Taking Our Pulse

It has been excruciating to watch the news streaming from Orlando in the aftermath of the horrific slaughter of innocents early Sunday morning at the night club, Pulse.  All of the mass killings have touched me deeply: Sandy Hook, Paris, Santa Bernardino, Columbine…  This one, however, elicits a unique breadth of pain and dread.  It is an election year and the polarization in America is deep and seems intractable.

Already the President is being castigated for not calling the attack “radical Islamic terrorism.”  And, of course, the NRA will chant, “if someone in the crowd had a gun they could have taken him down.” Blame the victims?  We learned almost immediately that the killer had a license to own the weapons and got them legally, and that he was mentally unstable but had never seen any mental health provider.  No existing or proposed gun laws would have prevented him from doing what he did.  We can’t regulate ourselves out of the morass of distrust and hatred into which we have been dragged, though we must not stop trying.

Further, this is not about the faith of Islam.  I have participated in numbers of inter-faith dialogues, and every Muslim I know is devastated about this massacre, and doubly so: it reflects wrongly and badly on the character of their faith and further alienates many persons of shallow spirit.  We even have an aspiring leader of the nation who gloats that he was right about Islamic terrorism, and scores of political opportunists who will try to capitalize on it.

At the heart of it all is the religious and cultural disdain and hatred of LGBTQ persons.  Two hundred anti-LGBT laws have been introduced in our legislatures, and not by Muslims!  How can we make light of our nation’s founding principle that all are created equal and endowed by the Creator with life, liberty and pursuit of happiness?  Is America sick?  It is time to take our national, ethical and spiritual pulse.

Rev. Rollin Russell
Hillsborough, NC

Off The Rails

Our state elected leaders have really gone off the rails this time. No, I am not referring to the beleaguered legislature’s bizarre HB#2. This time it’s Lt. Gov. Dan Forest. He has sent a letter on his official state letterhead inviting himself to churches to “share my faith story, as well as share how my relationship with God impacts my family, career, and everyday decisions.” He says he has done this previously and is happy to give other churches the opportunity to hear and converse with him. It is a finger in the eye to federal law, which bars tax-exempt groups from intervening in partisan politics.

Forest goes on to suggest a format for such a visit: “invite me to attend a Sunday service at your church, . . . have me on stage side-by-side with you (the pastor) and you conduct a Q and A session.” Never mind that he is running for re-election. Does he not know that to do as he suggests would place any such church in possible violation of the Internal Revenue Code and endanger its tax exemption? Doesn’t he know that churches, like most non-profit groups, are forbidden to engage in partisan political activity? Of course he does. He and the church groups to which he panders want to have their tax-exempt cake and eat it too.

I doubt that any Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Mennonite, Lutheran, United Church of Christ or Unitarian churches will receive Forest’s letter, much less Jewish synagogues or Islamic mosques. He is wooing a particular evangelical-fundamentalist constituency, not the majority of Christian churches or religious groups. The former all know the truth that was recently so well expressed by their national leaders in “A Statement of Faithful Obedience:”

“When entering the public sphere, faith leaders must take care to avoid being used by politics or politicians, or to allow their faith to be exploited for partisan causes or their faith communities turned into mere political constituencies.”

Perfectly stated. The lieutenant governor has gone off the rails and should be ashamed.

Rev. Rollin Russell
Orange-Durham Chapter
Americans United for Separation of Church and State




The NC Legislature Reconvenes

Hide the children and the silverware.  The North Carolina Legislature is returning to Raleigh for its Short Session.   The good news is: they probably cannot do as much damage to the character and reputation of our state as they did in just one day in the special session which rammed through House Bill #2.  Companies are cancelling plans to locate facilities here.  Entertainers are cancelling their concerts here.  Professional sports leagues are reconsidering their commitments to hold headline events in North Carolina.  Cities, counties and organizations are protesting and filing suits to strike down the law.

Contrary to our beleaguered and rattled governor’s retort, it is not just a matter of “bathroom etiquette.”  The legislature used their feigned horror at a Charlotte City ordinance to strike down all municipal and county ordinances that protect the rights of LGBTQ citizens which go beyond the protections already in state law which are, for these particular  neighbors, in a word, . . . none.

It is not as though they were oblivious to the furor they might incur.  Indiana passed a similar law and had to walk it back in light of outraged protest.  Georgia passed a similar law and it’s governor was smart and courageous enough to veto it.  Mississippi has now joined in with its own version.  It is a race to the bottom in a clear effort to strike back at gay rights in general and marriage equality in particular.

The legislators base their actions on the claim to religious liberty, the “free exercise of religion” guaranteed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.  They are really violating that very clause in the Bill of Rights, namely its other half: we are to “make no law regarding an establishment of religion.”  The Legislature and the religious conservatives to whom they pander clearly want to establish in law the precepts of their own narrow gauge religion.  It is unconstitutional and will be struck down.  But in the meantime, it is creating havoc.

So, here they come again.  What new travesty will they try to impose on us?  Like other reactionary state legislatures, they take their orders from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization funded by zillionaires who want to hold and increase political power.  It is time to get them and their legislative lackeys off our backs.  It is time to recognize that this is an attempt to establish their own exclusionary religious dogmas into law in gross violation of the cherished principle of the Separation of Curch and State.

Rev. Rollin Russell, Hillsborough, NC
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Orange-Durham Chapter

HB2 and Orange Durham AU

NC’s passing of HB2 is garnering exactly the kind of fallout we would hope. The pressure is to repeal it and we will add our voices. Currently, NC has already passed every legislative bill that would warrant protest – save the Super Religious Freedom Restoration Act proposed last year, that Speaker Moore tabled. We will continue to watch that bill, but in the meantime, we will also stir up awareness and express discontent with the egregious bills recently passed. Our action on vouchers will be first. $12 million spent so far this year to indoctrinate. We will also keep watching SB2, the legislation that allowed magistrates to opt out of doing their jobs. NC now has 5 Americans United chapters across the state watching and organizing against a brewing theocratic rule from Raleigh. Join us.