Monday, August 30, 2004

Religious News Roundup for August 30

Briefly continuing some reflections from last week: despite any indications to the contrary, I am aware of the limits of these roundups. The problem is two-fold: first, the sheer volume of information I collect. It takes anywhere between two and four hours to put one of these things together, and I could easily do it fulltime without getting to each and every newsworthy story.

Second, there's only so much I feel qualified to comment on. I'd rather not do a piece comparing Christian and Islamic fundamentalism, simply because I don't know enough to add much to that conversation.

Fortunately for me, we live in an increasingly participatory world. If you think I've missed an important story, or if you'd like to add another angle, by all means, toss it in the comments. I'd be particularly interested in hearing from people who can track what's going on in Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Secular Humanism. All I ask is that you keep it constructive, and more-or-less newsworthy.

Onwards and upwards. Here's today's categories:

Religion & Politics
The 10 Commandments keep getting tangled up in public life. 21 of 48 (or so) members of the Alabama Delegation to the RNC focussed their campaigns on support for public display of the Commandments. Their proposed platform language is hair-raising. They wanted:

the GOP platform to officially endorse a bill that would outlaw court rulings abridging a public "acknowledgment of God." Former Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore helped write it after he was removed from office for denying a federal court order requiring him to take a Ten Commandments monument out of the state courthouse.


Meanwhile, a school superintendent in Missouri has lost his job after posting the Commandments on a school wall. Get this: the town's name? "Humansville."

Sen. Rick "Dick" Santorum seems to be trying to increase his power within the PA state Republican party, according to the Harrisburg Patriot-News. The apparent reason for these moves?

Santorum has made it clear he thinks the issues western GOP campaigns emphasize -- opposition to tax hikes, gun control, abortion and gay rights -- will propel him to the presidency and will work for Republicans statewide.

And you thought Bush was the Anti-Christ.

Speaking of W., the Dallas Morning News has an article on his faith, written by one of the co-author's of Bush's Brain.

Sticking with Texas--Lufkin, to be exact--a local columnist dissects Jerry Falwell's political persona. And over in Oklahoma, the LAT has a discussion of how evangelicalism and the economy intertwine in that state's Republican heritage.

Last, let's not be too harsh on the Republicans' 2004 platform. If Michael Peroutka of the Constitution Party condemns it for not being conservative enough, it must have something going for it, right?


Uh, never mind.

Catholic News
More on the abuse front: the Archdiocese of St. Louis will have to pay $2 million to settle 18 cases against it, and it still has 16 more to go. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, on the other hand, may have to pay north of $1.5 billion to settle 439 cases. What do you think Jesus would have had to say about the widow's mite going to pay for acts of gross negligence?

A judge in northern California has ruled that church employees have a duty to report any "unlawful sexual conduct with children" that they might witness or suspect. That's a small-yet-significant expansion of current law. In most states (including RNR's Pennsylvania), clergy are "mandatory reporters" of child abuse, sexual or not. That means we can be sued or charged with criminal neglect if we see but don't act.

In other Catholic news: controversy continues over the Vatican's order that Catholic theologians seek an episcopal "mandatum" to teach at Catholic colleges. A new "Catholic Voter's Guide" reiterates that "Catholics are forbidden to vote in favor of are abortion, homosexual marriage, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, and euthanasia." And last but not least, dcdemocrat passes on a link to "Catholics for Kerry."

This 'n' That
PBS' Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has an interview with William Sloane Coffin, the grand old man of radical preachers. RNR wishes it could have a tenth of Coffin's cool.

The Boston Globe reports on some of the less tangible aspects of recent fighting in Najaf's Shrine of Ali cemetary.

The Portland(?) Oregonian carries an op-ed from a retired Methodist minister on same-sex marriage, prioritizing "rights" over "rites." Interestingly enough, one of the slogans from the UCC's "God is still speaking" ad campaign is: "We care more about rights than rites." That, in turn, seems to be a take/rip-off of an atheist slogan: "we want rights, not rites; sex, not sects." Those wacky atheists...

And something you'll find in no paper: RNR was at a meeting this morning up at the local offices of this area's UCC judicatory in Harrisburg. While we were there, one of our fearless leaders had to go deal with a situation. It seems Verizon, in creating this year's local phone directory, had unilaterally decided to pull the United Church of Christ listings and lump them under the Church of Christ. For those readers not in the know, the UCC and the CoC are almost diametrically opposed denominations. This is almost like taking Sinead O'Connor's listing out of the directory and putting it in under the Pope's. Very bad. Once RNR gets over the shock of getting lumped in with the fundagelicals again, we'll keep you posted.

And now for the "Thought of the Day":

The son of Mary, Jesus, hurries up a slope
as though a wild animal were chasing him.
Someone following him asks, "Where are you going?
No one is after you." Jesus keeps on,
saying nothing, across two more fields. "Are you
the one who says words over a dead person,
so that he wakes up?" I am. "Did you not make
the clay birds fly?" Yes. "Who then
could possibly cause you to run like this?"
Jesus slows his pace.

I say the Great Name over the deaf and the blind,
they are healed. Over a stony mountainside,
and it tears its mantle down to the navel.
Over non-existence, it comes into existence.
But when I speak lovingly for hours, for days,
with those who take human warmth
and mock it, when I say the Name to them, nothing
happens. They remain rock, or turn to sand,
where no plants can grow. Other diseases are ways
for mercy to enter, but this non-responding
breeds violence and coldness toward God.
I am fleeing from that.

As little by little air steals water, so praise
dries up and evaporates with foolish people
who refuse to change. Like cold stone you sit on
a cynic steals body heat. He doesn't feel
the sun.
Jesus wasn't running from actual people.
He was teaching in a new way.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Religious News Roundup for August 27

Before we dig into the links, a brief reflection: over the past day or so, I've been going back and forth with fellow Kossack galiel here over the Pew Poll. Though we're not totally in agreement, he's gotten me to see some ways that such polls leave out the rather large chunk of the populace who are unaffiliated, agnostic or atheists. I'll write more on this issue later, but for now, let me say this for myself and on behalf of fellow religious-minded Kossites: we are going through an internal battle within Christianity (and to a lesser extent Judaism and Islam) over which end of the political spectrum, if any, gets to define our faith. An unfortunate consequence of that debate is a bit of myopia; we sometimes forget that we're not the only folks out there in the American landscape. Accept our apologies, and know that as progressives, we are committed to some of the same overarching goals you have: defeating George W. Bush in November, and limiting the ability of hateful, narrow-minded people to dominate our civil and religious discourse.

Without further ado, here's today's categories:

(PS: be on the lookout for a great Johnny Cash graphic.)

Religion & Politics
Plenty to report in this category. More reactions to the Deal Hudson story here (and here and here and several other places, besides). More on the Pew Poll here, though you have to scroll pretty far down the page to find it.

Dick Cheney continues to be a thorn in the flesh of the Bush campaign, this time by expressing support for gay marriage. More links here. It's nice to take note that even Focus on the Family and the Christian Coalition are having trouble choking down the Evil One's statements.

Meanwhile, Jerry Falwell is declaring himself "unashamed" of his endorsement of Pres. Bush. Granted, Pastor Dan is fairly outspoken about his support for John Kerry, but he never, ever lets that be linked to his position in the church. Mel Martinez and Johnnie Byrd are slugging it out in Florida for the title of "Scariest Right-Wing Christian," while both Bushes (W. and Jeb) silently pray that they'll go away quietly.

An unnamed group of nuns has "come out" against the FMA. Are there Maryknoll sisters?

RNR may have misjudged the new "Faith of George W. Bush" documentary slated for a media viewing on Aug. 30 at the RNC. Sure, it's still probably a hack-job biased thoroughly in favor of Dear Leader, but check out this paragraph from their news release:

Included in this documentary are public comments from journalists such as Susan Jacoby and Robert Sheer of the Los Angeles Times; Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourner's Magazine; and activists like actor Richard Gere, political maverick Ralph Nader and Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church & State. On-camera interviews recalling private observations of President Bush are former Reagan Energy Secretary Don Hodel, President George H.W. Bush's Special Assistant Doug Wead, former Time correspondent David Aikman, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, Catholic publisher Deal Hudson, Bush Bible-study teacher Donald Poage, civil-rights activist Robert Woodson, author Stephen Mansfield, and many others.

Now we're kinda curious to see the video, just to know what some of these folks have to say, and how badly out-of-context their statements are taken.

As has been widely reported, Sojourners Magazine will be placing an ad in the NYT at the beginning of the RNC, declaring that "God is not a Republican or a Democrat." See the ad here, and an explanatory article here. They included a cute graphic from a flash video in their e-mail announcement,

but the real deal is the protest "Johnny Cash is not a Republican or a Democrat." Jeanne D'Arc at Body and Soul throws in this classic pic in reporting the protest:

Click on Johnny for more details.

Church & State
Both the LA Times and the NYT are calling for William "My God is bigger than yours" Boykin's dismissal, in the wake of the Pentagon ruling against him. The Christianity Today weblog has a contrary opinion.

The Harrisburg Patriot-News reported last Friday that the borough of Paxtang has ruled in favor of a pro-life yard sign posted by a local couple. RNR is experiencing cognitive dissonance here: Cheers for freedom of speech, Jeers for the message, as one of our online friends would put it.

The church is fighting back against the state, it seems: a Houston-area Baptist minister was sentenced to two years in prison for biting a police officer during a traffic stop. Serves him right for acting as his own lawyer.

This 'n' That
This morning brings us a number of items that don't fit easily into any category.

Most important first: the BBC has a fistful of links on the apparent cease-fire in Najaf, and reports on a clock in Times Square that calculates the cost of the war in/on Iraq in real time.

Bartholomew's Notes on Religion has a post with more details of the expulsion of Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan. Bart's implication is that the Department of Homeland Security was manipulated into the action by some not-necessarily-disinterested groups.

There's an interesting--quite odd, actually--story in St. Louis' independent Riverfront Times about Archbishop Raymond Burke's time in LaCrosse, before coming down to the home of the Cardinals.

A press release from Minnesota declares that food pantry usage has skyrocketed in the land of 10,000 lakes. This, for non-churchy folks, is a "leading indicator" of need. It means that we haven't turned any economic corners lately, and probably won't for a while to come. If anyone has similar stories from other parts of the country, I'd be interested in seeing them.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has dropped below 5 million members for the first time. An Op-Ed from the Daily Telegraph speculates that one of the reasons for the plummeting rates of participation in English churches is the wrangling over irrelevant points of doctrine, specifically the place of women as priests in the Church of England. To which RNR responds: you think?

And last but not least, today's, um, "Thought for Today," once again from the Sufi poet and mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi:

Christ is the population of the world,
and every object as well. There is no room
for hypocrisy. Why use bitter soup for healing
when sweet water is everywhere?

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Religious News Roundup for August 25

Pastor is a sick, sick, sick boy. Literally: his allergies are acting up today. Figuratively: despite those allergies--and a seminar spread out over three days--he can't resist writing another Roundup when by all rights, he ought to be sleeping. Figuratively again: well, you know. He's just a sick pup, and all the mood stabilizers in the world ain't going to help.

Today's categories:

Don't miss the "Thought for the Day" under this and that.

Religion & Politics
Today's biggest story is probably the release of a new survey on religion and politics, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. In the interests of a RNR of less heft than Thomas Pynchon's longer novels, See below for more thoughts, and more analysis coming.

Thanks to fellow Kossite Ralph for finding this piece from Indian Country Today. The article itself doesn't break much new ground, but it comes from a historically under-reported voice. Worth checking out.

Two articles on Deal Hudson out there (at least): The Revealer's Jeff Sharlet has a funny and insightful consideration of why this story hasn't taken off. Killer grafs:

"So if being honest about your life means you lose some power, access and credibility among a certain audience -- oh well, I say. It's not all about you, after all."

But to the mainstream press, it is, in a sense. It's all about the public figure, his personality, his character. That's the story that sells. Think of America's newsrooms as asylums for thousands of would-be novelists, and you'll start to understand the media's fixation on archetype-as-personality. (I.e., is John Kerry a "war hero"? Or a waffler? Choose.) Hudson doesn't fit in that box. His political power is too subtle, his personality is too ambiguous, his religion is too intellectual. He's no Jerry Falwell (and, to be fair, the chaste Falwell is no Deal Hudson). In short, he doesn't conform to any of the pre-existing characters in the media stable, so he ends up getting written out of the secular record of a political story in which he's a major player.

It's also worth reading for the perspective. Not often that The Incredible Hulk comments on religion in the news, and very rarely that he does it so cogently.

Scroll down a bit on Beliefnet's Loose Cannon page, and you'll find an excellent takedown of the Catholic League's defense of Hudson. Shorter papists: she was a drunk. No, really. They were that direct about it. Just one more example of why flesh-eating bacteria aren't just for protestant evangelicals anymore.

Church & State
A couple of "prayer in the public square" stories that should surprise no one. One's in Boca Raton, and the other in Arkansas. My comments are equally brief: whaddya expect from somewhere named after the Mouth of the Rat River? And cheers for appellate courts who can decide such a case based on this reasoning:

the DeValls Bluff School District endorsed a religion -- not just because Warnock [the plaintiff] was offended.

"We believe that prayers at mandatory teacher meetings and in-service training conveys ... a decisive endorsement," the appeals court wrote.

RNR firmly believes that religious expression for all is most free when it is compelled for none.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports on a phenomenon RNR wrote about on Monday: local munincipalities objecting to church construction (or in this case, expansion). This will be a recurring theme, mark our words.

Catholic News
Two "underground" news stories from the Romish church today. One, from the San Jose Mercury-News, details the way that the authority of women continues to grow--albeit often informally--in the priest-strapped United States.

The other, from the AP, describes a breakaway congregation of "radically inclusive" Catholics in the Pittsburgh area. If you're curious, their website is here. RNR's recollection is that there are something like 200 Catholic church groups in the United States, some on the more conservative end of the spectrum, some on the more liberal. You might want to talk about the Catholic churches in your next rant.

Muslim News
RNR is hardly qualified to comment on this story, so we'll just pass it on: a Muslim scholar, due to begin teaching at Notre Dame this fall, has had to leave the US after having his visa revoked by the Justice Department. We'll leave it up to better-informed readers to say whether or not he's a Muslim extremist, as some Jewish groups have charged.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani is calling on his followers to march on the holy city of Najaf, in order to reclaim the Imam Ali shrine from the Mehdi Army and the American and Iraqi forces besieging it. In case you're wondering what all the fuss is about, take a gander at these photos, via SwamiUptown.

This 'n' That
Sad news: the only brewery in Northern Ireland is closing. To quote that great sage, Tom Waits: "there's nothing sadder than a town with no cheer..."

Thought for the Day
RNR doesn't usually like doing these. Half the time, they're cheesy as all get-out, and just as often, the insight's non-transferable. But we picked up some good stuff at our seminar this week. So good, in fact, that we're going to pass it on to you, in bits and pieces. Today's bit comes from Jalal al-din Rumi, the Sufi poet.

Lovers think they're looking for each other,
but there's only one search: wandering
this world is wandering that, both inside one
transparent sky. In here
there is no dogma and no heresy.

The miracle of Jesus is himself, not what he said or did
about the future. Forget the future.
I'd worship someone who could do that.

On the way you may want to look back, or not,
but if you can say There's nothing ahead,
there will be nothing there.

Stretch your arms and take hold the cloth of your clothes
with both hands. The cure for pain is the pain.
Good and bad are mixed. If you don't have both,
you don't belong with us.

When one of us gets lost, is not here, he must be inside us.
There's no place like that anywhere in the world.

Quick Analysis of Pew Poll

I found my response to the new survey on religion and politics, conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, was taking over the Roundup, so I decided to split it off into its own post.

I'll try to do a fuller analysis later this week.  For now, some quick points.

  1. What's remarkable about this survey is not the differences it points out (though those can be substantial), but the vast areas of agreement.  For example, the public is solidly opposed to political campaigns collecting church rosters, and to Catholic bishops denying communion to pro-choice politicians.  Though the percentages vary, the agreement is overwhelmingly there.  (Sorry to say for my secular friends, this agreement extends to the importance of a president's religion.  Americans still want a "person of faith" in the White House, though it doesn't seem to matter very much what that faith is.)

  2. Despite this broad agreement, the differences detected by the survey matter.  Just one example:
    By more than two-to-one (61% to 29%), people who wish there was more discussion of faith by political leaders back Bush over Kerry in the 2004 election, and by a similar margin (63% to 32%) people who think there is too much of it favor Kerry over Bush. And those who think there is the right amount of religious rhetoric today are divided evenly (50% favor Bush, 46% Kerry).
     Similiar alignments happen on issues like gay marriage.

  3. Though respondents view Republicans as more religion-friendly than Dems, that's not the same as saying Democrats are unfriendly. (That response was only 3 points higher for Donkeys than it was for elephants.)  The biggest difference--a ten-point spread--is in the category of "neutral." I think what voters are picking up on is that Dems operate more of a "big tent," which includes some secular people.  That's not necessarily a bad or inaccurate assessment.

  4. The same can be said about respondents' rankings of important campaign issues. (Notice also how low gay marriage rates, especially for swing voters.)

    Though Repubs scored "moral issues" higher than Dems, there is more than likely a qualitative difference going on.  Republicans, I would venture to guess, see moral issues in terms of personal morality, meaning the president not having a zipper problem.  Dems, on the other hand, probably see morality in social terms, as reflected in the choices they place above the "moral issues" category.

The moral of the story?  Bush seems to "narrowcast" to a very particular segment of even the religious population, much less the elctorate as a whole.  Indeed, the electoral strategy Karl Rove has laid out seems to be to marry this "base" with the "swing voters," meaning traditional conservative elements like small-government libertarians and corporate interests.

That much is not new.  What is new--and refreshing--is that there really is not any "God gap" between Republicans and Democrats.  Sure, the Repubs are stronger with those place a higher importance on religion in their lives, and who attend church more frequently.  But in the "broad middle" ranges, the Dems do just fine.  That speaks well of their ability to fight--and win--an election based on "values."  

It ain't gospel, folks, but this poll is good news.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Religious News Roundup for August 23

I know, I know.  I said there wouldn't be a RNR today.  What can I say?  It's who I am.  It's what I do.

Today's categories:

Sex Abuse

RNR is sorry to have to admit that it will need to carry this as a separate category.  Even though the subject has dropped from front-page status lately, there's still quite a bit going on.

To wit:  the Diocese of Toledo is paying out $1.13 million dollars to 23 victims of abuse; the Detroit Archdiocese has suspended two priests after  allegations; Seattle has banned 3; a New York priest cleared in one case has been charged in a second; and the Portland Archdiocese is seeking a deadline for claims in its ongoing scandal.

However, such problems are not restricted to the Catholic church.  The Mormon church recently dodged a bullet when a Utah court ruled that it had no responsibility to warn parishioners about a member who had previous child-molestation convictions.  More information here.  While RNR is certainly not qualified to judge the case on its legal merits, we're still disturbed by it.  Why on earth would anyone keep a convicted child molestor in a position of authority as a "high priest" (lay minister?) or a Cub Scout leader, knowing of his past?  Though the abuse took place away from the church, and not as a part of this member's church duties, it seems only a matter of common sense and common decency to protect members of the church from harm.  Morally, if not legally, the Church of Latter-Day Saints bears a heavy responsibilty in this case.

Meanwhile, if you've been hiding under a rock for the past week or so, BeliefNet has a good summary of the Deal Hudson case.

Religion & Politics

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer carries a definitive smackdown of W.'s political use of religious language.  Short version:  Bush and Rove find the structure of fundamentalism a handy way to make political points.  That much has been obvious for quite a while, though the writer's analysis of how that's accomplished bears reading.  A key excerpt:

This research showed that the administration's public communications contained four characteristics simultaneously rooted in religious fundamentalism while offering political capital:

1) Simplistic, black-and-white conceptions of the political landscape, most notably good vs. evil and security vs. peril.
2) Calls for immediate action on administration policies as a necessary part of the nation's "calling" and "mission" against terrorism.
3) Declarations about the will of God for America and for the spread of U.S. conceptions of freedom and liberty.
4) Claims that dissent from the administration is unpatriotic and a threat to the nation and globe.

In combination, these characteristics have transformed Bush's "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" policy to "Either you are with us, or you are against God." To the great misfortune of American democracy and the global public, such a view looks, sounds and feels remarkably similar to that of the terrorists it is fighting.

In other news, Alan Keyes declares that his "Victory is for God".  And if he's defeated?  RNR seems to remember that in the OT, those who prophesied falsely often wound up dead.  That's not a threat; just something to think about in re: consequences for arrogating God to your side.

If the 2004 election demonstrates anything, it's that the religious wingnuts are not going to stand still while we pinko pastors try to "silence" them.  Agape Press carries a story on a new Left Coast group working to ensure that conservative pastors can still preach "proclaim truth and biblical perspectives from the pulpit without fearing for their church's non-profit status."  Which is all very nice--except it's not the point.  Preachers are and always have been free to promote their moral vision.  What they may not do is explicitly link that vision to a particular candidate or slate of candidates.

One of the ways around this is to put out a voter's guide with slanted (or carefully selected) questions that guide parishioners to one party.  Both conservative and liberal groups have employed this strategy.  The Palm Beach Post how it works in one South Florida church, and how the politicization of religion is filtering down to even candidates for the "local soil and water conservation board."

That being said, the Christians for Kerry site has a nice--and thoroughly partisan--summary of what they see as Kerry's Christian values.

And just so you don't think it's only America: the Fiji Times reports on  Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase's promise to run his party on "Christian Principles."  At least those values are "peace and harmony," forgiveness and reconciliation.  Beats some other values he could have.

[Update:] a reader reminds me that Fijian politics are split between the influential Hindu/Indian immigrants and the native/Christian Fijians. PM Qarase's quote suddenly looks a whole lot less benign.

Church & State

This is one of the "underground" stories of religious practice these days:  increasingly, local munincipalities are hesitant to approve land-use permits for churches and other religious institutions.  It used to be that churches were welcomed as anchors of a residential neighborhood; these days, they're often seen as noisy traffic magnets that draw down the tax base, and they're regulated as strictly as the local strip mall.

In another case, an Arizona "public school system run by the nation's largest polygamous sect...could lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in state funds for failing to properly report how it spends its money."

This 'n' That

A Tennesee pastor has been convicted of twice trying to burn down his church.  Believe me, more pastors than you might suspect have fantasized about doing exactly this, though it's usually motivated by frustration with the facility, not for the insurance money.

Amy Sullivan has some parting advice for the Kerry campaign: push this story upcoming in the Washington Monthly about how Kerry helped dismantle BCCI, the notoriously corrupt Saudi bank.  But, as Sullivan points out, they weren't just corrupt:  they were financing terrorists and various anti-American activities.  As she says,

Shouldn't that be in an ad somewhere? You know, while Reagan and Bush were selling arms to Saddam Hussein, John Kerry was taking on the terrorists' money source. That kind of thing. Seems to me it's the type of accomplishment you'd want to trumpet far and wide. Think about it.

Last but not least, I'll pass on this graph from The Christian Century, quoting Thomas Thangaraj, a World Missions prof at Candler School of Theology, RNR's seminary alma mater:

Religion in a global village of 1,000 persons

  • 300-Christians (183 Catholics, 84 Protestants, 33 Orthodox)
  • 210-No religion or confessed atheists
  • 175-Muslims
  • 128-Hindus
  • 55-Buddhists
  • 47-Animists
  • 85-Other religious groups

Friday, August 20, 2004

Just Deal

As promised in this morning's Religious News Roundup, here are some further thoughts on the Hudson Deal flap playing out over the past couple of days.

First, a quick recap:  Hudson is a former Baptist youth minister and philosophy professor who converted to Catholicism in the early 80's, and who more recently has been serving as an unpaid adviser to Pres Bush on Catholic outreach.  In 1994, Hudson resigned his position at Fordham University and paid an 18-year-old student $30,000 dollars to settle her claim that he took advantage of her after a night of drinking margaritas with a number of other students.  The revelation of these facts in this National Catholic Reporter article apparently prompted Hudson to resign his campaign post and write a bitter defense in the National Review Online.

So, some reflections are in order:

  1. Hudson is an all-too-familiar kind of figure in academia.  I've boozed with any number of professors; socializing with students is part of the educational game.  But I remember coming across more than one prof with poor boundaries, particularly with female students.  Not many of them got them drunk and french-kissed them in a bar, granted.  But they're out there, and the sad part about it is that Hudson received a punishment on the harsh end of the spectrum.  He could have been prosecuted for sexual assault; instead, he was allowed to quietly resign, settle the case, and move on.

    Lest I be accused of hypocrisy here, let me quickly add that no, of course most professors aren't like Hudson.  And let's face it, they're not alone in taking advantage of vulnerable people in their care.  Doctors, police officers, yes, even ministers have been known to have "zipper problems."  And, like professors, these individuals too often are able to simply walk away from their offenses and relegate them to the dumping ground of "personal issues."

    The point, of course, is that Hudson should have been disgraced long before he ever turned up at the White House.  I'm all for second chances, but I have to wonder: at what point do we begin to question a person's capacity for moral and political leadership, based on their past behavior?

  2. Because from my perspective, the issue is not whether Hudson took advantage of a young, vulnerable student, as repulsive as that behavior is, and as debatable as Hudson's repentance has been.  I'm willing to trust (hope, really) that his spiritual advisors have worked to set him on a more appropriate path.

    The issue is really this: even though the sin may have passed into forgiveness by now, there remain legitimate questions about Hudson's character and judgment.  Specifically, I have to wonder about the personality of someone who would prey on someone as vulnerable as Hudson's victim was, and who is so outspokenly combative as Hudson's writings have shown him to be.  Then there's the drinking and the womanizing and the need to be the center of social attention...These all suggest to me someone who has a very high need for control, and some rather unsavory notions about what to do with that control once it's achieved.

    While I would accept such a person into our congregation, I'd very skeptical--to say the least--about allowing them to take a leadership role.  And yes, I had the same questions about Bill Clinton a few years back.  As much as I love the Big Dog, and as much as I hated the Starr investigation, I had to question the judgment of someone who could carry on an illicit affair with an intern, then lie about it to a grand jury.

    I don't know if it's "boys will be boys," or if both Hudson and Clinton were people who simply managed to slip through the cracks.  Either way, it seems to me a great failing of our political system that such questions don't get asked.  I'm sure that if Karl Rove knew about any of these problems, his first question was:  will it embarrass the president?  Not, is this creep somebody we really want to be hanging around?

  3. Which leads to the third (and hopefully final) question:  where do we draw the line?  When do zipper problems stop being personal issues and start becoming issues of public concern?  Is it fair to hold a quasi-public figure like Hudson to a standard that some of us, at least, couldn't live up to?  And if so, how do we (as a citizenry) decide what that standard is going to be?

Don't get me wrong here:  the guy's a bastard, and I'm glad he's gone.  (By his own power, it should be noted.  The NCR only reported the story; it did not call for his resignation, nor did anyone else.  Hudson turned in his resignation before they got the chance.)

If nothing else, this will set back some of the onslaught of the Catholic right we've been seeing in recent months.  Not because liberals have something to throw back at them, but because Hudson was a well-connected leader for that movement.

But when it gets down to it, this isn't a matter of politics, or of faith.  It's a matter of common decency.  So how do we apply such a standard in such a highly politicized atmosphere?  And how do defend Clinton (or the next Clinton) if we're ready to go after Hudson?

Talk to me.

Religious News Roundup for August 20

In all our time publishing these Roundups (okay, the past week or three), we've never seen so many news items. Don't worry, this won't take as long to read as the Sunday Times.

Perhaps it's fitting to have plenty of links today, because RNR won't be around next Monday and Wednesday at least, possibly not Friday either. Between retreats and wanting to see Joe Hoeffel when he comes through town, we're going to be pretty busy.

Today's categories:

Catholic News

Let's start with the obvious: Pres. Bush's chief of Catholic Outreach, Deal Hudson, has had to resign after the National Catholic Reporter broke the story of Hudson's sexual misconduct at Fordham University. The Revealer, as always, puts the issue in its proper political context. The NYT article that really ignited the fireworks here, Hudson's pre-emptive strike in the NRO here, and Jeanne D'Arc at Body & Soul getting wicked indignant (and deservedly so) here. For our money, the best commentary on the issue so far has been Amy Welborn's discussions here and here, which ask a couple of interrelated questions: is it justified to hold public figures, in particular Catholic public figures, to a higher standard of morality than we might achieve in our private lives? And if so, what are the political dimensions of such a standard, and what are the purely moral? This provokes some thoughts of our own, but we'll save them for a later post.

Believe it or not, that's not the only Catholic story worth reporting, though. The latest round of sexual abuse audits begins, with some new methodology designed to track the effectiveness of the prevention programs. A federal court is considering a lawsuit concerning Archbishop Oscar Romero's assassination, which I assume will intrigue Kos. The papal deathwatch continues, and in what might be described as a "Catholic-lite" story, the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles is fighting back against two congregations threatening to leave the bishop's oversight in favor of a more conservative African bishop.

For those of you who don't quite understand the technicalities here, in the Episcopal church (as in the Catholic and Methodist systems), it's the diocese/conference that owns the church buildings, and ministers serve at the bishop's pleasure. That gives them quite a bit more leeway in responding to such situations that a congregational polity would enjoy.

Church and State

Jerry Boykin is getting the smackdown he deserves, though punishment has yet to be decided. As one blogger noted, he apparently got some lousy advice from the JAG corps, which ruled his uniformed pro-Christian speeches appropriate.

More information is emerging on the South Carolina city council meeting that opened with explicitly Christian prayer. Turns out the lawsuit was brought by a Wiccan, who at first put up with the prayers, then asked politely that the prayers be more inclusive, and finally filed suit only after it became apparent that the prayers were becoming part of an on-going campaign to punish her for her non-conformity.

The San Francisco Chronicle (via the Seattle Post-Intelligencer) looks at how the Bush administration's Faith-Based Initiative has slipped off the radar screen and into quiet executive activism.

A Maryland prison has adopted The Purpose-Driven Life as part of its rehabilitation program, which RNR takes a sign of tackiness above and beyond the First Amendment issues.

Religion and Politics

There's a pretty good article in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about a recent Bush rally in St. Paul. Don't miss the Romanian couple confused by the impromptu crosses whipped up by local drug-rehab clients. Also, please note that Ricky Skaggs is apparently one of the musicians playing for the Bush campaign. With competition like that, I don't think we have much to worry about on the cultural front.

The LATimes is reporting that all may not be well with the Christian right and the upcoming RNC, despite their chipper assertions to the contrary. Meanwhile, Amy Sullivan has some friendly advice to the Kerry campaign. Namely, return phone calls from reporters working the "religion and politics" angle. While she's got a certain point, RNR wonders when she's going to get off it and move on to another one.

Peace and Justice

The Revealer doesn't think much about a Salon report from the Imam Ali shrine, but it does pass along a choice quote from Shiites gathered inside the mosque: "Why does America hate poor people so much?" It's a reminder that religion is often the only outlet of the poor and oppressed.

Swami Uptown has some great lyrics to pass on:

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Did you try to read the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I've heard it all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again

Day by day I hear the voices rising
Started with a whisper like it did before
Day by day we count the dead and dying
Ship the bodies home while the networks all keep score

Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Could your eyes believe the writing on the wall
Did that voice inside you say I've heard it all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again

One by one I see the old ghosts rising
Stumblin' 'cross Big Muddy
Where the light gets dim
Day after day another Momma's crying

She's lost her precious child
To a war that has no end
Did you hear 'em talkin' 'bout it on the radio
Did you stop to read the writing at The Wall

Did that voice inside you say
I've seen this all before
It's like Deja Vu all over again
It's like Deja Vu all over again

--John Fogerty, "Deja Vu All Over Again," from his new CD, "Premonition" (out August 30)

Nice to Know

The BBC has an excellent story on a bear in Washington state who ripped off some campers of 36 bottles of beer.

Perhaps he was inspired by this piece from Ecumenical News Int'l:

Sachsenhagen, Germany (ENI). Each week in the summertime, Pastor Josef Kalkusch orders 100 litres of beer, 30 cakes and inordinate amounts of coffee. That is because each Sunday during July and August "after the Sunday service of course", he opens the "heavenly beer garden" beneath a 130-year-old oak tree in the Sachsenhagen churchyard. He thinks it's the only church-run beer garden in northern Germany, but since so many visitors enjoy the place he hopes there are others.

Now if you'll excuse us, RNR needs to go set some bear traps around its fridge. No ding-dang bear gonna get our Yuengling, tell you what...

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Religious News Roundup for August 18

Yesterday was a good day for Pastor.  Lots of people said very nice things about him here, for which he's grateful. Then a, um, situation at the church unexpectedly worked out in his favor. And last, his new "dress" (ie, alb) showed up via UPS.

The only downer? The alb is way too big, and needs to be returned. Ah well.

Today's categories:

Religion & Politics

Tom the Aeronaut (aka "Hollyweird Liberal") passed on a e-mail that's making the rounds:

The Lord has a way of revealing those of us who really know him, and those that don't!!!

Bush gave a big speech last week about how his faith is so "important" to him. In this attempt to convince the American people that we should consider him for president, he announced that his favorite Bible verse is John 16:3.

Of course the speech writer meant John 3:16, but nobody in the Bush camp was familiar enough with scripture to catch the error.

And do you know what John 16:3 says?

John 16:3 says; "And they will do this because they have not known the Father nor Me".

The Holy Spirit works in strange ways.


What can we say, except Amen and Amen?

[editor's note, by pastordan] How 'bout "oops"? We're told this story is a hoax:

The same story, in fact, was the subject of a similar email back in 1999, when Al Gore was the purported biblical ignoramus. But according to Cal Thomas, it was actually *Bush I* who made the gaffe--in 1990.

Well, shoot. RNR regrets the error, but thinks it would've been pretty funny had it been true. Thanks to all the readers who are more diligent than us!

The Revealer links to a new book titled,  The Separation of Church and State: Writings on a Fundamental Freedom by American Founders. Sounds like interesting readers for both secularists and people of faith. It just might make it onto RNR's bookshelf.

A truly Orwellian development in the battle over politicized congregations: a conservative group called Big Brother Church Watch is heading out across Virginia to moniter "liberal" churches (MCC, Unitarians, AME). Though this seems like about the response you might expect after the religious right has gotten its wrists slapped a couple of times recently, RNR has to say: enough. It's only a tiny minority on either side that wants to drag politics into the pews. So-called "monitors" don't belong in a worship service, whether from the right or the left.

In a possibly related development, Jerry Falwell is opening a law school as part of Liberty University. Joe Conn, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, gets it about right when he says: "When Falwell talks about using the legal system to advance his personal religious beliefs, I get a whiff of the Taliban."

Even some evangelicals are getting fed up with the politicization of religion. Tony Campolo, an evangelical's evangelical, gives an interview to BeliefNet declaring that his faith, too, has been hijacked. Meanwhile, Melinda Hennenberger of Newsweek wonders if it's not who we vote for that affects our prayers, instead of the other way around.

We've previously noted the book The Faith of George W. Bush. But did you know there was a study guide? Yeesh.

Last (for this category), I draw your attention to this article from the Cedar Falls (IA) Courier, about John Edwards attending a Sunday-morning service at a local AME church. This is notable for three reasons: 1. Yes, Virginia, there are in fact black people in Iowa. 2. Edwards sat through 50 minutes of worship before he addressed the congregation. RNR's butt would have been numb by that time! 3. Oh, yes: his political message fit pretty seamlessly in the gospel message of the church. It's nice to see a candidate who can work this stuff in naturally.

Sex, Sex, Sex

Two articles from the UK serve to kick off this new category. This one, titled "Much more sex, please...we're British," begins promisingly enough: "Single Britons are the most promiscuous in the world, an international survey of sexual attitudes says." And this one finds that Americans are much more likely that their counterparts in the UK, France, Germany or China to allow their religious convictions to determine their sex life. To which RNR replies: the last time we checked with our rabbi, it was a mitzvah to do it on the Sabbath.

Nice to Know

The LA Times carries a nice piece on Muslims in Las Vegas. Suppose that could have gone in "What the Dilly-O?" as well.

A Romanian Priest has been ordered to live "alone on bread and water for a month" after holding a five-hour long funeral service. Apparently, he wanted revenge on some parishioners who had asked that another priest conduct the service. Not that we're unfamiliar with the temptation, but what the heck does he think this is? The US Senate?

A spoof of the "Hell House" phenomenon will be staged in Los Angeles, AP is reporting. Bill Maher is playing Satan, and Andy Richter is Jesus. Need we say more?

Last but not least, a Pepperdine University prof thinks that if John Kerry sought to reduce abortions by means short of a legal ban, he'd have the election sewn up. Thanks for the tip.

What the Dilly-O

A controversy continues in New Jersey over the proper makeup of communion wafers. A girl has severe gluten allergies, and her mother wants her parish to serve a wafer made of rice. The diocese rejects the idea, saying the body must contain wheat. The mother is appealing to the Vatican.

A conceptual artist in California (did you really expect this to happen anywhere else?) claims to be "genetically engineering" God in a lab experiment. The money quote:

After looking at a broad range of species, Keats came to believe that God is genetically most closely related to blue-green algae (or cyanobacteria, as it's known scientifically). Numerous considerations led to this hypothesis, not least of which was that cyanobacteria is the first organism found in the fossil record. If God came first, Keats reasoned, said deity would be most closely related to whichever species came second.

O-kay...RNR guesses that stands to reason...

But let's leave on an up note, with this picture from Edwards' appearance in Waterloo:

Preach it, brother!

Monday, August 16, 2004

Religious News Roundup for August 16

Sorry for the delay in today's posting (as if you noticed). RNR was busy this morning setting up its new computer. No, it's not an Apple, as we'd been hoping. But Mrs. RNR (aka Mrs. Pastor) promised that we could abuse our Amex card if we bought a PC. Once we saw the Dell flatscreen, we promptly wiped the drool off our chin and caved in. Sometimes consumer goods are just too attractive to care about silly things like principles.

Today's categories:

Don't miss those last two.

Religion & Politics

Pres. Bush seems to be getting pulled in two different directions this week. According to the LA Times, he's been dialing back on the God thing lately, even going so far as to decline invitations to pray with supporters he meets on the stump. How he gets away with projecting himself as an "evangelical" is beyond me.

In any case, a documentary on W., called creatively enough "George W. Bush, Faith in the White House" is due out "soon." Here's what you need to know:

  1. It's supposed to be an answer to "Fahrenheit 9/11."

  2. It's being released straight to VHS and DVD.

  3. It's made by "Grizzly Adams Productions."

Need I say more?

Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News carries a long, intriguing piece somewhat misleadingly titled "Kerry's piety is doubted." The DMN isn't doing the doubting, after all, and though the story uses the recent questioning of Kerry's faith by rightwing Catholics as a jumping-off point, it's really more about the in-house battle to define American Catholicism itself.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution declares the "Religious Left Finds its Voice." Funny, I didn't think we'd lost it. Seemed more like people stopped listening for a while.

Anyway, I liked the article for two reasons: first, it lets the UCC carry most of the weight in representing the religious left. Second, the article goes out with a bang, even if it is provided by an Episcopalian:

In an era of sound bites, people who want to sort out moral and ethical approaches to the economy and the war in Iraq find their messages complicated, nuanced and ambiguous, said Bishop Bennett Sims, a past Episcopal bishop of Atlanta and author of "Why Bush Must Go."

"That's why I'm a liberal," he said. "I believe in ambiguity, in risk, in uncertainty. I never have any doubts about the love of God and the sovereignty of God."

But, Sims said, "My identification with the Democratic Party is with some reservations. . . . It's certainly making a mistake to identify Christianity with a particular political view. Political views are transient."

Religion & Homosexuality

If you've got a high tolerance for right-wing crap, read this piece on "10 Reasons to Defend Marriage." If this is the best the DoMA types can come up with, we may be hearing lilac-scented wedding bells across the country soon and very soon.

More on the fallout from the invalidation of SSM in San Francisco: it's threatening to split up at least one couple. People talk about how gay marriage will become accepted once they see how normal it is. But what I'm struck by here is how middle-class it seems. That's not a slam; it's just to say that once the bourgeois see their own being eaten up by rank discrimination, the pressure for change will begin to mount steadily.

[UPDATE:] Eagle-eyed reader 2pt5cats informs me that federal law won't allow for any same-sex marriage to be the basis of sponsorship for immigration purposes. Thanks for the catch.

Catholic News

A sad story here on a "Mass" protest organized by Voice of the Faithful in Boston.

The Papal Death Watch continues. Several sources have noticed how frail the Holy Father seemed in Lourdes over the weekend. He's apparently in bad enough shape that betting has begun on his eventual successor (in Ireland, naturally). See the complete odds here.

This 'n' That

Dunno how this classifies as a religion story, but apparently there's a new album out of reggae covers of Bob Dylan's songs. I suppose that if all reggae artists were Rastafarians, or if you're working off Bobby Z's famous-yet-incoherent "spiritual side." Whatever. Sounds like a good excuse to put RNR's speakers out on the porch roof like we used to do in college.

An interesting but somewhat sad (for RNR) story on "Emerging Churches." Perhaps the easiest way to understand these groups is to think of them as flash mobs for spirituality. ;They've given up pretty much any and all trappings of what most people would think of with churches. For us, committed as we are to community, liturgy, sacrament and the exploration of a faith that extends over the course of history, this seems like a real loss. Perhaps that makes us a crank, but that's a chance we're willing to take.

Nice to know

The New Testament has been translated into Cornish, according to the Religious News Service. What does this mean for the souls of game hens?

Down in Atlanta (where else?), a group is holding a bible study in a local Hooters. Pastor Dan thinks he has enough distractions on a Sunday morning. No, not of that kind. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Finally, this piece, from on the 33rd Annual Blueberry Festival, organized by the Winslow Congregational Church, and held last Saturday. RNR is profoundly saddened to know that we missed out on the "record 491 pies baked."

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Religious News Roundup for Wednesday, August 11

Jeers to broken coffee makers, as they say. If Pastor's typing is a bit jITteRy today, blame it on his backup: the espresso machine.

Church & State

A few admittedly minor links: a Houston judge has ordered a Bible to be removed from a monument outside the county courthouse so as "not [to] be seen as endorsing Christianity." In a (conceptually) related story, Roy Moore is taking another crack at getting himself reinstated to the Alabama Supreme Court. Here's hoping this phony will have a shelf-life briefer than Brittany Spears' panties.

Gary Bauer has issued a press release endorsing Mel Martinez's reelection campaign, proving that they're both...proving what we all knew about both of them before this. Ahem.

The Christianity Today weblog reports that the American Bar Association is considering guidelines that would prohibit judges from serving organizations that endorse discrimination based on sexual orientation.

On the one hand, I can see the ABA's legal point: judges cannot appear to be biased, particularly with a segment of the population that continues to grow in visibility. On the other hand, CT seems to raise a valid point in saying that these guidelines might hit organizations quite unevenly, barring judges from serving as Boy Scout troop leaders, for example, but not from being a National Guard reservist or even sending a check to Focus on the Family.

On the third hand, I can't help thinking that those contradictions and inconsistencies are the product of anti-gay discrimination, not the ABA's attempt to address that discrimination. Comments from lawyers?

Catholic News

The Catholic church remains dauntingly, maddeningly, complex. Rep. David Obey (D, Wisconsin) was one of the politicians barred from communion by Bishop Raymond Burke, before Burke moved to St. Louis. Obey's recently struck back with an article in America magazine, detailed here by Catholic News Service. The last few paragraphs of the article are killer:

He said some have compared Archbishop Burke's stand to that of the late Archbishop Joseph F. Rummel of New Orleans who in 1962 excommunicated three Catholics who opposed desegregation of schools.

"The difference is that Archbishop Rummel acted against three people who were trying to obstruct the implementing of a U.S. Supreme Court decision, which under our system is the law of the land," he wrote.

"Archbishop Burke is doing just the opposite," Obey added. "He is attempting to single me out because I will not take actions that I have considered to be subversive of federal court decisions that are still the law of the land that I have taken an oath to uphold, whether I like it or not."

I love David Obey. Brotherly Christian love, of course.

Meanwhile, the National Catholic Reporter has an editorial on the Vatican's letter on the "Collaboration of Men and Women." Best line? How's this: "Many would consider the Vatican writing about women nothing more than a late-night comedy sketch waiting to happen." Ouch.

Meanwhile meanwhile, CNS shows another side to Catholicism here, with a report on Catholic concern for those with little or no health care, and Religious News Service (via PBS) notes yet another side here, with the announcement by the Boston Archdiocese that it would close another 10 churches in its restructuring plan. That brings the total to 81, and the costs in finances and grief to a nearly incalculable amount.

Religion & Politics

If you didn't see it above, David Obey has an article in America magazine concerning Bishop Raymond Burke's ban on Obey's reception of communion.

Meanwhile, BeliefNet's God-o-Meter has the two tickets roughly tied, and leaning toward the "theocratic" side.(!) They're less certain about Kerry-Edwards' coherence on the religion thing, though. Also from BeliefNet, SwamiUptown takes a crack at the Swift Boat controversy. He absolutely demolishes his right-leaning counterpart's logic on the matter:

Let's try LC's logic: Swami was in New York City when the President came to town. A few months later, Swami gets headlines by claiming that he saw Bush drinking Red Bull-and-vodka in a gay bar. Obviously, this is a lie. But say Swami writes in the next day's blog, "Hey, Swami and Bush were on the same island at the same time." Then he's framed the line as something less than the total fib it is. You could--if you were a Republican apologist--almost say he's presented a rejoinder. And he has, if you assume his readers are morons--or capable of being stunned into abject stupefaction.

Brains are a many-splendored thing, are they not?

And just for my secular readers, the Revealer carries an article on religius coverage of the campaign from the Raving Atheist, whom they describe as "one of the most popular godless godbloggers on the web."

This 'n' That

A Fuller Seminary professor from Finland is the latest casualty of new Patriot Act immigration rules. The short version: to get a visa for international instructors, seminaries must be aligned with a single denomination. Since Fuller is interdenominational, the Finn got yanked. Summary here, and more details here and here. I gotta tell ya, if I was Tom Ridge, I'd be suspicious of those Pentecostal researchers, too.

I don't know if this last item fits under "Nice to Know" or "What the Dilly-O?". But in any case, the Greek Orthodox church will be praying that Greek athletes might not be lazy in the upcoming Olympics. Now, if they could only do the same thing for the leadership of our country...

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Religious News Roundup for Monday, August 9

"More days off than a preacher"--who said that? I'd like to kick his...

Oh, hello there. It's time for Monday's edition of the Religious News Roundup.

Religion and Politics

We have a passel of links in this category today. The NYT has an article on churches organizing for the election in St. Louis (previously noticed to much greater effect here). Keep your eyes on such stories: between St. Louis' difficult conservative/liberal split and its relatively high rate of church participation, we're like to see much more activity along this front.

James Dobson is interviewed in the Weekly Standard--as a private citizen, mind you--going all out on the "Bush is a moral paragon" angle. Read it and retch, sinner.

Under what might be called the "Catholic Religion and Politics" banner, we have commentary from Body and Soul and the Gadflyer on W.'s recent appearance at the Knights of Columbus convention in Dallas. Shorter Jeanne and Amy: the coverage stank because it failed to notice the KoC's bias. Jeanne doesn't think Bush's outreach is paying off politically, either. Meanwhile, William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, has been lining up Nancy Pelosi for the same kind of treatment he's given to John Kerry's religious advisers.

This raises for me a question that I'm sure is a sore spot with many of my Catholic brothers and sisters: just who is it that gets to say what a "good" Catholic is, anyway? Seems to me that what we're seeing this political season is a kind of parallel campaign to define American Catholicism along its most conservative axis.

Salon has an article by Chris Sullentrop on "The Right Rev. George W. Bush." If you're looking the reason(s) W. can hold on to about 40% of the electorate, look no further than this paragraph from a recent stump speech:

From there, Bush becomes a teacher, imparting "the lessons of September the 11th, 2001." "We'll never forget!" a man seated among the firefighters calls out. Bush's Lesson 1: "We're facing an enemy which has no heart, no compassion. And that puts them at an advantage in a way, because we're a country of heart and compassion." Lesson 2: "In order to defend the homeland, we got to be on the offense. We must deal with those people overseas, so we don't have to face them here at home." Lesson 3: "In order to be able to defend ourselves, we've got to say to people who are willing to harbor a terrorist or feed a terrorist, you're just as guilty as the terrorists." Lesson 4: "When we see threats, we must deal with them before they fully materialize." Lesson 5 is a corollary of Lesson 4: "We saw a threat in Iraq."

This is pretty much what I've heard from the Bush diehards in my congregation, and it is not too strong a term to say that these are articles of faith for them. The majority of folks have been able to reassess that faith in light of 9/11, but there are a few who have not. Those are the Bush core.

Finally, look here for a completely different take on "Render unto Caesar..." My only comments? 1.This is what it means to speak "truth to power." 2.I also preached on this text on Sunday. Where was my stone-faced ex-president? Where was my blockheaded soon-to-be-ex-president?

Church and State

Not nearly as much to mention here, thank goodness. (I have some visiting to do today.) WIStv in Columbia, South Carolina reports on some rather stubborn city council members in Charleston who insist on opening their meetings with prayers to a "specific God." When will they ever learn that God finds city council meetings as tedious as the rest of us?

A Boston Globe op-ed writer visits a Faith-Based Initiatives conference held recently in Beantown. If you had to read just one of my links today, make it this one. See also my thoughts under "Religion and $" immediately below.

Religion and $

Despite all the attention that the subject of religion and electoral politics has been getting this year, the American community of faith would do well to remember that ultimate idol is not politics, but cold, hard cash. If you need any reminders: 'twarn't politics what brought down Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker.

Point in reference: a Cedar Rapids Christian bookstore is offering a charge card with a picture of "Calvary's three empty crosses." The story is a bit misleadingly titled "Jesus Credit Card raises a few eyebrows." It's a charge card, for goshsake.

Oh, and the whole point of the empty cross is that Jesus isn't there.

Even more: a Jesuit retreat center in Guelph, Ontario is trying to fend off an attempt by Wal-Mart to build a supercenter on land just adjacent to the center. Moloch misses no opportunity for mischief.  Even better, the director of the Jesuit center quoted in the article is--no kidding--the Rev. James Profit.

Quick Hits

Fellow dKos denizen allbell passes on a link about Methodist peace activists being fined for their work as "human shields" before the invasion of Iraq last year. He (or she?) calls this "official persecution," but I wouldn't go that far. Yes, the fines stink. But civil disobedience is based on the premise that those who take part in it accept the consequences of their actions. The suffering they endure as part of those actions then becomes a part of the witness against the unjust system they protest. These folks seem "happy" to pay their fines, and God bless them for that.

Beth Quick, a United Methodist pastor, relates the backstory to a hymn:

This summer at St. Paul's I'm preaching on the favorite hymns of the congregation, and tying them into the lectionary. This week is "It is Well with My Soul." I thought I remembered that the hymn author didn't have a happy ending to his life, despite the inspiring and touching story of how the hymn was written, but I had to search long and hard before I found the ending to his story:

from the Christian Network: "In his late life Spafford experienced a mental disturbance which prompted him to go to Jerusalem under the strange delusion that he was the second Messiah. He died there in 1888 at the age of sixty."

It's a sad ending to his life, but I wish people wouldn't tend to exclude it from the story and try to make him into some saint who never faltered in the face of sorrow in his life. Sometimes the real story is more moving . . .

You can imagine that this hits home for me. (I was diagnosed bipolar II about four years ago.) It is well...

One last comment. I've been thinking about the Republicans' outreach to the Amish again, mostly because our local NPR affiliate carried a story on it this morning. The report confirmed a hunch I've had: the Amish population in Lancaster county, the heart of "Amish Country," is around 25,000. Only about 10% of those vote. But let's be optimistic, and say that the Republican outreach pulls in a few hundred more. 3,000 is in fact the target in Lancaster.

Now, you might say, "3,000 votes might tip a close election." Well, it might, if this were Florida. But the fact is that Lancaster is already a Republican stronghold, and given that a)Kerry has a pretty strong lead in PA, and b)that lead comes mostly from the metro Philly and Pittsburgh regions, 3,000 Amish votes is not going to tip much of anything. (Maybe the Senate race, if they come out for Jim Clymer versus Arlen Specter.) What's going on here is more of what DHinMI has noticed: Bush is running solely to his base, plus a few folks he can suck in around the margins, in safely Republican areas. I dunno about you, but this doesn't seem like the soundest of strategies to me. I'd rather be where Kerry is, with a firm base and the ability to reach out to the center.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Religious News Roundup for Wed., August 4th

Another Wednesday, another fistful of links.

Religion and Homosexuality

It has not been a good day for gays and lesbians. You may have heard already that Missouri passed a ban on gay marriage in the state. More here. Then there's this: a Methodist pastor in suburban Philly faces a church trial for coming out to her congregation. She says she discovered her lesbianism while attending Bryn Mawr. Huh. Who would have thunk it?

On a similar front, a choir director in Florida was fired for writing an op-ed piece supporting gay marriage. He says "choir members and others in the church knew of his sexual orientation." Really? A gay choir director? Who would have thunk it? In any case, it's a classic example of how "don't ask, don't tell" operates in the world of the church.

Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs continues to follow in the path of Saint Richard John Neuhaus by writing an article for the diocesan newsletter urging legal protection for marriage defined as "one man, one woman." Key quote:

"If marriage means only what any given person says it means, it means nothing," Sheridan writes. "This opens the door to polygamy and any number of other perversions . . . there will be no turning back."

A conservative Catholic who parrots Rick Santorum? Who would have thunk it?

One ray of hope: a speaker at the World Alliance of Reformed Churches argued that a person's sexual orientation does not justify human rights abuses against them. Voicing that in Accra, Ghana is a bit braver than it might seem at first blush.

Wingnut Religion

Kos notes Pres. Bush's address to the Knights of Columbus (motto: "We wear funny hats for the Pope!") convention in Dallas last night. Apparently, he must have said something right: at last count, there were 204 comments on the diary. Another take here and one more here.

Dissident Voice has a good summary of the religious excesses of the Bush administration, while Maureen Farrell writes at BuzzFlash about the Religious Right's latest tactics in undermining the constitution. Hint: they're trying to tie courts' hands when it comes to matters of religion. The Greenville Sun of Tennessee reports on similar tactics being advocated by backers of Judge Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument, and Karen Armstrong writes about scapegoating in modern practice. Killer graf:

The scapegoat ritual is rooted in a profoundly dualistic worldview. It makes it clear that while the pharmakos is doomed, all those who stand with the community are safe and pure. As Bush put it: "He who is not with us is against us."
Memo to Bush: never piss off an academic as smart as Karen Armstrong. Never. (Thanks to The Revealer for the last three links.)

"Collaboration of Men and Women"

Reaction is starting to come in to the Vatican's pastoral letter countering "aggressive feminism." The National Catholic Reporter has pros and cons, and since the "cons" are written by a Benedictine nun, it's probably worth reading. No word yet on Bishop Sheridan's take.

Outrages Not Otherwise Specified:

Fellow Kosopolitan DCDemocrat relates the story of a Baptist Peace Group having trouble getting a banner through airport security. Looking at the banner, it's easy to see why it might have attracted the wrath of the TSA:

(Thanks to bdfstl2 for the image.)

And in the "suckup to Kos" category, our blogfather reports on a Sikh student hassled for doing what students from far-off places like to do: namely, take pictures of the campus.

This 'n' that

Mostly from/about the Middle East: Christianity Today summarizes the plight of Christians in Iraq, and the NYT reports that Muqtada al-Sadr has joined Ayatollah Sistani in condemning recent attacks on Iraqi churches. Meanwhile, the Dallas Morning News has a piece on the government's failure to understand what's at stake in our current battles with Islamic nations. The Revealer, as usual, picks out an interesting quote:

Because we in the secular West have made God a mere hobby, we don't comprehend how devout Muslims perceive reality. Our materialist-minded leaders prattle on about solving the "root causes" of terror - poverty, illiteracy, lack of democracy and so forth - because we cannot fathom the idea that hundreds of millions of people believe that obeying the God of the Quran is the most important thing in life.

As someone had to point out to me, this is not a plea for understanding of Muslims. It's a statement of agreement with the (mostly evangelical) view that we are locked into an ideological battle between the Christian West and Islamic East. Props to Bill Rehm for correcting Pastor Blockhead on this one.

The PresbyNews reports on a coalition of nuns pressuring Caterpillar to stop supplying armored bulldozers to the Israeli army.

McCormick Theological Seminary President Cynthia Campbell provides food for thought in adressing how people of different faiths can live together in close proximity. She lays out a set of choices:

* Conflict and competition * "We can wage a fight to the death among fundamentalisms."

* Resignation * "We can give up religion entirely as doing more harm than good."

* Mutual religious respect * "We can enter into the search for common ground by acknowledging all others as God's beloved children."

Ite roundup est. Go forth into the world.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Religious News Roundup for Monday, August 2nd

For once, it's a relatively brief list of headlines to bring you this morning.

I don't know, maybe God's trying to tell me something. Maybe, go out and practice your religion instead of writing about it?


Top story of the day, believe it or not, is the Vatican's latest assault on liberal sensibilities: a letter to Catholic bishops on the "Collaboration of Men and Women." I haven't had time to read the full document yet. Check back later today for an update when I've had a chance to digest it. In the meantime, you can find coverage here, here and here, and reaction here and here.

In other Catholic news, Bishop Robert F. Vasa of the Diocese of Baker, Oregon, is requiring lay ministers in the church to sign a statement indicating agreement with

a two-page "affirmation of faith." It tells lay ministers and cantors that, if they want to continue in their roles on the altar, they must accept the church's teachings opposing abortion, contraception, gay relationships and other issues.

Is this his right? Absolutely. Is it counterproductive? Absolutely. Various U.S. denominations have tried to create theological purity in their ranks over the years. Initially, it seems to work: members develop a firm sense of the identity of the church, and it grows. But over the long haul, such homogenity ends up alienating people, as it seems to have done already in this case. Perhaps it's just me and my UCC theology, but shouldn't the church be a place to talk about these issues, not a place to impose a particular viewpoint?

Another question: all this emphasis on the church position on social issues makes me wonder if Bishop Vasa doesn't have something better to do? Improve the finances of the diocese? Strengthen its CCD programs? Develop stronger safeguards against sexual abuse within the church?

I'm not being snarky here. First of all, I challenge the leadership of my own denomination when it seems like they're spending too much time on social issues and not enough on the life of the church. Second, all churches and denominations could stand to strengthen their hand when it comes to sexual abuse. There's no excuse for not giving the matter our very best.

The aftermath of the Democratic Convention continues to play out. The Boston Globe has a pretty decent article on how Democrats are "refusing to cede the religious vote." It's worthwhile, if for nothing else than its picture of a Muslim woman praying at an interfaith worship service as its lead illustration. On the other hand, The Revealer is right to notice that the article "reinforces both the legitimacy of the so-called 'God gap,' and the likelihood that we're in for another three months of discussing whether Kerry's made it across."

Meanwhile, the Associated Baptist Press talks to Jim Wallis about religion and the convention, Christianity Today has a more conservative response, and the Rev. Brenda Bartella Peterson, the DNC's Senior Advisor for Religious Outreach makes her first post to Kicking Ass, the DNC blog. It's worth reading her post just for the proof that ministers can be cool enough to write for a website called "Kicking Ass." Some of us do, you know, and we take names while we're at it. But the more substantive reason to look at her statement is her "Prayer for People of Faith for John Kerry:"

God of love, grace, and comfort your people of many faiths are gathered here today to do your work of justice, prophecy and care for all of your children.

We give you thanks for your presence among us. We celebrate the beauty of your face when it reveals the full spectrum of color! We celebrate the sound of your voice when we hear it in any language.

Forgive us, God, when we arrogantly attempt to stigmatize, marginalize and homogenize your vast creation. Give us eyes to see that this diversity is your great, good gift to us.

We gather in this place and this time because we fully accept the role of stewards of this great nation. Our hearts fill with concern, but also with hope. With humility, we accept the task of electing leadership for our nation and, indeed, our world.

Grant us wisdom, Grant us courage -- for the living of these days.


(Funny side note: my first church was "Faith UCC," a place filled with Reagen Democrats. I'd be interested to see how many of them are going for Kerry this time around. Link via Chuck Currie.)

As we prepare for that other convention, you know, the one in New York? We might want to drop by Jesse Kornbluth's Beliefnet blog and join in his contest to write Jerry Falwell's invocation. As Jesse puts it, "sincerity is not exactly the point here."

You've probably already heard about the bombing of Christian churches in Iraq. Yes indeed, there are churches in Iraq, most of them belonging to ancient faiths. Between these attacks and similar ones in Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere, I'm concerned that Al Qaeda (or other Islamic fundamentalist groups) are still able to coordinate their efforts across Asia. I'm also worried that American fundagelicals--and the administration they apparently run--will take the bait hook, line, and sinker, and make some kind of rash statement about us being in a deathmatch with Islam, radical or otherwise. Developing, as Drudge says.

Update: the good news is that Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani has apparently condemned the bombings. One more reason to think he may be the sanest, most decent leader in Iraq these days.

The Ten Commandments monument, of Judge Roy Moore fame, is out and about, touring the U.S. Doubtless, it'll make a stop here in wild-eyed Lancaster. But first, it had somewhere else to visit:

About 75 people gathered to see the 5,280-pound granite monument outside the site of the Scopes Monkey Trial -- where high school teacher John Scopes was convicted in 1925 of giving lessons on evolution. Many stepped up a ladder to take photos and pose beside the marker.


More on Church & State/Politics issues: the St. Petersburg Times has a report (via The Revealer) about the stink raised when a Tampa city councilman invited an atheist to give the opening invocation at a council meeting. Let's just say the welcome was not warm. The Lancaster Sunday News discusses Ralph Reed's visit to the county to instruct local pastors on the fine points of political involvement. Funny, I wasn't invited.

All right, so this edition of RNR was as long as ever. Do you doubt that God is calling me to go outside and play for a while?