TAG | Christian fundamentalism
It’s not just the HHS contraception mandate. Another front opens up in the ‘religious freedom’ debate. The Daily Telegraph reports:
As beads of sweat slithered down his temples, Andrew Hamblin stared in wide-eyed wonder at the three-foot timber rattlesnake he had thrust towards his congregation.
“I am a soldier in the army of the Lord,” he boomed in a thick southern drawl, stomping a foot on the hardwood floor. “And the enemy has been fighting me this week harder than ever before”.
In this shed tucked into a dark valley of the Appalachian Mountains, before 60 adoring followers speaking in tongues, throwing up their hands and dabbing tears from their eyes, Mr Hamblin was breaking the law. The 22-year-old preacher is facing up to a year in prison after being charged with illegally possessing 53 venomous snakes seized from his church by Tennessee wildlife agency officers earlier this month. Yet the charismatic young pastor, part of a century-old Pentecostal tradition in the region that takes literally an instruction in the Gospel of Mark that “they shall take up serpents”, remains piously defiant.
Since appearing in court, he has continued wielding poisonous snakes during his raucous services at Tabernacle Church of God, after fresh creatures were snuck inside by his allies.
“I’m willing to fight this, because here in the United States we’re supposed to be guaranteed our religious freedom under the first amendment of the constitution…”We’re Christians who believe in being saved by the blood of Jesus Christ just like any other – it’s not like we’re part of some different religion. I do feel it is an attack upon our religious freedom.”
His followers claim they are victims of a state crackdown. Mr Hamblin’s mentor Jamie Coots, a a preacher based just over the border in Kentucky, had three rattlesnakes and two copperheads confiscated after being stopped while driving home through Tennessee earlier this year.
Mr Hamblin said he was called on by God to handle the creatures, and that their appearances were shows of divine power. He likened the practice to “Catholics using wine”.
Yet Matthew Cameron, a wildlife agency spokesman, dismissed all talk of persecution and said Mr Hamblin’s storage of the snakes in a back room was simply a serious “public safety hazard”.
“We treat him just as we would anyone else found to be storing venomous snakes in their home,” said Mr Cameron, who stressed that zoos and circuses must obtain permits to possess snakes in the state. Several pastors have died from bites in recent years. Mack Wolford of West Virginia, who led one of the best-attended snake-handling churches out of an estimated 125 in the region, made international headlines after being killed by a timber rattlesnake in May last year. During Mr Hamblin’s service on Friday night, several young children, including some of his own five, wandered around just yards from the snake’s box, while their parents prayed and sang.
Mr Hamblin stressed that only adults may handle the creatures. “I can understand not wanting to endanger another’s life,” he said. “That’s perfectly understandable. But in 100 years, there have been only 10 deaths in Tennessee from serpents.” He is himself unable to make a fist with his right hand, after being bitten on a knuckle in 2010 and ending up in hospital. “I was at death’s door,” he said. “Me and death were just about ready to smoke a cigarette together”.
Yet God told him to continue, he said, and showed that he would be safe by allowing another snake to bite him on the back of the neck soon after. While Mr Hamblin’s shirt was soaked in blood, he escaped serious injury. “I never swelled, I never itched, I never suffered nothing but bleeding,” he recalled. And his congregants are intensely devoted to his style of worship. “Just weeks ago I was far from God,” said Jeremy Henegar, 20, with a piercing stare.
“Whisky, beer or moonshine – I was a full-blown alcoholic. But when I took up serpents I was right there in the presence of God. I felt approval for the first time. What once was deadly, he made harmless.”
While dozens of his fellow pastors hold their services in secret and close their doors to outsiders, Mr Hamblin is determined to bring his sect into the mainstream. He hopes to found America’s first snake-handling mega-church. He is due back in court next month, and may face additional charges. Yet his followers have no intention of allowing the state to stop them. “If I were to be sent to be prison,” he said, “boy – I think that would set off such a blast”.
Skeptical as I am about so many of the claims made in the name of ‘religious freedom’ (too often a crude assertion of religious privilege), there’s a part of me that hopes that Tennessee can, through regulation (Proper storage facilities? No children present?), find a way to accommodate this little slice of the old, weird America.
Or perhaps I’m just over-influenced by Mr. Hamblin supplying me with a lovely, fantastic, nutty image so saturated in (probably unconscious) disrespect for contemporary pieties that it merits a hallelujah or two:
“I was at death’s door. Me and death were just about ready to smoke a cigarette together”.
The Athens Banner-Herald reports:
Charles Darwin, the 19th-century naturalist who laid the foundations for evolutionary theory, received nearly 4,000 write-in votes in Athens-Clarke County in balloting for the 10th Congressional District seat retained Tuesday by five-year incumbent Republican Rep. Paul Broun [who was running unopposed].
A spot check Thursday of some of the other counties in the east Georgia congressional district revealed a smattering of votes for Darwin, although it wasn’t always clear, based on information provided by elections offices in those counties, whether those votes were cast in the 10th District race. And because the long-dead Darwin was not a properly certified write-in candidate, some counties won’t be tallying votes for him, whether in the congressional race or other contests.
A campaign asking voters to write-in Darwin’s name in the 10th Congressional District, which includes half of Athens-Clarke County, began after Broun, speaking at a sportsmen’s banquet at a Hartwell church, called evolution and other areas of science “lies straight from the pit of hell.”
Via Think Progress (I know, I know), here’s Rick Santorum explaining why a woman left pregnant should be compelled to give birth:
Well, you can make the argument that if she doesn’t have this baby, if she kills her child, that that, too, could ruin her life. And this is not an easy choice. I understand that. As horrible as the way that that son or daughter and son was created, it still is her child. And whether she has that child or doesn’t, it will always be her child. And she will always know that. And so to embrace her and to love her and to support her and get her through this very difficult time, I’ve always, you know, I believe and I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life. We have horrible things happen. I can’t think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.
It’s likely not the response Rick Perry was expecting.
Earlier this year, the Texas Governor called on Christians across the U.S. to come to Houston for a prayer event aimed at bringing God’s help to a “nation in crisis.” Organizers of the religious gathering, dubbed “The Response,” say only 8,000 people have registered on-line to attend this Saturday’s event at Houston’s Reliant Stadium, a venue with a seating capacity of 71,000.
Eric Bearse, a “Response” spokesman and former speech-writer for the potential GOP presidential candidate, says attendance numbers are a non-issue.
“Not concerned whatsoever. We think it will be a powerful event whether it is 8,000 or 50,000. The only people concerned about numbers are press,” Bearse said.
Here’s Joe Carter writing in the theocon journal, First Things:
Devotees of Rand may object to my outlining the association between [Rand and vintage Satanist Anton La Vey]. They will say I am proposing “guilt by association,” a form of the ad hominem fallacy. But I am not attacking Rand for the overlap of her views with LaVey’s; I am saying that, at their core, they are the same philosophy. LaVey was able to recognize what many conservatives fail to see: Rand’s doctrines are satanic.
A message from Texas governor, and possible GOP presidential hopeful, Rick Perry:
Right now, America is in crisis: we have been besieged by financial debt, terrorism, and a multitude of natural disasters. As a nation, we must come together and call upon Jesus to guide us through unprecedented struggles, and thank Him for the blessings of freedom we so richly enjoy.
Some problems are beyond our power to solve, and according to the Book of Joel, Chapter 2, this historic hour demands a historic response. Therefore, on August 6, thousands will gather to pray for a historic breakthrough for our country and a renewed sense of moral purpose.
I sincerely hope you’ll join me in Houston on August 6th and take your place in Reliant Stadium with praying people asking God’s forgiveness, wisdom and provision for our state and nation. There is hope for America. It lies in heaven, and we will find it on our knees.
The language of politics will always reflect the traditions and the culture of the constituency to which it is designed to appeal, but, blimey…
Incidentally, check out Joel 2 (King James Version), if you haven’t already done so. It’s bonkers, of course, but rather beautiful.
In the meantime, (via Mother Jones), there’s this:
…Huckabee has joked that he “answers” to “two Janets.” One is his wife, Janet Huckabee. The other is Janet Porter, the onetime co-chair of Huckabee’s Faith and Values Coalition. And Porter, the former governor has said, is his “prophetic voice.” But that voice has said some weird things over the years: Porter has maintained that Obama represents an “inhumane, sick, and sinister evil,” and she has warned that Democrats want to throw Christians in jail merely for practicing their faith. She’s attributed Haiti’s high poverty rate to the fact that the country is “dedicated to Satan,” and she suggested that gay marriage caused Noah’s Flood. And there’s this: In a 2009 column for conservative news site WorldNetDaily, Porter asserted that President Barack Obama is a Soviet secret agent, groomed since birth to destroy the United States from within.
Porter’s long history in the Christian right made her a natural ally for Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, as he laid the foundations for his presidential run in 2007. An acolyte of the late televangelist D. James Kennedy, Porter rose quickly through the ranks of the Christian right, first as director of the Ohio Right to Life chapter in the 1990s. Later, she founded and served as president of Faith2Action, a right-wing group that promotes a theory known as Christian Dominionism—in which Christians are duty-bound to control the instruments of government in advance of the second coming of Christ.
Porter, in turn, seemed enamored with the candidate. In WorldNetDaily, she lavished praise on Huckabee. At one point, she composed a medieval ballad in which Huckabee, referred to as “Sir Mike-A-Lot who we all Like a lot,” slayed Hillary Clinton (represented by the “the evil queen and her dragon of slaughter”). Huckabee eventually signed Porter up as co-chair of his Faith and Family Values Coalition, a prestigious group of evangelical who’s-who’s tasked with reaching out to religious voters.
Porter had strong words for Huckabee’s competition, as well. She publicly suggested that former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson might be the anti-Christ. In the lead-up to the Iowa caucuses, she cut an ad attacking Huckabee’s two most serious rivals, Mitt Romney and John McCain. The ad was paid for by RoeGone, a short-lived 527 formed by a Porter deputy with the stated ambition of becoming the conservative MoveOn.org (it fizzled).
Porter’s most dramatic arguments for Huckabee centered on what she believed was the impending prohibition on Christianity—the subject of her 2004 book, The Criminalization of Christianity: Read This Book Before it Becomes Illegal! In her view, the 2008 election represented a make-or-break moment for people of faith. “I’m writing this letter from prison, where I’ve been since the beginning of 2010,” she began one column. “Since Hillary was elected in ’08, Christian persecution in America has gotten even worse than we predicted.”
Her efforts for Huckabee did not go overlooked by the candidate. In his campaign memoir, Do the Right Thing, he calls her a “prophetic voice,” and includes Porter on a short list of evangelicals—including Left Behind creator Tim LaHaye—who made his rise possible. He singles her out for praise for helping to organize the Values Voters Debate and credits her prayers and fasting with his strong performance at a “turning point” in the campaign…
If Huckabee actually believes any of this, he belongs in a straitjacket, not the White House.
Now, about those sermons….
The self-righteousness oozing out of Bill Maher on the clip from his show linked to here by the Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen was neither a new phenomenon nor pleasant to watch. On the other hand, the comments from Republican congressman Jack Kingston were low comedy:
“I believe I came from God, not from a monkey….If it happened over millions and millions of years, there should be lots of fossil evidence.”
Good lord (so to speak).
Possibly more revealing than Kingston’s difficulties with science are the difficulties that he has in expressing them, particularly his insistence that he believes in “adaptation”. There was also his (faulty) assumption that the National Review writer on the panel would bail him out.
The former might suggest (yes, I’m being an optimist) that the congressman does sort-of-believe in evolution after all, the latter that he believes anti-evolutionism has now become part of the standard right-wing package. That could explain why he might defend creationism in terms traditionalist enough (the monkey business) to satisfy any litmus test, while preserving enough intellectual honesty to seem a little hesitant about doing so.
Then again maybe he just doesn’t know what he’s talking about. That wouldn’t be a first for the political class – and it won’t be the last.
Albert Mohler serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world—and he blogs. It’s worth taking a look there from time to time.
Here he is ruminating on the question of whether “science trumps the Bible” (in some ways, a false dichotomy, but that’s a discussion for another day):
“[C]ount me in as being lost to the assertion that science trumps the Bible “about the natural world” or about anything else. In his original response to Jerry Coyne, Giberson made the argument in more striking words: “Empirical science does indeed trump revealed truth about the world as Galileo and Darwin showed only too clearly.” That statement, with its reference to “revealed truth,” is even more shocking than the first.
In the economy of a few words, Giberson throws the Bible under the scientific bus. We should be thankful that his argument is so clear, for it puts the case for theistic evolution in its proper light — as a direct attack upon biblical authority.
What’s interesting about this is not Mohler’s biblical literalism, but the intensity of his assault on “Giberson”, a professor at East Nazarene College, and, clearly, no atheist. To make a public exhibition of your faith by attacking those somewhat further along the dial is a classic sectarian trait whether political or religious. And it’s not going away.
Minority Jim speaks out:
“People are beginning to see that there’s no way we can pay the interest on our debt and every week, we’re borrowing money to pay the debt we have and are creating new programs that are costing more money,” he said. “Hopefully in 2012, we’ll make headway to repeal some of the things we’ve done, because politics only works when we’re realigned with our Savior.”
Well, fair enough about the spending, but quite where “our Savior” comes into it, I’m not sure.
And then there’s this:
DeMint said if someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom and he holds the same position on an unmarried woman who’s sleeping with her boyfriend — she shouldn’t be in the classroom.