The federal government released data on the Coronavirus bailout legislation, particularly its program of providing forgivable loans to small businesses. In the report, it was revealed that religious organizations, including schools and churches, received a big chunk of the $660 billion funding through what is known as the Paycheck Protection Program. Among them were organizations that staunchly support President Trump, including the Florida church of his spiritual advisor Paula White and the Texas church where VP Pence spoke last week—the latter received a loan worth from $2-5 million! More than 2200 Catholic and 1300 Baptists churches were among those receiving federal aid. There has been widespread unease about the breakdown of the wall of separation between church and state.
And two Supreme Court decisions in as many weeks further undermine this wall. I reported on one last week, the decision to include private religious schools in the distribution of tax money in the state of Colorado; that decision declared that religious schools cannot be excluded if a state decides to give funding to other private schools. This week, the Supreme Court determined that teachers in religious schools are exempt from some federal rules concerning employment, that they cannot sue the school for discrimination based on such things as gender, race, and age. In another decision this week, the Court widened the opportunity for employers to deny insurance coverage for contraception if the employer has a moral or religious conviction against employees using contraception.
In Mississippi, authorities voted to delete the famous Confederate flag symbol on the state flag. But crafted into the legislation is the provision that something else will be added to the flag: the words “In God We Trust”. The phrase is on coins and many license plates across the nation, an effort by Christians to push back against what they see as the secularization of American culture. We shall see what the new flag looks like and, in the long run, whether the designated phrase can carry the cultural freight its proponents hope.
Popular religious scholar and author David Gushee has issued a public call for churches to reconvene, even in the face of mounting COVID threats. Gushee teaches at the McAfee School of Theology of Mercer University and published his thoughts through Baptist News Global. He advocated, as a layman he later clarified, returning to worship sooner rather than later, in part because the COVID pandemic could last another three to four years. Gushee was, of course, part of a much wider discussion of how and when to open things, including schools, churches, and beaches. Nevertheless, he received such a strong and visceral response that he issued a lengthy “clarification” related to values, civility and what he called “my mistakes”. So, the discussion goes on!
And one more story of symbols and statues—a move is underway to push the United Methodist Church to redesign its popular symbol which features a flame (representing the Holy Spirit) arising out of a cross (representing the death of Jesus). Reverend Edlen Cowley of the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church has announced he will ask their conference to issue a call for a new emblem. This one, he says, resembles too closely the burning cross used by the Ku Klux Klan to signal their racist ideology. Cowley is senior pastor of the Fellowship United Methodist Church in the metro Dallas area. “The first instance of a cross being burned in the United States was on November 25, 1915”, wrote Cowley, “when a group led by William J. Simmons burned a cross on top of Stone Mountain, Georgia, inaugurating a revival of the Ku Klux Klan”.