First up from the God Machine this week is a highly unusual inter-faith squabble among House Republicans, many of whom aren’t accustomed to being subjected to Biblical lectures from their own congressional colleagues. Roll Call reported on Thursday:
House Republicans at a conference meeting heard a Bible verse that calls for death for homosexuals shortly before the chamber voted Thursday morning to reject a spending bill that included an amendment barring discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. […]Georgia Rep. Rick W. Allen led the opening prayer by reading from Romans 1:18-32, and Revelation 22:18-19…. Gay rights advocates called on top Republicans to condemn the “vile and dangerous remarks” and censure Allen.
There’s apparently some question about the details. We know that Rep. Rick Allen (R-Ga.), a relatively low-profile House freshman, delivered the prayer to his Republican colleagues on Thursday morning, behind closed doors, shortly before House members were scheduled to vote on a spending bill that included an anti-discrimination provision social conservatives don’t like. We also know that the Republican read Scriptural verses related to punishing humanity’s sins, including homosexuality.
It’s less clear what, exactly, Allen intended with his opening prayer, and whether it was related to the morning’s legislative business.
Either way, some House Republicans weren’t pleased with Allen’s remarks and walked out of the caucus meeting in protest. One told Politico, “A good number of members were furious.”
Another GOP lawmaker told The Hill, in reference to Allen’s prayer, “It was f—ing ridiculous.”
Remember, 43 House Republicans voted for Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) anti-discrimination measure, and it stands to reason many of them weren’t interested in a lesson on Biblical morality from their freshman colleague.
As for Maloney, the New York Democrat who’s championed the anti-discrimination policy, the congressman heard about Allen’s prayer and found it telling. “To suggest that protecting people from being fired because of who they are means eternal damnation, then I think they are starting to show their true colors,” Maloney told Roll Call.
“I think we are living in a new world of Donald Trump and a Republican Party that is driving itself further and further away from common sense and further toward a radical approach to government,” he added.
Also from the God Machine this week:
* The New York Times reported this week on Chinese officials removing crosses from church spires in the Southeastern part of the country, as part of a crackdown against religious imagery in public view. This should probably serve as a reminder of what actual religious persecution looks like, in case some in the United States have forgotten.
* An unfortunate turn of events in Iowa: “The president of a Christian charity in Iowa admitted that he embezzled nearly a half-million dollars in donations and used the money to pay for a sex addiction, federal prosecutors said Tuesday. Jon S. Petersen, of Cedar Rapids, pleaded guilty Monday to one count of filing a false tax return…. Petersen, 55, is the longtime president of World Ambassadors, Ltd., a nonprofit he founded with his wife in 1993 to provide a Christian outreach to international students on college campuses” (thanks to reader R.S. for the heads-up).
* A Boston-area synagogue was vandalized last weekend, and the damage included perpetrators spray painting the words “Merry Christmas” on an exterior wall. Temple B’nai Abraham president Alan Pierce said, “It’s probably a seven on the Richter scale of stupid” (thanks to my colleague Will Femia for the tip).
* And the White House announced this week that Zaki Barzinji, former Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D-Va.), will now oversee White House outreach to Muslim Americans, as well as Sikhs, Buddhists, and Hindus, “working to ensure that these communities are represented at the federal level.”