American culture, not Congress, is changing

American culture, not Congress, is changing

Gazette Column
New cultural research shows bumpy paths forward for both dominant political parties and better explains why economics wasn’t the sole booster of Donald Trump’s rise to the White House. It also proves most Americans are right: Washington, D.C., and state legislatures are out of step with their constituents, just not for the reasons many think. The 2016 American Values Atlas, an annual survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, was released last week with some very interesting findings on America’s shifting culture. A few key points: • The share of Americans who identify as white and Christian no longer constitutes a national majority. • White Christians now make up only 43 percent of the U.S. population, a steep decline from four decades ago when the demographic was at 80 percent. •…
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Parenting a freethinker made easier

Parenting a freethinker made easier

Gazette Column
Two decades ago, as our family reeled from a full-term stillbirth, I grappled with ways to help our then 6-year-old daughter work through the grief of losing an infant brother. I searched for resources to offer reassurance and comfort, but there were scant few on the topic of death. And none I could find on stillbirth. So, we muddled forward with our own words. Was I saying the right things? Were there “right things” to be said? About a decade later, when a different daughter’s best friend died unexpectedly, I was given a book, “Parenting Beyond Belief,” edited by Dale McGowan. Suddenly I had a compass to help guide my child through grief, and advice on many other thorny topics. McGowan later co-authored a practical, companion book and, this past year,…
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Postcards offer love, bolster unity

Postcards offer love, bolster unity

Gazette Column
Hate crimes are on the rise in America, and religion-based violence leads the pack. As a May Senate Judiciary Committee hearing led by Sen. Chuck Grassley thoroughly detailed: Hate crimes against minority faiths spiked 86 percent in the past year — a low-ball percentage that only reflects what’s reported. “Religious hate crimes against Muslims are the fastest growing category,” said Grassley, an Iowa Republican. “Fear for practicing one’s religion should never happen in this country.” Religion-based violence touched the Midwest again last weekend when a bomb exploded inside the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in suburban Minneapolis. As people gathered for morning prayers, the explosion ripped through the local religious leader’s office. Furnishings were charred, windows shattered — but thankfully no lives lost. Only a week before, swastikas and messages warning…
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Atheist, humanist invocations planned at Iowa Statehouse

Atheist, humanist invocations planned at Iowa Statehouse

Gazette Column
This month the Iowa Statehouse moves closer to its “people’s house” nickname when first an atheist, and then a humanist, offer invocations from the well of the House chamber. The General Assembly has a long-standing tradition of invocations, which are brief meditations or prayers. It’s become routine for lawmakers to invite people from around the state to offer these morning speeches, marking a solemn beginning to the legislative work day. Throughout the years, a variety of religious and community leaders have spoken. Christian denominations hold the lion’s share of these appearances, but legislators also have heard from Jewish rabbis, Muslim imams, and one Wiccan priestess. And now two secularists will join their ranks. This Wednesday, Manchester native and atheist Justin Scott will lead the ceremony. Then on April 17, Roxanne…
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Wishing for less fear, more words

Wishing for less fear, more words

Gazette Column
Before your turkey leftovers can be turned into sandwiches and soup, the war of words begins. The cashier that wishes you a hearty “Happy holidays!” is a front-line soldier, as much in need of a fox hole as the bell ringer shouting “merry Christmas!” The supposed War on Christmas is the center of the dispute, forcing acquaintances to decide what, if anything, is appropriate to say. By wishing neighbors a happy holiday, we’re removing Christ from the celebration. By inserting Christmas, we’re making a religious assumption. [caption id="attachment_344" align="alignleft" width="640"] A poinsettia flower decorates a table. (Crystal LoGiudice/The Gazette)[/caption] What I’ve noticed this year — and maybe you’ve noticed it too — is that fewer people seem willing to cross the battleground. Instead of warm wishes, however contrived, people in…
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Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Congressional briefing planned for Pastor Max deportation anniversary

Gazette Column
Federal lawmakers will be reminded on Monday about the plight of Max Villatoro, a Mennonite pastor who was deported a year ago, and the family he was forced to leave behind in Iowa. The Mennonite Central Committee and Central Plains Mennonite Conference — the religious organizations Pastor Max was affiliated with — has planned two Congressional briefings, one for senators and the other for representatives. Both are slated to discuss how U.S. immigration officials are violating their own policies. Pastor Max was removed from his Iowa City home while his wife showered, the contact part of a federal government sweep intended to target the “worst of the worst” immigrant criminal elements in the country. After entering the country in 1995, he had a 1999 DUI conviction in Johnson County, as…
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Small, determined group can make a difference

Small, determined group can make a difference

Gazette Column
Sometimes, when confronted with big challenges, people freeze. But not always. Brandon Carleton is a resident of the Quad Cities who, last May, attended a conference in California and heard from an organizer of Laundry Love. The project began on the West Coast when a homeless man — Eric, who went by the nickname of T-Bone — was asked what would make a difference in his life. “If I had clean clothes,” Eric responded, “I think people would treat me like a human being.” That was 12 years ago and, in the wake of that conversation, Laundry Love was born. At its most basic level, it provides free laundry services to those in need, but the benefits hardly stop there. When Carleton, who also runs a small church out of…
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Learning from our history of finding scapegoats

Learning from our history of finding scapegoats

Gazette Column
Sadness, fear and confusion. Those are the three emotions woven throughout conversations I had in the wake of a 2008 immigration raid in Postville. For nearly the same reasons, these emotions also surrounded the Muslim residents taking part in a community demonstration last weekend. The alignment is understandable, if regrettable. [caption id="attachment_913" align="aligncenter" width="640"] People of many faiths gathered on May's Island on Saturday, Dec. 19, in a show of support for Muslims and other immigrants, who have recently been targeted in political rhetoric. The solidarity demonstration was organized by the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County. (Lynda Waddington/The Gazette)[/caption] Some Postville Hispanics were spared the felonious identity theft convictions faced by 389 male workers — a prosecution strategy that the U.S. Supreme Court later found lacking. Instead of being bustled…
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Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Hoping for less BVP under the holiday tree

Gazette Column
From a political standpoint Bob Vander Plaats and I are near polar opposites, but that isn’t why I hope he drops off the radar of the national press. Another caucus season, more national positioning of Vander Plaats, head of the Family Leader, as some ill-conceived GOP kingmaker in Iowa. How soon they forget. Vander Plaats has been three times rejected by Iowa gubernatorial election voters — twice during GOP primaries. His largest claim to fame is taking millions in out-of-state money to campaign for the ouster of the Iowa Supreme Court justices who found a state ban on same-sex marriage violated equal protection clauses. The bus tours and demonstrations were so far removed from reality that many religious conservatives celebrated not the removal of the justices, but a wrong assumption…
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An opportunity this weekend to stand with your neighbors

An opportunity this weekend to stand with your neighbors

Gazette Blog
Area residents should meet at noon on May's Island Four teenage boys — Moussa, Abbas, Yousef and Ali Habhab — arrived in Cedar Rapids in the 1880s. They were the first of many Muslims to settle in the community, many following Christians known from their homeland into Iowa. Like so many immigrants, they found pride and promise in their new home and wanted to fold their own traditions into the existing culture. On a cold February in 1934, the community opened its first official house of worship — a small mosque, which would also serve as a community center. It is now the oldest standing building originally built as a mosque in our nation. The community grew. They fell in love, married and worked hard. They bore children, choosing to…
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