tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly PBS August 30, 2009 6:30am-7:00am EDT
>> abernethy: coming up: how far should the government go in investigating and punishing those who oversaw harsh interrogations of prisoners after 9/11? we talk with an ethicist. also, the gaithers-- bill and gloria-- legends in gospel music. >> are you a minister or a musician? >> yes, yes. next question. and the jewish practice of tikkun olam-- repairing the world after hurricane katrina, four years ago this weekend. plus, for muslims, the
discipline and spiritual rewards of ramadan. captioning sponsored by the lilly endowment >> abernethy: welcome. i'm bob abernethy. good to have you with us. religious leaders across the spectrum were among those offering tributes after the death of senator edward kennedy this week. several faith groups praised his support for healthcare reform as a moral issue and his work on
poverty, immigration and civil rights. kennedy was a roman catholic who advocated strict separation of church and state. he sometimes took stands that conflicted with the teachings of his church, such as his support for abortion rights. but he also sided with the church on many social justice issues. boston cardinal sean o'malley issued a statement saying kennedy was quote "often a champion for the poor, the less fortunate and those seeking a better life." the world's more than one- billion muslims are celebrating their holy month of ramadan. it's a time of day time fasting and special prayers. in many parts of the world, muslims are conducting special ramadan charity projects. president obama recorded a video message wishing muslims well during this sacred time. >> fasting is a concept shared by many faiths, including my own christian faith, as a way of bring people closer to god, and
to those among us who cannot take their next meal for granted. and the support that muslims provide to others recalls our responsibility to advance opportunity and prosperity for people everywhere. >> abernethy: there were controversial developments this week in the debate over how the c.i.a. interrogated terrorism suspects after 9/11. the justice department released details of a 2004 c.i.a. inspector general's report detailing chilling interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. the attorney general ordered and investigation of what happened an appointed a veteran prosecutor to find out. did c.i.a. interrogators go if so, should they be punished? and should bush administration officials who authorized the techniques also be punished? we explore the moral issues with shaun casey, professor of ethics at wesley theological seminary
in washington. shaun, welcome. let me take you back to the atmosphere after 9/11. there was tremendous pressure on the administration to prevent another attack, do whatever is necessary, find out whatever they could on if there would be another attack. doesn't that justify the interrogation techniques that were put into place? >> i would argue that it's precisely those moments of crisis that we need to rely on our moral and legal tradition and resist giving up respect and dignity for the human person. i think moral tradition argues that no matter who that person is the result of dignity is that they should not be subjected to the type of torture that went on. >> abernethy: and even if you're pretty sure you might be able to save several thousand more innocent lives that would not trump the dignity of the individual prisons. >> what's interesting even at the time and we now know for sure that information did not exist.
we did not extract through torture any information that directly lead to preventing another sort of tragic event. so no, i think we should resist because we don't have that kind of advanced knowledge. >> abernethy: apparently the c.i.a. tried hard to keep what was done within the guidelines of what existed, but that in some cases people did exceed those guidelines. should they be punished? >> absolutely, i think that in fact if we gave guidance to those interrogators and they still violated those guidelines there needs to be a moral accountability so that we reinforce that you respect the dignity of human beings. >> abernethy: and what about up the chain of command. if the investigation reveals that high officials, maybe up to the vice president or the president, authorized things that shouldn't have been done. should they be punished? >> they should be held morally accountable. that doesn't mean
criminalization, or actual legal punishment but in a democracy that espouses certain moral values, i think we need to have a certain accountability not only of what has happened but it also prepares us morally to face the future where we might find ourselves in a similar moral situation where we're facing a crisis and pressure to abandon moral presidents that we've observed. >> abernethy: but if a new administration can have a criminal investigation of it's predecessor and put people on trial that creates an enormous partisan gridlock and nothing else would be done. >> yes, and that's what the president is struggling with right now. we're looking at simply 10 cases where he is, where actually the attorney general, has asked the prosecutor to investigate. at this point, i don't know of any attempt for comprehensive prosecution on the other hand i would argue it might be better to think of a bipartisan commission that in essence
creates amnesty legally to the participants so we can learn what really happened from the top of the system to the bottom. as a way of not only holding them accountable morally but also preparing us to face the future when we may find ourselves under similar circumstances. and i think that's a way to take some of the air out of the partisan ship that seems to be growing at this time. >> abernethy: you have read what you could of the c.i.a. inspector general's report in 2004-- quickly can you sum it up, what did they conclude. >> they concluded that there weren't a lot of rules in place and they had to move very quickly in this case to give guidelines which they did. secondly, they confessed that some of their own employees violated those guidelines. perhaps most importantly of all they concluded that they can't say these enhanced interrogation techniques lead to unique knowledge that could not have been gotten by other means. so that cast a light of doubt on these techniques. >> abernethy: many thanks to shaun casey of wesley
theological seminary. >> abernethy: in other news, fallout continues after the nation's largest lutheran denomination, the evangelical lutheran church in america, voted to lift its ban on non- celibate gay and lesbian pastors. the vote came at last week's e.l.c.a. assembly in minneapolis. some lutherans who opposed the change are now debating whether to leave the denomination. some are also withholding money. e.l.c.a. presiding bishop mark hanson pleaded with conservatives to stay in the church and keep the dialogue going. we have a profile now of bill and gloria gaither, the legendary songwriting and performing couple who have had enormous success in the world of christian gospel music. bill is well known for his productivity, his upbeat attitude and his help to others.
gloria has often been his songwriting partner and is a successful author and speaker in her own right. the gaithers live in a small town in indiana, where phil jones found them. >> reporter: in the 1950s, bill gaither used to turn on his radio and listen to all the gospel music stars. he was a farm boy with a field of dreams. >> i kept dreaming of the day that maybe, just maybe, i could write a song that would catch the attention of somebody or sing a song that would catch the attention of somebody. am i blessed guy? i'm blessed. what can i say? >> reporter: in 1963, his dream came true. he wrote a hit. elvis presley recorded it and won a grammy, but the lyrics belonged to bill gaither. >> ♪ he touched me, oh, he touched me. ♪ jimmy durante sang this and he'd
go... ♪ he touched me, and all the joy that floods my soul..." >> reporter: since then, bill and his wife, gloria, former english and french teachers, have written more than 700 gospel songs. many of them are in today's church hymnals. >> what would the christian world, the gospel music world have been like if we hadn't had bill and gloria gaither? and i just felt like it would leave a lot of empty pages in those song books. >> reporter: the gaithers have won six grammys and more than two dozen dove awards for outstanding christian music, plus they've sold more than 20 million videos. and they still are packing the house all over the world. >> our homecoming celebration in new york's carnegie hall. >> reporter: performing homecoming events with their friends, stars of gospel music
past and present. when they were named gospel song writers of the century in 2000, it was said the gaithers are to christian music what the beatles were to pop music. they were among the first to introduce contemporary religious music. >> in fact, we have a pretty well-known college that banned their kids in '68 from coming to see the bill gaither trio because they said it's worldly music. >> ♪ swing down chariot, stop and let me ride, swing down chariot stop and let me ride. rock me. ♪ >> reporter: where would you say that you fit into the evangelical world? >> i'm not sure we really do. i think we've been mavericks from the beginning. >> ♪ stop and let me ride, swing down chariot and let me ride. ♪ >> i don't even like to use are we contemporary?
are we traditional? are we country? are we progressive? labels are so dangerous. i'm a follower of christ. i believe in the message. i believe in redemption, and if i didn't, gloria and i would stop today and go to the mountains and retire and rock on a rocking chair. >> reporter: bill and gloria gaither have earned enough fame and money to live any place they chose. they have chosen to stay right here in alexandria, indiana, population about 6,000. it was picked by the federal government during world war ii for the propaganda theme throughout europe depicting small town u.s.a. >> an awful lot of our lyrics and a lot of our philosophy come from being rooted in a small town with real people and real life. >> reporter: there was a time back in the mid '80s that bill gaither felt his trio had peaked but he wasn't ready to hang it up. he wanted one more shot to make a gospel hit. so he reached out.
>> and i called a bunch of the old timers and i said, "ah, we're gonna come in and have fun. come in and have fun. we're gonna have the radio days." >> reporter: and they came to join bill and his gaither vocal band-- big stars from all over the country. little did they know that this reunion with the gaithers would turn into a concert series around the world called "homecoming." the themes: patriotism and religion. >> i invite you to travel with us as we return to the origins of our faith. >> reporter: what the people see on stage reflects the spiritual tone set off stage. before each night's show, there is a private prayer with the singers. >> lord we love you and we are always in awe when people come. we pray that we can be the channel that you can use to speak to somebody who is hurting or discouraged or just plain tired. >> reporter: among bill
gaither's fans are some who tell him they are not religious. >> i think it's the music. i think it's a positive message. i think it's community. i think it's them seeing people care about other people. >> i'm here because i love the spirit of worship. i love to watch how they... they're not there to perform. they're there to honor god. >> reporter: for the old timers, hanging out with bill and gloria has kept them from fading into oblivion. for some of the younger folks, bill gaither has catapulted their careers. ask the booth brothers. >> i mean it just rapidly got bigger for us. bigger in that we were reaching audiences that we would never have reached before all because of his platform. >> what i love that bill says, we do some entertaining because it's fun and people love to laugh, but then there's the ministry aspect of it. >> reporter: gloria and bill still live in the house they
bought back when they got married. >> we had a marriage... a marriage interview one time for a magazine. and they said, "do you ever fight?" to which we said, "oh, you could sell tickets." >> reporter: their business world has changed dramatically in the past few years. they have built the gaither music company, located along the highway leading through the middle of their home town. they travel like rock stars-- huge touring buses-- sometimes a private jet. >> we're so glad to have you here. would you like to tour the studio? >> reporter: and they've added a gift store, restaurant, reception facility for tourists and fans. >> i'd say if there's ever been a legend in gospel music, it has to be the gaithers. >> reporter: are you a minister or a musician? >> yes, yes. next question? my old mentor, my buddy, used to say that jesus must have been a
pretty good entertainer to hold the attention of 5,000 people on a hillside at the sea of galilea, without a microphone. >> reporter: in these times when the music world is in constant change, it is a near miracle that bill, now 73, and gloria gaither and their friends are still doing what they started doing decades ago. to paraphrase those early bill gaither lyrics, the gaithers have been "touched." >> ♪ he touched me. oh, he touched me, and all the ♪joy that floods my soul. >> reporter: for "religion & ethics newsweekly," i'm phil jones in alexandria, indiana >> ♪ he touched me, and made me whole. ♪
>> abernethy: four years ago this weekend hurricane katrina hit the gulf coast. in this neighborhood in new orleans, broadmoor, the houses were in eight feet of water. since then, thousands of young volunteers from all over the country, from many faith traditions, have gone to new orleans to help with the clean- up and rebuilding. many chose to move there. we talked with residents at the jewish social service organization, moishe house. >> moishe house is a national organization. it says that the mission of the houses that they have throughout the world is "tikkun olam," which is "repairing the world." >> that ties right in to the mission here in new orleans, taking a city that has been faced with so many challenges and trying to, on every level of infrastructure and community development, to provide more structure to it. >> the idea of giving back to a
community, whether it be jewish or the general community at large, was a very appealing idea. >> first, coming down, it was an absolute... it was wiped out. it looked like a bomb had gone off, and coming back in the six- month intervals you could really see the progression that was slowly happening, but with that time going by you could see progress. i met miss della mae when she came into broadmoor looking for assistance with rebuilding her home. she's an elderly woman, wheelchair-bound, been living in a trailer on her property for the better part of three years after hurricane katrina. so miss della was someone we were thrilled to find the resources to help her. >> oh, they did a wonderful job. they did everything. they made me a brand new house!
>> we're already practicing tikkun olam in our day-to-day lives, so in a way we're being jewish even without being in the synagogue. moishe house, in a sense, is sort of that alternative venue to come in and re-engage with the community. >> the shabbat potluck, the friday night dinner that we do once a month, is really very much the soul of our programming. >> it's great to see everyone. we do this every month, and we start with some traditional prayers and a brief song. they join us for dinner, and we do the blessings. it's sort of a great opportunity for everyone to take a moment and spend time with their friends. what i hope moishe house brings to new orleans is a comfortable, open community based on jewish values, culture, religion that
is accessible to everyone. >> abernethy: as we mentioned earlier the islamic month of ramadan is underway. muslims are fasting, every day, from dawn to sunset and offering special prayers and gifts to the poor, all to become closer to god and neighbor. in sterling, virginia, we talked with abdul malik ahmad who teaches martial arts, makes music videos and is a multi- media producer, and to his wife rahima ullah, who shared with us her family's practices for this year's ramadan. >> this week, it's towards the end of summer. and we were lucky enough to be able to enroll in this summer my sister, jasmin, is the 16- year-old and my eight-year-old daughter, sakina. they're both in the camp, spiritually and mentally preparing for ramadan in this
natural setting. nature, for me and for muslims in general, nature is this great awesome sign of god's creation. muslims are very excited about ramadan. a lot of people will describe it in a metaphorical sense of expecting a month-long guest because of all the excitement surrounding it in terms of being with your family, establishing and re-establishing your relationship with god and those around you. we follow the lunar calendar. and, so every year ramadan moves up in the year. this year it's in the summer time. it's gonna be more than twelve hours. no eating, no drinking, the whole day. and you're still supposed to doing all the things that you'd normally do. so, yeah, it's a challenge definitely. but, i'm still looking forward to it.ó( two of the things that people look forward to during ramadan would be the iftars, which is when we break our fasts at the end of the day at sunset. and the prayers, special ramadan prayers that come after our
evening prayers. you're supposed to start your fasting when you hit puberty. so, for guys and girls, it's different ages. >> i started my fast when i was six. it was hard. i kept breaking it by accident. >> really, what's actually encouraged is, throughout the year, we should be fasting every once in a while as extra fasts. >> i try as much as i can not only to fast in ramadan but also regularly throughout the year. it's usually suggested that we fast on mondays and thursdays. those are the days where the prophet mohammed said peace and blessings upon him. >> and during ramadan, actually, being angry and acting on your anger breaks your fast. so, it's... it's very much an emotional discipline as well as a physical discipline. >> the discipline that we practice during ramadan is the same kind of discipline that we try to promote in the martial arts. restraining from anger. treating people properly.
just taking care of yourself, spiritually and physically. the martial arts style called "pinchak silat." you're supposed to use your skills that you learn for peace and for helping other people, not for violent means or violent reasons. as native deen in our songs, we try to give muslims pride about their faith. and also we want to teach other people a little bit about islam. one of the things that we really want to promote in our song is the feeling of happiness. ramadan's here; get close to god. fast. but, also, be happy. it's a time of hardship, yes. because you're fasting from sun up to sun down. but there's a lot of joy in it. we see families getting together
for the iftar or the break fast. it's very special to see that mosque just packed with people. it's such a warm, wonderful feeling to be around so many people who all have this goal of pleasing god. even if we think our relationship with god and the people around us are great, there's always a way to get better. and so ramadan is that really intense, focused way of doing that. of fasting and working on our own selves. and then working on our relationship to others. and, ultimately our relationship to god. there's a prayer we always say, "grant us good in this life and good in the hereafter." a lot of prayers that we do in ramadan is really asking for in the next life that we attain the highest levels of heaven, and to maybe see our beloved prophet mohammed when we're there.
>> abernethy: in india there is often conflict between muslims and hindus. but in mumbai this year there is a joint celebration for islam's ramadan and hinduism's ganesh chaturthi festival. both holidays started on the same day, and each faith group is celebrating with the other. during the festival muslims have attended prayer services for the hindu elephant headed god lord ganesha while hindus feasted at muslim households as they sat down to eat after their day long fast. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. there's much more on our web site, including more about senator kennedy and religion, audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.org. as we leave you, music from bill and gloria gaither.