News Articles

CULTURE DIGEST: Catholic voter guide questioned; Citgo link to Chavez targeted; Ala. sells ‘God Bless America’ plates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–A new Catholic activist organization is distributing more than 1 million copies of a voter guide nationwide with the goal of helping Catholics evaluate candidates and their positions. But the nation’s largest Catholic civil rights organization is warning voters not to take the guide too seriously.

“Our guide provides faithful Catholics with practical principals to make conscientious decisions informed by our Church’s teachings,” Alexia Kelley, executive director of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, said in a news release. “For too long, divisive issues have been applied as a litmus test for choices by people of faith.”

But William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, noted that Kelley worked as a religion adviser to John Kerry in the closing weeks of his 2004 presidential campaign and, like many Catholic Democrats, tends to divert attention from controversial issues like partial-birth abortion in favor of advocating quality of life issues such as ending poverty.

“On p. 9 of the booklet, it criticizes many pro-life candidates (it puts the term pro-life in quotes, as in so-called pro-life candidates) who are nothing but talk,” Donahue said of the voter’s guide in a Sept. 29 news release. “‘On the other hand,’ it says, there are pro-abortion politicians who ‘support effective measures to promote healthy families and reduce abortions by providing help to pregnant women and young children.’ There’s the moral equivalency: it’s OK for a Catholic politician to give a green light to a practice that kills a baby who is 80-percent born, just so long as he’s against trans fats.”

Catholics in Alliance is an active participant in “Red Letter Christians,” a group founded by the Jim Wallis-led Sojourners that “seeks to reclaim territory from the Religious Right through re-framing the debate on so-called ‘values voters,’” according to a Catholics in Alliance news release Sept. 28.

Donahue offered additional evidence of Catholics in Alliance’s priorities, noting that in August the group urged the Senate to raise the minimum wage, which is an issue the Catholic Church has no official position on.

“But the group has no statement urging anyone to vote against partial-birth abortion, an issue which the Catholic Church officially opposes,” Donahue said. “The best it can do is say it opposes the ‘root causes’ of abortion. Despite what Catholics in Alliance says, there is a moral hierarchy of issues, and as important as ending poverty is, it does not rival the right of a child to be born.”

SHUNNING OF CITGO FOLLOWS CHAVEZ COMMENTS — After Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez insulted President Bush at the United Nations in September, referring to Bush as the devil, at least one convenience store operator in the United States is breaking ties with Citgo, a subsidiary of Venezuela’s government-owned oil company. And Jerry Falwell is urging a boycott.

Convenience store chain 7-Eleven announced it will no longer sell Citgo gas at its 2,100 stores in the United States, fearing a boycott of Citgo would endanger its 4,000 employees who do not necessarily agree with Chavez’ politics, according to Forbes magazine.

Meanwhile, Falwell is urging Americans to avoid buying gas at Citgo’s 12,000 stations nationwide because “whenever Americans purchase gasoline at Citgo stations, portions of that purchase return to enable Chavez, a man who has vowed to take down the American government.”

“I believe it’s time Americans do their part to cut off as much money as possible to Hugo Chavez and his regime,” Falwell wrote in his “Falwell Confidential” newsletter Oct. 3. “(Sadly, there are efforts by leftist groups urging their supporters to go out and purchase Citgo products.)

“We need to show this crazed dictator that the American people will not tolerate this type of dangerous activities. The best way to accomplish this is to immediately discontinue purchasing Citgo gas.”

‘GOD BLESS AMERICA’ PLATES AVAILABLE IN ALA. — In the history of America, there have been two constants, faith and the American flag, Alabama Gov. Bob Riley said at the unveiling of the state’s “God Bless America” license plates now available to motorists.

The new red, white and blue plates feature an image of the American flag blowing in the wind with the words “God Bless America” along the bottom, according to the Montgomery Advertiser. Beginning Oct. 2, motorists may choose between the new plate and the older “Stars Fell on Alabama” plate for the same fee.

“It’s a simple statement, but it is one that has guided this country for over 200 years,” Riley, a Southern Baptist and a Republican up for re-election, said at a ceremony held at the five-year mark from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. “When you say ‘God Bless America,’ those are not idle words. We mean them as much today as we ever have.”

The Alabama legislature approved the God Bless America plates with bipartisan support in April after a Democratic state representative introduced the idea.

Several states, including Texas, Missouri, Mississippi and Iowa, also have God Bless America plates, but they are specialty tags that require extra payment, the Associated Press said. In Alabama they’re a standard-issue choice.

“I think it’s important to show how we feel as a state, and as a country. There’s a move to take the phrase ‘under God’ out of the Pledge of Allegiance,” Dana Edwards, an Alabama citizen, told the Advertiser. “I think that after what happened five years ago, we need to show displays of our faith,” she said, referring to Sept. 11, 2001.

BARNA TRACKS SPIRITUALITY OF TWENTYSOMETHINGS — Half of all teenagers attend a church-related service or activity in a typical week and some of those are quite avid in their faith, but a new poll by The Barna Group found that most of those teens will disengage from active spiritual activity during their 20s.

Barna found that, compared to older adults, twentysomethings have significantly lower levels of church attendance, time spent alone studying and reading the Bible, volunteering to help churches, donating to churches, attending Sunday School and small groups, and using Christian media such as radio and magazines.

In fact, Barna said 61 percent of today’s young adults were churched at one point during their teen years but now are spiritually disengaged. Only 20 percent have maintained a level of spiritual activity consistent with their high school experiences.

“The current state of ministry to twentysomethings is woefully inadequate to address the spiritual needs of millions of young adults,” David Kinnaman, director of the research, said in a Sept. 11 news release. “These individuals are making significant life choices and determining the patterns and preferences of their spiritual reality while churches wait, generally in vain, for them to return after college or when the kids come. When and if young adults do return to churches, it is difficult to convince them that a passionate pursuit of Christ is anything more than a nice add-on to their cluttered lifestyle.”

It’s not as if twentysomethings are totally abandoning their faith, Barna noted, since 78 percent of twentysomethings say they are Christians compared with 83 percent of teenagers. They just need something to help them stay plugged into church life as they navigate the transition period from adolescence to adulthood.

“Much of the ministry to teenagers in America needs an overhaul — not because churches fail to attract significant numbers of young people, but because so much of those efforts are not creating a sustainable faith beyond high school,” Kinnaman said. “There are certainly effective youth ministries across the country, but the levels of disengagement among twentysomethings suggest that youth ministry fails too often at discipleship and faith formation. “A new standard for viable youth ministry should be — not the number of attenders, the sophistication of the events, or the ‘cool’ factor of the youth group — but whether teens have the commitment, passion and resources to pursue Christ intentionally and wholeheartedly after they leave the youth ministry nest,” he added.

For more information, visit www.barna.org.

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach