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tv   Religion Ethics Newsweekly  PBS  January 16, 2011 10:30am-11:00am EST

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c coming up, the people of south sudan, many of them christians, joyously vote on whether to secede from the muslim north and set up their own new country. also, on the eve of martin luther king jr. day, the story of robert graetz, a brave white pastor who helped dr. king lead the montgomery, alabama, bus boycott that launched the civil rights movement. >> the feeling among the people across the country was that we were doing something that would change the world. and remembering debbie friedman, the much-loved jewish singer songwriter who died this past week. >> we are not here for a free ride. we are here to do a job.
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welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. several days of national mourning this week as vigils were held throughout the country to honor the victims of the mass shooting in arizona. 6 people were killed and 14 wounded, including congresswoman gabrielle giffords, who remains in intensive care. president obama traveled to tucson on wednesday to attend a memorial service, where he called for civility and national
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unity. >> and i believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us. >> earlier in the week, hundreds of people attended a mass at a local catholic church to remember the victims, including the 9-year-old girl and the federal judge who were both killed. crowds also gathered to pray at congresswoman gifford's synagogue in tucson. and on capitol hill, congress held a bipartisan prayer service. some religious groups condemned the violence and asked for prayers for the victims. leaders across the faith spectrum said the shooting illustrates the need for more civility and respect in national politics. some faith-based groups also appealed for stricter gun control. in haiti, there were ceremonies to mark the one-year anniversary of the earthquake.
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new estimates put the number killed at more than 300,000. religious services were held through out the country, as haitians continue to struggle with the slow rate of recovery. several faith-based charities acknowledge that the rebuilding process has been frustrating, but they promised to continue funding projects and administering aid. pope benedict xvi also marked the anniversary by appointing a new archbishop to replace the leader who died in the earthquake. meanwhile, a run-off vote for the next president of haiti, scheduled for this weekend, has been postponed. the government is reviewing accusations of fraud in the first election last november. although there has been some violence, the people of southern sudan joyfully went to the polls this week to vote on whether to set up their own new country, independent of the largely arab and muslim north. the primarily christian and animist south sudan has a long
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history of oppression, slavery and war with the north. but now, the referendum is expected to pass, creating africa's newest nation and ending africa's longest civil war. fred de sam lazaro reports from bentiu, sudan. >> reporter: it was an unusual sight at mass last sunday in the dusty regional capital of bentiu. there were empty seats. but father samuel akoch didn't seem to mind, because this was an improbable historic day in southern sudan. most of the absentees were around the corner, lining up for the chance to vote for secession, to create their own nation. >> i know that each of you came here to pray. i also know that each one of us is carrying our voting card in our pocket.
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>> reporter: and as the service concluded, it took on the fever of a campaign rally. those voting cards came out and father samuel led a bee-line to the polling center, joining hundreds already there. their ballot choice was as simple as the set-up of this polling center under a tree -- stay as one sudan or separate into a new republic of south sudan. that was the overwhelming favorite here. father samuel imagined that nation. >> people will be free to express their own religion. they will use their resources without anybody telling them no, so it is really great help for us to see this day. it was many people have died and they never saw this. >> reporter: the predominantly christian and traditionalist black african southern sudan has seen almost nonstop war with the arabic-speaking and muslim north since the country's independence from britain in 1956. 2 million people are thought to have died in recent years in the
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battered south, an impoverished land even though rich oil reserves were discovered here in the 1980s. a few feet under this fading sign is a pipeline that conveys crude oil from here in the south north to the port of port sudan. it's a metaphor for the south's complaint. the pipeline, like the oil wealth, they say, is invisible here in the south. oil added a new intensity to the conflict in the '90s, a period which also saw the rise of the islamist regime of omar al bashir. he's since been indicted by the international criminal court for his role in the darfur conflict in western sudan. but it's the enduring north-south war that got the attention of evangelical protestants in america. they saw it as a religious conflict. >> the evangelical community has been pivotal in the battle of southern sudan for its freedom, and they framed the war with the north as a battle for religious
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freedom. and in many ways, that was true. >> reporter: religious freedom for christians. >> religious freedom for christians in the south. in many ways it was true, because the northern government was trying to islamize the south, but it was also a very useful framing of the conflict for getting the attention of key members of the united states congress. >> i think in the united states you had the coming together of the right-wing evangelicals, the black caucus, and the liberal human rights organizations. there's probably no other situation in the world where those three groups would have common ground. but i think we also have to say that 9/11 played a role in bringing about the cpa. on 9/11, the united states woke up to the reality that things happening in far-away countries had direct implications for the united states, and from that point we saw a much greater engagement with sudan. sudan, of course, having a history of being involved with so-called "terrorist movements." >> reporter: finally, in 2005,
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an american-brokered peace agreement was reached which called for this week's referendum and also a sharing of oil revenues. at this church building, destroyed by fighting in the 1980s, and now, ironically, a polling center, voters expressed hope that their sad history of slavery and exploitation would soon end. >> we have been mistreated by the khartoum government, and we will show them that we want to stand firmly alone. >> the northerners have made us their slaves for a long time, and we are ready to show them that we can lead ourselves. we are looking for good hospitals, good schools, good roads. >> our resources have never benefited us. now we will get the benefit of our own resources. >> reporter: managing voter expectations will be only one of several daunting tasks for the government of a new south sudan. keeping the peace is another immediate priority, not just with the north but within the south.
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>> south sudan is itself a hugely divided community, and we haven't seen for years because it's been the greater enemy in the north, but i think once that enemy of the north is gone we will see all sorts of ethnic tensions rising inside the south. >> reporter: the southern churches -- catholic, presbyterian, anglican, and others -- have held ecumenical services for a peaceful referendum and will play a pivotal role in reconciling the south's ethnic groups, whose rivalry stems mostly from land, water, and grazing rights for cattle. it's a familiar role. >> during the decades of war, there was no infrastructure in the south except the church. there was no government, there were no ngos, no un, no civil society, and even the traditional leadership of chiefs and elders had been eroded by the coming of the young men with the guns. the church is the only institution which remained here with its infrastructure intact.
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it remained on the ground with the people. now because of that, we gained huge moral authority. >> reporter: another key figure is former president jimmy carter. with rosalynn carter, he's been observing the polls and met with leaders from both north and south. on both sides, the former president said he'd received assurances that religious minorities would be protected. >> i met extensively with president salva kiir, and he assured me, first of all, that there would be absolutely no restraint on religious freedom in the south, that everybody, islamic or christian or buddhist or whatever, would be free to worship as they chose. in the north, of course, they had had sharia law for many years, and there has been some accommodation for people of other faiths, christians and others. president bashir assured me this week that the same guarantees of the rights of other people to
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worship in different ways would be preserved, and they would not be harassed. he promised me personally that they would protect the churches and other things and protect the right of people to worship as they choose. >> reporter: there remain sensitive issues that could inflame tensions or worse -- drawing borders, deciding on the rights of southerners living in the north and vice versa, and a critical permanent oil-sharing revenue agreement still needs to be negotiated. the new south sudan, should that nation emerge, will be one of the poorest on earth. paved roads, hospitals, and schools are virtually nonexistent, and the peace remains precarious. but all those worries have been cast aside by the euphoria of this moment, the chance, these people say, for the first time in their history for first-class citizenship. for "religion & ethics newsweekly," this is fred de sam lazaro in bentiu, sudan. at the vatican, an important step this week toward declaring
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the late pope john paul ii a saint. on friday, benedict the xvi confirmed a miracle attributed to his predecessor. that sets the stage for beatification, the last step before sainthood, which requires a second confirmed miracle. also, in rome, pope benedict condemned recent attacks against christians. in his annual address to ambassadors to the vatican, the pope called religious freedom a fundamental right and mentioned several countries he believes need to do more to protect religious minorities. benedict criticized pakistan for its laws against defaming islam, which he says unfairly target christians. his list also included egypt, where more than 20 coptic christians were killed during a recent suicide bombing. following the speech, egypt recalled its ambassador to the
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vatican, calling the pope's comments unacceptable. meanwhile in iran, more than 70 christians have reportedly been arrested since christmas. although some have been released, many are still detained but have not been charged. iran has called these christians "hard-liners." iran's constitution does protect religious minorities, but the country also has strict laws against trying to convert muslims. monday is martin luther king, jr. day, and we have a story today about reverend robert graetz, a brave white pastor who publicly helped dr. king lead the bus boycott in montgomery, alabama, at the start of the civil rights movement. kim lawton reports. >> reporter: although the social revolution led by reverend martin luther king jr. grew out of the black church, from even the earliest days of the movement there were white foot soldiers, too. king initially came to national prominence while leading the bus
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boycott in montgomery, alabama, where he was serving in his first job as a local pastor, and working closely with him there was a young, white pastor named robert graetz. >> we were here because god brought us here, and in a very real sense this changed the character of the movement here, because it was not totally black then from that point on. >> reporter: graetz is now 82 years old and still active in the montgomery community. >> 50 years ago, we were a praying people. >> reporter: on this day, he's participating in the unveiling of a new sign marking a site that was important during the bus boycott. he and his wife, jean, still work for civil rights, reconciliation, and a vision that began more than 50 years ago, a vision they shared with king called "the beloved community." >> we are all different, but we are still all together in this one relationship, and the key to
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that kind of a relationship was respect, which means i look at you and i say, "you know, i know that you have value. god put value in you." you look at me and you say the same thing. >> reporter: graetz had grown up in an all-white lutheran community in west virginia. while he was in college in ohio, he become aware of the injustices faced by african-americans and had what he calls his "race relations awakening." graetz and his wife got involved in ministries in black communities, and when he finished seminary, lutheran officials asked him to pastor an all-black congregation in montgomery. >> we had very few black pastors, because we required the seminary training for all pastors. that's why they needed some white pastors like me to serve in largely black congregations. >> reporter: the young graetz family arrived in montgomery in 1955 and began their work at trinity lutheran church. they soon met a neighbor named rosa parks. >> when we got into town, she was one of the first people outside of the congregation that
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we met. she was the adult advisor to the naacp youth council which met in our church, so we saw her regularly. >> reporter: graetz was also introduced to another new pastor, king, who had arrived the year before. >> i decided that anybody who sounded as smart as he was and was articulate as he was, and had the name martin luther, i had to get to know him better. >> reporter: he also came to know the struggles of his congregation because of segregation and discrimination on every front, including the public transportation system. >> if you wanted to find one aspect of life here in montgomery, and probably many other cities in the south, where people were really troubled about the way they were treated, it would be the buses. everybody either experienced bad treatment on the buses or knew people who had been treated badly. >> reporter: several local activists, including the women's political council, had been talking about staging a boycott. then came the final catalyst -- the arrest of rosa parks for
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refusing to give up her seat. when a boycott was called for the following monday, graetz says he faced an ethical dilemma because of concerns about what his denominational leaders might think. >> the church officials knew that i had been involved in things like this, and they said, "we want you to go to montgomery, but you have to promise not to start trouble," and so the question was, would my taking part in the bus boycott be starting trouble? jeannie and i prayed about that a lot and finally decided the only way that i could continue to be the pastor here was to take part in the activities that our members were taking part in, and from that point on we were totally a part of what was happening. >> reporter: on sunday morning, graetz stood before his church and expressed full support for the boycott. >> and i said, "i want you all to stay off the buses. i'll be out in my car all day
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long. if you need a ride, i'll be glad to come and take you wherever you need to go." so i spent the whole day just driving people around, picking people up on the street, whatever. >> reporter: community leaders formed the montgomery improvement association to oversee the boycott. king was the chairman, and executive committee members included rev. ralph david abernathy, as well as one white member -- robert graetz. graetz says it was exhilarating to be part of it all. >> the feeling among the people across the community was that we were doing something that was changing the world. >> the graetzs were really like one of the very few white people in montgomery who took a very overt, obvious position in support of the boycott, and they suffered because of it. >> reporter: the graetz family became targets of the ku klux klan. >> people would call us up and say, "i see your children out in the yard there. are you sure they're okay out there?" and the children would be in the yard, so that we knew that there were people who were looking at what was going on.
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>> i was scared to take the trash out, because i knew that these people had been around our house and had put sugar in the gas tank and slashed our tires, and i didn't feel safe outside at night. >> reporter: their parsonage next to the church was bombed twice, once while no one was home, and once in the middle of the night when everyone was sleeping, including their 9-day-old baby. the house sustained some damage, but no one was injured. supporters later planted a tree in the crater where the bomb went off. graetz says he and his wife wrestled over the impact on their children. >> it was okay for jeannie and me to put our lives in danger, but did we have the right to put our children through that? and we finally decided that we couldn't control that -- that god had brought us here, the children were in god's hands, and if god wanted them to be protected, that would be his job. >> reporter: jean graetz says african-american friends and sympathetic white supporters gave them strength. >> i felt that the lord had put
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a circle of love around us, because we had wonderful friends, and i knew god's love was around us, and i just pictured this circle around us so that the hate from the people that didn't like us couldn't get through. >> reporter: graetz says the civil rights movement had a strong spiritual underpinning. the weekly mass meetings held in support of the boycott were basically worship services, full of prayer, sermons, and lots of singing of traditional hymns. >> these hymns oftentimes took on new significance because of how they related to how people related to one another in the movement. bible verses which we would think of -- oh, that's a nice thought -- became deeply moving to us because of what we were going through here. >> reporter: graetz says this reflected the theological tone set by king. >> in effect, the church in the black community was reinterpreting what the bible
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said about how human beings ought to treat one another, so that it was the black christians teaching white christians what it meant to be christian. >> reporter: after about a year, the boycott ended when courts struck down the bus segregation laws. at the last mass meeting, graetz read the scriptures 1 corinthians 13, the well-known passage about love. >> and i got up and started reading and in the middle of the reading, again, loud applause, and i thought, "they're not letting me finish." and i looked down at what i was reading and realized that what i had just read was, "when i became a man, i put away childish things." and the people knew that we had matured in this process. we were different people. >> reporter: the graetzs have remained active in many civil rights causes. they are now consultants at alabama state university's national center for the study of
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civil rights and african-american culture. they give tours and discussions about justice and the work that still needs to be done in order to achieve their vision of the beloved community. >> people will say to us, "we really appreciate what you did," and our response always is it wasn't just us. it was 50,000 black people who stood together, who walked together, who worked together, who stood up against oppression. if it had not been for this whole body of people working together, this would not have happened. >> reporter: and that's a story they want to keep alive. i'm kim lawton in montgomery, alabama. on our calendar this week, the jewish holiday of tu b'shvat is celebrated on january 20th. it's called the new year for trees -- a kind of israeli arbor day, a time for planting new trees. the holiday takes on special meaning in israel this year, where more than 5 million trees were destroyed during the carmel forest fire in early december. finally, popular jewish
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singer-songwriter debbie friedman died of pneumonia last sunday in california. friedman's much-loved prayers put to music are used in synagogues all over the country and the world. she had a special interest in spirituality and healing, and one of her best-known songs was a prayer used in healing services. she spoke about healing on "religion and ethics newsweekly" in the year 2000. debbie friedman was just 59 years old. ♪ when people are sick, when they're emotionally sick, when they're physically sick, there's a feeling that nobody could possibly understand what it feels like to be in this mind, in this heart.
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and it's so isolating and so painful. and when people come together in a healing service, the secret's out. like everybody knows that every single person there is struggling with the same pain. we're doing these healing services because they're not -- because healing isn't being addressed until recently. we can't talk about spirituality. and we can't talk about god. and we can't talk about sickness. and i think spiritually if you don't have the opportunity to exercise your heart and soul, you don't really fully understand all that you are. i think that each one of us is here for a purpose. and that's really the focus of my work. that each of us needs to acknowledge what blessings we carry within us. that it's up to each one of us
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to give all that we have to the world. we're not here for -- i said this before, but we're not here for a free ride. we're here to do a job. ♪ that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. there's much more on our website, including more of kim lawton's interview with rev. robert graetz. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. you can follow us on facebook and twitter, find us on youtube, and watch us on smart phones and iphones with our new mobile web app. join us at pbs.org.
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