Health Facts–Did You Know?

Every major
developed nation
has achieved
universal coverage
while spending
one half to
two-thirds as
much per capita
as we do and
achieving health
outcomes at least
as good as ours
or better.
America does not
need more money
for health care.
We need a better
–Dr. Henry Simmons

Health and wholeness are moral and ethical issues that go far beyond economics and delivery of services. But the debate in this country bogs down in these two areas. Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times says entrenched interests have kept the current inefficiencies in the U.S. health care system because they profit from the present conditions. He also says this makes it enormously difficult to change.

On the face of it, the current system is broken and must be repaired. You don’t have to be an expert analyst to know this. Everyone one of us who has come up against the health care delivery system has experienced it. That’s why it’s so important. It’s a day-to-day part of our lives.

No one lives without coming into contact with it, and its problems. Therefore, it affects us in fundamental ways–our dignity, our use of resources, our sense of wholeness, our relationships, our ability to live a life of quality. We should have a system that includes everyone, and it should be carried out fairly and equitably. That’s a theological issue. It’s about justice. Justice is an expression of faith.

The National Coalition for Health Care offers these facts that, it seems to me, pertain to justice and the wholeness of life:

  • The number of uninsured rose by 1.4 million people between 2002 and 2003.
  • Approximately 45 million Americans, or 15.6 percent of the population, had no health insurance coverage in 2003.
  • Young adults (aged 18 to 24) remained least likely of any group to have health insurance in 2001. More than 28 percent of adults in this age group lack health insurance coverage.
  • Uninsured children face a higher risk of developmental delays than those with health coverage.
  • Uninsured adults hospitalized for a traumatic injury are more than twice as likely to die in the hospital as insured adults — even after controlling for the severity of the injury.
  • In 2001, the cost of medical care for uninsured Americans residents totaled $98.9 billion.
  • The United States spends about $35 billion per year to provide uninsured residents with medical care, often for preventable diseases that could be treated more efficiently with earlier diagnosis.
  • Americans spent 1.4 trillion dollars on health care in 2001.
  • The United States spend a greater portion of the gross domestic product on health care than any other industrialized nation.
  • Despite its high level of health care spending, the United States has a higher infant mortality rate than the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Sweden and Japan.
  • Americans use about 3 billion prescriptions each year.
  • On average, seniors spend about $2,300 on legal prescription drugs.
  • More people die in a given year from medical errors than from automobile accidents, breast cancer, or AIDS.
  • Twenty-two percent of sick adults in America were sent for duplicate tests by different health care professionals in the last two years.
  • In 2002, twelve percent of sick American adults reported receiving the wrong medication or dose by a hospital, doctor, or pharmacist in the last two years.
  • All “Did you know?” facts can be found under the “Facts About Health Care” section of the website of the National Coalition on Health Care .

The Health Care Crisis

Frankly, the
problems of
our health
care system
have become
so large,
so serious,
and so pervasive
that they
are beyond
the ability
of any one
no matter
how large
or shrewd,
to overcome.
–Dr. Henry Simmons,
National Coalition
on Health Care

“We are in very serious trouble. And unless our political leaders act quickly, our problems will become even more severe,” Dr. Henry Simmons, President of the National Coalition on Health Care , told the members of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church recently. He was addressing the national health care crisis.

The nonpartisan coalition, whose members include Verizon, Pfizer, Lucent, Georgia-Pacific, the AFL-CIO and the National Council of Churches, among many others, believes health care reform must occur quickly and comprehensively in order to stave off even worse conditions than we already face.

Dr. Simmons told the GBCS that rapidly escalating costs, a huge and growing number of citizens without health coverage and an epidemic of substandard care threaten our health, our national economy and our industrial base. The coalition projects 53.7 million will be uninsured in five years. Today 45 million are without health coverage, an increase of more than 10 million in two years time.

Every 30
in the U.S.
files for
in the
of a
–Prof. Elizabeth Warren
Harvard Law School

The economic toll in this escalating crisis is both personal and systemic, undermining individuals, governments and corporations. Every 30 seconds someone in the U.S. files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem, according to Professor Elizabeth Warren of Harvard Law School. Dr. Simmons told the group “the projected liability of Medicare alone (excluding Medicaid) is $27 trillion in 75 years, eclipsing the projected deficit for Social Security which is estimated at $3.7 trillion by the Comptroller General of the U.S. , David M. Walker

Simmons said uninsurance results in staggering economic losses. Citing figures from the Institute of Medicine, he said total economic losses attributable to uninsurance amount to between $65 billion and $130 billion a year.

He said substandard care is also a result of the current system. Reviewing the findings of a RAND study that reviewed thousands of patients in 12 metropolitan areas, he told the group the study found that patients received on 54.9 percent of recommended care.

Simmons said the health care crisis is not beyond solutions but reform must be systemic, it must be implemented systemwide, and it must be accomplished quickly (within three years.)

The National Health Care Coalition calls for five measures to solve the crisis:

  • coverage for all Americans within 2-3 years after passage of enabling legislation;
  • manage costs more effectively through a core benefit package and transparent supplemental coverage;
  • accelerate development of an integrated national information technology infrastructure and incentives and capital for upfront investments to build infrastructure;
  • reduce or eliminate cost-shifting (charging one patient more to cover costs for what another patient doesn’t pay);
  • simplify administration of health care.
  • The most hopeful thing Simmons told the Board members is that despite the enormity of the problem, it can be solved if we are determined, comprehensive and committed.

How Health Care Costs are Changing Ministry

In recent
months, GM
officials have
said soaring
health care
spending has
the leading
the automaker?s
–The Detroit News

General Motors attributes some of its current problems to the rising costs of health care for workers. The company says $1,400 of the cost of each car it makes goes to pay health care costs. That’s not the whole reason for GM’s difficulties, of course, but it’s significant that the company sees health care as a contributing factor

It’s not being discussed in these terms yet, but health care costs are also contributing to the re-shaping of ministry in many mainline denominations. Those denominations such as mine, The United Methodist Church, with many small local congregations–roughly 25,000 in our communion–are seeing personnel costs increase so rapidly they threaten placement of seminary-trained clergy.

My point here is not to debate whether this is a good or a bad thing. I have no axe to grind in this debate. But, it seems to me decisions about the quality of education and professional skills we want in our pastoral leaders should be made based on solid theological and biblical discussion and not on economic necessity. Economics should not dictate how the church carries out ministry.

the health
system is
a health
–Barbara Ehrenreich

However, when health care costs increase by double digits as they have for the past several years, that’s exactly what happens. The costs of maintaining full-time clergy become too burdensome for small membership congregations to sustain. They reduce costs by moving to part-time clergy leadership, lay pastors and the placement of a group of pastors defined in our denomination as “local pastors.” Often, these are persons who have full-time jobs and function as pastors in addition to their first vocation.

They are highly dedicated and often skilled in multiple disciplines. However, they face time constraints which limit their ability to seek seminary training in the disciplines that have historically been considered important for effective ministry–church history, Bible study, theology, and religious education. They are unlikely to pursue clinical pastoral education and other forms of specialized skill development because these require a time commitment they can’t make.

I came into the ministry through this route and I’m especially sensitive to the extraordinary demands that confront an individual who is trying to work full-time, serve the needs of a local congregation and complete a course of study leading to licensing and, ultimately, ordination.

costs are
sucking the
blood out
of the
–Barbara Ehrenreich

Moreover, these individuals usually function without the community support of other clergy because they can’t attend group meetings except during their few off-hours. They do course work for ministry through correspondence. Thus, they function without benefit of professional support and pursue knowlege outside of an educational community while attempting to meet the considerable demands that dual vocations, family and congregations place upon them.

What does this have to do with health care? My denomination is sliding into this pattern not through a conscious, planned strategy, but by default. It’s the result of adaption to economic circumstances driven by health care costs.

Barbara Ehrenreich says in the LA Times that health care costs are sucking the life out of the economy of the United States. If General Motors and The United Methodist Church are both experiencing economic constraints because of health care, why, for Pete’s sake, isn’t someone doing something about it? Neither of these is a small business lacking in the resources to tackle a problem that is fundamentally changing them. You would think they’d rather be in control of their own destiny, in so far as possible, than to be in a reactionary posture that, basically, leaves them out of control.

I believe access to health care should be a universal human right. It should be beyond question that with the resources available to us in the 21st. Century that everyone should have access to prevention and treatment that make for physical health. But if that’s not enough reason to change our health care practices then the survival of our basic industries and institutions should be. We are at a point where that survival is put in jeopardy by runaway health care costs.

Rather than spurious debate about Social Security, we need to be problem-solving the health care crisis in this country.

Open Source Radio

There is a
profound shift
under way
in the way
we use
that allows
to have
a voice.
–Joel Hollander
CEO, Infinity

Podcast radio is here.The first open source radio station is receiving podcasts from listeners starting today, and it will start broadcasting on May 16.

Poynter Online reports that Infinity Broadcasting’s KCYC-FM, San Francisco will drop its talk radio format and broadcast listener’s podcasts. The station will stream at Open Source Radio.

As the website points out, ten months ago podcasting was unknown. Today, it’s a radio format.

The Cost of New Media–Less Comprehension?

some experts
worry the
shift from
print- to
could be
coming at
a cost of less
G. Jeffrey MacDonald

Watching video seems the least demanding of passive pursuits. We do it for relaxation, entertainment and sometimes for learning. But we are not taught how to extract information using the same critical skills that are required in reading, for example.

As a result, we may not be getting the full value of the content available in a video, or we may be receiving information that, if viewed with a more critical eye, might be received with different meaning than intended by the producer.

This sounds esoteric, but it isn’t. It’s really apropos to the increasing use of visual media by youth and adults to receive information. It is in this way that media shape our attitudes and form our perceptions. It’s how culture is, in part, created and passed on. So, it’s not really an exercise without real-world application. In the long-term, it’s about values education, in addition to other results.

Generations reared on Sesame Street have developed viewing skills intuitively which means their viewing habits are not critically formed. Lacking this critique leaves us unprepared to analyze what we see for messages that are conveyed subtly. I’m not concerned with the hidden persuasion that Vance Packard wrote about years ago. His thesis was that text messages could be delivered subliminally to manipulate us.

Writing in the Christian Science Monitor, G. Jeffrey MacDonald reports on the efforts of educators to help viewers use critical thinking skills when watching video. The concern of many educators is that viewing visual media stimulates emotional response, but doesn’t result in better comprehension of information. When we don’t apply critical thinking to our viewing we act as if viewing is a harmless pasttime. It isn’t. We’re processing the world even if we’re not fully conscious of the process itself.

Therefore, the idea that we are passive consumers of visual images coming at us in an ever-flowing stream is unhealthy because it leaves us unprotected. Visual images are designed to influence us for nearly every purpose under the sun. The messages aren’t hidden text edited into single frames, as Packard proposed. His concern was that hidden messages would affect our perceptions even if we don’t comprehend them consciously.

But in our highly mediated world messages are packaged and presented to us with skill and careful forethought. We need to be aware of the subtle ways this packaging is designed to influence our emotions and our consciousness. And we need to teach these skills to our children.

It’s true that children develop a healthy skepticism without being taught overtly. Their experience of the world the see on television and their real world don’t always jibe and they learn to doubt what they see on the screen very early.

Leaving this to chance is not a good practice, however. It leaves too much to the child who has no means to evaluate the authenticity of the visuals except personal experience. That’s not fair to the kids.

I have long thought that schools and churches should be teaching media education as standard parts of their curricula. And parents should be taught how to assist their children to view media with the critical skills necessary to process our world. The cost of these visual media is not just the loss of comprehension, it is the shaping of our perceptions without critical thinking. It’s about how we help our children perceive the world and what values are necessary to live in it.

The Fairness Doctrine

The Fairness Doctrine was a broadcast regulation that in its simplest form imposed upon broadcasters the responsibility to provide their audiences with a forum for all sides in a public issue that received attention on their airtime. If a so-called liberal spoke on an issue in a public service program, for example, a countervailing viewpoint from the conservative side had to be given equal time.

in the
were the
voices of
women …
people of
color and
not only
but even
–Susan J. Douglass

This doctrine arises from the principle of ownership of the airwaves by the public. In Fairness Now, Susan J. Douglass offers an overview of the Fairness Doctrine, noting that it was not a panacea, but it was better than the present broadcast environment in which dissenting voices and those of women, minorities and others with limited access to media barely get a hearing.

The broadcast spectrum is not owned by individual licensees who use the airwaves for profit. The airwaves are held in public trust, administered by the government. The government is the protector of the people’s rights.

In 1987 amidst great fanfare this simple idea was attacked, mainly by corporate owners of broadcast licenses, and the Fairness Doctrine was repealed. This occurred as deregulation swept through the nation. Today, it’s hardly recognized that this principle of fairness was written into policy to encourage and protect free speech in the public airwaves. It supported the principle that broadcasters operate in the public interest and they must be held accountable to provide for the public dialogue as a condition of being granted the ability to profit from the publicly held commodity, the spectrum they are allowed to use to transmit messages. It remains as a vestige of broadcast licensing and most people are oblivious to the principle of fairness in broadcasting.

Writing in In These Times, Jessica Clarke and Tracey Van Slyke present an historical summary of this battle for fairness and suggest how a wider range of viewpoints could be injected into the public discourse. Writing as progressives, they advocate for the inclusion of progressive voices.

Whether you agree with their politics or not, the point they make about creating a media environment that is more inclusive and diverse is a good thing to consider. Critics from nearly every point of view are concerned about the quality of the public discourse and of news coverage today. That concern alone should motivate consideration of a more inclusive and civil discourse on the the issues that shape our lives together as a society.

Young Adults Abandon Newspapers

…the future of
the U.S. news
industry is
by the seemingly
move by young
people away
from traditional
sources of news
–Merrill Brown

I am struck by the stark contrast between two readership surveys I’ve seen recently. Editor and Publisher reports on a study commissioned by The Carnegie Corporation of readership patterns of young adults 18 to 34 years-of-age. It found that young readers are abandoning newspapers at a rate that threatens the future of the publications and, in fact, the rush to the web puts all traditional media in question.

A second study is not yet published but it was completed internally for one of our denominational publications. It reveals a readership pattern that nearly reverses the data. The typical reader of the main program journal of the church is older than 50, female and resides in a small town. This reader does not use the web.

…young people
don’t want
to rely on
the morning
paper on
their doorstep
or the
for up-to-date
in fact,
well as
their news
on demand,
when it
works for
–Merrill Brown

None of this comes as a surprise, but it does point out a challenge that’s widespread in the publishing industry. Publishers face a balancing act to preserve their existing audiences while attempting to attract new audiences attuned to new media. They have their own preferences and needs for information, so it isn’t merely a transition in technology. It’s also a change in culture–in packaging, content and format.

Denominational publishers also face stagnating revenue from book sales and many have reduced staff and taken other steps to reduce costs. Digital content does not, at this stage, produce revenue to replace losses from traditional publications. However, overhead in the form of staff and equipment must be paid. It’s a double bind.

Current profitable operations must be maintained while new media are developed. Some major newspapers have begun to charge for online content, but analysts say this may not be viable in the long term. It is more likely that free content results in a relationship with readers that leads to paid subscriptions in print.

If the economic bottom line is unclear, the bottom line for readership is very clear. Young people are already using digital media and these media are the channels through which they get their information. As the Carnegie study notes, the way we are accessing news today raises fundamental questions about the news as we have known it. The bottom line for traditional media, both religious and for-profit, is clear. It’s change or die.

Mainline on the Margins

The Mainline denominations were once at the
center of the national dialogue, especially during the Civil Rights era and
during the Vietnam War. Today they are relegated to the margins, and lack of
media savvy is one reason.

More people
rely upon
media for
than attend
church on
–Barna Group

More people rely upon media for spiritual information than attend church on Sunday. The Barna Group has completed a nationwide survey that finds that 56% of adults attend church services in a typical month and a significantly larger number report they rely on various media to get spiritual information.

A study recently published by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership compared references to four mainline denominations–Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian–in the New York Times between 1922 and 2002. Mention of the denominations declined dramatically over the 80-year period. Institutional news about the inner workings of the denominations dropped from 85% of total coverage of these mainline groups in 1922 to 4% in 2002. This pattern reflects diminishing coverage overall. Authors David Schoeni and Lovett H. Weems, Jr., write that “mainline denominations are no longer at the center of the national “public square” but seem to have moved to the margins of public discourse…today’s mainline denominations are best known for their influential role in the past.”

are no longer
at the center
of the national
“public square”
but seem to
have moved to
the margins of
public discourse
–Schoeni & Weems

It’s a frustrating paradox to some that the marginalization of the mainline has occurred at the same time the evangelical right was ascending. The public dialogue has been dominated in recent years by more aggressive and media savvy evangelical leaders who have made it their mission to get their agenda before the public and political leaders.

There is no single cause and no simple reason for the lowered visibility of the mainline groups. Several factors combine to create this result.

I wrote in an earlier post how public policy limited access to broadcast media. This was especially damaging to mainline groups that had relied upon public access programming to reach mass audiences.

today’s mainline
are best known
for their
influential role
in the past
–Schoeni & Weems

The mainline was never able to compete in the deregulated marketplace. The VISN Channel, an ecumenical cable network, attempted to operate as a non-profit organization in a market-driven cable television industry that was increasingly profit-oriented and keenly competitive. This failed. Eventually, VISN sold its network holdings to Hallmark and today its successor, Faith and Values, is content to produce an occasional drama or documentary but neither contribute significantly to the public dialogue.
In addition, in the 1970s some mainline leaders made a conscious decision to disengage from the public media and to decrease funding for media production, a process that continues to the present time. Communication has not generally been viewed as an expression of the mission and ministry of denominations. It’s been seen as a tool to distribute messages for fundraising and public relations; that is, until public relations got a bad name and this resulted in even more retrenchment.

Generations that have matured in an electronic environment are bemused to learn that there was also a debate some years ago about the value of print over electronic media. Electronic media were considered inferior in content and rigor. Therefore, educational models continued to rely on print curriculum in the churches even as the wider culture moved to electronic and digital media, and appropriated it with great enthusiasm.

Likewise, popular culture was regarded as low-brow and unworthy of serious analysis. Popular culture shapes attitudes and reflects concerns and values of people in the society. Theology need not affirm the excesses, abuses and superficialities of popular culture to analyze it and understand how and why certain cultural expressions appeal to the inner space of youth and adults who participate in it. But this idea is almost heretical for some in academia.

As a result, this lack of mainstream involvement with media results in more than merely falling behind in technology. It also results in a gaping hole in meaningful analysis and understanding of media. Seminarians in mainline denominations were not trained to analyze electronic media and the popular culture until a few seminaries began to recognize this gap only recently.

The work of cultural critique and media analysis has fallen into disrepute. James Wall, William F. Fore, Martin Marty and Tex Sample gained international stature and influence by bringing theological critique to media analysis. Edwin C. Parker connected media access to justice from a theological base and was influential in shaping public policy. While these pioneers continue to work, some in retirement, no one today in the mainline seminaries, nor other entities, demonstrates their understanding of media, culture, theology or public policy.

In fact, the most common response from mainline academics to popular culture and digital and electronic media has not been informed critique, it has been criticism from a distance. It has reinforced the disengagement of the mainline from the culture and contributed to the marginalization of the mainline voice.

The evangelical right, on the other hand, has not only been quick to utilize new technologies. It has also been attentive to reading the culture and formulating messages that resonate with the inner yearnings revealed by cultural expressions. Like it or not, this engagement has meant evangelical Christians have been doing theology in the culture and in the process, have found their voice.

While they represent a small minority (Barna says 7% of the U.S. population), they exert considerable influence on how Christians are perceived in the public mind and they have gained significant influence on public policy in recent years.

Today the mainline community finds itself in the unenviable position of lacking the savvy (the exception being Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches) to engage in the dialogue that is shaping public policy and unprepared to effectively communicate on a sustained basis in public venues to influence social values. There is a decided lack of passionate theological motivation to engage the culture through digital and electronic media, and no theoretical framework from which this engagement would be understood as a legitimate expression of mission.

The tragedy is, this is occurring at a time when more people are turning to media to get the information they use to try to understand their spiritual yearnings. Moreover, new media are proliferating and these media help to form perceptions and inform values. They offer an ever-increasing field of opportunity to engage in two-way dialogue and communicate important messages.

The new media provide the mainline with new opportunities to re-engage. Some have even attempted to enter the old, traditional public media through advertising and they have benefitted from increased visibility as a result. The United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church USA have all conducted, or will conduct soon, public media campaigns.

The use of blogs, Internet meeting sites, targetted e-mail, information websites and a host of other media provide the means to share information and to interact in meaningful ways. They offer one more chance to move from the margin and get back in the conversation. The larger question is, “Will they take up the challenge?”

(note: The following posts in this series are:
Reflecting on Digital Empowerment
New Media, New Journalism
A Mediated Culture of Sadism
Out of Sight, Out of Credibility

Are Mainline Christians Waking Up?

Right-wing fundamentalists are threatening the
meaning and practice of Christian faith but mainline Christians are waking up to
the need to confront them, according to Paul Gason writing in the Washington
Post. Writer Colbert King says moderates and progressives should be mad enough
to fight.

Mainline Christians are waking up to the threat posed by right-wing fundamentalists, according to Paul Gaston writing in the Washington Post.

It is a
battle over
both the
meaning and
practice of
as well as
over the
definition and
destiny of
the republic.

He frames the threat as two-fold: first, it is a threat to the meaning and practice of Christian faith and, secondly, it’s a threat to the principles of the republic. Those principles include freedom of religion and freedom to practice religion without state interference.

Gaston contends the attack on the judiciary is a smokescreen that covers the efforts of the religious right to wrest control of the faith away from those called “mainline.” This, in turn, covers an agenda to impose theocracy on the republic.

Colbert I. King writes the right wing has hijacked Christianity and it’s time for moderates to get mad and do something about it. He refers to a Bergen Record editorial (the Record is a major northern New Jersey daily printed in Hackensack), that says the religious right’s agenda is frightening. King says “baloney.” It should make moderates and progressives mad. Mad enough to fight.

To suggest
are out
to get
people of
faith” is
that the
truly faithful
ought to
rise up
and reject.
–Colbert I. King

King cites how the right claimed the flag and patriotism after the Viet Nam war, an assumption that offended him when he returned to the U.S. after working overseas on security issues. Now, he says, the religious right has hijacked Christianity and it’s time for other Christians to fight back.

Increasingly people are asking for guidance from the leaders of the middle, looking for balance in a polarized public conversation in which extremists have demonstrated greater ability to frame issues and use media. The mainline voices are not experienced in these tactics and have tended to search for middle ground, favoring reason and quiet persuasion. Mainline leaders embody the pastoral more than the pyrotechnic.

But their restraint is characterized by the secular and religious extremists as lack of conviction, weakness, or worse, as relativism, secular humanism, left-wing politics or revisionist. In the understandable and commendable moderation of the mainline leadership, the extremists on the right have had the advantage. They have been able to characterize all but themselves as wrong.

Now the debate is being framed as “orthodox” Christians against “progressives,” as if there are only two sides and one is faithful to the history and traditions of the church while the other is apostate. I think we’ve seen this before and it’s far too simplistic.

Those who think this kind of purification will lead to a stronger community and a more faithful theology had best best give serious thought to history, not just the history they want to recall as the tradition of faithfulness, but the sweep of history that these purifications create. Careers destroyed, knowledge undermined, progress halted, communities ripped apart, wars ignited. Think twice. It’s not just words we’re talking here. It’s passion being stirred in unhealthy and dangerous ways. For some, these are fighting words.

People for the American Way — New Ad

The battle for public opinion continues. Tonight the television program will be cablecast that claims the filibuster is being used against “people of faith.”People for the American Way are countering with this ad.

It’s an interesting time to be working in communications. All forms of media have become more important as the charges and counter-charges escalate and as stories develop that involve the use of communication tools to influence the public dialogue. This raises so many interesting and important questions it boggles the mind.

The op-ed commentaries are alive with sharp critiques from all sides on nearly every significant public policy issue and many theological issues. The larger question that must be considered is how all of this will affect us going forward. It’s quite possible that the rhetoric will not merely turn off the great, silent middle, it may also have the effect of leaving more people feeling that religious faith is more divisive than helpful.

If this is the case, it will do more harm than good. I’ve wondered about the reaction of people who are coming to faith commitment for the first time, or who are genuinely seeking a deeper faith and hear this heated, polarizing language. Why identify with any group that is so divided and apparently unable to make peace among themselves? Better to go the mall than get involved in this.

It is energizing core groups who feel threatened by the claims and counter-claims. Already we’re seeing fundraising by both the left and right making claims that the threats require a stepped up effort to defeat the opposite side.

There isn’t much dialogue apparent in the current media environment. I continue to hope this will occur. However, if the blogs are an indication, the positions are becoming more hardened and less open to constructive interchange.

an “outrageous,
and dangerous
–Martin Marty

The harshness of the rhetoric has a desensitizing effect on us. The harshness escalates. Criticism of specific policies devolves to personal attack. When judges are equated with the Ku Klux Klan, that’s a step beyond irresponsible.

Martin Marty writes that the claims that the judiciary and Democrats are attacking “people of faith” and the participation of Sen. Bill Frist in the “Justice Sunday” telecast are an “outrageous, egregious, and dangerous affront.” He says Frist and Rep. Tom DeLay should be on their knees begging forgiveness for slandering others with their claims. Dr. Marty is far from a partisan extremist and his reaction should cause Frist and others to take notice. They should see that they are offending the sensibilities of those who are not partisans, and who are, in fact, responsible voices of moderation and faithfulness. But more, they are undermining the democracy that has protected our rights to free speech.

Perhaps it’s too early to draw any conclusions about the possibility of reconciliation between moderates and conservatives. It’s becoming harder to even define with precision what these terms mean. They don’t capture the subtleties or complexities of the many different voices speaking of faith today.

But it’s clear the seeds of division and exclusion are being sown widely and with great fanfare. Where this will end is anyone’s guess. There are those advocating schism in the Mainline denominations. Commentators reviewing Pope Benedict XVI’s record write that he may be satisfied with a smaller, “purer” church.

Beyond being an interesting time, it’s a dangerous time, a time when damaging words and intolerance threaten to divide us into opposing camps and tear apart faith communities. It’s hard to see this as witness to the Prince of Peace. It’s easier to see it leading to the prince of darkness.

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