Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Religious News Roundup for Wednesday, July 28

It's 9:35 a.m., the second cup of coffee is brewing downstairs, I've got no smokes or beer (damn), but one of Mrs. Pastor's brownies is coursing through my system, and I'm on a mission from God.

Must be time for the Religious News Roundup.

Several items about Church & Politics this morning: The Revealer links to an article on a Wesley Seminary conference called "Red God, Blue God" which "'promises to examine in detail how faith is influencing political choices and how political conflict is 'spilling over into sanctuaries of worship.'"

Conservative evangelicals continue to walk a fine line in their support of the Bush campaign. Ronnie Floyd, pastor of First Baptist Church of Springdale, Arkansas, has gotten himself in dutch with Americans United for the Separation of Church and State by slipping an endorsement of Bush into a sermon. From Barry Lynn's letter to the IRS:

"The pastor's description of the candidates' stands and their personal religious beliefs was obviously aimed at encouraging congregants to cast ballots for Bush. The church is known for its stands on social issues and its opposition to legal abortion and gay rights. By lauding Bush's stands on these and other issues and attacking (Sen. John) Kerry's, Floyd was plainly telling his congregation to be sure to vote for Bush.

"I have enclosed a videotape that includes the entire sermon as well as a partial transcript. About 45 minutes into the message, Floyd begins to discuss the differences between Bush and Kerry. Please note that even the imagery employed by the church is designed to promote Bush. A huge photo of Bush is projected onto a screen that shows the president next to an American flag. By contrast, small photos of Kerry are used that show him as one person in a larger crowd. In addition, Bush is shown signing a ban on late-term abortions, an act most church members will laud, while Kerry is shown as one of a group of senators who opposed a law banning same-sex marriage, a stand most church members will likely oppose."

While the bit about the pictures selected for the candidates is pretty funny, the part that really struck me was the "45 minutes into the sermon"! If I go longer than 15-20, Mrs. Pastor fades out, and the congregation gets fidgety.

Meanwhile, a group called the "National Clergy Council" is organizing to promote conversative views on issues such as--wait for it--"Abortion, homosexual marriage and the role of God in American society." This is no doubt in part a reaction to the formation of the Clergy Leadership Council, a liberal group formed essentially to keep Bush in check. While I wouldn't want to begrudge them their right to press for what they see as faithful responses to these issues, I have to agree that they're pushing their luck in partisanship. While it's generally agreed that pastors should not directly endorse candidates from the pulpit, it bears saying that they should not frame the issues for their congregations in such a way as to make the endorse indirectly (and inescapable), either.

This isn't exactly "Church and Politics," but close enough. The 9th Circuit Court has reinstated a sexual harassment lawsuit against a Presbyterian church in Washington state (I believe). Read the article for a good examination of how the church interacts with the legal system.

Last: BeliefNet has an interesting collection of surveys on voters' opinions on Religion and Politics. Well worth the read.

On the Church & Homosexuality, two items. The Revealer notes Alan Cooperman's WashPo article on the "institutionalization" of the gay-rights debate. As the Revealer points out,

There's little -- ok, no -- religious nuance in Alan Cooperman's Washington Post report on the "institutionalization" of "both sides" in the gay marriage dispute, but Cooperman does follow the money -- in terms of careers and lives that will be built, for at least awhile, around the task of lobbying for or against gay marriage. That's an important reminder that religiously charged disputes mean more than morality and "culture war" -- they mean gravy for all.
Deeply held moral and ethical beliefs spun for cold hard cash? What is our world coming to?

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports on the wildcat ordination of a gay pastor in Minneapolis. Gay ordination: it's not just for Pennsylvania anymore.

On the other hand, times may be changing for the Lutheran church, but there are a couple of troubling aspects for me in the article. First, it mentions that the pastor was consecrated by an "ordaining pastor," without noting who that person was. Lutherans can correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't ordination a prerogative reserved for the bishop? Second, it appears from the article that the ordination took place at Plymouth Congregational UCC in Minneapolis, not Bethany Lutheran, where you might have expected. Now, it's one thing if the Lutherans were borrowing space to accomodate an overflow crowd, but if not, it leaves the Lutheran congregation open to charges of an irregular rite. Between that and the absence of the Lutheran bishop, I have to wonder if the conservatives have just been handed some real ammunition.

Moving on. From the Department of Bad Ideas: Rowan Williams is planning to give a speech praising Islam on 9/11 this year. See "giving ammunition" above. Meanwhile, an evangelical group has made sound recordings of the Bible in Arabic available over the internet. Again, I don't want to begrudge them their work--nor deny its apparent success--but don't you think this might play into extremists' views of America being out to destroy Islam?

Another evangelical group, this one based in San Diego, is hoping to organize an "Evangelistic Festival" in Iraq. Apparently, they held a similar event in Poland which brought 500 people to Christ, and this has encouraged them to broaden their horizons. Anything else I could say will probably get me in trouble, so I'll just leave it at that.

Suprises: a group called "Catholics for Choice" is challenging Operation Rescue's tax-exempt status. If I'm not mistaken, that means the big three of the Christian Right have all been called on the carpet on these grounds: the Christian Coalition, the Moral Majority, and now Operation Rescue. Better yet, OR has been challenged from within the denomination that has given them their base of support. This is a hopeful sign that liberal Christians are starting the fight to reclaim their "hijacked" faith, in Jim Wallis' words.

The Washington Times reports that some evangelicals are beginning to question the "seeker" or "contemporary" model of worship. While bland "worship lite" services continue to pack people in, some of them are leaving out the back door in search of more substantive worship and faith development. As someone who's been committed to more traditional forms of worship for some time now, I can only hope that this puts another nail in the coffin of this damned Frankestein monster. If that makes me a partisan in the "worship wars," so be it. Ay-men, as the Catholics say.

This 'n' that. One serious note: the BBC is reporting that "A five-year-old boy has become the first patient in Britain to receive a transplant from his "designer baby" brother, created to help cure him of his life-threatening blood disease." I don't know about you, but I find this development troubling.

More light-hearted news: Ecumenical News International is reporting that

A majority of Danes surveyed in a recent inquiry support a Danish Lutheran priest who faces a trial in a clerical court for not believing in God as creator. "The majority of the Danes simply do not worry that much about the theology of the priest," said Peter Lüchau from the Epinion research institute, which conducted the survey. "It would be a different matter if he came to church in bright green bathing trunks."

Oh, those wacky Danes. What will they think of next? Mrs. Pastor will not be allowing me to show up for church in bright green bathing trunks anytime soon.

And last but not least, an item from Daily Times of Pakistan:

The caption reads: "An employee of Brandenburg's state library holds up a tiny Sorbian Bible, the smallest of its collection of 80.000 books and publications, in Potsdam." No, I've got no freaking idea what a Sorbian is, either.

Okay, so I do know: It means "Wend or Wendish." That, in turn, means a group of Slavs living in Brandenburg or Saxony. I'm still not very clear on what that means, however.

And just for reference, here's how a more traditional Danish pastor dresses:


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