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RELIGION & ETHICS NewsWeekly

RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY
Transcript: Show #326
February 25, 2000

BOB ABERNETHY: Coming up, a frail Pope John Paul II visits Egypt and, next month, the Holy Land on his personal millennial pilgrimage.

Cardinal WILLIAM KEELER (Archdiocese of Baltimore): There's pain and sweetness mixed together.

ABERNETHY: Also, Columbine and other incidents reinforce efforts to have schools instill basic values in children. It's called character education.

Mr. TED SIZER (Founder, Francis W. Parker Charter School): We're raising again the purpose of school, which goes beyond mere test scores. It's that we are about helping young people to become principled human beings as a matter of habit.

ABERNETHY: Welcome. I'm Bob Abernethy. It's good to have you with us.

BOB ABERNETHY: Just a few weeks ago, the news from the presidential campaign was a public profession by several candidates of their allegiance to Jesus Christ. This week, religion's place in the campaign turned ugly. Aides to Senator John McCain acknowledged they'd made thousands of phone calls to Catholics in Michigan reporting George W. Bush's visit in South Carolina to Bob Jones University, whose founder was anti-Catholic. Governor Bush accused McCain of calling Bush an anti-Catholic bigot and said that was shameful politics.

Earlier, during the South Carolina primary, which Bush won with strong backing from religious conservatives, televangelist Pat Robertson sent a phone message to South Carolina voters calling Senator McCain an enemy of conservative Christians.

BOB ABERNETHY: Week after next, on March 7th, there'll be primaries or caucuses in 27 states; among them, California, where voters will choose not only between presidential candidates, but will also vote on Proposition 22. That's the highly controversial so-called Defense of Marriage Act which says, quote, "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California," unquote. Proposition 22 has triggered strong opposition from California's large gay community and has also mobilized in its support the Mormon and Roman Catholic churches. Vic Lee reports from San Francisco.

VIC LEE: It's safe to say that no city in the United States is more tolerant of alternative lifestyles than San Francisco. At the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, for example, people of any religion or no religion are more than welcome, and a special effort is made to appeal to the relatively large and influential gay and lesbian communities.

Mayor WILLIE BROWN (San Francisco): I now pronounce you domestic partners.

LEE: It's not unusual for Mayor Willie Brown to officiate at same-sex union ceremonies at City Hall, even though California does not recognize these procedures as constituting a legal marriage contract.

State Senator PETE KNIGHT (California): The marriage between a man and a woman is the basic family unit.

LEE: But in Sacramento, state Senator Pete Knight, who failed three times to pass a specific law against gay marriages, managed to get the initiative on the ballot. To gather the 700,000 signatures to get Prop 22 before the voters, Knight's organization reportedly received $5 million from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and $350,000 from the Catholic Bishops of California.

(Excerpt from television commercial)

LEE: A lot of money is being spent on TV ads like these.

(Excerpt from television commercial)

LEE: But people like Kira Allen and her new life partner, Linda Baldwin, don't think their lifestyle is any of the state's business.

Ms. KIRA ALLEN: When you quote the Constitution of the United States of America, it says we have "the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." And I don't think it's within anybody's rights to legislate what that happiness means.

LEE: Some clergy agree.

Bishop WILLIAM SWING (Episcopal Diocese of California): And they got disowned by their parents and they got kicked out of their churches, and the gay crowd in San Francisco is a monument to the inability of Christian parents all over this country to accept and love and deal with their own children.

LEE: But traditional Catholics like Jesuit priest Joseph Fessio say church teachings are clear.

Father JOSEPH FESSIO: I think that the most important thing for our society to continue being a prosperous and good and just society, is having strong families of a mother and a father with children. That's the best environment for bearing and raising children, and therefore, I think the state should protect that institution.

LEE: Douglas Callister, an elder in the Mormon Church, supports that position.

Mr. DOUGLAS CALLISTER (Mormon Elder): We were not the institution or organization that caused this to be placed on the ballot, but once it was placed there, it became apparent that Californians would need to vote one way or the other, expressing their wishes as to whether traditional marriage should be retained as the sole standard in California or whether other kinds of marriages would be acceptable.

LEE: Recent polls indicate that in California, come Election Day, Proposition 22 will pass. In San Francisco, Vic Lee for RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY.

BOB ABERNETHY: Overseas, religious violence erupted this week in northern Nigeria. At least 200 people have been killed and hundreds displaced by Muslim-Christian fighting in Kaduna state. The clashes began over proposals to impose Islamic law throughout the state. Kaduna is 40 percent Christian, but located in Nigeria's largely Muslim north. Nigerian Christians have several objections to Islamic law, including its prohibitions against alcohol and its mandating of separate schools for men and women.

BOB ABERNETHY: This week, Pope John Paul II began his jubilee year sacred journey to some of the most important sites mentioned in the Bible. He began the journey Wednesday in Rome with what he called a pilgrimage in spirit to Ur, Abraham's birthplace. Many scholars believe Ur was located in what is modern-day Iraq, but plans for a papal visit to Iraq fell through late last year and the pope instead held a Vatican service to commemorate the life of Abraham.

On Thursday, John Paul flew to Egypt for a three-day pilgrimage to mark several biblical events, including the exodus and the flight of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus after threats from King Herod. The pope is conducting special services and meeting with Egypt's religious community, including Islamic leaders and the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

After his Egypt trip, the 79-year-old pope rests up for the biggest leg of his sacred journey, the Holy Land visit from March 20th to the 26th. Archaeologists argue about the authenticity of some of the sites the pope is visiting, but over the centuries, Christian pilgrims have found great spiritual meaning in going to biblical lands. Kim Lawton has our look at John Paul's sacred journey.

KIM LAWTON: He calls it searching for the footprints of God, visiting the places where God chose to pitch his tent among humanity. Pope John Paul II says he's marking the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of Jesus with a sacred journey to retrace what he calls the history of salvation.

Mr. GEORGE WEIGEL (Pope Biographer): In the Jewish and Christian view of things, God acted in history at certain times and certain places. And that's what he's lifting up. And the whole thing has to be understood in that context. This is not the pope attempting to cut a grand end-of-century deal in the Middle East. This is the pope lifting up the truth of God's action in history.

LAWTON: The visit to Egypt marks God's revelations to Moses at Mt. Sinai as the children of Israel wandered through the desert. According to the Bible, it was on Mt. Sinai that God gave the Ten Commandments. The pope says the mountain symbolizes the great covenant relationship between God and his people.

He resumes his pilgrimage next month on another mountain, Mt. Nebo in Jordan. The Bible says it was from here that Moses looked out and saw the land of Israel, the Promised Land, which he would not live to enter. John Paul will enter that land on March 21st after a stop at the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized. And for the following five days, he'll retrace the life of Jesus, who Christians believe was God in human flesh, the incarnation.

Cardinal WILLIAM KEElER (Archdiocese of Baltimore): He has said a number of times what we are celebrating is the coming of Jesus. To go to this land is to go to the place where that coming actually occurred. It makes it more dramatic, more real, for him and for us, that he goes on this pilgrimage.

LAWTON: The pope has several stops planned: Nazareth, where, according to the Bible, the angel Gabriel told Mary she would give birth to Jesus and where Jesus lived as a boy; Bethlehem, where Jesus was born; the Galilee region, where Jesus preached and performed many miracles; and Jerusalem, where Jesus spent his last days on Earth. Here, the pope is expected to visit the traditional site of the Last Supper, where Jesus instituted Communion. And he's expected to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built over the place where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and then resurrected.

The pope has emphasized this is exclusively a religious pilgrimage. He said he would be saddened if people were to attach other meanings to his plans. Still, given John Paul's stature and given the conflicts in the region, political implications are inevitable.

John Paul had hoped to begin his sacred journey with a trip to Iraq to visit local Christians and to walk in what he calls the footsteps of Abraham. Tradition holds that Abraham's home of Ur is in modern-day Iraq, although some archaeologists dispute this. But the pope's trip got bogged down in international controversy and the plans were scrapped, at least for now.

Rabbi A. JAMES RUDIN (American Jewish Committee): He's traveling as, of course, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, but he's also the head of a nation-state called the Vatican, the Holy See, and those two lines often blur.

LAWTON: Political wrangling is also complicating negotiations for two more possible pilgrimages later this year, to Syria and to Greece. According to the Bible, St. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus and then preached in Athens and in other Grecian cities. The controversy surrounding a Vatican-Palestinian accord on Jerusalem earlier this month shows the potential pitfalls awaiting the pope in the Holy Land. Without mentioning Israel by name, the agreement said any unilateral decisions on the city are morally and legally unacceptable. Jerusalem is claimed by the Palestinians and by the Israelis, who captured the entire city in 1967 and consider it their eternal undivided capital. Many Jews were upset by the agreement.

Rabbi RUDIN: It brought a political issue into something that should never have been there. I hope that it doesn't have any lasting effects on Catholic-Jewish relations or Vatican-Israel relations. But certainly, the timing was not good.

LAWTON: Analysts say Muslims are also uneasy about the potential implications of the visit, particularly with regard to Jerusalem.

Dr. YVONNE HADDAD (Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding): I mean, there are some people who question the fact that the pope did recognize Israel and there is diplomatic relations. In spite of the fact that the pope says that, you know, Israel occupies Jerusalem illegally, he has gone ahead and established political relations. And therefore, while they're hoping, they're suspicious.

LAWTON: The pope's schedule shows he's well-aware of the modern realities. He's planning to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank. He will also meet with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders, as well as Protestant and Orthodox Christian leaders. Catholic leaders say this doesn't conflict with the spiritual nature of the visit.

Cardinal KEELER: Religion is at the heart of so much. It's at the heart of peacemaking, too. And as he goes simply and -- very simply as a religious pilgrim, what he does is going to have some impact on how people look at each other and how they look at the possibilities for peace.

LAWTON: The only other pope to visit Israel was Paul VI, who visited for two days in 1964, before Israel took over the West Bank and the entire city of Jerusalem in the Six Day War. Observers expect this pope's visit to have much more historic importance.

Dr. BRENDA BRASHER (Center for Millennial Studies): I mean, this is a remarkable event in the history of Christendom, and I think it's something that needs to be recorded. It's something that in the year 3000, people are going to look back on and study and think about.

LAWTON: John Paul says he hopes this sacred journey will inspire other Christians to follow the beckoning of Jesus, wherever that may lead. Church leaders acknowledge his age and fragile health give added poignancy to that call.

Cardinal KEELER: He is showing himself to be a splendid pilgrim, to take on the challenge of visiting places that I know are going to bring a great deal of joy into his heart, and it's going to be very meaningful for us who follow it. There is pain and sweetness mixed together.

LAWTON: I'm Kim Lawton reporting.

BOB ABERNETHY: The state of Oregon this week reported the results of the second year of the state's experience under its law permitting assisted suicide. The Oregon law says after two written appeals from a patient who wants to die, if a doctor thinks that person has no more than six months to live, the doctor may prescribe a lethal dose of barbiturates. In 1998, the first year of the new law, there were 16 legal physician-assisted suicides. In 1999, according to the new report, the number went up to 27.

Diane Gianelli is a medical writer who's specialized in medical ethics. Diane, welcome.

Ms. DIANE GIANELLI (Medical Writer): Thank you.

ABERNETHY: Are these big numbers or small numbers? Is that a big increase?

How is it being read?

Ms. GIANELLI: Well, it depends on who you ask. From the proponents' perspective, they're small, and it's an example of a law that's working the way it's supposed to. From the critics' point of view, they're questionable because it relies on the doctors to give the numbers to the states and nobody has a gun to the doctors' head to force them to report. So...

ABERNETHY: So there may be more?

Ms. GIANELLI: There may be more.

ABERNETHY: And the increase suggests that there may be a slippery slope, as critics have been pointing out.

Ms. GIANELLI: Well, the numbers are small. You know, 27 deaths out of 29,000 in Oregon that year alone. But it is a 68 percent increase from the previous year, and if you look at Holland, where it's been going on for a number of years, the numbers started small there and they grew enormously.

ABERNETHY: What do the results tell us about the reasons that people want to have physician-assisted suicide?

Ms. GIANELLI: Well, it raised an interesting question, because most of us think that people are choosing it because they're in pain and they want to be relieved of their pain. But that was actually low on the list of reasons they cited. The most common reason was autonomy; they wanted to control their own destiny.

ABERNETHY: And most of the patients were cancer patients.

Ms. GIANELLI: Most of them were cancer patients.

ABERNETHY: Right. How will these new figures feed, do you think? How will they feed the debate in Congress about whether to override the Oregon law. It's passed a bill to do that; it's passed the House; it's now in the Senate. What's the outlook?

Ms. GIANELLI: Well, I think the numbers feed both sides. So I think that we're going to have to look at the Senate. They're going to need 60 votes to override Senator Ron Wyden -- he's a Democratic senator from Oregon -- his proposed filibuster, and I don't know if they have those votes. But if they do, then we have the Clinton question; what's he going to do? So we'll have to wait and see.

ABERNETHY: And we don't know what the White House is going to do?

Ms. GIANELLI: We don't know. We don't know. So we really will have to wait and see.

ABERNETHY: Diane Gianelli, many thanks.

Ms. GIANELLI: Thank you so much.

BOB ABERNETHY: Now a special report on character education. Can morality be taught like math or history? How can the schools do it? From this country's earliest days, a primary purpose of public education was to teach good character. Then moral instruction went out of style. Now after court decisions banning school prayer and more and more school violence, such as the shootings at Columbine High School, the character education movement is going strong. Betty Rollin has our story.

BETTY ROLLIN: When the children arrive each morning at St. Leonard's, a public elementary school in St. Leonard, Maryland, they know they'll be learning the usual three R's.

Unidentified Woman: Have a good day, guys.

ROLLIN: But equally important at this school are three other R's.

Group of Students: (In unison) Today I am respectful, responsible and ready to learn. I will cooperate to make St. Leonard a special place. Please be seated.

ROLLIN: Character education is not a separate class here. It runs through the entire curriculum, which experts say is the only way character education can have an effect. In this first-grade class, George Washington provides one of many opportunities to teach honesty.

Unidentified Teacher #1: (Reading) 'I am sorry to have lost my cherry tree, but I am glad that you were brave enough to tell me the truth.'

ROLLIN: Honesty is one of several character traits that the school, parents and the community chose together, traits that virtually everyone agrees are worthy. Respect is another.

TIM: I am grateful for the hard workers in the world today, not the best baseball heroes or the best movie stars, but the butchers, the garbage men and the educators who work harder. You are heroes.

Unidentified Teacher #2: Whoa, Tim, that was fantastic.

ROLLIN: And in gym class, predictably, it's not about winning.

Unidentified Teacher #3: Speed is not the most important thing. The most important thing is you talk it out and work together.

Mr. TED HAYNIE (Principal, St. Leonard Elementary School): We know that our fundamental responsibility is the academic preparation of your child.

ROLLIN: Ted Haynie, the principal of St. Leonard, says he's often asked whether character education is better taught at home.

Mr. HAYNIE: This is something that should be taught at home. It's something that should be taught in the churches. It's something that should be taught on the ball fields and every place. We accept the fact that that is not always the case.

ROLLIN: And therefore?

Mr. HAYNIE: And therefore, you know, we accept that as part of our responsibility.

ROLLIN: The government agrees. Since 1995, the Department of Education has given about $22 _ million for character education programs in the public schools.

ROLLIN: Ten states have legislation mandating character education, and more and more states are considering the issue. But the question remains: what should be taught and how to teach it.

Unidentified Teacher #4: Nikki should be citizen of the month because she treats people the way she wants to be treated.

ROLLIN: St. Leonard gives citizen of the month awards. But are rewards, even for kindness, appropriate? Other schools have 'be nice' days, leading to accusations of superficiality. And critics say many teachers are untrained.

Character First!, one of several creators of character programs, sells its curriculum to schools. The curriculum has been criticized for teaching blind obedience.

Unidentified Man: For obedience, Character First! defines the quality as 'cheerfully carrying out the directions and wishes of those who are responsible for me.' Indeed, to obey with a grumbling and complaining attitude is not obedience at all; it's merely complaints.

ROLLIN: Character First!, which claims its teachings do not include religion, does have a conservative Christian affiliation.

Mr. BARRY LYNN (Americans United for Separation of Church and State):

Character First! grows out of an explicit set of religious beliefs by its founder that include that Christianity is the only way one should understand the world. So they might have some secular materials that look good, but the core of the program and of his ministry is one of overt Christian proselytization.

ROLLIN: According to a Gallup Poll, more than two-thirds of American adults, religious or not, favor moral education in the public schools, particularly in light of the many recent incidents of school violence. Here at the Francis Parker Charter School in Devens, Massachusetts, they have their own style of character education.

These are middle and high school students, and the emphasis is not so much on good behavior as on students grappling with issues and coming to their own moral conclusions.

Unidentified Teacher #5: On a moral principle, it is not a just thing to take another life.

Unidentified Student #1: So why should they get that choice if they've taken away that -- the choice of life from someone else?

Unidentified Student #2: Exactly.

Mr. TED SIZER (Founder, Francis W. Parker Charter School): My technique is to ask the questions 'Why?' 'What?' constantly, pushing questions: 'Why is it that way?' 'Why do you think people did this?' 'Why did all those Polish laborers who watched Auschwitz not do something?'

ROLLIN: So it is infused in the curriculum ...(unintelligible).

Mr. SIZER: It's infused in the curriculum, but it's also infused in the hallways.

ROLLIN: Around here, teachers are encouraged to set an example.

Mr. JED LIPPARD (Art & Humanities Teachers): To me, it would be very difficult to teach honesty like, 'Today is honesty day; let's all learn how to be honest.' I think a far more effective means of empowering students is to show them what it's like to be honest.

ROLLIN: An honesty issue came up recently when some students brought alcohol along on a school trip. The teachers saw this as a learning opportunity.

JENNY GAPINSKI (Student): They weren't weeding out kids and punishing specific kids that they knew had done it. They left it to us; they left it to -- the kids themselves had to come and turn themselves in to -- for the issue to be resolved. And so it was a lot of positive peer pressure saying, 'You know, if you've done this, you have to own up to what you've done.'

ROLLIN: Teachers and students both pride themselves on their relationships.

Mr. LIPPARD: And so if students were troubled or having issues at home or feeling alienated by their peers, that's something that we would know.

MICHAEL FERGUSON (Student): The teachers care a lot about what you're doing, what you're thinking and how you're participating, so you're not just left alone.

Mr. SIZER: We're raising again the purpose of school, which goes beyond mere test scores, is that we are about helping young people to become principled human beings as a matter of habit.

ROLLIN: But all agree that along with curriculum, nothing is more important to becoming principled than the character and example of the teachers.

Unidentified Teacher #4: We are so lucky to have such a sweet, kind and loving little boy in our class.

ROLLIN: I'm Betty Rollin for RELIGION & ETHICS NEWSWEEKLY in Devens, Massachusetts.

BOB ABERNETHY: On our calendar this week, the world's five million Baha'is begin their annual 19-day feasting season on March 2nd. During the fast, adult Baha'is give up eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset in spiritual preparation for their new year. The Baha'i faith teaches the unity of all religions.

Also, Muslims around the world have begun final preparations for the annual hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, which begins the second week of March. This week, Iran called on Saudi Arabia to lift its restrictions on the number of hajj pilgrims. Saudi Arabia imposed the restrictions in 1987 after violence broke out. This year, roughly two million pilgrims are expected to make the hajj.

BOB ABERNETHY: That's our program for now. I'm Bob Abernethy.
We end this week with a celebration of traditional and contemporary gospel music. The Washington Performing Arts Society recently presented Faith in the New Millennium with the men, women and children of the Gospel Mass Choir at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. They sing "A Rock in a Weary Land," led by soprano soloist Aaliyah Wahid.
(Excerpt from performance)


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