed that I had gotten into a rut, and honestly, taken some of the fun out of our schooling because I felt pressure to get through and finish tasks. Logan’s enthusiasm, courage and innovative ideas inspired me. I have rededicated myself to giving her more control in directing her education because I know that she will enjoy, and thereby learn, more. It will also, allow her to Be Happy now, rather than waiting for her to become something in the future.
Children like Logan know the answers to the questions above about success, inspiration and discovery can be answered in many ways. They don’t have to be tied to how many good grades a child gets, if they get into certain colleges, or how much money they make. They can be about enjoyment, finding inspiration and value in things that make them happy, lead them to think, and give them a reason to feel passionate about a subject.
Thank you for the pep talk, Logan!
(Emily A. Filmore is the Creative Co-Director of www.cwgforparents.com. She is also the author/illustrator of the “With My Child” Series of books about bonding with your child through everyday activities. Her books are available at www.withmychildseries.com. To contact Emily, please email her at Emily@cwgforparents.com.)
Might this be a fine stretch of eternity during which to declare that there is clearly something we don’t fully understand about God, the understanding of which would change everything?
To put it more dramatically, is it possible that unless we enlarge and expand our primitive ideas about God and about Life in the decades just ahead, we may find that we have backed ourselves into a corner, from which there is no escape?
Conversations with God told us that humanity nearly rendered itself extinct once before. Barely enough of us survived to regenerate the species and start over. Are we at this same turning point again? Have we arrived once more at the intersection where theology meets cosmology meets sociology meets pathology?
Right now we are still embracing a Separation Theology. That is, a way of looking at God that insists that we are “over here” and God is “over there.”
The problem with a Separation Theology is that it produces a Separation Cosmology. That is, a way of looking at all of life that says that everything is separate from everything else.
And a Separation Cosmology produces a Separation Psychology. That is, a psychological viewpoint that says that I am over here and you are over there.
And a Separation Psychology produces a Separation Sociology. That is, a way of socializing with each other that encourages the entire human society to act as separate entities serving their own separate interests.
And a Separation Sociology produces a Separation Pathology. That is, pathological behaviors of self-destruction, engaged in individually and collectively, and producing suﬀering, conﬂict, violence, and death by our own hands—as evidenced everywhere on our planet throughout human history.
Only when our Separation Theology is replaced by a Oneness Theology will our pathology be healed. We have been diﬀerentiated from God, but not separated from God, even as your ﬁngers are diﬀerentiated but not separated from your hand. We must come to understand that all of life is One. This is the ﬁrst step. It is the jumping-oﬀ point. It is the beginning of the end of how things now are. It is the start of a new creation, of a new tomorrow. It is the New Cultural Story of Humanity.
Oneness is not a characteristic of life. Life is a characteristic of Oneness. This is what we have not understood about our existence on the Earth, the understanding of which would change everything.
Life is the expression of Oneness Itself. God is the expression of Life Itself. God and Life are One. You are a part of Life. You do not and cannot stand outside of it. Therefore you are a part of God. It is a circle.
It cannot be broken.
I don’t mind if you post this, but I’d like to remain anonymous. First, I don’t have any proof that my co-worker friend is stealing from our workplace. Having said that, I’m nearly certain that she is because suddenly she is spending a great deal of money. Until recently she has been struggling financially in a big way. Should I say something to her or just mind my own business? I really care for her and don’t want to see her get in trouble. I keep going back and forth on what I should or should not do. I’ve asked myself a hundred times, “What would Oneness do?”
Dear Anonymous… I can certainly see your predicament and understand your confusion as to what to do. Because you don’t really know whether she’s stealing or not, you don’t have enough information to know how to respond.
You ask, “What would Oneness do,” and in times like these, I find it best to go to my Higher Wisdom and ask. Your key word here is “Oneness”. Since we are all part of the One Universal Energy, we have access to all of Its information. It knows so much more than the limited information our minds hold, and if you had all of the information at your fingertips you would know exactly what to do.
So the question becomes, “How can I access the information I need,” and the answer is, through your soul. Your soul is the part of you that is always connected to the One. The way to do this is to get very quiet and still, center yourself, then ask, “Dear God, what is the highest and best for me to do regarding my friend? Should I say anything to her about my suspicion that she is stealing, and if so, what is the highest and best thing for me to say?” Have a notepad handy, ready to write down anything that comes through. Don’t censor it. Just allow yourself to write whatever comes into your mind.
Now, I’m sorry if this sounds like a cop-out from me, but this is honestly the highest and best advice I know of to give you. It is exactly what I would do if I were in the same situation. When I open myself to hearing what God shares with me, the information I receive always makes me feel so much better, and the advice never steers me wrong. When we know how to access the Higher Wisdom of The One, we never again have to wallow in confusion about anything.
If you need help quieting your mind in order to do this, please click on the link below and follow the process called “How To Have Your Own Conversation With God”:
If, after accessing your Higher Wisdom you feel guided to speak with your friend, I can offer three suggestions to help it go as smoothly as possible:
1. Come from Big Love during the conversation. Be determined to stay as loving as possible, no matter what happens.
2. Be impeccable with your word. Choose your language slowly and carefully, allowing the One to speak through you, as you.
3. Think from the end. Envision how you would like for each of you to feel after the conversation is over. This goes a long way toward creating the scenario the way you want.
(Annie Sims is the Global Director of CWG Advanced Programs, is a Conversations With God Life Coach and author/instructor of the CWG Online School. To connect with Annie, please email her at Annie@TheGlobalConversation.com.
(If you would like a question considered for publication, please submit your request to: Advice@TheGlobalConversation.com where our team is waiting to hear from you.)
An additional resource: The CWG Helping Outreach offers spiritual assistance from a team of non-professional/volunteer Spiritual Helpers responding to every post from readers within 24 hours or less. Nothing on the CCN site should be construed or is intended to take the place of or be in any way similar to professional therapeutic or counseling services. The site functions with the gracious willing assistance of lay persons without credentials or experience in the helping professions. What these volunteers possess is an awareness of the theology of Conversations with God. It is from this context that they offer insight, suggestions, and spiritual support during moments of unbidden, unexpected, or unwelcome change on the journey of life.
Star of the American reality TV show Duck Dynasty, Phil Roberston, was recently very publicly vocal about his negative view of homosexuality.
A Philadelphia, Pennsylvania United Methodist Church minister, Rev. Frank Shaefer, was defrocked for performing the wedding ceremony of his gay son. (Full article here)
The discussion has taken the usual polarized tone, with the same ground being covered once again…political correctness…the right to free speech…what the Bible says…
The discussion that had the most impact on me was a blog called “In The Parlor” that suggested what we think about homosexuality doesn’t matter any longer saying:
“The stakes are too high now. The current research suggestions that teenagers that are gay are about 3 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. That puts the percentage of gay teens attempting suicide at about 30-some percent. 1 out of 3 teens who are gay or bisexual will try to kill themselves. And a lot of times they succeed. In fact, Rev. Schaefer’s son contemplated suicide on a number of occasions in his teens.
The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter whether or not you think homosexuality is a sin. Let me say that again. It does not matter if you think homosexuality is a sin, or if you think it is simply another expression of human love. It doesn’t matter. Why doesn’t it matter? Because people are dying. Kids are literally killing themselves because they are so tired of being rejected and dehumanized that they feel their only option left is to end their life. As a Youth Pastor, this makes me physically ill. And as a human, it should make you feel the same way. So, I’m through with the debate.”
I agree completely, so I will not engage in the debate here.
Why write this article then? Because a thought occurred to me…is it possible that this is just another act of the perfection of the Universe?
It seems that the offending act of the marriage was committed in 2007, and was revealed recently when Rev. Frank Shaefer’s parishioner, Jon Boger, filed a complaint with Methodist officials.
My thought moves to Mary O’Leary’s cow…the cow who, in legend, kicked over the lantern that began the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 which destroyed a large portion of Chicago. I think also of Judas, the disciple of Jesus, who betrayed Jesus with a kiss.
Have Jon Boger and Phil Robertson joined the ranks of those who, through purpose or by chance, change the world? Are Mr. Boger, and Mr. Robertson’s Soul purposes entirely different than what we perceive the purpose of their physical beings to be?
Think about it. Not only did getting defrocked not deter Rev. Shaefer, it set his resolve even more firmly. A USA Today article quotes him:
“Schaefer was told to give up his pulpit in central Pennsylvania by Thursday if he cannot support the denomination’s Book of Discipline. But Schaefer, who describes the book as contradictory and biased against gay people, said he will not go quietly.”
“I am actively committing to having those discriminatory laws changed and banished from our Book of Discipline,” Schaefer said. “That’s the only way I can reconcile being a United Methodist at this point.”
“I cannot voluntarily surrender my credentials because I am a voice now for many — for tens of thousands — of LGBT members in our church,” he said then.
CWG tells us that religion is not wrong, just incomplete in its understanding. CWG also tells us that leaving a religion you do not agree with is not necessarily the best solution, and to consider being that voice from within that will create a change of understanding in that religion.
Jon Boger has steeled Rev. Shaefer’s resolve in all of this in a way that might not have happened had this simply slid under the radar.
The “In The Parlor” article referred to above was penned by a person who identifies themself as being a youth minister…and whose mind has publicly moved from the debate and into saying:
“We are now faced with the reality that there are lives at stake. So whatever you believe about homosexuality, keep it to yourself. Instead, try telling a gay kid that you love him and you don’t want him to die.”
When you humanize a theory or a theology, it gets different, and you often find you must change your mind.
Can we, in this New Year, resolve to humanize and personalize the issue…now?
(With true wishes of Peace on Earth dancing like sugar plum fairies in my head…Therese)
(Therese Wilson is a published poet, and is the administrator of, and Spiritual Helper at, the global website at www.cwghelpingoutreach.com She may be contacted at: Therese@TheGlobalConversation.com.)
Where and to whom one is born is, it seems, arbitrary, chance, fate or karma being the divine decision maker. Wake from innocence to middle class parents in one of the developed wealthy nations of the world and be blessed with comfort, opportunity, good health care and education and a life of profitable possibilities. Find yourself in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya or the daughter of tea pickers in Assam, India, and see before you poverty, uncertainty, suffering and the threat of extreme exploitation.
Inequality: The Plague of the times
We live in a world rife with inequality (wealth and income, power and influence); it is the underlying cause of deep-seated social tensions, community divisions and a range of poisons causing terrible suffering to millions of people.
The disparity between the wealthy minority and the billions living in suffocating poverty is greater than it has ever been. Worldwide it is estimated that the wealthiest 10 percent owns 85 percent of global household wealth. The UC Atlas of Global Inequality states that the “three richest people in the world have assets that exceed the combined gross domestic product of the 47 countries with the least GDP,” and reports that “The richest 2% of the world population own more than 51 percent of the global assets.” At the other more densely populated, less perfumed end of the scale, Global Issues report that almost half the world’s people (over 3.5 billion) live on less than $2.50 a day and 80 percent live on less than $10 a day. The largest proportion of those living in poverty are in India, rural China and Sub-Saharan Africa where, despite the fact that some countries within the last decade or two have seen economic growth, poverty rates have remained unchanged and “some countries—Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Gabon—have actually seen an increase in the percentage of their population living in extreme poverty” [World Bank study Africa Pulse].
This prompts the omnipresent question: who is this economic growth for; who, under the current development model, is benefiting?
Discussing the possibilities of change to a more equitable world, UNICEF paints a rather bleak picture; assuming the perpetuation of the current economic model, they estimate “that it would take more than 800 years for the bottom billion to achieve ten percent of global income under the current rate of change.”
The world of income and wealth inequality is awash with shocking statistics. Figures disclosed by World Bank economist Branko Milanovic and reported by Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stieglitz, are shocking and revealing: “Eight percent of humanity takes home 50 percent of global income, the top 1 percent alone takes home 15 percent.” America, he states, “provides a particularly grim example for the world.” It is where income and wealth inequality reach their zenith and where one in four children live in poverty. The countrys wealthiest 1 percent (incomes above $394,000) take “home 22 percent of the nation’s income and the top 0.1 percent make do with a colossal 11 percent.
Stieglitz goes on to make the staggering point that an average American worker earns less today than he did 45 years ago (inflation adjusted) and that men without a college degree earn “almost 40 percent less than they did four decades ago.”
Why are millions of Americans not marching in the streets demanding justice and equitable living one wonders? Physically exhausted, emotionally strained and mentally put to sleep, most do not have the time or the energy to revolt.
The figures depicting poverty and hardship are many and varied and shocking to all. Over 20 percent of the world’s population (that’s 1.4 billion people) live on less than $1.25 a day, which is 75 cents below the official World Bank poverty threshold. UNICEF states that 22,000 children (under the age of five—if it was 6, or 7, the numbers would be even higher) die every day due to poverty related issues. They “die quietly in some of the poorest villages on earth, far removed from the scrutiny and the conscience of the world. Being meek and weak in life makes these dying multitudes even more invisible in death.”
Of the two billion children in the world, half are currently living their lives in extreme poverty, with limited or no access to clean water or sanitation, health care and education. The greatest concentrations of people living below the $2 a day poverty line are to be found in rural areas where three in every four of those below the poverty borderline are to be found. Life is little better in the cities where over half the world’s 7.2 billion population now live, one in three of whom are living in a slum.
The unequal are always with us
It may well be true that income and wealth inequality has always existed—the industrial revolution in Britain and America certainly created sharp inequities. However, the worldwide gap between the “rich and the rest,” as Stieglitz puts it, “widened even more, right up through about World War II.” But it took the combined doctrinal political idealism of Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of Britain 1979–1990) and President Ronald Reagan (President of USA 1981–1989) to hyper-accelerate levels of inequality and set the divisive competitive tone for the years that followed.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) states that income inequality “first started to rise in the late 1970s and early 1980s in America and Britain (and also in Israel).” The ratio between the average incomes of the top 5 percent to the bottom 5 percent in the world increased from 78 to 1 in 1988 to 114 to 1 in 1993. That’s some achievement.
During the Thatcher/Reagan reign, income tax was lowered for higher earners, trade unions were broken and the financial sector was deregulated with, we now know, devastating consequences. The inequality “trend became more widespread starting in the late 1980s” and continues to poison the social fabric of countries throughout the world, including more egalitarian nations, like Sweden, Finland, Germany and Denmark.
Stieglitz relays that, “from 1988 to 2008, Mr. Milanovic found, people in the world’s top 1 percent saw their incomes increase by 60 percent, while those in the bottom 5 percent had no change in their income. In America, home to the 2008 recession, from 2009 to 2012, incomes of the top 1 percent in America, many of which no doubt had a greedy hand in the causes of the melt down, “increased more than 31 percent, while the incomes of the 99 percent grew 0.4 percent—less than half a percentage point” [Los Angeles Times].
Flowing from wealth and income inequality (combining to create the powerful elite), is the inequitable use and distribution of natural resources, such as water, food and minerals, which we could add knowledge, like information, technology and skills. The United States, for example, with a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, uses 30 percent of natural resources and the 25 percent of people living in developed countries use 80 percent of the world’s non-fuel minerals. Many of these are found in poor developing countries, which have little or no control over their resources and on the whole benefit little from their extraction and sale. Not only do the wealthy countries usurp and waste 80 percent of the world’s resources, but according to a United Nations (UN) report, their “voracious consumption of resources cannot be sustained.”
Inequality, vulnerability exploitation
The extreme dualities of poverty and wealth inevitably create the vulnerable and the powerful, the abuser and the abused. There are wide ranging consequences of such social division, such as the erosion, or denial of democracy, for with money comes power and with power political influence, making it inevitable that “inequality reinforces itself by corroding our political system and our democratic governance,” [Joseph Stieglitz]. Man-made climate change though affecting everyone, it is the poorest people living in the poorest who are suffering most acutely, as a recent report by The World Bank Group makes clear by stating “that global warming will lead to a major food-crisis in the future. Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia are expected to be the worst-hit” [Nature World News]. That is the regions with the largest concentrations of people living in utter poverty.
One of the gravest consequences of this social-economic imbalance is the worldwide movement of people from impoverished communities with few employment opportunities where education, to a rich or richer region or nation. The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates there to be over “105 million persons [excluding children] working in a country other than their country of birth.” Women make up the lions share of this army of workers, many of whom are vulnerable to trafficking.
The U.S. State Department states that up to 800,000 persons are trafficked every year (although the figure is probably considerably higher); 80 percent of victims are women of which 80 percent are sold into the commercial sex industry. Trafficking (which is the second most widespread and profitable worldwide criminal activity) often arises from debt bondage and results in forced labour. Trafficking is nothing less than modern day slavery, there are thoughts that more people are living as slaves (that’s people held against their will, forced to work and paid nothing) now than at any time in history. And for those with the means, they are cheap; on average, $90 will buy you a human being [Free the slaves].
Working within an economic system that disempowers the disadvantaged, migrant workers form an economic lifeline for millions of families. In 2012, they sent “$406 billion in savings to their families in developing countries” [The World Bank]. Money earned through domestic servitude, with its inherent dangers of mistreatment, or construction work in appalling, often dangerous conditions; remittances, which may enable their children to eat three meals a day, to go to school and learn to read, or perhaps allow for an elderly parent to receive health care. Essentials, indeed fundamental human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that should be met by the nation state and if not, more broadly by the international community.
It is poverty in its many manifestations—poor education and health care, poor sanitation and water supplies, poor living conditions, poor or low self-esteem and an absence of hope—which drives migration and creates the environment in which trafficking and extreme exploitation can flourish. The vulnerable are vulnerable in a variety of ways including exploitation, slavery, sexual abuse, the effects of natural disasters and political and economic manipulation.
In a world of plenty, why are hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, of people vulnerable at all? The vulnerable and exploited exist because of an inherently unjust social-economic system, which has caused extreme global inequality and built a divided fractured world society.
Inequality, sharing justice
The complacent party line of the wealthy and elite is that “there is no alternative (TINA)” to the present unhealthy, divisive economic model. The advocates of market fundamentalism have sought to close down totally the intellectual space for enquiry and discourse. If indeed “there is no alternative,” inequality and poverty will continue to increase, building intensely “divided societies [where] the rich will hunker in gated communities, almost completely separated from the poor whose lives will be almost unfathomable to them and vice versa. I’ve visited societies that seem to have chosen this path. They are not places in which most of us would want to live, whether in their cloistered enclaves or their desperate shantytowns” [Joseph Stieglitz]. The resulting social injustice of such a horrific future would strengthen existing divisions, creating resentment, anger and potentially violent conflict.
The cherished economic model of choice—market fundamentalism—used as a paradigm for worldwide development has, as UNICEF makes clear, failed and continues to fail, both the people and the planet. It concentrates wealth in the hands of the wealthy, and leads us to question as UNICEF does “the current development model (development for whom?), which has accrued [growth] mostly to the wealthiest billion” people. “Not only does inequality slow economic growth, but it results in health and social problems and generates political instability. Inequality is dysfunctional and there is a grave need to place equity at the center of the development agenda,” they correctly assert. A more just and humane model of development, based on equitable distribution of the world’s resources, is a viable alternative whose time has come.
The idea of equitable distribution, of sharing the food and water, the resources knowledge, skills, ideas and technology of the world, as the guiding principle for development and economic life, is supported by Frances Stewart, Professor Emeritus at Oxford Department of International Development. She believes that “poverty can be eliminated.” “Essentially, what is needed is a significant reduction in the quite obscene levels of inequality that prevail today” [The Guardian]. The distribution of resources “from the privileged to the deprived would be enough to eliminate poverty in high and middle income countries,” she asserts. Not simply the redistribution of wealth, but resources more broadly, to, as she puts it, “improve the health, the education, the assets and the productivity of the poor so that the improving of their lives can become self sustaining.”
Expanded and imaginatively applied to address the needs of the poorest people in the poorest nations, such a simple common sense model, based on social justice and equality would meet basic rights and needs, reduce vulnerability and exploitation, ease social tensions and slowly establish trust and unity.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was first published at www.NationofChange.org and is reprinted here with permission from Mr. Peebles.
There are moments in life when we are each called upon to make choices that directly and significantly impact not only ourselves, but which drastically alter the path of others. These decisions can often be the most difficult ones we find ourselves placed in front of. What makes this process even more challenging and painful for many people is when their personal heartfelt choices are met with resistance and opposition by the cold, hard reality of the law.
Such is the case with Erick and Marlise Muñoz, a young couple residing in Crowley, Texas, with their first-born 15-month-old son. Erick Muñoz found his wife, Marlise, collapsed in their home in November due to what doctors now believe to have been a blood clot in her lung. She has had no brain function since that time and has been declared dead based on neurological criteria, meaning her brain can no longer keep her body alive and functioning, and has been physically sustained by life-support machines since November 26, 2013.
And while Marlise did not place her desires in writing, she made her wishes clearly known to her entire family that she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means should unfortunate circumstances arise. But her family’s requests to honor her end-of-life desires and remove her from artificial life support have been denied by John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, because of the fact that Marlise Muñoz is 14 weeks’ pregnant.
At issue is a 1989 Texas law that blocks doctors from denying “life-sustaining treatment” to pregnant, terminally ill patients. And as a result of this law, even though the physical condition of the in utero baby is undetermined at this time, Marlise Muñoz’s body is being artificially sustained in order to harvest the body of her unborn child. Doctors are not able to ascertain at this early stage if or how long the baby was without oxygen or whether the automated external defibrillator device and heavy drugs used on the mother in an attempt to revive her have had an adverse effect on Baby Muñoz.
Erick Muñoz and her parents are petitioning the court to disconnect and discontinue all support systems, as they adamantly assert this was and is Marlise’s desire. “It’s not a matter of pro-choice and pro-life,” her mother told The New York Times. “It’s about a matter of our daughter’s wishes not being honored by the state of Texas.”
The hospital’s medical staff continue to implement and maintain life-preserving measures to Marlise Muñoz, as it is the law they must follow. And the life of the now 20-week-old baby nestled in the womb of Mrs. Muñoz hinges upon the choices placed before everyone involved.
Now that the decision has been placed in the hands of the legal system, what will happen? What should happen? Is this, contrary to what Marlise Muñoz’s mother said, simply a matter of pro-choice or pro-life? Whose choice is it? Whose life is this about? Does this choice belong in the court system? Does this choice belong to Marlise Muñoz? Does this choice belong to her family? Does her 20-week-old baby have a choice?
As in every occurrence, every happening, and every event that takes place in our world, I am wondering if there is a spiritual perspective that someone could offer which might provide us a deeper understanding or which could give us some wisdom or insight as we try to make sense of this complicated and heartbreaking situation.
(Lisa McCormack is a Feature Editor at The Global Conversation and lives in Orlando, Florida. To connect with Lisa, please e-mail her at Lisa@TheGlobalConversation.com.)