I've said before that religion has been used in madly destructive ways, and that because so many people seem to blindly accept that religion is good, I've been willing to point out where it has been bad.
What I really believe is that any religion can be used for the positive - to connect the celebrant (I much prefer the concept of celebration to that of worship) to something greater than herself, to create community, to facilitate helping others, and so on. Likewise, any religion can be used for destructive purposes - to increase hatred, to justify killing those who are different, to try to control people's lives and force their adherence to rules that are harmful, and so on. This week, I've been hit on the head with one example of each.
The good example comes from a former co-worker and friend. It is the First Baptist Church Decatur (Georgia). My friend Leslie attends this church, and in our book club's discussion of Outcasts United she mentioned that the church has been working with a lot of refugees. Her husband Bill is an Asian scholar and knows some languages that allow him to be a huge help with some of the refugee population. She says that a lot of the church's ministry in there kinds of areas is behind the scenes. There's an article on the church and its pastor in Atlanta Magazine from May 2008 on pg. 112 (I haven't had a chance to read it). Reading the book made me realize how much help is needed by the refugee population, and how overwhelmed the aid groups are, so this kind of outreach is so much needed and speaks of care on the part of the church.
The bad example comes from this article from Talking Points Memo about the pastor of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, AZ. The pastor preached a sermon called "Why I Hate Barack Obama" the day before a member of the church brought a gun to an event where Obama was appearing. I listened to the first few minutes, and according to the pastor, God is quite capable of hating people, and he hates the violent in particular. It shows, again, how little these type of people have the capacity for self-reflection. They have a page of their doctrines, and one of them is this: "We believe that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty." The pastor, Steven Anderson, in his sermon prayed for Barack Obama to die - not by violence, that would create a martyr, but a natural death. Maybe he's been taking lessons in imprecatory prayers from Wiley Drake.
So here we have concrete examples of the light and the dark, love vs. hate, kindness that reaches out vs. evil that excludes. I think you can guess where my sympathies lie. Blessings to those who are spreaders of light, and may the haters look out from the pit they have dug for themselves and decide to become a part of what is good in the world.