Sunday, September 23, 2007

Religion notes (2007-09-23)

Couple of religion notes this morning:

First, this article in NYT about a rapidly shrinking and almost exclusively white Southern Baptist Church congregation outside Atlanta who -- when they realized just renting out the church to ethnic congregations still wasn't enough to pay the bills -- decided to invite everyone to join in. Some members of the white group weren't all that happy, of course.

Concerned about its survival, the church commissioned a study that found blacks and immigrants would soon outnumber whites in the area. William S. Perrin, 75 and a member of the church since 1948, said that at one meeting on the issue, a deacon stood up to express his anger.“If you think black folks are going to come in here and take our church away from us,” Mr. Perrin remembers the man saying, “you got another thing coming.”
William Perrin was no stranger to such attitudes. A retired Army lieutenant colonel who survived a midair collision over Vietnam, he grew up in Clarkston before the civil rights era. Some old ideas about race were embedded in his own psyche.
He recalled that while in the Army he once used a racial epithet in front of a black pilot he admired. When he realized what he had done, Mr. Perrin said, he broke down, hugged the pilot and begged for forgiveness.
“I’m ashamed of myself,” he said he told the man. “That’s just my white upbringing in Georgia.”
The pilot forgave Mr. Perrin, who then vowed never to disrespect another person because of race or ethnicity.
With his church failing, Mr. Perrin and other longtime members looked to the Scriptures for guidance and found what they believed was a mandate from Jesus to diversify their church.

The new service is somewhat of a compromise -- some traditional "white" songs have been given up for upbeat "praise music," and of course it's still in English. But it seems to be working; attendance is way up and the weekly pot luck is the social event with people enjoying each other's food, and company. This could be an example of what America ought to be like.

The second and somewhat more depressing item is something I heard last night on the BBC World Service, about how many Muslims in the Indian-controlled Kashmir region refuse to take any precautions to protect their homes and businesses from earthquakes. Somehow, they've been conditioned to believe that tremors, tsunamis and other natural disasters are "Acts of God" meant to punish the human race for their sins.

However, a campaign is now being led by Muslim clerics to try to persuade their people to think smartly. Their selling point -- unbelievably -- is that the homes of Christians, Hindus and Jews often survive such disasters because their occupants have had the aforethought to protect themselves; therefore, if Kashmirs truly believe God's wrath is being unleashed, why does He favour non-Muslims over Muslims?

Old habits die hard (pardon the expression) but imams carry enormous influence over their congregants, especially in developing areas over the world. This one just might work. (Sorry, no link, this one's only on audio and they update the program every week.)

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