Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Dispatches from the holy war: 5/8

Keaton Fuller

I've been thinking this week about a Barna Group study, some five years old now, that tried to gauge how younger Americans perceive the Christian church --- a topic of concern both to those who hope it may remain relevant and those who rather hope it won't.

The Barna Group surveyed Americans between 16 and 29 asking, among other things, for descriptions of how they perceived the church --- offering a variety of positive and negative options. "Anti-gay" was not among the options, but was written in by 91 percent of "outsiders" --- those who did not attend church" --- and by 80 percent of church-goers, becoming first choice.

We've had an interesting example in Iowa this week that demonstrates in a small way why that perception exists, and most likely is growing. I see by Google "news" this morning that the story has spread nation-wide as these sorts of stories tend to do.

It involves Keaton Fuller, a senior at Prnce of Peace School of Clinton --- within the Roman Catholic Diocese of Davenport --- who as it happens is gay. Affirmed by his school and its staff, he was encouraged to apply for an Eychaner Foundation Matthew Shepard Scholarship, and won it. This is a "gold" Shepard scholarship that will pay him up to $40,000 over four years as a student at the University of Iowa.

The Des Moines-based foundation, founded by businessman and gay rights advocate Rich Eychaner, has awarded about 130 Shepard scholarships to LGBT seniors since 2000. The program is named for Matthew Shepard, 21-year-old University of Wyoming student tortured and murdered because he was gay near Laramie during October of 1998. Academics and community service as well as the promotion of understanding between gay and non-gay students are among the selection criteria. "Gold" scholarships --- three have been awarded this year --- are worth up to $40,000 over four years; "silver" scholarships --- up to $9,000. There are five silver winners this year.

Anyhow, Prince of Peace had agreed that a representative of the scholarship selection committee could be on hand to present it on the school's awards day. But then Martin Amos, bishop of the Diocese of Davenport, stepped in, forbidding the school to welcome a foundation representative.

"We cannot allow any one or any organization which promotes a position that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church to present at a diocesan institution," Amos's statement read, according to The Associated Press.

Prince of Peace School Board president Edward O'Neill expressed disappointment --- "We preach tolerance and acceptance but then we turn around and we don't practice what we preach," he said. "If the bishop says we're not going to do it, I can voice my objection to it, but there's not a whole lot I can do."

I'm sure Keaton Fuller will be fine --- he's a bright and sturdy young man and the bishop's decision will not affect the scholarship. It probably will affect the way he, and others, relate to the Catholic church, however, and heads are likely to roll at Prince of Peace. Those always delighted when the church manages to shoot itself in the foot again will go on their way rejoicing. All Christians are obsessed by gay sex, you know.


In addition to Fuller, the Eychaner Foundation also awarded gold scholarships this spring to Connor Ferguson of Wayland (WACO High School; University of Northern Iowa) and Hollie Wilson of Des Moines (Southeast Polk High School; Iowa State University). Silver awards went to Arianna Dahlin of Ainsworth (Iowa City High School; Kirkwood Community College), Chanse Dunn of Sioux City (Sioux City West High School; Iowa State University), Michelle Robinson of Marshalltown (Marshalltown High School; University of Northern Iowa), Derek Steinauer of Cedar Rapids (Linn-Mar High School; University of Iowa) and Fabio Vidal of Des Moines (Lincoln High School; University of Iowa).

The Eychaner Foundation also is reporting that Charles Banta, a 2009 Matthew Shepard Scholar, has recently been elected president of the Luther College Student Center, Decorah.


On another front of the holy war here in Iowa, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg on Monday in Boston presented John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage awards to three former Iowa Supreme Court justices, former Chief Justice Marcia Ternus and former justices David Baker and Michael Streit.

The three were among the seven Supreme Court justices who decided unanimously in 2009 that an Iowa law restricting marriage to a man and a woman violated the equal protection clause of Iowa's constitution. They were ousted in a 2010 retention vote after a nasty campaign against them by alleged Christians marching off to war behind that old sinner Bob Vander Plaats and funded in large part by contributions from outside the state. The justices chose not to respond to the campaign against them in order to avoid dragging the judiciary into politics.

The decision by the three judges was courageous in light of the divisive campaign that was unleashed against them, Kennedy said.

"For judges to be targeted for an individual decision is really something that threatens the liberty of all Americans and that's what happened in this case. So the award is intended both to honor their decision and also make people more aware of the dangers and the threat to an independent judiciary, which is something all Americans should value," Kennedy told The Associated Press.

No comments: