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CULTURE DIGEST: Obscene depictions of Jesus in Ore. university paper cause stir; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Students and church leaders are speaking out against graphic depictions of Jesus as a homosexual that were carried in a University of Oregon student publication in response to the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad that upset so many Muslims earlier this year.

One of the published drawings portrays a naked caricature of Jesus hanging on the cross in sexual arousal, and the other shows a caricature of Jesus kissing another man, both sexually aroused. The newspaper, called The Insurgent, is published with funds drawn from mandatory fees paid by every enrolled student at the public university.

William Donahue, president of the New York-based Catholic League, said he learned of the scandal when some students sent his organization a copy of the newspaper in question. He quickly began a counter-campaign by alerting Oregon’s legislature and other leaders to the offensive material.

Donahue called the entire March issue of The Insurgent “one of the most obscene assaults on Christianity I have ever seen.”

“The pictures are only one small part of the March edition,” he said in a news release April 26. “Indeed, the entire issue is replete with the most egregious examples of hate speech targeted at Christians. For example, there are several cartoons of Jesus — including Jesus crucified — that are so gratuitously offensive that only the most depraved would defend them.

“Moreover, the two opinion pieces against Catholicism are patently malicious,” Donahue added. “That all of this … in a student newspaper, during Lent, on the campus of a state institution, makes one wonder what is going on at the University of Oregon.”

Dave Frohnmayer, the university’s president, responded to the controversy with a letter to the editor of the school’s daily student newspaper, the Oregon Daily Emerald, April 12, saying he was powerless to monitor The Insurgent.

“I share your concern about the offensive nature of the content contained within the publication,” Frohnmayer wrote. “I understand why it may seem as if the University should have prevented publication or should take some action against those responsible for the publication. The Student Insurgent is not owned, controlled or published by the University of Oregon and is funded with student fees. Therefore, the University cannot exercise editorial control over its content.”

A group of 91 students filed a grievance against The Insurgent, accusing the newspaper of publishing material that was “discriminatory, knowingly false, slanderous and egregious,” but the grievance was rejected by the Associated Students of the University of Oregon.

The student government association ruled that “there are no grounds for demanding an apology” from The Insurgent, adding that the newspaper contributes to the “cultural and physical development of the university community.”

The Catholic League’s Donahue asked, “Are we to believe that if during Black History Month, the Insurgent showed a naked graphic of the Rev. Martin Luther King kissing another man, both sporting erections, the same rationale would appear in a grievance filed by black students?”

MADONNA MOCKS CHRISTIANITY AGAIN — William Donahue also responded to pop icon Madonna’s latest jab against Christianity. During the opening night of her “Confessions” world tour May 21 in Los Angeles, Madonna wore a crown of thorns and sang “Live to Tell” while hanging on a giant geometric cross.

“When the Material Girl first embraced Kabbalah, we thought her newfound faith would inspire her to show some respect for religion,” Donahue said in a May 22 news release, referring to the mystical study of Judaism. “It stands to reason that a woman whose faith is so important to her that she drags her rabbi to her concerts would not want to mock the faith of others.

“But I guess you really can’t teach an old pop star new tricks,” the president of the Catholic League added. “Madonna has been spicing up her act with misappropriated Christian imagery for a long time now. Perhaps she can’t arouse any interest in her work without it. Poor Madonna keeps trying to shock. But all she succeeds in doing is coming across as a boring bigot.”

Madonna’s show also included video projections of demonically possessed talking heads, including President Bush, at whom she hurled an obscenity during “I Love New York,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

RELIGIOUS LEFT UNSURE OF THEIR MESSAGE — They know they want to counter the messages of conservative Christians, but they just can’t seem to discover an idea around which to build their bid to retake the White House and the congressional majority.

More than 1,000 members of the religious left, including Jim Wallis and Tony Campolo, gathered at All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington May 17 for a “Spiritual Activism Conference.” Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan also made an appearance.

New York Times reporter Neela Banerjee noted that “if the gathering is any indication, the biggest barrier for liberals may be their regard for pluralism: for letting people say what they want, how they want to, and for trying to include everyone’s priorities, rather than choosing two or three issues that could inspire a movement.”

“We didn’t get on the same page with everyone, and it is about getting on the same page,” Campolo, a well-known American Baptist speaker and a professor of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, told The Times after the conference. “The thing about the left is that they want everybody to feel good.”

Campolo told participants during a seminar at the conference that many lawmakers are religious and familiarity with the Bible is the key to gaining their attention.

“You have no right to be a spiritual leader if you haven’t read Scripture,” he said. “People in Congress respect the Book, even if they don’t know what it says. If we don’t recognize this, we don’t know squat.”

The Times reported that a young man with long hair and a tunic questioned Campolo’s statement during the seminar.

“I thought this was a spiritual progressives’ conference,” the man said. “I don’t want to play the game of ‘the Bible says this or that,’ or that we get validation from something other than ourselves. We should be speaking from our hearts.”

The religious left’s struggle to define themselves is part of the larger Democratic Party’s quest to do the same. They’re scrapping to “shake an image of indifference to religion,” as The Times said, before the next elections roll around.

Liberals’ difficulty in reaching people of faith, in particular evangelicals, might be seen in part in their misunderstanding of the demographic, seen in part in the selection of All Souls Unitarian Church as the venue for the gathering. Unitarian beliefs generally include:

— God is not a personal deity and the term God refers to the living processes of nature and conscience at work in mankind.

— The Bible is a collection of myths, legends and philosophical writings.

— Jesus was no more or less divine than any man.

— People essentially are good and can save themselves.

JEWISH GROUP PROTESTS EPISCOPAL CHURCH AWARD — The Simon Wiesenthal Center, one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations, is calling on the Episcopal Peace Fellowship to reconsider a decision to give their highest honor to a Palestinian Anglican priest who has denied Israel’s right to exist.

The fellowship, which renounces war and other forms of violence, selected Canon Naim Ateek, director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, to receive the 2006 John Nevin Sayre Award at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this summer in Ohio.

“Canon Naim Ateek’s voice is heard around the world as a strong voice of faith and nonviolence,” an April 28 EPF news release said. “His message of nonviolence states, ‘as a Christian, I know that the way of Christ is the way of nonviolence, and therefore, I condemn all forms of violence and terrorism whether coming from the government [of Israel] or from militant [Palestinian] groups.’”

But Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, and Yitzchok Adlerstein, the center’s director of interfaith affairs, contend Ateek has taken positions in the Mideast conflict that have “repeatedly diminished, not enhanced, the cause of peace and justice in the Middle East.”

The two said Ateek has used the Sabeel Center to lead a global campaign to replace Israel and the territories of the Palestinian Authority with a single state, according to a May 15 news release. Furthermore, Ateek has justified the Second Infitada, during which suicide bombing has been used against Israelis, as a legitimate weapon, Cooper and Adlerstein said, and he has compared Israelis to “Christ-killers,” with their Palestinian victims as Jesus.

“… [H]onoring Ateek rewards and emboldens the forces of extremism in the Middle East and is a supreme slap in the face of the Jewish people,” Cooper and Adlerstein wrote in a letter to Frank Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. “… We urge you to reconsider this unfortunate move, so our two faith-based communities here in the United States can continue to work together towards the goals of peace and reconciliation.”

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach