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Saturday, April 16, 2005

Every flag will bend and every tongue confess.

I've been thinking about President Bush's week-long flag-lowering deference to the pope. How many days will the flag get down on bended knee for your faith's leader?

Let's see: If there are 67,259,768 Roman Catholics in the United States and there are 604,800 seconds in a week, then the flag-lowering to church-affiliated-citizen ratio is approximately 0.00899 seconds. If your religion has 67.2 million members in America, you get a full week. Keep these numbers handy the next time a religious leader dies.

Here are the next four largest denominations in America, converted into seconds of state-sponsored mourning:

Southern Baptists: 16,439,603 members = 147,792 seconds = 41 hours. But whose death should trigger these 1.7 days of government mourning for the Southern Baptists? Richard Land? That would make a certain sort of Rovean sense, wouldn't it?

United Methodists: 8,251,175 members = 74,178 seconds = 20 hours of mourning. But the Methodist Church "has no single general officer or executive," according to the denomination's website, so the General Conference will have decide how to allocate the White House's respect for the president's denominational affiliation. (Isn't Protestantism confusing?)

Latter-day Saints: 5,503,192 members = 49,473 seconds = 13.7 hours of mourning for President Gordon B. Hinkley, whom Mormons regard as a prophet.

Church of God in Christ, Inc: 5,449,875 members = 48,994 seconds = 13.6 hours of mourning for International Presiding Bishop Gilbert Earl Patterson.

Fascinating, no? Start with the latest reported membership figure from the National Council of Churches 2005 Yearbook, multiply by 0.00899 for the number of seconds, then divide by 60 and divide by 60 again to find out the number of hours. (I hope my more mathematically inclined readers will kindly report all computing errors, math not being my strong suit.)

I'm surprised that President Bush hasn't already called for somewhere between 1.3 and 4.7 hours of lowered government flags for Archbishop Iakovos, head of the Greek Orthodox Church in North and South America, who was buried in Boston yesterday. (The lower number is based on a 550,000 member estimate for the U.S.; the higher number is based on the 1.9 million member estimate for everyone in his hemispheric archdiocese that news accounts keep mentioning.)

And how would the denominations that most of my readers call home fare in the President's new faith-based governmental mourning initiative? Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold: 5.8 hours. United Church of Christ General Minister John Thomas: 3.2 hours. Unitarian Universalist Association President William G. Sinkford: a little more than half an hour if you count adult membership and religious education enrollment for the UUA as a whole.

You may be thinking: The President is never gonna lower flags for any of these people. And you'd be right. Because the gesture was political from the start, aimed at cementing the deepening Republican loyalty of Catholic "Heartland Culture Warriors" while sending a sympathetic message to "Convertible Catholics."

Copyright © 2005 by Philocrites | Posted 16 April 2005 at 2:24 PM

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