Friday, July 23, 2004

Religious News Roundup for Friday, July 23

I try not to cover religious "trivia," but this story from AP Music was just too good to pass up. Seems Smokey Robinson's gone gospel:

...Robinson is taking his first step into the gospel world with "Food for the Spirit," released in April on his own Robso Records. Prior to recording the nine-song album, he'd been writing inspirational songs with the intention of shopping them to other artists.

"There are so many people who don't know that I have a wonderful, wonderful relationship with Christ," he said. "As human beings, we are conscious of our physical selves, but I don't think that the majority of us are thinking about developing our spiritual selves. I called the album "Food for the Spirit" because I want (listeners') spirits to be fed."

Amy Sullivan reports on The Gadflyer that one of her readers wrote in to say that John Kerry's Spanish-language ads describe him as "a man of faith." This seems to me a step in the right direction, and a solid move for capturing the Hispanic vote. But it also raises some questions: why does Kerry seem to limit talk about his faith to minority audiences? Does he think white folk can't handle it if he talks about God? Or is he convinced that Bush has the overt religious message locked down, and that he'll come across as insincere as Howard Dean did when he announced he needed to talk more about religion as he approached southern primaries?

The Miami Herald mostly rehashes old news about the decidedly mixed reaction the Bush campaign's gotten as it tries to reach out to friendly congregations. But down at the bottom of the article, they provide a handy summary of "Dos and Dont's" for houses of worship in election years:

Churches can hold voter registration drives, issue nonpartisan voting guides and even invite politicians to speak, provided they offer equal access to both candidates -- all without risking their tax-exempt status.

But endorsing a particular candidate or raising money for a campaign poses a clear violation of IRS regulations, said John Whitehead, president and lead attorney of the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization that recently issued guidelines on churches and political involvement.

While the Bush-Cheney document doesn't mention endorsements or fundraising, it could lead to a violation if volunteers use church property or funds in support of political activity, said Milton Cerny, a tax lawyer in Washington and former IRS agent.

Legal risks aside, most churches don't want to politicize their houses of worship, Rogers said: ``They don't want to create partisan division, because that can tear a church apart.''

From the department of the Christian Right Trying To Stir Up Trouble:

*A press release from the American Life League fumes about Baltimore's Catholic bishop turning down a request from the League to speak in Balmer-area churches as they march through from Maine to Washington D.C. It's hard to tell from a partisan press release, but it looks like this is a simple case of a church executive wanting to sidestep a headache. Read the article and tell me what you think.

*A group called the Christian Defense Coalition complains that the new WWII monument contains no religous language among its inscriptions:

"To think that nowhere on the memorial is there a reference to God, religion, faith or Old Testament scripture is really reprehensible," said the Rev. Patrick Mahoney, director of the Christian Defense Coalition.

The absence of religious messages in the 12 quotes carved into the monument, he said, was evidence of the ongoing movement to secularize American culture.

"Faith and religion played as much a role as any other aspect in getting us through those dark and difficult times," Mr. Mahoney said. "It appears that there is a deliberate attempt to remove any reference to God."

The coalition is a nationwide Christ-centered activist ministry founded in 1991 and based in the District.

About 10 people are expected to participate in the demonstration, in which they will display placards with religious quotations by World War II leaders that could have been included in the inscriptions.

Betsy Glick, spokeswoman for the memorial, said the designers did not endeavor to strike religious speech from the monument.

"We had no intent of avoiding that at all," she said. "It was never even discussed. It was never an issue in any way, shape or fashion."

Ms. Glick said she was befuddled about coalition members' saying the memorial was anti-religious after the May 29 dedication ceremony includedreligious remarks by Gen. P.X. Kelley, chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission.

"Let us pray, let us pray to our chosen God, that our nation's ... memory of their service will never fade," Gen. Kelley said.

While I'd never want to begrudge a throng of vets their right to protest, I have to wonder if religious freedom wasn't one of the things we fought for in World War II?

More seriously, even though this is the Washington Times giving this press, just how is this story in the public interest? Non-partisan monument commission fails to excerpt the right part of quotes from long-dead leaders? Hmm, that might tip the election.

*Jim Brown of the reliably conservative Agape Press reports that Joe Sprague, the Methodist Bishop of Northern Illinois, is planning to retire:

A controversial figure in the United Methodist Church, a bishop who denies the eternal deity, virgin birth, and bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, is set to retire next month.

Bishop Joe Sprague of the UMC's Northern Illinois Conference refers to himself as a "Christonormative Inclusivist." He believes Muslims, Jews and born-again Christians all worship the same god.

Brown is not too sure about Sprague's replacement, either:

Sprague will be replaced by South Korean-born Bishop Hee Soo Jung, 49, a pastor and church administrator from Appleton, Wisconsin. Jung is described as more theologically moderate than Sprague but quite liberal, with a reputation for being deeply committed to social activism.

[Mark] Tooley [of the Institute on Religion and Democracy] says although Jung is theologically liberal, he will not be as divisive as Sprague has been. The IRD spokesman notes, "Most Korean Methodists tend to be conservative; however, this particular individual seems to have been quite an activist in the past, very active in student demonstrations in South Korea before he came to the U.S., and he appears to be politically outspoken since he came to the U.S."

Tooley says it appears that Jung is not supportive of the UMC's current stance on homosexuality, although the bishop-elect says he will uphold the Book of Discipline.

Funny, that sounds pretty good to me. By the way, the IRD, if I'm not mistaken, is one of the groups set up by Pittsburgh billionaire and conservative radical Richard Scaife to combat the "liberal stranglehold" on mainline denominations.

Lastly, two shorts items from PBS' Religion & Ethics Newsweekly deserve mention:

Interfaith Alliance Seeks Dismantling of Faith-Based Office
(RNS) The Interfaith Alliance has asked the presidential campaigns of President Bush and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to pledge to eliminate the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. -- Adelle M. Banks

'Designer Baby' Decision in England Draws Church Reactions

LONDON (RNS) The decision by Britain's Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority to allow the selection of an embryo which would be a tissue match for an existing seriously ill sibling has been sharply criticized by leading church officials.
-- Robert Nowell

Though the Interfaith Alliance is almost as steadfastly liberal as the National Council of Churches, that it wants Faith-Based initiatives dismantled is still interesting. It indicates that FBI's are going to have a hard time expanding beyond the borders of mostly evangelical churches. Most mainline denominations already have social services ministries in place, many of them already receiving federal grant money. Not surprisingly, they see no need to expand a system that already seems to be working well, from their perspective. But then, who says the point of these initiatives was to do more social services work?

The second item serves as a reminder, I think, that issues of reproductive technology and embryonic research (including stem cells) are more difficult than we sometimes realize. Some of our new technology (especially stem cells) seems like a pretty easy call, until you begin to apply it to actual situations, where its complexity grows and grows.

Well, in any case, that's all the news that isn't, to quote Michael Feldman.


Post a Comment

<< Home