Thursday, May 04, 2006

National Day of Whatever

It seems today is the National Day of Prayer. I didn't know that until I saw a little blurb on the break room TV as I was heating my drink, but then again I'm not a pray-er.

So what is the National Day of Prayer? According to Wikipedia,

The National Day of Prayer is a day designated by the United States Congress as a day when all Americans regardless of faith are asked to come together and pray in their own way. It is held on the first Thursday in May. A "National Day of Prayer" Task Force was created in order to coordinate the event...

The National Day of Prayer Task Force is a non-governmental organization created by the National Prayer Committee to help coordinate events on National Day of Prayer. Based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, they work out of facilities from Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian organization. Shirley Dobson is currently at the head of the Task Force...

The Task Force's charter is tolerant of all religions. It is written so that it could be applied to any religion, not just Christianity. In practice though, the Task Force as developed a strictly Judeo-Christian focus, leaning towards predominantly evangelical Christianity, and appears to be run by idividuals associated with the Christian Right.

The Task force's website says in their FAQ section: "Americans of all faiths are encouraged to participate in the [National Day of Prayer] according to their own traditions. However, the [National Day of Prayer] Task Force [only] provides promotional materials and sponsors several events in keeping with the Judeo-Christian tradition".

The application for volunteer coordinators with the Task Force lists the following as a primary qualification, "Commitment to Christ. A volunteer must be an evangelical Christian who has a personal relationship with Christ. I acknowledge that I am working for the Lord Jesus Christ and the furthering of His Work on earth and agree to perform my work with the highest standard of Chrstian faith."

Wow. Doesn't even leave room for the liberal Christians, does it? I guess this paragraph shows why it's not the "National Day of Prayer, Meditation, Contemplation, or Atheistic Musing."

Another perspective on this day comes from Slacktivist:

In 1952, Congress passed a law establishing the National Day of Prayer as an annual religious observance. Quick: give me another sentence that uses the words "Congress," "law," "establish" and "religion." ...

I find the idea of an official National Day of Prayer, like the "under God" clause in the Pledge of Allegiance, a bit hard to swallow. Either it's a serious affirmation of religion -- in which case it seems to violate the Establishment Clause, or else it's a hollow exercise in civil religion -- in which case it seems to violate serious religious faith...

Prayer is a Good Thing. It's far too important to allow it to be highjacked in the service of hollow pieties and political campaigns, so I'm not a fan of the National Day of Prayer.

So when else is prayer "a hollow exercise in civil service of hollow pieties?" I would argue that most public prayers fall in this category. At such times I look around at the bowed heads and wonder who's really praying.

Still, I look at the proclamation from President George W. Bush and those words force me to drop to my knees in fervent prayer. Not the words of the proclamation itself, mind you, I mean the words "President George W. Bush."

Amen, brother.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Are We Green, or Are We Gay? (Updated 5/03)

*** Note: For a better view of a map, right click on the image and select "Open Link in New Window." ***

In the past week I've been doing a lot of research on the UU Ministry for the Earth in connection with an issue our Board has been addressing. As part of my poking around their website, I found a page listing the Green Sanctuaries. I remembered the cool choropleth maps I showed in my last post, and decided I'd do a little technical geekery of my own and come up with some similar maps showing the distribution of UUA Green Sanctuaries.

So why the (potentially inflammatory - sorry) title? It occured to me to look at the distribution of UUA Welcoming Congregations, and compare it with what I've learned about Green Sanctuaries. It's an interesting comparison - more about it later.

And now, some maps. The upper chart shows the number of UU congregations and number and percentage of Green Sanctuaries by state, sorted by number of congregations. The lower chart shows the same information sorted by percentage of Green Sanctuaries.

These two maps show the distribution of Green Sanctuaries (by count and percentage of congregations) a little more clearly. Note how Arizona, with only one Green Sanctuary, is in same range (5 - 10%) as Illinois and Pennsylvania (with three) when the percentage of congregations is considered. Vermont is the clear winner, with four out of sixteen congregations certified.

Interestingly, and somewhat surprisingly, of the three "biggest" UU states (Massachussetts, California, and New York, with a total of 261 congregations and almost 43,000 members) there is a grand total of one Green Sanctuary. One. And it's in New York.

Things get better when you look at the next three states - Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania (117 congregations with about 17,000 members) - there are seven Green Sanctuaries. Rounding out the top ten most populous UU states are Illinois, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin (129 congregations and just over 21,000 members), with a total of eight Green Sanctuaries. The only two states in the lower half (in terms of number of congregations) with Green Sanctuaries are Arizona and New Mexico.

So are we Green? Not yet. Only 38 of our 964 congregations (that's not even 5%) have become certified. Then are we Gay? It would seem so - there are 491 Welcoming Congregations in the UUA, or about half. In every district of the UUA, at least 25% of congregations are Welcoming, and almost half (10 out of 21) show 50% or greater. By comparison, Green Sanctuaries comprise at most slightly more than 10% of a district's congregations, and 2/3 of our districts are less than 5% green.

Consider, however, that the Welcoming Congregation program begain in 1990, so this is the 17th year of its existence. Green Sanctuaries have only been certified since 2002. Furthermore, the rate of Green Sanctuary certification is generally increasing (there were 5 in 2002, 9 in 2003, 6 in 2004, and 16 in 2005. As of the end of February 2006, there were 3). If this trend continues, by the seventeenth year of Green Sanctuary Certification (2018), there will be over 500 Green Sanctuaries.**

So it's not an either-or proposition; it's both-and. It's interesting how UUism and the UUA have been in the forefront of an issue of human rights and dignity (LGBT awareness and acceptance) for almost two decades, but we're just now getting off the ground with an institutional environmental stance. I'm glad we are able to address both, with apparently equal success.

** Calculated by linear regression on the number of Green Sanctuary certifications 2002 - 2006, with the 2006 value extrapolated from the February 28 count. This might be overly optimistic, as the rate of increase of certifications will probably decrease over time. But hey, this is a blog post, not a technical paper. **