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RI Religious Leaders Call for End to Threats

In a welcome and positive move, a group of religious leaders in Rhode Island are publicly calling on those who have inundated Jessica Ahlquist and her family with hatred and vile threats to act like civilized human beings instead of hateful thugs.

About 18 clergy members from a number of faiths stood on the steps of the Edgewood Congregational Church in Cranston to call for an end to the verbal abuse and threats directed toward Jessica Ahlquist, 16, who has been the target of classmates, talk show callers and others unhappy with the federal court ruling that held a prayer banner at her Cranston High School West school must be removed.

“We come as faith leaders in good conscience to speak to all those who are intolerant, to please be intolerant, stop the verbal abuse, stop the threats,” said Reverend Matthew Kai, Pastor of the Tabernacle Baptist Church of Providence and the immediate past president of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches.

“We are not strangers coming from outside,” said Rev. Dr. Don Anderson, Executive Minister of the rhode Island State Council of Churches, and a 1966 graduate of Cranston High School West. “We love Rhode Island, we love Cranston, and we believe that the majority of people in this fair city want the hateful speech to stop.”

“Crucify her, crucify her, cry those who fear the future, and hold on to the past,” said Rev. Betsy Garland, President of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches and interim pastor of the Riverside Congregational Church, United Church of Christ. “Today, we are all Jessica Ahlquist.”

“It is Jessica today,” said Rev. Kai, “it could be me tomorrow.”

Here’s the video:

Good for them. Good for us all.

Comments

  1. Zinc Avenger says

    Of course. There’s been, what, a week of vile threats?

    Now the hatred has been properly spewed, the “religious leaders” have moved in to reclaim the moral high ground by calling for peace and civility.

    Gawd forbid they take a stand before the atheist has been thoroughly humiliated and intimidated…

  2. steve oberski says

    I’ve seen several videos of Jessica Ahlquist speaking about the events of the RI case and from what I can see she is neither humiliated nor intimidated.

    Which I’m sure infuriates those hate spewing xtians all the more.

  3. says

    Yeah, they were noticeably late with this, but hey, at least they didn’t wait 400-odd years like the RCC did with Galileo. That’s an improvement.

  4. says

    Yep, these moral leaders stood up for righteousness on their own steam. Strident angry criticism from mean intolerant atheists had NOTHING AT ALL to do with it, nosireebob. T-shirts? What T-shirts?

  5. Erp says

    Some of them seem to have been involved for a while such as when the school was first debating what to do:

    When the lawsuit was first filed last year, the Rev. Don Anderson, a Baptist minister and alumnus of Cranston High School West, said at the time: “Any prayer adopted by a government agency crosses the line to state sponsored religion. Baptists, Quakers and other religious dissidents came to the colony of Rhode Island because here there was no state sponsored religion. This is not the time to be defending a prayer on the walls of the Cranston West auditorium. This is the time to work together to enhance Rhode Island’s rich tradition of religious diversity and a climate where all religious traditions are welcome.”

    http://www.aclu.org/religion-belief/judge-rules-cranston-school-prayer-mural-unconstitutional

  6. bksea says

    “we believe that the majority of people in this fair city want the hateful speech to stop”

    It does not matter what the majority wants. It only matters what is right. Just like it did not matter if a majority of people wanted to keep the mural.

  7. Abby Normal says

    I would commend these people for supporting tolerance, diversity, and secularism. But since I haven’t previously commented on the Ahlquist situation I wouldn’t want to be accused of joining the party too late. I bet I can’t even get a T-shirt now. They’ve surely closed down the order process to keep us Jonny-come-lately types from appearing like real supporters.

  8. grumpyoldfart says

    We come as faith leaders in good conscience to speak to all those who are intolerant, to please be intolerant, stop the verbal abuse, stop the threats,” said Reverend Matthew Kai

    Sound good – until you realize that next Sunday he, along with all of those other devil dodgers, will be back in the pulpit preaching intolerance and dishing out threats and verbal abuse straight from the pages of the bible:
    -

    According to Psalm 14:1 atheists, “are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good”.
    -

    In Mark 16:16 Jesus says, “he that believeth not shall be damned”.
    -

    And in Malachi 2:1-3, God says to those who fail to give glory to his name: “Behold, I will corrupt your seed and spread dung upon your faces.”

  9. Zinc Avenger says

    @grumpyoldfart, 13:

    “Behold, I will corrupt your seed and spread dung upon your faces.”

    Sounds like a very specialist fetish.

  10. says

    Sometimes I’m really annoyed by the extremism of some of my readers. We demand that reasonable Christians stand up and condemn the behavior of the assholes, and when they do it’s never good enough, or fast enough, or complete enough because they haven’t renounced their religion completely. As much as I criticize conservative Christianity, I also work side by side on a daily basis with Christians of good will and decency who want equality as much as I do. There are lots of Christians in this country who want an even stricter separation of church and state than I do (Barry Lynn is one obvious example) and work diligently to make it happen. That’s a good thing and we should be encouraging it, not verbally kicking them in the teeth for it because they aren’t pure enough for us.

  11. danielrudolph says

    Ed, you forgot the part where moderate Christians never criticize the nuts. (Every counter-example doesn’t count for some reason or another.)

  12. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Yes, given the circumstances I’m glad they’ve spoken out publicly this way.

    What does it say, though, about the positive effects of religious belief and instruction on morality and behavior that they had to explicitly tell their flock to not to engage in abuse, threats and generally hateful behavior? Shouldn’t this have gone without saying?

  13. matty1 says

    Well done them.

    Now I want to say something that seems obvious but I haven’t seen.

    The treatment of Ms Alquist is not wrong because Christianity is false or because she was in the right on the legal case, it is wrong because no one should have to face death threats or threats of violence.

    It would be just as wrong if you could find a case of someone on the other side being treated that way, it would be just as wrong done to a kid who smashed all the windows in their teachers houses. In this case the victim is also morally right but bullying is always wrong and that is why even those who supported the prayer should condemn the bullies.

  14. organon says

    One more in favor of the sentiments expressed in #17. And likewise for other comments further up with similar sentiment. Tribal thinking is not the way.

  15. says

    Hercules wrote:

    What does it say, though, about the positive effects of religious belief and instruction on morality and behavior that they had to explicitly tell their flock to not to engage in abuse, threats and generally hateful behavior? Shouldn’t this have gone without saying?

    They aren’t really speaking to their flocks. Anyone who would go to a church led by these ministers is not likely to be the kind of person who would bully and threaten Jessica. We have to stop pretending that Christianity is one giant monolithic group, all responsible for the worst behaviors of its members. It’s the same simpleminded tactic used by many fundamentalists against atheists (after all, Stalin was an atheist and he did terrible things!), and the same tactic used by conservatives against all liberals (a liberal is a socialist is a communist). In fact, it’s one of the most basic forms of tribalistic thinking — we’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys, and all the bad guys are bad in the exact same ways. Even when they aren’t.

  16. wonderer says

    Very good point Ed @26.

    I think it would be a good thing if more atheists were aware of their own tendency to tribalism, and how it makes sense on evolution, and better able to communicate such understanding of human nature.

    It’s just one piece of the puzzle to having the sort of evidence based worldview that theists lack, but it is an important one. It seems to me that a major function religion plays in people’s lives is to provide an answer to the question. “What am I?” Religious answers are BS of course, but the BS is more easily displaced when a more powerfully explanatory answer can be communicated. The more people self aware on this matter and able to communicate about it, the better.

  17. says

    We all have a tendency toward tribalism, which rational people should attempt to transcend as much as possible. None of us does it completely, me included. I’ve caught myself at it many times, but it’s something I actively try not to do. It’s been a constant theme on this blog from the start, both religiously and politically.

  18. danielrudolph says

    Yes. Atheist tribalism is a big problem. A lot of the most popular YouTube atheists are the biggest panderers, which means lots of demonization of those others.

  19. danielrudolph says

    Actually, just remembered we should always name names: Pat Condell, ThunderF00t and TheAmazingAtheist were the main ones I had in mind. Richard Coughlan, Laci Greene and Todd Allen Gates are examples of people who can criticize ideas and people without demonizing broad swaths of the population.

  20. quagmire says

    Thank you, Ed, for taking a stand against tribalism – I wish that some of your FreeThoughtBlogs colleagues would do the same, for a change. This lumping of people into “us” vs “them” groups is precisely the tactic employed by the bullies targeting Ms Ahlquist and is antithetical to the concept of “free thought”.

    These 18 clergy members should be commended for their actions without qualification.

  21. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden Molly Ivins says

    While I’m mostly with you, Ed, I don’t wanna get **too** confident in who would or wouldn’t bully based on congregational membership. I know 2 anti-violence activists who participated in (albeit limited) relationship violence that they had specifically said publicly was never acceptable under any circumstance (well, at least one of them said that, the other worked for an organization who had that as part of the mission statement but I never heard those words come from that particular pair of lips).

    Even those of us who aspire to X can succumb to acting ~X at times.

    That said, I do believe it’s important for these religious folk to stand against the hate, and further agree that a large amount of abuse is unlikely to come from the congregations who choose to be led by folk who denounce this abuse. I just a) don’t believe that means that none of this abuse came from those congregations. (In fact, the number of congregations makes it statistically unlikely that *none* of the abuse came from them.) And b) agree with the criticism that language like, “I think the majority…” doesn’t want abuse flying towards JA isn’t a moral lesson at all. If the majority did want to abuse JA, that would be okay? If not, why mention it? Oh… because that particular speaker was more interested in presenting a positive image of the town than in denouncing rape and death threats.

    At least I know something about *that* person’s honest priorities.

  22. freemage says

    Crisp Dyke: There’s another way to read the “I think the majority…” comment, though.

    Remember, the address was being made to reach the folks who’ve been posting the hate-tweets and so forth. A large number of those posts indicate a general belief that they do, in fact, represent the majority view of the citizenry of Cranston. Telling the thugs and bullies that no, the city as a whole does not stand behind their actions, and indeed, want them to stop, is key to undercutting the thinking of a typical bully.

  23. Hercules Grytpype-Thynne says

    Ed,

    Jeez. I go away for a couple of hours and come back to find myself turned into an object lesson on tribalism.

    Of course I don’t actually think that Christians are “one giant monolithic group, all responsible for the worst behaviors of its members.” If my use of the phrase “their flock” gave you that impression that I do, I withdraw it. You’re reading way more into it that it deserves.

    All I meant was that the people quoted were speaking as Christian leaders to their ill-behaved fellow Christians, and no doubt believed that their status as religious leaders would give their words special salience to that audience – otherwise why band together? Meanwhile, I don’t see how you can deny that the people who have been perpetrating the threats and abuse were, by and large, raised Christian, or that the moral guidance they got from their religion was, at least in this instance, less effective than one would have liked. I don’t see how it’s tribalistic to assert this.

  24. hotshoe says

    Rev. Dr. Don Anderson
    [email protected]

    I sent an email thanking him for supporting Ms. Alquist and standing up for justice and civility.

    The RI State Council of Churches has a facebook page and that’s another possible place to thank them for showing that the christian moderates don’t always let the fanatics get away with hatred unopposed.

    (crossposted from Cuttlefish)

  25. dingojack says

    “We come as faith leaders in good conscience to speak to all those who are intolerant, to please be intolerant,… ”

    Nice to see religious leaders making a plea for intolerance.

    Dingo

  26. walton says

    Sometimes I’m really annoyed by the extremism of some of my readers. We demand that reasonable Christians stand up and condemn the behavior of the assholes, and when they do it’s never good enough, or fast enough, or complete enough because they haven’t renounced their religion completely. As much as I criticize conservative Christianity, I also work side by side on a daily basis with Christians of good will and decency who want equality as much as I do. There are lots of Christians in this country who want an even stricter separation of church and state than I do (Barry Lynn is one obvious example) and work diligently to make it happen. That’s a good thing and we should be encouraging it, not verbally kicking them in the teeth for it because they aren’t pure enough for us.

    QFT.

  27. dingojack says

    To me this media management exercise sounds like it came out of a conversation that went:

    Pastor A: Hey guys did you see the shit-storm that Jessica Ahlquist has brought down on us? We’ve gotta contain it before it goes viral!
    Pastor B: I know, let’s make a ‘motherhood’ statement weakly condemning our parishioners who are threatening and harassing that evil little thing.
    Pastor C: Because it’s contrary to the teaching of Jesus?
    Pastor B: Get with program! Because they’re tarnishing our brand.

    Do you seriously think that if there hadn’t been an outcry that they would have spontaneously stopped dog-whistling like crazy from their pulpits and issued a toothless statement?
    That sound you hear is just Pilate washing his hands.
    Dingo

  28. says

    You know… forget their potential motives, and drop the mind-reading exercise for a minute and see what the actions are. Religious leaders were forced to speak out against their fellow believers, for whatever reason, and that’s a win.

  29. laurentweppe says

    Do you seriously think that if there hadn’t been an outcry that they would have spontaneously stopped dog-whistling like crazy from their pulpits and issued a toothless statement?

    Ok: that line was not merely stupid: that’s a vile, loathsome, wretched libel. That’s not even “We demand that reasonable Christians stand up and condemn the behavior of the assholes, and when they do it’s never good enough, or fast enough, or complete enough” as Ed said: It’s “Christians never stand up and condemn the behavior of the assholes, and when they do, it’s because they are perfidious liars who pretend to be against the assholes because they have been forced to”: so Christians are guilty until proven guilty: did you get a crash course at the Pamela Geller school of rhetoric?

  30. dingojack says

    laurentweppe – and you have, of course, a bizillion examples to prove your point.
    By their fruits…
    Dingo

  31. jazzbot says

    I agree with dingojack about the brand tarnishing idea. I think that religious moderates and liberals would abandon their faith, or at least curtail their church attendance to avoid being associated with religious bullying of a high school aged atheist, for instance. And the church leaders suspect this may be happening as church attendance has been decreasing and congregations have become more conservative. I also suspect that years ago, as their congregations were trending more to conservatism and cohesiveness, that many church leaders began to covet more political power, and they tried to breach the separation of church and state at every opportunity, and often found that they had the bullying power of their congregations to silence the opposition before it could start. But now they’re beginning to see the effects of their own brand tarnishing. Perhaps now what will occur, will be more sermons about tolerance and the value of keeping the separation between church and state in place, specifically to slow the tarnishing of the perceived value of religion.

  32. Abby Normal says

    Wow, I expected to take a lot more flack for my post. I’m encouraged to see the discussion went the other way.

    DJ, how do you reconcile your imagination with the reality documented in Erp’s post at 8?

    Like Ed, I do a fair amount of volunteer work. When I’m passing out food, or fixing up a shelter, or whatever it is I’m doing, most the time it’s a Christian standing next to me. And I know that because I talk with them, not because they’re proselytizing or trying to show off their faith. Overwhelmingly they are there for the same reasons I am, empathy, a desire to alleviate suffering, to leave things better than they found them. I’ve been to dozens of church services where not a word of hate was expressed or implied. It was a Catholic priest who first introduced me to the idea of a living will and helped me to draft one. It was a Protestant youth group where I first fond a community of acceptance and support for my sexuality.

    These are people I greatly respect and admire. In case you missed it the key word there was “people.” They’re not stereotypes. They’re not automatons operating by some Biblical source code. They are people, as diverse as any group of atheists. To assume one knows anything about a person’s character, motives, and actions simply because they’re Christian is pure folly.

    I don’t know anything about the people in that video apart from what I’ve seen here. So all I can say is I like what they were saying. I’m glad they took a stand for liberty. And I hope it inspires others to do the same.

  33. dingojack says

    Abby – “Like Ed, I do a fair amount of volunteer work. When I’m passing out food, or fixing up a shelter, or whatever it is I’m doing, most the time it’s a Christian standing next to me”.

    Wow, you know who is standing next to you, but you have no idea what you’re doing there? Maybe it’s time to lay offa the drugz! ;)
    I wasn’t talking about the 1%, I was talking about the situation under discussion. ‘My grandfather smoked till he died at 98′ won’t fly.
    Dingo

  34. says

    It is always a good thing to see religious leaders spreaking out against religious bigotry, and it is right to praise it when wer see it. Otherwise, we cannot claim that we are not agaist the people, just their words and actions. The actions of Pastor Don Anderson who took the unpopular stand of supporting the constitution, are especially notable. Interestingly, he did not garner the publicity or hatred that Jessica did.

    One of the things I did notice in many of the mainstream news articles, Cranston was described as a predominately Roman Catholic community. The link to the story doesn’t work for me, and I was wondering what is the stand of the priests and bishops in all of this? Were they present at the rally/

  35. laurentweppe says

    It is always a good thing to see religious leaders spreaking out against religious bigotry, and it is right to praise it when wer see it. Otherwise, we cannot claim that we are not agaist the people, just their words and actions

    Well, you can claim it, it’s just that nobody will believe you

    ***

    They’re not stereotypes. They’re not automatons operating by some Biblical source code. They are people, as diverse as any group of atheists. To assume one knows anything about a person’s character, motives, and actions simply because they’re Christian is pure folly.

    [Colbert Mode] What’s with all these accommodationists with their reality and their empiricism, and their “I’ve met respectable Christians so I know they’re not all bad” attitude: If we let them do as they please, soon they will tell us that sex between a Christian and an Atheist is ok and that a couple composed of a Christian and an Atheist should be allowed to marry and even adopt: This is a dangerously slippery slope Folks: first we allow Christian and Atheists to do charity work together, and soon, there will be secular orgies involving Muslims and Hindus too!!! [/Colbert Mode]

  36. matty1 says

    @49 The stance of the local Catholic bishop is here.

    “When cultural icons, religious symbols or traditional moral values are challenged, it is understandable that individuals will respond in a very intense and emotional way. In the same way that atheists are frustrated with public references to God, people of faith are frustrated with having to defend their beliefs from persistent secular, atheistic attacks,” said Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.
    “Nonetheless, resorting to personally insulting and even threatening language in such public controversies is totally unacceptable, especially when it is directed at a young person such as Jessica Ahlquist who has every right to promote her beliefs and express her opinion.”

    Reading through it looks like an example of what I was talking about upthread. Here is someone at least sympathetic to people who feel upset at the banner coming down but who recognises that is no excuse for threats.

  37. Abby Normal says

    DJ, here’s what I see from you in this thread, making up facts(1%, dog-whistles), ignoring evidence (Erp @8), stereotyping, and condemning people for what you imagine they were really thinking. (I feel like I’ve seen that behavior elsewhere before.) I think you should consider the possibility that the negative traits you perceive in these men may be a result of bias rather than dispassionate observation.

  38. TCC (fka The Christian Cynic) says

    Uh no – you called yourself a (Christian) Cynic

    FTFY. Please do note the ‘nym change; I’m actually hoping to take the “fka” part out soon but did want to make sure at least the regulars knew that I’ve switched.

  39. matty1 says

    soon, there will be secular orgies involving Muslims and Hindus too!!!

    I went to one of those, the orgy part was ok but for the meal afterwards I brought beefburgers with bacon on. Never invited back.

  40. dingojack says

    Abby – re-read my post at #40 a few times, then go and have a little think about it.

    As for erp’s ‘counter-example’ it’s like the argument:

    A: The sun has a yellowish colour.
    B: Yes but Sirius is blue-white

    True, but irrelevant to issue at hand (what was my interpretation of these religious leaders’ media management event).
    Also, on the balance of probabilities, using all the data available, what is the most likely reason behind such exercises? Morality or self-preservation?

    Dingo
    —–
    TCC – Did you get sick of having to type in ‘The Christian Cynic’ every time you logged on or something? :)
    Why not just CC?

  41. TCC (fka The Christian Cynic) says

    Actually, my username has stayed the same; only my display name has changed. As for why, I don’t really want to derail the post, but let’s just say that one particular part of the ‘nym no longer seemed applicable to me as of quite recently. I kept it as TCC because 1) my handle has always included the definite article, and I’m trying to keep some continuity, and 2) CC could easily be mistaken as a real name or initials, which it certainly isn’t.

  42. Abby Normal says

    DJ, I don’t know if you’re still monitoring this thread. But if you are I wanted you to know I did as you asked and took the weekend to review your post, the video, and any other relevant information I could find. I thought about it deeply and did my best to discard any preconceived ideas and put aside my ego. I hope this shows the respect I have for you.

    So, upon reflection I have to stand by my post at 53. Your post at 40 appears to me to be born of bias. I hope you find that feedback useful.

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