The Common Good

The Religious Right's Vaccination Vexation

Sojomail - March 1, 2006

Warning: Satire : Candorville
Batteries Not Included : David Batstone: The Religious Right's vaccination vexation
Quote of the Week : An Army interrogator speaks out
Faith in Action : Six months after the storm: A Lenten Katrina litany
Spiritual Practices : Biking as a Lenten practice | Prank: Demotorizing my soul
Culture Watch : The double-edged spear
Religion and Politics : Defense of the sacred
Boomerang : Readers write
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Engage: Exploring Nonviolent Living offers you and your community a step-by-step process for putting your faith into creative nonviolent action for peace and justice.

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The Religious Right's vaccination vexation
by David Batstone

When it comes to teen sex, all parents hope and pray that their children make wise choices. Children as young as 12 or 13 weigh decisions with consequences that could impact the rest of their lives in a dramatic way. At this point in the conversation our teenage children roll their eyes, but parents know the risks to be real.

Parental anxiety therefore is unavoidable, all the more so because they realize that the ultimate choices their teens make about sex are beyond their control. That begs a question: If a child violates the moral code that parents set, are those parents willing to put their child's life in mortal danger? Tragically, some Christians are willing to answer, "Yes."

A little-known debate is smoldering at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that may burst soon into a major fire. Two pharmaceutical companies - Merck and GlaxoSmithKline - have designed a cervical cancer vaccine. In clinical trials the Merck drug, Gardasil, is proving to be up to 100% effective in fighting the dominant strain of the virus causing cervical cancer. The pharmaceutical companies and a growing movement of public health advocates want all girls to be inoculated with the vaccine as they presently are for other high-risk viruses.

The Family Research Council is leading a charge of Religious Right groups to halt any such national inoculation program. Their resistance is driven by fear more than common sense. The human papilloma virus (HPV) that generates cervical cancer is most typically passed along through genital contact with others. So as long as an individual does not engage in sexual intercourse, he or she should be shielded from the virus. The Religious Right bloc concludes that offering a vaccine for HPV would undercut their promotion of sexual abstinence for adolescents.

In that spirit, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, told Fortune magazine that he would not allow his 13-year-old daughter to be inoculated. "It sends the wrong message," Perkins said. "Our concern is that this vaccine will be marketed to a segment of the population that should be getting a message about abstinence."

Globally, cervical cancer kills more than 270,000 women each year - roughly 80% of them in developing countries. The Centers for Disease Control reports that as many as 3,700 women in the U.S. died of cervical cancer last year, and tens of thousands more had their lives completely transformed by a radical treatment regimen for the disease. The majority of those women are African-American or Hispanic, and poor.

Religious Right groups are not seeking to ban the drug. They simply do not want the vaccine to be slotted as an inoculation that every child receives as they presently do for polio and smallpox.

Because these groups link cervical cancer so intimately with illicit sexual activity, a mandated vaccination feels to them like a family values choice would be imposed upon them by the state.

We abide by public health standards for the sake of the common good, of course. In the U.S., we require motorists to wear seat belts and children to be inoculated. It would be equally shortsighted to oppose a vaccine for HIV if one existed. So the question here is whether the transmission of HPV is a universal public health risk. The question of state imposition is a straw man argument.

But more importantly, the Religious Right is wrong to so closely tie cervical cancer to promiscuity. A woman might be chaste her entire life, then marry and pick up the virus from her husband. It also is more than a bit naïve to believe that a child will abandon abstinence once they have received a vaccine. If a teen's only deterrent for engaging in sexual activity is a fear of communicable diseases, they are likely to turn to sex with protective devices.

I would go a step further and challenge the Religious Right to temper their moral commitments with grace. It is the right and duty for parents to set a moral path for their children. It pains me that so many parents abdicate that responsibility. But we also offer protection and mercy for lapses in judgment.

It is a daring journey raising children. It is our role to guide, model, and protect. Parents teach values, but kids make the decisions. I would hope that love and grace await our children at each destination.

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An Army interrogator speaks out

"Following orders that I believed were legal, I used military working dogs during interrogations. I terrified my interrogation subjects, but I never got intelligence (mostly because 90 percent of them were probably innocent, but that's another story). Perhaps, I have thought for a long time, I also deserve to be prosecuted. But if that is the case, culpability goes much farther up the chain of command than the Army and the Bush administration have so far been willing to admit....

In training, we learned that all P.O.W.'s are protected against actual and implied threats. You can never put a "knife on the table" to get someone to talk. That was clear. But our Iraqi prisoners weren't clearly classified as P.O.W.'s, so I never knew what laws applied. Instead, a confusing set of verbal and written orders had supplanted the Geneva Conventions."

- Anthony Lagouranis, who served as an Army interrogator from January 2004 to January 2005.

Source: The New York Times

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Six months after the storm: A Lenten Katrina litany

It's hard to believe it has been six months since Hurricane Katrina swept across the Gulf Coast, wrecked countless homes and lives, and forced our nation to confront the crises of poverty and racism. While the rest of America has largely returned to normal routines, much of the affected area remains in ruins, and families continue to struggle to put their lives back together.

Sojourners' friends, the Gamaliel Foundation, are calling March 1 through April 15 a "Season of Prayer and Action for Justice After Katrina." They have put together a brief litany we encourage you to use in your church over this Lenten season. Most of you have already taken action through donating to relief efforts, volunteering your time, calling on elected officials to address the root causes of poverty through efforts like the Katrina Pledge, and praying. We call on you to continue putting your faith into action by using this litany in your faith community in the coming weeks as a reminder that our work is far from done in the Gulf Coast, and that we must recommit ourselves to ending injustice. We must call on Washington leadership to rebuild the Gulf Region promptly, to provide support for displaced Gulf residents, and to bring adequate federal resources to the region without cutting other human needs programs.

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SERVING GOD IN THE WORKPLACE: People Making a Difference

Sojourners: Be equipped and inspired to take your Christian faith to work. Are you a worker, pastor, craftsperson, manager, or professional Monday through Saturday in the factory, boardroom, film studio, home, school, or other workplace? Do you seek to bring your ethics and spirituality into your work? Meet role models and colleagues seeking to do the same. Join us for the 14th annual International Consultation of the Coalition for Ministry in Daily Life, April 21 to 23, 2006, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. Register by April 13: $169 ($129 before Mar. 21).


Biking as a Lenten practice
by Melissa Bixler

[Peter] Dula was ashen when he addressed us with his typed speech. His voice and his words conveyed the bitterness of the present-day situation in the Middle East, the Iraqi hatred for Americans, and his powerlessness to distinguish himself from the occupying military forces and contractors. He told us how he had recently been evacuated to Jordan after a rash of expatriate kidnappings, leaving behind new friends whose futures were unknown. Everything about Dula spoke to us of the horrors of seeing one's neighbors' children kidnapped, of walking with fear along a deserted street, of seeing churches exploding in the night.

By the end, our ethics class sat in stunned silence. The least we could hope for was some way to respond. Should we go to Iraq and do the same? Is it time to picket the White House? Write letters? What do we do? Dula's answer was clear and emphatic.

"Ride your bike."

He repeated this short phrase twice but the second time it sounded more like a plea than a suggestion. Then he walked from the lectern and left a befuddled crowd to ponder his words and, hopefully, to act upon them.

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Prank: Demotorizing my soul
by Will Braun in Geez magazine

We're not meant to go that fast. It's just too hard on the spirit. So I quit air travel. Planted my feet on the ground, tuned up my old bicycle, and set my conscience at ease.

First it was a relief. Then it became an adventure.

The point is not that my choice to remain earthbound is right, realistic, or even noteworthy (it's nothing that billions of others aren't already doing -- and there is something right about keeping such company). Rather, the point was somewhere between Crestone, Colorado, and Abiquiu, New Mexico, where I pedaled into the realization that lifestyle change and spirited wanderlust are one.

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The double-edged spear
by John Potter

What does it mean to preach the gospel? What ends a cycle of violence? Can forgiveness and redemption take place in the midst of cultural differences? The movie End of the Spear, about five American missionaries killed in Ecuador in 1956, might have spent more time on these difficult questions - indeed, when director Jim Hanon focuses on them, the film shines. Spear instead provides disappointingly easy answers.

The film, produced by Every Tribe Entertainment, is based on the true story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, and their team of missionaries who sought contact with - and were later killed by - members of the Huaorani tribe in the Amazon rainforest. The bulk of Spear, narrated by the character who plays Nate's son, Steve, focuses on the aftermath of the missionaries' deaths and the development of Steve's relationship with the Huaorani (referred to as the Waodani in the film). Spear is at times an interesting study on the pursuit of peace and overcoming cultural barriers. Ultimately, though, it is an uneven film that relies on clichés and stereotypes to convey its message.

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Defense of the sacred
by Daniel Steinhelper

The use of political cartoons to satirize Islam is a cause of great concern for all people of faith. These acts revisit the controversy of American and British artists' use of Christian imagery in ways that offend faith sensibilities - submerging a crucifix in urine, covering a Madonna in feces. Regardless of any intended political or religious critique, the cartoons' overwhelming effect was to deeply offend and provoke, to penetrate to the very core of people's hearts by affronting their belief in the sacred.

A serious and engaged criticism of particular aspects of the Muslim world would demonstrate a significant awareness of and sensitivity to the teachings of Islam. But the cartoons instead had an effect comparable to that of what's known as the desolating sacrilege, a pagan altar that the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes set up in the temple in Jerusalem - an incident alluded to in the book of Daniel and in the New Testament gospels. This was an act of violence against Jewish beliefs; it defiled a profoundly sacred space. The intent was perhaps to ensure the political allegiance of the Judeans, but the effect was to cut off communication between believers and God. While this example of an affront to the sacred is as extreme as any, Muslims' pain in seeing the cartoons of Muhammad is no different.

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You're invited - An Evening with Jim Wallis: "Why the Religious Right is losing control and a new generation is stepping up." Wednesday, March 15, 5:30 dinner, 6:30 service. 3333 14th St. NW, Washington, DC. For information: (202) 328-8842.

Online Lenten devotions. During this Lenten season, join Goshen College students, faculty, and staff for reflections, personal stories, poetry, and prayers. To access the weekday devotions online or sign up to receive them in your inbox, go to:

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Readers write

Mandy Marshall writes from Kingston, United Kingdom:

As one of the young people attending the U.K. speaking events it was refreshing to hear again the message of social justice being talked about from the front of a church. Sometimes I feel it is the older generation that has not led effectively enough on the issue and made more of an impact. I think the tide is turning. It is up to all of us (young and more mature!) to ensure that the tide comes in and commitments are met. Keeping our leaders accountable for the promises they made is crucial. Christians have a God-given mandate to speak up for and on behalf of the poor. I, for one, will play my part as much as I can to see poverty relief a reality in my generation. My hope is that others listening and reading will feel compelled to do the same. Then we will see nations changing.


Richard Lupson-Darnell writes from St. Albans, United Kingdom:

It was a great to hear of your trip to the U.K. for the launch of God's Politics over here. I believe the impact has been truly significant. My reading of the situation politically here is that Gordon Brown will take significant strides forward on poverty in the likely event of him becoming prime minister. However, I also believe that David Cameron is effecting a quiet revolution on the right of British politics. When elected as leader of the Conservatives he said he was no longer interested in Right verses Left but in right verses wrong and that old divisions needed to die. The backlash from the old Right is expected soon. However, as I finished the book last week on holiday with my family, his vision resonates with aspects of the book.


Kara Guzzetti writes from Mantua, New Jersey:

I am skeptical about Wallis' optimism with regard to the response to God's Politics in the U.K. I lived in the U.K. for two years and I found that a lot of the youth I talked to would jump on the bandwagon for anything they perceived to be anti-American, especially if that source of information came from an American. It seems as though the British youth's sole source of information about American politics comes from Michael Moore. I can't imagine that they will see God's Politics as anything more than a faith-oriented version of [Moore's book] Stupid White Men. I certainly hope that the British youth see something more in God's Politics and will take the concepts from the book and apply it to their own approach to politics in the U.K. But I can't help but think that the book will just turn into one more reason to justify their hate for the U.S. government and perpetuate the anti-American sentiment already rampant through their country. But, as I said, I could just be jaded from having been subjected to endless conversations with British youth who predictably quoted Michael Moore.


Vic Wood writes from Redcar, United Kingdom:

I saw Jim Wallis here in the U.K. on a BBC TV program, The Heaven and Earth Show. After listening I ordered his book God's Politics. Thank you, Jim Wallis, for restoring my faith...not my Christian faith - that is not under threat - but my faith in the United States of America. Like so many in the rest of the world, I was in despair with your country - perhaps only hearing the strident, bellicose voices of the Religious Right. Now, after reading and listening to Jim Wallis, I have new faith that the Holy Spirit is redirecting your country back to what it is supposed to be about.


Pepper Sessum writes from New Orleans, Lousiana:

Thank you for continuing to focus on the plight of New Orleans. New Orleanians are a faithful bunch, resourceful and committed to the overwhelming task of rebuilding our city, but we can't do it alone. Unfortunately, we live in a country run by a president who refers to us as "that part of the world." He declares we are "up and running" without revisiting the areas flooded by the ineffective levees. Those neighborhoods, both rich and poor, remain truly destroyed. On Aug. 28, they held the homes and lives of American citizens. Today, they remain vast wastelands of molded memories.


Dr. Jim Higginbotham writes from Indianapolis, Indiana:

As one who lived and worked in China for a year, I am intimately familiar with the challenges and potential rewards of doing business there. Negotiating the complexities of Chinese society and politics can stretch one's moral fabric. However, Yahoo's actions must be condemned as immoral. They need to admit their wrongdoing and provide remuneration to the families that were imprisoned. Some have advocated a boycott of their services, and I believe that is a just action. I had intended to sign up for DSL with AT&T until I discovered that it is a partnership with Yahoo. I contacted both companies about their loss of business. I appreciate Sojourners for keeping us abreast of the breadth of justice issues in our country and world!


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