AUSTIN, Texas (Christian Examiner) – A resolution invoking both Satan and Jesus sparked discussion in the Austin City Council when talk of authorizing the city's participation in a "Compassionate Communities Campaign" April 14 turned religious as city leaders in the Texas capital debated adding language to it.
The debate was prompted by Councilwoman Ann Kitchen's request that Austin sign on to the international effort of Charter for Compassion, which claims it advocates for a greater level of kindness in public life.
The organization suggests, for example, tackling the problems of homelessness, religious disagreement and conflict, and a lack of acceptance for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
But the resolution proposed in Austin would have also encouraged Austin's citizens also to participate in "Serve the Earth Week."
That language pushed Councilman Don Zimmerman over the edge.
Two days prior to the meeting, Zimmerman voiced his disagreement with the religious language of the resolution – what he deemed the bad kind of religious language.
In video of a city council work group meeting April 12, Zimmerman said (at 31 minutes in the video linked above) there is "a lot of handwringing about the marriage of religion and politics" in Austin.
"Here, we're marrying religion with politics," Zimmerman said, adding that the resolution claims compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. "This is dripping with religion."
It also encourages the people of Austin to do exactly what the ancient Israelites did before they were sent into exile, he said. Zimmerman pointed to the prophet Jeremiah who specifically condemned the idolatry of the Israelites.
"You want to talk about someone who had compassion and broke down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries? No one did that better than Jesus of Nazareth. But what this proposes to do is serve the earth, not the Creator of the Earth."
"This is really a resolution for idolatry, that we should serve the earth instead of the Creator of the earth," Zimmerman said.
No one responded to Zimmerman's comment at the April 12 work group meeting, but during the council session Zimmerman proposed three amendments to the resolution being proposed. The second of those amendments focused on Jesus as the quintessential voice of compassion. The third asked for the city council to set aside time for "Serve the Lord Week."
Both of the amendments with Christian overtones were soundly rejected. His first amendment, however, was accepted. It read:
"WHEREAS, One should strive to act with compassion and empathy towards all creatures in accordance with reason; One's body is inviolable, subject to one's own will alone; the spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word."
That's when Satan showed up. After Kitchen accepted the amendment, Zimmerman told the council who had drafted the language for the amendment. It wasn't him.
"Those 3 sentences that I added came from the satanic temple website. Most of my constituents in District 6 all believe in Jesus, that He's the resurrected Messiah and He's their Savior. But I probably do have a handful of Satanists in an area of 80,000 people," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman said he was making a point that the language of the Charter for Compassion and the resolution proposed by Kitchen had religious language in them very similar to what is on the Satanic Temple's website.
"I pointed out that the three sentences that came from a religious, Satanist website, were included without objection because they're so very nearly the same as what the compassion – the charter for compassion already has. So those are accepted, under the excuse that they're not religious. But they are religious. I think you would insult my Satanist constituents, they say they're religion and a religion, and that was accepted, so I can't understand why the biblical reference can't be accepted," Zimmerman said, according to a transcript of the meeting.
Councilwoman Leslie Pool then said she believed Zimmerman's amendment "flies in the face of what the resolution is intending to be about."
"I'm really put off by Mr. Zimmerman's amendments, all three of them," Pool said.
Zimmerman then said he was withdrawing support for the amendment, his point being made that the language of the Charter for Compassion and the resolution was, in fact, religious (and even Satanist).
"I'm virtually certain I have a few constituents that are, you know, Satanist worshipers, but I just can't go with them on this one, and I'm going to ask to have this struck out. So I can't represent everybody. I can't go with the devil on this," Zimmerman said.
The council voted to pass the resolution on compassion after the language Zimmerman proposed was removed.