THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 21, 1995 Contents: Washington, D.C. - +quot;BIO-ISSUES+quot; MAY UNIT
THEISTWATCH FOR JULY 21, 1995
Washington, D.C.--"BIO-ISSUES" MAY UNITE RELIGIOUS LEFT, RIGHT
Washington, D.C.--THE WACO HEARINGS AND THE VICTIMS OF RELIGION
Chile--ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TO FACE POLITICAL COMPETITION
World--THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
Texas--A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR
"BIO-ISSUES" MAY UNITE RELIGIOUS LEFT, RIGHT
Questions From Abortion To Genetic Research May Result In
A New Anti-Science Coalition Of Religious Groups
by Conrad Goeringer
The passage earlier this week by the House Judiciary
Committee of a "Partial Birth Abortion Ban" was not only a
significant defeat for pro-choice advocates, but a signal
that religious conservatives had won an important round in
defining the entire abortion issue. Taking a cue from the
Christian Coalition's "Contract With the American Family,"
the legislation's backers referred constantly to "unborn
children" and the "killing of children." Indeed, in the
Contract's section dealing with abortion, the term "fetus"
The strategy of painting abortion as the "murder" of
human beings not only raises the emotional tone of the
abortion debate, but has implications for similar issues
where religious organizations already have staked out
positions. Abortion may become just one of several "bio-
issues," covering genetic technology, euthanasia, animal
organ transplants, "animal rights," and other emerging,
controversial topics. It raises the specter, as well, of
a "united front" by otherwise diverse religious groups to
such practices and of serious consequences for scientific
research and medical technology.
On June 9, a coalition of religious groups demanded
that the government halt the patenting of human genes and
genetically engineered animals. A joint statement was
signed by 180 Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Moslem,
Buddhist, and Hindu representatives, and reflected the
view of one Southern Baptist official who said that
genetic technology represented "the usurpation of
ownership rights of the sovereign of the universe."
Biotechnology firms and other institutions were quick to
react, pointing out that the patenting was a necessary
part of the economics which made such research possible,
and that "the moral claims of their opponents need to be
weighed against the cost in human life caused by diseases
that could be cured through genetic engineering"
(Ecumenical Press, June 9).
A related "bio-issue" involves the use of animal
organs for the treatment of human diseases. The Food and
Drug Administration has approved the use of baboon bone
marrow for the possible treatment of AIDS and other
illnesses. Baboons appear to have an immune system capable
of devastating the HIV virus which is believed to cause
AIDS, but as virologist Jonathan Allan of the Southwest
Foundation for Biomedical Research warned, "Baboons are
not clean animals and may harbor any number of viruses we
have not seen." Those medical concerns parallel questions
which medical ethicists and religious leaders have about
the "morality" of such procedures. Animal rights activists
have already spoken out against the use of animals in
medical research and experimentation.
The possible religious beliefs of individuals and
groups in the "animal rights" movement is a heretofore
unexplored area. But in reacting to Monday's Judiciary
Committee vote on the "Partial Birth Abortion Ban," Kristi
Hamrick of the conservative Family Research Council made a
provocative statement. Alluding to Americans who "do not
support the killing of children held three inches from
birth" or those who "do not support delivering children
into the birth canal only to be killed by a scissors spear
to the base of the skull," she added:
"It is ironic that many abortion activists can
protest the use of animals in cosmetic and scientific
experiments and turn a blind eye to the painful deaths of
infants almost born."
Still another aspect of the "life" debate is the
question of euthanasia. Canada has emerged as the most
striking example of how the anti-abortion movement has
branched out to this related and controversial cause.
Earlier this month, the journal Family News in Focus
declared that "a postcard campaign aimed at keeping
physician-assisted suicide in Canada illegal has gained
thousands of supp/rters" (Ecumenical Press). That effort
was promoted by a doctor-assisted suicide in British
Columbia and the recommendation of a Canadian Senate
subcommittee that penalties for euthanasia be reduced in
some cases. The head of the Pro-Life Society declared
that "There is a very large voice of opinion out there
that thinks that human life is sacred and that we should
just keep things the way they are."
Future Dilemmas, Contradictions
Another factor in the "bio" debate involves the
growing popularity of Eastern Religions and
"spiritualities" such as Buddhism, as personified by the
Dali Lama. Although this religious leader enjoys a
growing following and draws enthusiastic crowds during his
tours, the analytical content of his public talks is often
vague, "trendy," and open to interpretation. There are
constant references, however, in talks and throughout the
range of "Eastern" religions and cults, to the "sacredness
of all life." It is difficult to imagine how, especially
in the future, such "sacredness" could not be applied to
fetuses, "unborn children," baboons, patients suffering in
the final stages of painful illnesses, clumps of DNA, or
The linkage is not that inconceivable, as the "Joint
Appeal Against Human and Animal Patenting" of last June
demonstrates. The coalition behind the document was
organized by Jeremy Rifkin, a former '70s radical and now
self-proclaimed "biotechnology opponent." Rifkin --
called by some the "Pied Piper of Anti-Science" -- has
managed to blend his own economics and social philosophy
with a good deal of religious rhetoric. Ecumenical Press
noted that "Rifkin says the key issue is this: Is life God's
creation, or a human invention?"
Ultimately, the numerous "bio-issues" -- and how one
responds to them -- depend on a fundamental view of the
universe. The "new age," pop view of the world as
expressed in Buddhism, animism, or even notions that
planet earth is "alive" (GAIA) find their equivalent in
both the utterances of Rifkin and even the theological
fundamentalism of the Christian right. Creationists --
those who accept the literal interpretation of the
biblical account in Genesis -- insist that the universe is
either the result of spiritual design and intervention, or
is "materialist" and devoid of spirituality. In this
latter assessment, they may well be correct.
There are, of course, evolutionists who maintain that
there is no "contradiction" between religious faith and
the notion that life arose as the result of natural
processes such as evolution. Indeed, many evolutionists
do manage to "compartmentalize" religious belief and
scientific pursuit, insisting that science is but one
method of "knowing", while "revelation" is another.
But there is emerging sentiment in religious circles
that it is "all or nothing." Anti-abortionists have long
fortified themselves with the insistence that "life" have
no ambiguities, at least as regards its beginnings. The
creationist wing of the Christian right insists on an
equivalent stance as regards life's primal origins.
Where does this all lead?
It could be significant that anti-abortion crusaders
are now attempting to draw possible parallels between
their right-to-life cause and the anti-euthanasia
movement. It is also significant that a wide range of
religious groups embraced an astonishingly anti-science
document like the Joint Appeal, organized by Mr. Rifkin.
Mr. Rifkin is also one of a growing chorus which talks about
"species-ism," a biological equivalent of racism, which
supposedly elevates one (human) species above all others
as "master of the earth." His own works abound with
references to "equality" of all living things and the need
for "stewardship" of god's earth. That message, in turn,
resonates throughout much of the animal rights, ecology
and new age movement.
Up to now, many scientists and educators have paid
little attention to the "creeping pseudo-science" of the
right -- creationism -- and the trendy, new age anti-
technology chic emanating from anti-nuclear, anti-
bioscience and "hard ecology" movements. Part of the
difficulty rests in the fact that some claims made by the
latter movements have timely validity -- although many do
The result of not clarifying and "sorting out" these
issues, however, may be the emergence of a loose
religious coalition attempting to link bio-ethical
questions such as abortion and genetic technology.
Science is already a misunderstood and somewhat mistrusted
enterprise; its worst critics accuse it of "de-enchanting
the natural world," which might well turn out to be a very
real consequence of scientific inquiry.
But important issues like abortion, euthanasia,
biotechnology, and experimental research involving both
humans and animals need input from more than just
religious authorities. Controversial and emotionally-
charged as these questions are, the solutions need to
reflect a reasonable consideration of the human factor,
rather than a dogmatic religious agenda.
THE WACO HEARINGS AND THE VICTIMS OF RELIGION
by Conrad Goeringer
In Washington, the WACO hearings have begun on the
1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound.
Everyone from the NRA to the BATF wants their side of the
story told, and there's no dearth of partisan politics to
be found. Bill Clinton doesn't want the hearings, which
will focus on trigger-happy (or, should we say "tear gas"
happy) federal agents. Neither does Janet Reno who may
lose her job. Neither does the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms, still busy with spin-control following
revelations that agents attended the "Good 'Ol Boys
Reunion" which should have been more aptly called
And everyone's pointing the finger at everyone else.
Associated Press reports that Reno may now be ready to
insist that she was "misled and lied to" by the FBI. And
the FBI got involved in the WACO mess only after the
initial botched-raid by the quick-draw boys of the BATF.
Who's to blame? Did the Branch Davidians have it coming?
Was David Koresh ready to stage some Old Testament version
of the shoot out at the OK corral?
Unfortunately, there is very little of a human face
on this whole tragic episode, especially when dealing with
the ultimate victims of WACO -- the children. The first
day of testimony belonged to a 14-year-old former member
of the cult, Kiri Jewell, who in riveting testimony
described her alleged sexual assault at the hands of the self-
proclaimed Jesus incarnate, David Koresh. Jewell's mother
was one of the 81 victims killed when federal agents
stormed the Branch Davidian compound following a 51-day
It is indeed "freedom of religion" for adults to
believe and practice any doctrines they so choose. The
Branch Davidians who perished at Waco trace their roots
back to the 1930s, but it was Vernon Wayne Howell who
made the sect a household name. Howell was born in 1959
to a 15-year old mother; as a youth, he was fascinated by
rock music, firearms, and Bible verse, which he recited
page after page from memory. He began a sexual
relationship with a woman named Lois Roden, the wife of
Benjamin Roden, the Branch Davidian's leader, and
eventually took over control of the sect and relocated it
In 1990, Vernon Howell legally changed his name to
David Koresh "for publicity and business purposes."
Followers were informed that Koresh was the head of the
biblical House of David; he later claimed that he was the
messiah, Jesus Christ incarnate. Like Jim Jones and other
charismatic authoritarian religious leaders, he
manipulated the lives of his followers, allegedly had sexual
intercourse with many of the women, and painted an image
of immanent apocalyptic catastrophe.
The Waco tragedy has become an icon for much of the
American religious right-wing, including numerous militia
and paramilitary groups. The Mt. Carmel stronghold which
burned to the ground is an odd sort of tourist attraction;
piles of rubble dot the landscape and some concrete
foundations remain. A sign at the entrance reads "World's
Most Persecuted Church."
But in the rush to fix blame for the Waco disaster,
somewhere along the line we have forgotten about the
children like Kiri Jewell. She survived; over two dozen
children were released from the compound before the
federal attack, but others perished in the blaze. What
about them? The "forgotten victims" in this disaster were
the children who were brainwashed in religious dogma by
parents, co-religionists, and of course by David Koresh.
Millions of other children as well are subjected to religious
indoctrination and training every day, all part of an
effort to "put God back into schools" or promote "family
values". They may not be molested by a religious zealot
like Koresh or die in a shoot-out with armed federal
agents, but they will be firmly drilled, indoctrinated,
and instructed into the prevailing religious creeds of
parents and other authorities -- often against their will,
and with exposure to few if any alternative points of
It is easy to talk about David Koresh and his
transgressions, since he is dead. And it is easy to
dismiss the indoctrination techniques of the Branch
Davidians as "cultism." Teaching religion to children,
however, is something that is done throughout this nation
everyday. On Sundays and other holidays, millions of them
are dragged to church and exposed to pointless religious
rituals. They are often compelled to pray, read from holy
books, participate in religious ceremonies, and mold their
lives according to the religious prejudices of others.
These children, too, are victims of religion.
ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TO FACE POLITICAL COMPETITION
By Conrad Goeringer
At a time when various Christian religious have
discovered "the Latin Market" throughout Central and South
America, Protestants in the country of Chile are busy
starting their own political party. Called the "National
Christian Alliance" or Alianza National Cristiana, the new
movement says that it is an "embryonic political project"
for "all citizens who identify with Christian principles
and wish to make them a personal life practice." The
group also wants to end what it calls "the discrimination
that Protestants have been submitted (sic) to," a possible
reference to the Roman Catholic church and the favored
position which it has held throughout the continent.
The organization already has a board of five members
and headquarters. The group plans a "ratifying meeting"
to sign up prospective members on July 22.
The Secretary-General of the NCA is 33-year-old
Abraham Larrondo, who gives a rambling, somewhat
disjointed explanation of the new party philosophy.
Larrondo has a degree in Social Sciences and a Masters in
Political Science; he maintains that Chile needs to
"perfect its public and private system in service of
"We want to contribute to the political class, we do
not aspire to a massive election," said Larrondo. He
added that "ANC was created to be a permanent opinion
current in Chile and society should trust that it will be
a permanent response in defense of Christian principles."
Yeah. That's what we're afraid of.
THEISTWATCH SHORT SHOTS
by Conrad F. Goeringer
There are new developments in an international move
by religious groups to ban abortion -- some with possible
implications for the future strategy of the "right to
First, the good news. In Spain, a bill which would
eliminate most abortion restrictions has been sent to
parliament. In 1985, abortion became legal in cases in
which the health of the mother was endangered or in
situations involving rape or a deformed fetus. Now a new
bill permits abortion within the first trimester (twelve
weeks) if there is "a personal, social or family conflict"
for the women. The law stipulates that women seeking
abortion would have to be informed of other options before
she had the procedure. Interestingly, this latest bill is
opposed by the Roman Catholic church, conservative
lawmakers, and even the Socialist Catalan coalition.
Ecumenical Press says that the legislation "is not
expected to pass parliament," but it may be too early to
And in Germany, new legislation has been drafted
which makes abortion technically illegal, but not
punishable by law if it is sought within the first twelve
weeks. This unusual law is seen as a compromise involving
government and opposition leaders. Women seeking abortion
will still have to submit to counseling and be asked (but
not required) to give their name and the reason for having
Here's another sign of impending Millenialist Fever.
In Canada, Messianic Jews who preach the immanent return
of the "messiah" have become so active that they are now
being criticized by competing religious groups. Earlier
this month, a group calling itself the "Montreal
Christian-Jewish Dialogue" issued a statement criticizing
Chosen People Ministries, Inc., a messianic organization.
"We are dismayed by groups that undertake, promote,
sanction or support activities that harm the spirit of
religious respect and tolerance," said the statement,
adding "We oppose any proselytism that emerges from
THEISTWATCH has warned readers that as we approach
the millennium, 2,000 C.E. (current era), we may expect a
profusion of apocalyptic, messianic, and doomsday-type
groups. The Solar Temple group in Switzerland and the Aum
cult in Japan may prove to be "dry runs," rehearsals for
what's coming up in the next five years.
Last week, a federal court dismissed claims by the
Federal Elections Commission that a group known as the
Christian Action Network (CAN) violated campaign laws
during the 1992 campaign. The FEC had charged that the
church had broken the Federal Election Campaign Act of
1971 by attacking Bill Clinton and Al Gore in television
and newspaper ads. The Christian group, however, said it
did not expressly advocate the election or defeat of
a particular candidate, and Judge James Turk agreed,
granting a motion to dismiss.
The decision is a victory for religious groups which
can use advertising and other media to expound on issues
involving "political speech," such as gay rights -- a
subject addressed in the CAN commercials. Although CAN
said that its messages did not involve partisan politics,
the president of the group praised the court's latest
ruling and insisted that it "sends a clear message that
Bill Clinton and the Democratic National Committee can no
longer use the Federal Elections Commission as a political
tool to try and censor conservative organizations."
Want a THEISTWATCH guide to interesting, comical,
stimulating TV entertainment? Try using the latest annual
end-of-the-season special report on prime time television
issued by something called the Media Research Center. The
chairman of this outfit is Brent Bozell -- also known as
L. Brent Bozell, reputed brother-in-law to William
Buckley, Roman Catholic activist, and once head of some
outfit from two decades ago known as the "Sons of Thunder"
who used to run around in red berets and gripe about
Bozell told Ecumenical Press that "This past season,
what was pleasantly surprising was how often the
conservative side of a given issue was respectfully
presented in many prime time television shows. . . . But
prime time programming still remained overwhelmingly
liberal, with storylines ridiculing prominent conservative
leaders and aggressively championing abortion and the
According to Bozell, the best shows included "Touched
by an Angel," "Christy," and the "ABC Family Movie," along
with "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman."
MRC gave mixed reviews to "NYPD Blue" (possibly
Dennis Franz spent too much time at the urinal), "Picket
Fences," "Law and Order" (which sports a Jesuit-trained
cop), and that perennial object d'disgust, "Murphy Brown."
Dan Quayle, are you listening?
Now for the good stuff. The worst in the Bozell-MRC
lineup included "Dennis Miller Live," the critically-
acclaimed "TV Nation" produced by Michael Moore (who's
still looking for Roger Smith of General Motors), the
"Margaret Sanger Story," and "My So-Called Life" which was
so popular that MTV gave a rerun to the entire series.
Also listed were "Roseanne" (naturally, since she thinks
that women should be a lot more violent with hubbies), the
"X-Files" and "The George Wendt Show."
Interestingly, some of the Bozell-approved shows like
"NYPD Blue," while involving important moral and social
questions, might well trigger the notorious "V-Chip" which
Clinton and more liberal censor-crats want installed in
the nation's television sets.
As usual, this lineup shows the Christian right's
worry and preoccupation with matters sexual, or which
involve taking a critical look at the nation's economic
and social system -- as the program "TV Nation" does.
As for the "X-Files," well, they're further out than Brent
Tired of hearing about how "family values" and going
to church on Sunday can magically transform you into a better
Well, a study by Hartford Seminary in 1993 and 1994
found that clergy are just as likely to be divorced as
normal, everyday lay folks. The study, noted in
Ecumenical Press, found that 25 percent of clergywomen and
20 percent of clergymen have been divorced at least once,
which matches fairly close the figures of 32 percent and
22 percent for the general population, according to the
The study covered the gamut of Protestant
denominations, from the Unitarians to the Southern
Baptists. There were some interesting stats when divorce
statistics were matched against individual religious
faiths, though. Unitarians led the pack with 47 percent
of women and 44 percent of men in the clergy being
divorced, while the Southern Baptists divorce rate came in
at 4 percent of men and 17 percent of women. Trailing the
Unitarians slightly were the Episcopalians.
The extent of church wealth in the United States has
always been a matter of concern to those worried about
excessive religious economic and political power. Much of
the churches' financial holdings are concealed behind
various corporate "fronts" or shells, and since it is
mostly tax-exempt, not even the government has a full
picture of how much money religion has.
There is the occasional peek, however, often revealed
from church publications, annual reports, or -- in some
cases -- financial scandals. The collapse in Philadelphia
several weeks ago of the Foundation for New Era
Philanthropy exposed a ponzi-type scheme, where religious
organizations invested millions of dollars in exchange for
promises of "double your money" returns in as little as
Now, THEISTWATCH has learned from the Presbyterian
News of July 15, that the General Assembly Council of that
church has approved the formation of a new corporate
entity which will have an expected half-billion-dollar
loan fund by the year 2,000 -- just five years away. The
church's 207 General Assembly is expected to approve the
final go-ahead for the "Presbyterian Church (USA)
Investment and Loan Program, Inc. on August 1, which will
be governed and administered by a six-member board. We're
told that this project involves the use of "investment
certificates" to church investors "at competitive rates"
and would underwrite below-market loans to church-related
And keep in mind the financial mess of Jim Bakker,
New Era Philanthropy, or the money woes of Oral Roberts
when you hear what one General Assembly member told
Presbyterian News. "This is not risky."
The Christian Coalition has announced a "Road to
Victory '95" workshop scheduled for September 8-9 in
Washington, D.C. "Learn how you can play a vital role in
the most dramatic political change in our generation," the
group is telling supporters. Speakers at the meeting
include presidential wannabe Phil Gramm, Pat Robertson,
His Infernal Majesty Bob Dole, Jay Sekulow of the American
Center for Law and Justice, Newt Gingrich, Phyllis
Schlafly and Kultur Czar William Bennett. Workshops cover
such nifty topics as "Influencing Legislation," Parental
Rights, School Choice and "Organizing Your Neighborhood."
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